Ten Things to Love About Cave Creek, Arizona
Cave Creek is All About Western!
While nearby Scottsdale boasts cosmetic surgery and Jaguar dealerships, Cave Creek cherishes its western heritage. True West magazine is headquartered here, taking its place on Cave Creek Road alongside boot shops, feed stores, and western-themed thrift shop, gift shops, and furniture and accessory shops. We love our cowboy lifestyle. You'll find it in the names of such businesses as Spirit of the West, Big Bronco, and the heartbeat of the town -- Harold's Corral. You'll hear it in the music spilling out of the Buffalo Chip, or the sound of the cowboys hitting the dust in the back of the bar on Saturday nights as they try to reach eight seconds on a live bull. You'll smell it in the loads of alfalfa at Black Mountain Feed right on the main drag, and you'll feel it in the air during the entire Fiesta Days weekend. Western is Cave Creek.
Cave Creek has its Own Quirky, Creeky Identity
We call ourselves "Creekers." It's more than a geographical reference; it's a lifestyle and an attitude. It's a matter of pride that we aren't the planned community of our neighboring Carefree; ours is a more iconoclastic identity. It's no coincidence that a group of local merchants put together a terrific outdoor marketplace called Thieves Market, and assigned the slogan, "Perfectly Uncivilized" to the market and, by extension, the town itself. That, of course, got under the skin of a few people who would rather see Cave Creek become the new Scottsdale (heaven and Hank Williams forbid!) The true Creeker is proud of that moniker.
Creekers are a proud bunch indeed. You'll find the familiar Cave Creek front license plate on a large percentage of our pick-up trucks (and cars, since Creekers are a tolerant bunch and let them share the road). Having trouble merging onto the freeway in downtown Phoenix? Look closely at the front plate of the guy who backed off and waved you on in front of him -- he's probably a Creeker.
As with any quirky town, you'll see a rich variety of local wildlife -- and I'm not talking about the scorpions, rattlesnakes and javelina. I mean the residents. Men wearing the ubiquitous cowboy hat wander the streets wearing shorts, cowboy boots, and dangly earrings. Plenty of people will introduce themselves with western names that they've adopted by choice. Belts with first names hand-tooled on the back are abundant on the salt-covered dance floor at the Chip on Saturday nights. Look for a pick-up truck decorated with skull and roses, a turquoise Lincoln the size of a yacht, or the antique un-restored pick-up with a vintage pitch-fork in the bed vying for attention on the local roads.
Cave Creek is Dog-Friendly
All the best people are dog lovers. Cave Creek is no exception. Many businesses throughout town cater to those of us who cater to our dogs. On cooler days, check out how many dogs accompany their humans to the patios at Bryan's Black Mountain BBQ, Oak's Diner, and Janey's Coffee House. Some of the locally-owned businesses feature dogs who'll greet you happily as you enter; the Document House offers great printing and an adorable pug.
Not just one, but TWO local thrift stores benefit animal rescues. Water dishes are strategically located in front of many businesses -- we're in the desert, after all. It's a small town, and not only do people paste "lost dog" bulletins on street sides, but when the dog is safely located, you'll sometimes see "FOUND!" written on the posters to let us all know that all is well.
Cave Creek has Unique Business Names
For a while, Cave Creek had a long-standing restaurant called "The Satisfied Frog." That name might puzzle you until you drive a little further east and happen to see "The Horny Toad." Creekers have a great sense of humor. You'll see it in the signs announcing businesses throughout the town: The Buffalo Chip is across the street from The Town Dump (which truly is one of the most unique shops in the world, where you can buy a moth-eaten stuffed bear (the real thing -- as in taxidermy), a garden-art piece crafted of antique typewriters welded to a tractor seat, or a Freda Kahlo reproduction. We also boast The Lazy Lizard, Big Earl's Greasy Eats, and For Goodness' Sake thrift shop (so named because it benefits animals).
(For those of you who aren't familiar with our western vernacular, a horned toad is a variety of desert lizard, and a buffalo chip is a cow patty -- another name for cow poop.)
Cave Creek has an Awesome Rodeo
I like rodeos. Organized rodeos, at least -- not the kind of rodeo I often have when I climb up on a green horse on a windy day when they get spooked by a covey of quail shooting up underneath them from the brush. I like the Cave Creek rodeo most of all. It's set against the backdrop of the absolutely stunning Cave Creek Mountains, not yet surrounded by tract homes and gated communities. It's a community get-together and you'll see townspeople waving at each other all the way across the arena, and then reaching for their cell-phones to call the friend they've just recognized. The annual Fiesta Days rodeo is a treasure.
The rodeo parade kicks off the festivities on Saturday morning of rodeo weekend. Because everyone knows everyone, participants in the rodeo often just stop along the route to talk to friends and neighbors. I used to be mystified at how many people came to watch the parade -- not because it's not a great parade, but because it seemed everyone was IN the parade. I'm not ordinarily a parade fan, but I love small town parades, and no one does it better than Cave Creek.
Don't miss the rodeo dance, where you can maybe snag a two-step with one of the bull-riders -- or one of the locals who tells you he's a bull rider, and that yes, Ma'am, he did win that buckle.
Horses Still Rule
As I mentioned before, all the best people love dogs -- and all the VERY best people love dogs and horses. Cave Creek is full of the very best, and it clings tenaciously to its horsey lifestyle. A few years back the town approved a system of trails that run along Spur Cross, Cave Creek, and School House roads so that riders (and other users) can access the town and the amazing desert trails to the north. Volunteers from the community scraped out those trails and edged them with native rocks (of which the town has no short supply) and riders on horseback are a daily sight.
This is a typical sight as you're walking along Cave Creek Road -- a hoof print juxtaposed against the concrete of the sidewalk.
Get a little farther back off the main roads, and you'll still find plenty of ranches, ranging from lavish to humble. On weekends, you can catch some of us sorting, cutting, or roping cattle; caring for our backyard horses; and being photographed by tourists as we ride. I used to sometimes wonder if I was Amish, I had my picture taken so many times by wide-eyed visitors.
The Best Mexican Restaurant in Town has a Lagoon
Sure, there are a few different places to have terrific Mexican food around town. Among them, don't miss the chance to try the spinach enchiladas at Indian Village -- and visit with Bart and Bear for conversation with some true Creekers. But it's hard to top El Encanto for ambience, prickly pear margaritas (make sure you ask for sugar on the rim), and amazing Mexican food. It's memorable for its duck-filled lagoon lined with tables where you can enjoy the heat of summer and the heat of chile peppers at the same time. I enjoy taking out-of-town visitors there for a relaxing lunch; sometimes they can't remember the name of it, but there's no mistaking what they're talking about when they mention, "the pond place."
You Can Ride Your Horse to the Local Saloon
Yes, I already mentioned that horses rule here. But it deserves special mention that you can not only use Cave Creek's trails to ride to town safely, but you can ride to the Buffalo Chip Saloon or Harold's Corral, put your horse in the corrals in back, and enjoy a beer and a meal before riding home. There's a watering trough at either place for your horses to refresh themselves, too.
Cave Creek is Colorful
Cave Creek is a virtual fiesta of cheery colors, from the purple mountains surrounding town to the green (yes, green!) of the desert brush. In town, you can't help but be upbeat with the southwestern shades of yellow, turquoise, purple, and brick red that have found their way onto most of the store fronts and signs. Unlike Scottsdale, where most self-respecting signs have been outlawed and regulated to the point of apathy, signs in Cave Creek are a part of the town's character -- colorful, often hand-painted onto building facades, and distinctively southwestern in influence. And not only are they part of the town's colorful character, but the town's characters are colorful as well.
Color is everywhere here; from the cactus blossoms in the spring to the talavera pottery that lines the roadsides, filled with brightly-colored sculpted blossoms.
Cowboys and Bikers are Equally Welcome
Thanks to the biker-friendly climate much of the year (well, let's just say you'll rarely freeze), Cave Creek is popular with urban bikers whose bikes often line up in front of Harold's, The Hideaway, and other biker-friendly hangouts. During the annual Arizona Bike Week, several events occur in Cave Creek. Cowboys and bikers sit elbow-to-elbow at the bar.
If you're riding in Cave Creek, remember there's a noise ordinance -- keep those decibels down! County deputies do enforce this law. If you're not familiar with horses, please slow down and avoid gunning your engine around them. Unlike your bike, a horse will sometimes actively try to throw its rider. Please look out for the safety of our riders, just as our drivers will look out for your own safety and happily share the road.
Ten's Not Enough
Ten's a nice number. Unless you're a roper who has lost your thumb because you didn't dally just right, you might know it as the number of things you can count on two hands. Unfortunately, it's not a big enough number to cover the hundreds of things I love about Cave Creek. I love the desert; I was born a desert rat, and a desert rat I'll stay. I love the deer that walk freely through the neighborhoods, and the rich variety of bird life -- I even love that pigeons haven't infiltrated yet, but that you can hear their country cousins, the Mourning Doves, cooing in the palo verde. I love the town, its people, its dusty corners. I love that the town is still largely free of gated communities, and I hope that as they encroach there will be people protesting, "Don't Gate Cave Creek!" just as they protested against the subdivision that once threatened to consume the absolutely awe-inspiring Spur Cross ranch (now Spur Cross Preserve -- hey, there's another item for the next list!) I don't love the Walmart and I don't love the new condominiums eating up the mountainside west of the town center, looking like slightly guilt-ridden Scottsdale escapees.
I love that Cave Creek still has a Christmas pageant and the state's last intact tubercular cabin. I love that western artist Lon Megargee lived here, and that Dick Van Dyke owned a ranch here, and that they recognized the unique nature and magic of the place enough to call it home. I hope that as asphalt creeps across the Arizona floor, enough like-minded individuals recognize that Cave Creek is a special place -- and that once it's gone, it's gone forever. They aren't making anymore 1860s mining towns, and they aren't minting anymore aging Creekers who remember when Big Earl's was still a gas station, and the Chip was still a bait shop.
I hope the newcomers strive to preserve what it is that drew them to this quirky, creeky town, and not try to change it to the cities they chose to leave behind.
(C) copyright 2013 MJ Miller *All rights reserved* Although no part of this article may be reproduced without express permission from the author, you may share this link freely.