Wild West lives on in Cave Creek
CAVE CREEK – Although the history of Cave Creek can be traced back to 700 A.D. with the arrival of the Hohokam Native American tribe, it wasn’t until 1986 that Cave Creek was incorporated as a town.
In between that time frame, miners settled in the area in search of gold, Spur Cross and several other dude ranches were established, and the construction of the Barlett and Horseshoe dams slowly brought the small town of Cave Creek to life.
“When you have a history like that the town is very respectful of it,” Mayor Vincent Francia said. “It’s a very unique community in this day and age.”
Today you’ll find that the Wild West is still very much alive in the well-preserved community of Cave Creek, a town that spans 38 square miles, half of it made up of conservation areas.
“We have this wonderful rural lifestyle here, we live in harmony with the desert,” Francia said. “We have a little over 5,000 citizens and probably that many horses.”
A Cave Creek resident since 1990, Francia served four years as a council member from 1995 to 1999 before becoming the first citizens-elected mayor in 1999.
Francia said that the rural lifestyle and beauty of the surrounding landscape Cave Creek has to offer are some of the main attractions of the area, and one of the reasons why so many people are choosing to call it home.
“If you don’t feel comfortable in the desert it probably won’t work for you,” Francia said. “We’re one of the few communities in the nation that can say that half of our area is preserved open space. That’s something the community is very conscientious about: the desert.”
One of Francia’s first responsibilities as mayor was to help preserve Spur Cross Ranch, a conservation area that borders the Tonto National Forest, in 2000. The territory has a particularly “rich archaeological record,” that housed artifacts from its former Native American inhabitants such as prehistoric pottery and tools, many of which now reside in the Cave Creek Museum.
Francia said the Spur Cross conservation project was “an enormous grass roots effort on the part of everyone in the community,” that allowed them to preserve 2,500 acres of land. The area now offers more than 100 miles of trails that appeal to many hikers and mountain bikers, as well as those that prefer to ride horseback.
Both Maricopa County and the state of Arizona contributed $7.5 million to help purchase the land, but that was still short of what the property owners wanted. A vote was then held and 80 percent of Cave Creek citizens voted in favor of assuming a property tax in order to pay the remaining difference and save the land.
“That’s how important it was to Cave Creek citizens,” Francia said. “It established the character of the community, Spur Cross is what gave Cave Creek its identity.”
Another main part of Cave Creek’s identity lies with the many family owned and run businesses. For years the only national chain store in the town was a Dairy Queen opened in the late 70s; the rest of the town is filled with an array of unique restaurants and businesses that occupy the many historic buildings.
But the past few years have seen significant economic development with the addition of a Wal-Mart, AutoZone, and other major retailers. An Oregano’s was also added across from the town hall last year, making it the second chain restaurant the town has ever seen.
Evelyn Johnson, executive director for the Cave Creek Museum, said the building it occupies was built in the 1920s and previously housed the Black Mountain Store, a small general store that sold groceries and other supplies before it was turned into the Cave Creek Inn restaurant in the 1950s.
Even with the additions of new housing communities and corporate retailers, the mayor said that Cave Creek will continue to preserve the rich history its residents have known and loved.
“In ten years it’s still going to be rural, that part isn’t going to change,” Francia said. “People are very conscious of the history here, the historic part of the town is still going to remain fun and funky.”
“I think our intent is to keep the town core the way it is for our residents and tourists, to keep it uniquely Cave Creek,” Ian Cordwell, the director of town planning said. “At the same time we’re trying to encourage income generating businesses.”
Cordwell has been a Cave Creek resident for more than 19 years and said the town has doubled in population since he first moved to the area, but that “it has still maintained the original character.”
Now that the community is growing again, Cordwell said that one of the biggest struggles is “creating a buffer between commercial and residential areas.”