Reynolds Pond

On Sunday I took the kids to the local swimming hole that I frequented when growing up: Reynolds Pond. As to be expected for something located in Alfalfa, there’s not much online about it, so I thought I’d remedy that a bit. Herewith a bit of local geography and history, along with some wistfulness over the passage of time.

Alfalfa is located about 15 miles east of Bend, north of Highway 20 and near the Deschutes/Crook County border. It’s primarily an agricultural community, with acres of irrigrated field crops (largely hay) and livestock (cattle and sheep) dropped right down into the middle of the desert. Aside from the farmland, there’s a small store and gas station, a community grange hall, a power substation and not much else. (The old Alfalfa School, which I attended through fourth grade, closed many years ago.)

Reynolds Pond is in the southeastern part of Alfalfa, off the beaten track, and, aside from the irrigation canals and duck ponds, is the only sizable body of water in the area. The only way to get there is to leave the main road at either the Alfalfa Store or near the landfill substation and travel about a mile down the dusty, rocky, bumpy, narrow dirt roads that criss-cross the entire area.

Despite all that, it’s still the place everyone goes for swimming and fishing. Yep, fishing: even though it’s pretty small, years ago it was stocked with fish—more on that in a bit.

I found a decent mention of it from this page titled, “A brief history of The Badlands Wilderness Study Area“:

In the high desert country of Central Oregon is an area referred to as the Badlands. The Badlands, named in the 1920’s because of its harsh terrain is a surprisingly undisturbed area tucked in between Bend and Horse Ridge…. There is a wide diversity of basalt flow formations within the study area. Beautiful, twisted, Western Juniper trees cover much of the area with an understory composed of bitterbrush and bunchgrass. There is big sage, two varieties of rabbit brush, Idaho fescue, squirrel tail, needle grass, and phlox. Reynolds pond lies in the northwest portion of the WSA [Wilderness Study Area] and is the only surface water. Water levels in the pond are dependent on flows in the canal and consequently can fluctuate widely. When full, Reynolds Pond covers eight surface acres and is a nice addition to the WSA.

Learn something new every day: even though I spent a good part of my summers going to Reynolds Pond, I never knew it was about eight surface acres in size, or that it’s the only surface water in the Badlands.

Overall, Reynolds Pond is fairly shallow; one of the deepest parts I ever found was probably 14 or 15 feet, but most of it is wadeable. While swimmable, the bottom is made up of slimy, silty mud that squishes between your toes and turns the water cloudy the instant you disturb it. There’s a fair amount of vegetation, too—we always called it “seaweed” even though it’s merely the run-of-the-mill freshwater weeds that are long, thin and ropy.

The pond was stocked with fish years ago, largemouth bass and redear sunfish. I’ve never seen a particularly large fish from the pond myself, but apparently the state record for redear sunfish was pulled out of there in 1992 by a Terence Bice—a whopping 1 pound 15 ounce fish, but the fact that a record fish of any kind was caught there is kind of impressive.

One distinct feature that we always loved were the islands: four or five mounds of dirt rising out of the water at odd spots. One was right off the shore—you could wade to it in water that barely came up to your knees—it was the smallest of the bunch, no larger that a Volkswagon Bug probably. The others, larger and (relatively) harder to reach, were always the more desirable targets for their size and who-could-make-it-all-the-way cachet. But really, they were nothing but mounds of dirt comprised of the same sandy soil and lava rock that shows up everywhere else in the desert. There was some reedy grass that grew around the larger ones’ “shores” and some thin bunchgrass and such that peppered the top of them, but once you climbed up on one you quickly got bored with the drab conquest and went back in the water. They were cool because they were there, but they weren’t much to look at.

Or at least, they weren’t much to look at over a decade ago (the last time I’d been there, I figure, was 1992). Imagine my surprise when we pulled up Sunday and found that every island is covered—and I mean entirely covered, every inch—with bright green trees and vegetation! (Sad to say, I couldn’t rightly identify the tree species other to say it’s the same type of willowy, reedy tree that you find along the banks of the Deschutes River.) Vastly, vastly changed from when I was last there. And there’s not just the trees and grasses and various shrubs on the islands; there’s forests of reeds around the islands, actual cat tail freshwater reeds, not just marshy grass. And the trees and plants were growing along the opposite shore, hugging the rim of the pond, too.

It was one of those moments where you are acutely aware of the passage of time; where there’s such a polarizing disconnect between what you remember and what there is that you cannot even process it at first. I mean, 12 years had passed since I was last there; trees have grown and matured, the entire mini-ecosystem has changed. I wish I had pictures of how it used to be, to compare.

Otherwise, it was a great time with the kids. Watching them play in the water, remembering the times I used to spend there, made me realize that some things never truly change.

And finally, one other intersting link: A Reynolds Pond hike from the MSN Groups “Day Hiking Oregon”. With some pictures, even.