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Hike Report for Castle Dome

Castle Dome is located in Arizona, United States. It has an elevation of 1611 meters above sea level. It is located at the following coordinates: (33.5298, -111.194).
 
This hike report was written by Jon De Bois, about a hike on Saturday, March 31, 2007.
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Directions to Trailhead

The Reavis Trail head is located to the right, off the dirt lane Route 88 just past mile marker 227. You will pass first a State Road Depot then a Ranch both to your right. Look for a largely unreadable faded clay red sign announcing the Reavis Trail Head. Turning right you will pass over a cattle grate and follow a single lane dirt road. The trail head is just over 3 miles along this ascending fire road following the ridge line.

Hike Report

Superstition Mountains
Castle Dome
Reavis Ranch Trail #109
11 ‚?" 13 December 2006

Our journey began on a typical Phoenix December morning, 55 degrees bright sunshine with mixed pollution haze all about. Passing Apache Junction and taking Idaho Road to the Route 88 turn, we left any semblance of modern civilization and entered the 1870‚?Ts mining and prospector mind set. This is reinforced somewhat by the Goldfield mining town to the left, a nice place to bring the kids. A bit beyond you are faced with the first of many anachronisms of Superstition Mountains, Canyon Lake. Imagine a man-made freshwater lake twisting through a 10 mile gorge of the Salt River in the middle of a desert. Attribute this phenomenon to the early followers of the Church of Latter Day Saints in their 1870 infancy.

Tortilla Flats is the next way stop at the head of the Canyon Lake, more on this place later. You‚?Tll cruise along a paved two lane circuitous road through the mountains. At about 1900‚?T with Mosquito Flat to your left and at a turn of the paved road, the paving dwindles to a hard packed dirt 2 lane road. The ascent continues to a high point of 2850‚?T where you will find a pull off with a Park Service refresh station and a scenic view that will take you breath. That dirt road you will notice in the distant North Canyon is the continuation of your drive to the trail head. After a short visit gazing up the Mud Spring Canyon, you will follow the winding lane twisting higher through the numerous crevices along the ridge reaching a peak of over 3000‚?T. From that point the lane begins to descend and further dwindle to a single lane with several swells to allow up coming traffic to pass.

Saguaro Cactus begins to be less evident, chollis and prickly pear cactus dominates among the creosote and other desert brush. The winding road gives you glimpses of the valleys and shear cliffs. At a point your journey will become what could be the most thrilling ride of your motoring experience. You will be twisting and turning down this barely two land dirt road at a 15 degree grade with little if any guard rail cut into a shear cliff rising above you to the right and a nearly 1000‚?T drop to the valley floor to your left. As you crawl slowly down the cliff you will learn from the graffiti, who loves Vicky and the refrain ‚?oNooo‚?¶ fat chicks!‚?Ě What ever to the traveler that suggests.


Upon accomplishing this slow descent you will cross the first of three one lane bridges spanning Fish Creek. Pull to the side of the road just past this first bridge and simply look up. Now imagine taking that trip in an 1870‚?Ts stage coach that ran this gauntlet serving the miners, prospectors and the communities east and north of this point. I believe you will agree that these where rather gutsy folks. This is the most spectacular views of your road trip, but only hints at that which is in store for you from the trail, where vehicles cannot pass.

The Reavis Trail head is located to the right, off the dirt lane Route 88 just past mile marker 227. You will pass first a State Road Depot then a Ranch both to your right. Look for a largely unreadable faded clay red sign announcing the Reavis Trail Head. Turning right you will pass over a cattle grate and follow a single lane dirt road. The trail head is just over 3 miles along this ascending fire road following the ridge line. The road is navigable by a typical family sedan, but be watchful. The best advice is ‚?oFiestina lente‚?Ě, make haste slowly. The Park Service keeps this road relatively passable and a high clearance vehicle would be at home. You will note to your left, high desert valleys and canyons, to your right Apache Lake, nearly 1500‚?T below. The views that is nothing less than spectacular. The trip to this point is well worth the effort and can be, on its own, fulfilling.

But wait there‚?Ts more! As you snake along the mountainside fire lane, you‚?Tll pass a hook at about 1.5 mile along the lane that features a leaning rock. With a little imagination you will recognize it as a sentry to the Trail Head. You are now about 1 mile from the head of the Reavis Ranch Trail and the start of your desert journey.

Arriving at the Trail Head you will be greeted by a vista of Apache Lake that deserves your attention. Now is the time to ‚?otank up‚?Ě with water and carbohydrates, you will thank yourself later. We arrived at about 1030 hours, I would suggest that the earlier the better. Although traveling the roads to this point in anything but full daylight would cause you to miss some of the best views south of the Grand Canyon.

After drinking as much water as our system could hold and suiting up we began our trek at about 1130 hours on 11 December, 65 degrees with 35% humidity. Our packs were on the heavy side, about 46 pounds. We each carried about 12 pounds of water. Remember you are about to traverse and camp in the high desert where water is at a premium.

Generally, the trail is a steady ascent from about 3500‚?T to a peak of about 5100‚?T at the Windy Pass. The trail follows the undulating face of the mountain ranges. There are brief periods where you are walking straight through meadows with thigh high grass to crawling up stone strewn dry wash where every step must be carefully considered. The trail out of the head begins rather like a ‚?owalk in the park.‚?T Soft volcanic and granite gravel undulating between ridges and moderate passes. You‚?Tll enjoy vistas of Apache Lake to your left and Lewis and Pranty Creek Canyon to your right. The scenery and plant life is typical high planes desert. The Saguaro will slowly dwindle along the path as you begin to make altitude. Desert scrub, prickly pear and a very frequent encounter with agave century plans with occasional juniper and pinyon pine. The trail vacillates at this point between an 8 foot lane to a near one foot wide lane cut in the mountainside. You will be, at points, looking down 500 to 800 feet and up 800 ‚?" 1,000 feet. At times you will be given vistas of Apache Lake and at others you will able to see vehicles parked at the Ranch you passed along Rt 88.
So far the ascent is constant but not difficult. The trail is just above a pleasant walk in the park, but that will all change.

It is evident that the trail was at one time a well cut road. Time did take its toll, much of the trail today is limited to a foot path. You will move initially at a slow descent, then the ground changes to red clay and you begin to ascend, ascend, ascend, need I continue. Weaving along the ridge line you will have spectacular views of Apache Lake to your left, then around the ridge Rogers Canyon to your right. Generally you will be moving East and South with the all too often switch back along the ridgelines.

At about 3 mile into the trek, say 1.5 hours with short rest stops to acclimate the trail moves through an unnamed small pass in the ridge. This is a great spot to take in the morning and study the dramatic changes before you.

The side of the pass you have been walking is clearly high desert; the side you enter is meadow. At about 4,000 feet, grass to your thighs and the first view of trees meet your gaze. The path becomes more red clay and rounded rocks as in a dry wash. The pace may begin to slow due to the need to be careful in picking your steps. Watch your next step, the round stones are, for me, the most difficult and offer a painful ankle sprain for the unwary. The Trek continues its ascent at about 350 feet per mile. The Castle Dome will be dominating your southern horizon.

Looking closely at the ridge to your front and left (east then south) you will see the trail as it undulates along the ridgeline. Through another pass the path continues along the Castle Dome Eastern face. The trail approaching this second unnamed pas is relatively clear with occasional obstructive washouts and rock slides. You‚?Tre mostly moving through high meadow lanes. At each switch back point you will catch a glimpse of the Fish Creek Canyon and the Lewes Pantry Creek. Castle Dome will clearly dominate and be your point of reference south.

At about 4,800 feet you‚?Tll come to that small pass which introduces you to the most different part of the trek. From this point you will be traversing a relatively narrow foot path along the nearly shear Castle Dome Face. The Dome itself is now hidden to you by the Cliffside. To your left is the Reavis Creek Valley. Remnants of the road are there but much of it is covered by washouts and rock slides. The path can be treacherous at times; careful step selection is the watch word. Along this part of the route the lack of physical conditioning and proper altitude acclamation will increase the difficulty. Although several rock slides were evident, the trail was clear as best as can be expected. As you begin the wide encirclement of the Castle Dome, you will notice the break in the sun shadow along the valley to your left. This is an indication of a saddle that will open to you the Windy Pass.

Reaching the Windy Pass Saddle was a particularly difficult accomplishment; I burnt considerable calories and consumed nearly my entire hydration bladder. Given the arrival time, about 1530 hours, and my condition, we choose to make our base camp at the saddle. This was the responsible and prudent choice given our current situation and the plethora of documented stories regarding unsuccessful and deadly jaunts into the unknown. We were to find out just how wise this decision would be tomorrow.

The trail passed between two juniper trees, both offering several flats for a tent. Saddle Pass is at the end of the Castle Dome face trail it is a great spot and by the human traces a popular camp site. The area on the trail left, offers a raised hearth fire pit. A short distance away was a dead Juniper plus the ample dead fall supplied fuel for a small carefully managed campfire. It is not an understatement to say that the views North and South of this location were incredible. Looking to your North you notice a high desert dry and parched condition, to the South is rich almost lush woodland of pines, oak, sycamore and other hardwoods. You are at 5,088 feet and looking down upon two entirely different characterizations of the famed Superstition Mountains.

Nightfall at 1900 hours is a wholly other worldly experience. The steady southerly breeze begins to die to near calm and the star show raises its curtain. The clear Milky Way rises above, flanked by Cassiopeia to the North, Cygnus, and Aquila over head, Orion rising over our east flank and Pegasus and Andromeda to our south. All these are familiar friends commonly hidden by man‚?Ts incessant need for radiant incandescence. Relaxed, rested, nourished, watered, suited for the night and with the hint of juniper-like incense in the nostril and enjoying the night sky, could it be any better?

One shocking and disconcerting reminder of our lack of societal responsibility is apparent just before sundown. We looked to the south-southwest through a gap in the Superstition Mountains toward Gilbert, Chandler and Mesa. The setting sun reflects off a near impenetrable pool of sludge filling the valley off in the distance. Although it was, it appeared more as a thick, sulfur yellow brown pool drowning light, flora, fauna, mineral and stone in a devolving death cloud. But I digress.

The sleeping kit I used consisted of the Polartec 200 fleece zip front jacket, pants, knit cap and camp bootees. I rolled up in a Slumberjack Gunflint Trail 30¬į Hollofil 2 Sleeping Bag with a fleece bag liner (for warmth insurance) on a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Mummy Pad sleep mat, while my partner utilized a Big Agnes 15¬į Encampment system. Together we were housed inside a two person Kelty Gunnison 2 Tent. We were warm, dry and slept like the dead.

After a well earned and comforting sleep I was up at dawn to greet the morning. Although the Sun was hinted to us in our North Vista, we did not greet the welcome life giver over our south-east ridge until about 0900 hours. Till then there was a chill in the air making that first cup of Java Juice coffee that much more inviting. Our cooking arrangement was principally the Jet Boil PCS with companion cup. At the nearly 5,100 feet elevation 12 oz of water took 2.5 minutes to a rolling boil. At nearer to sea level that same quantity took 45 seconds. Our ample breakfast was freezer zip-loc bagged oatmeal, diced pecans, cranberries, blue berries and brown sugar breakfast. The Backing Packing Light 8‚?Ě Titanium Spoon gave us unfettered access to every savory drop of the breakfast concoction.

Soon after camp clean-up we bundled our gear in our primary packs and hung them from the dead juniper well out of critters reach. Packing our summit packs with full hydration bladder, a change of socks, a trail meal and empty interval bladders and intestines we were off to the Ranch. Reavis Ranch Trail from the Windy Pass is another walk in the Park. After a short descent, we followed the trail gradually ascending over the pass, across a meadow to the intersection of Plow Saddle Trail. Well marked the Plow Saddle Trail continues east while the Ranch Trail moves through an old fence line into a tree shaded farm Road that loosely parallels the Reavis Creek, to your left. Approximately one mile from the Plow Saddle Trail intersection the trail skirts a ridge to your right and a drop into the Creek Canyon to the left. Other‚?Ts report that several of the trails to the left lead to water, although we did not verify. Occasional glimpses of barbed wire fencing along the left suggest a working ranch long ago abandoned. The trail is enveloped in hardwood and sycamores, lush bush all hinting at a regular supply of water. To our right of the trail we noticed the remnants of an abandoned farm road. An observant trekker will see to your right a rather sizable cache of spooled barbed wire.

After the barbed wire cache you should look for the intersection of Reavis Gap Trail. The Gap trail is a part of the Arizona Trail that traverses the State North to South. Beyond this intersection you will be walking through the lower orchard. Our December visit allowed us access to a generous supply of Red and Golden Delicious apples. This was an opportunity for us to collect a few of each for our end of trail treat. At this point you are within ¬Ĺ hour of the Ranch House site. The trail continues through the orchard into a meadow that is strewn with farm equipment, fencing, cattle loading stall and a small barbed-wire enclosure. Remnants of camp sites abound, although the wise camper would set-up camp within the enclosure. Why you ask? Well, other than an abundance of fallen apples, dead fall and rusting farm equipment you will notice quite readily an equally pervasive quantity of bear scat. Although we saw no other trace of Yogi, this would be the time he and his kin would be bulking up for the coming winter. I for one would rather not interfere and even felt more assured by the decision made to make base camp far above the bear feeding and defecation frenzy that was clearly currently happening down here at the Ranch.

The House site is at the terminus of the Ranch Trail. It sits on a raise just right of the enclosure. Consisting of a concrete slab with red stone floor tiles and the ruins of what where stone walls encircle the slab. Higher yet on the same rise is a red-stone circular wall, my guess the remains of a water system. The remains of a pipe leading from the system to what appears to be a now dry water enclosure dammed by the same red stones. Below the home site is a meadow and to the south drops into a slight grade to the Reavis Creek. To our surprise we where met with a running stream, this during one of the driest summers the area has had in recent history. The water was clear and cool. Using our Katadyn Guide Water Filter, we easily replenished our two 1 Liter Platypus containers. Another caution though the December daytime temperatures hovered between 68 to 70 degrees, it is very dry. Water requirement is much greater in these conditions, do be water wise and not dry foolish.

Now for the trail-end treat mentioned earlier. We had the good fortune of advanced preparation to include some tin-foil, a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar. After starting a small fire with the plentiful dead-fall in one of the many fire rings we washed and cored the apples, sprinkled the brown sugar and cinnamon and warped them in the foil placed in the bed of hot coals. After about 20 minutes pulled the treats from the fire, unwrapped the apples added a bit of cheese. Adding to this a cup of instant apple cider made for a memorable trail end. The trek back to the Windy Pass base camp made for a great day wondering the infamous Superstition Mountains. After reflecting about the days trek to Reavis Ranch we enjoyed a culinary feast of ‚?oEnertia Trail Foods‚?Ě Switchback Spaghetti a truly bountiful, filling and satisfying meal at days end. After trying all of the popular brands of dehydrated and freeze-dried meals the Enertia products rise to the top as the clear winners. From the individual meal packaging, included condiments (the spaghetti even came will grated cheese!) the folks at Enertia leave nothing at risk especially taste for the traveler.

Fauna
Although the wild life were only in evidence by that left behind, we saw traces of bear, dear, elk and coon in abundance. Frequent glimpses of partridge scampering through the rocks, several sparrow sized birds, wood-peckers in the orchard and the thrilling sight of a hawk on the wing. Although my hiking partner would not verify, I believe I saw an owl perched in a far-off branch just below Windy Pass, thankfully no snakes. Others report earlier in the year their encounters with diamond backs, but we were spared.

Equipment Reflections
We each utilized a long range pack system of 5000 and 6500 cubic inches most of which were used to house our full water containers and both weighted in around 6 pounds empty. I can‚?Tt emphasize enough about porting sufficient water. We utilized 100 oz hydration bladders, a 100 oz and two 40 oz Platypus each. As mentioned we re-supplied our hydration bladders and two 40 oz containers at the creek. Returning to the trail head we had one 40 oz container and about 20 oz remaining in one of the bladders. That covered three full days and the two nights meals and trekking. The successes of our equipment were the mentioned sleep kits, the Jet Boil PCS cooking configuration, hydration bladders and trekking poles. That to be reconsidered is the old school cotton and wool outer gear. The Polartec 200 fleece was a clear winner for warmth and the polypropylene shirts wicked off our trekking sweat while maintaining a comfortable body temperature. I was also very pleased with the poly socks and liners. These in conjunction with my well worn Skechers steel toed work boots made for a blister free three day 20+ mile trek.

Personal Observations
I would strongly encourage you to get acclimatized to 4,000 feet plus altitudes prior to this hike. That and a good solid work-out plan on the stair climber, possibly a dozen round trips up Squaw Peak would help. The first day march from trail head at 3,600 feet to the Windy Pass at nearly 5,100 feet took the wind out of this Coureurs de Bois. However, after the first night all was well. During our December trek we experienced daytime temperatures of between 58 to 62 degrees and nighttime lows of 30 to 40 degrees. I am sure that the temperatures would be intolerable in the summer when ambient temperatures reach over 100 degrees. At that point I would discourage hiking in the desert, but early spring, fall or winter is ideal.


Homebound
I will add that we celebrated our feat of daring do with a beer and burger at Tortilla Flats. That, fellow travelers, is the fulfillment of a great trip and one that I hope to do again in the not so distant future.



Difficulty

Moderate if done in October to February.

Statistics

Total Distance (round trip): 25 mile
Elevation Gain: Start at 3100 feet, Highest Point 5300 feet
Three day hike
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