Tuesday, September 22, 1998

The Reavis Valley

September 22, 1998 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The Reavis Valley has played a major role in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area. This beautiful high mountain valley is located nineteen miles west of Apache Junction and twelve miles south of Apache Lake. The elevation of the valley ranges between four and five thousand feet above sea level, making it an ideal retreat from the torturous heat of the desert during the summer months.

The first settlers of the valley were probably the Hohokam or the Salado. They left no written record of their occupancy, but there are numerous ruins which are a mute testimony to their presence in this idyllic setting.

The first American settler in this valley was Elisha Marcus Reavis. He arrived sometime during 1874. It is believed by some historians that Reavis was a civilian packer for the army working out of Fort McDowell in the late 1860s. While packing for the army he was introduced to the isolation of the valley. The title “Hermit of Superstition Mountain” was bestowed on him by the early newspapers of the area because of his isolated existence in the valley. Reavis constructed a small dugout home on a valley flat above the stream bed. He then cleared the meadow and planted a garden. From this garden he supplied vegetables to the small mining communities which dotted the central mountain area of Arizona. The one thing which made this valley so inviting was the water. A spring-fed stream flows through the entire length of the valley which is filled with lush vegetation ranging from Ponderosa pines to giant sycamore trees.

The Department of Agriculture established the Tonto Preserve in 1909 to protect the watershed of the Salt River drainage basin. The goal of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was to [ensure] a future water supply for the development of agriculture in the Salt River Valley. The destruction of the Salt River’s drainage basin by urbanization would dramatically reduce the source of water for Roosevelt Dam and the Salt River lakes. The Superstition Wilderness Area is a part of this vital watershed.

Reavis operated a truck garden until the time of his death in 1896. His remains were found about four miles south of the Reavis Ranch near an old ruin on April 10, 1896. He was buried at the site of the ruins.

Soon after Reavis’ death, John Jack Fraser acquired the Reavis Valley for his cattle operation. Fraser sold his interest to W.J. Clemans in 1909, and with his two sons, Earl and Mark Twain, Clemans ran the ranch until 1946.

Upton and Bacon bought the ranch in 1946, then sold it to Floyd Stone and Kenneth Lockwood in 1956. Stone then sold it to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1966. The purchase of the Reavis Ranch ended the private ownership of land within the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Shortly after the turn of the century a group of Mesa entrepreneurs promoted the Reavis Ranch as a getaway from the hot summers in the valley. They proposed building a road to the Reavis Valley and selling lots. Their summer resort, which was to be called Pineair, never became a reality because of the remoteness and lack of access to the area. 

The Reavis Valley is about 2.1 miles long and about 0.4 miles wide at its widest point, amounting to about 220 acres of good pasture land. The Clemans family planted a large apple orchard and the Uptons also planted apples in the valley. The oldest apple trees in the valley are located south of the old ranch and the meadow south of the ranch produced a variety of grasses for grazing animals.

The Clemans had a weir on Reavis Creek and brought water down a canal system to a point just south of the ranch house. At this point there was a three to five acre pond with a depth of about 12 feet. Water was released from this pond to irrigate the orchard and fields below and to the north of the ranch. It was a full time job irrigating and maintaining the various fields. Reavis Creek is the only permanent stream in the Superstition Wilderness Area and most of the water in Reavis Creek originates from seepage and natural springs high in the mountain south of the ranch.

The ranch became a popular place for hikers after 1968. It remained a secret paradise for a few years, then, all of a sudden, hundreds of hikers and [horsemen] found the valley. Today in many areas the deadfall has all but vanished. Trash has become a problem also. There [are] just too many people in a small ecosystem. It will soon be destroyed if not managed in some way to prevent overuse.

The valley was so popular in the late 1980s that it wasn’t uncommon to find sixty to a hundred people camping in the area of the old ranch. On one extremely cold winter night, I spent a night in the house with forty-five campers. The temperature dropped well below freezing prior to sundown. I have actually met people on the trail in recent years who believed the old ranch house was still intact and were planning to stay in it because of bad weather.

The future of this delicate valley’s ecosystem lies in our hands. It is important how we care for it. Probably the most important thing we can do is carry out our trash, don’t contaminate the water and always be careful with fire.