The Heber-Reno driveway was established in 1890 and has been used to drive sheep into the White Mountains for more than a century. Each spring the sheep would begin a six-week, 220 mile adventure towards cooler climates. Crossing the Salt River they were driven up to the Mogollon Rim and on to Snowflake where they then picked up the Morgan Mountain Trail to graze near Greer for the summer. As a young man growing up in Show Low, I recall seeing these sheep as they would be grazing in meadows near Greens Peak. Before winter, they would driven back so the new lambs could be born.
In 1918, the Government reported 51 driveways in Arizona. By 1970, there were only 8 with the Heber-Reno Driveway being the only one being used. In 1922, over 65,000 sheep utilized this trail twice per year. Due to economics and battles with cattle ranchers, by 1970 the majority of sheep were being trucked into the White Mountains. Sadly, in 2011 the Sheep Springs Sheep Company (Dobson Family) ended a part of Arizona History forever as the final outfit to use the trail.
The Heber-Reno trail is shrouded in a history that includes the existence of an old late 1800’s Pioneer limestone oven, legal battles with cattle ranchers and even murder. In the book “They Shot Billy Today” by Leland Hanchett, it describes a site (Tonto Basin) on the Heber-Reno Driveway where a sheepherder was murdered in 1887. The sheepherder was a Ute Indian who was employed by Daggs Bros. “When found his head was severed from his body and laying some fifteen feet from the other part”. Nighttime hikers have reported seeing the ghost of the young Ute Indian continuing to walk the trail.
“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”
– General George S. Patton
At the time of this post, I’ve been unable to find any reliable historical data on the Goldfield Ovens. Based on my own research, It was most likely built in the early 1900’s by Pioneers as an Annealing Oven. In a beehive style, these ovens were typically engineered into the face of a mountain for increased thermodynamics. Annealing allowed the Pioneers to physically alter the chemical properties of materials to increase ductility and make it more workable. In the case of metal, the material was heated (until glowing) and was reshaped until it cooled in the air. Given the area of the Goldfield Oven, I suspect it was used for stamping and forming mining materials.
While I enjoy the history of the Heber-Reno trail and the Goldfield Oven Loop, I personally don’t recommend doing the entire 7.75 mile loop. Much of the driveway involves hiking through a few miles of very soft sand, which can become strenuous and provide further ailments with anyone bad knees. Also, the final 2 miles of the loop travels alongside a very busy Bush Highway. Therefore, this guide will provide you with an excellent adventure down the Heber-Reno Trail, visit the Goldfield Oven and ascend up in elevation to visit a cave that I stumbled upon.
A Tonto Day Pass is required to park at the Blue Point Recreation Site. The trail starts just North of the restrooms which are located at the backside of the parking lot. The trail will start to take you through a mesquite filled area alongside large rock faces. Be sure to look upward and search for white scat along the rock walls as it may lead to an eagles nest which can often be seen soaring through the blue skies. The trail will continue to take you down to the Lower Salt River until you come to a large beach area which marks the start of the Heber-Reno Trail. This is a picture perfect scene with the water, canyon walls and if you’re lucky you will see the presence of wild horses.
At the beachfront wash, you will continue North up the Heber-Reno Trail while hugging the edges to avoid having to hike through the deep sand. About a third of a mile up the trail (33.562121, -111.580176), look to your right and you will see an enormous Saguaro that appears to be playing a game of twister with itself.
As you continue, the cliff walls will guide you as you start to note some loose limestone on your right. Look for an opening in the mountainside with stacked masonry brick approximately 12 feet above the opening and you’ll discovered the Goldfield Oven (33.567234, -111.58167800000001). To the right of the opening, you will notice a geocache signature book if your inclined to sign it. To really appreciate its construction, I advise that you carefully crawl into the oven as well as hike above the chimney.
Across from the oven, you will see a limestone mountain with a flat base to the northern end. Above this base, you will see what appears to be an old trail that traverses up the mountainside. Follow this trail and it will lead you to a cave that is worth its investigation. If you decide to continue the loop, you will see Stewart Mountain (Peaks App) dead ahead and you will continue hiking North. In my opinion, the views of Saguaro Lake on the backside isn’t worth the payoff and I recommend spending more time exploring the oven, cave and ridge-line.
“ The true call of the desert, of the mountains, or the sea, is their silence free networks of dead speech.” – Dame Freya Madeleine Stark
Follow AZ-Loop North and Exit Shea Boulevard heading East. You will travel through Fountain Hills until you reach AZ-87. Turn left on AZ-87 heading North and take exit 199 for Bush Highway. Turn Right onto Bush Highway and travel 7.6 miles until you reach Blue Point Recreation Area on your left.
|Directions||View on Google Maps|
|Time||4.5 Hours RT|