Adventure guide finds hope in the ashes after fire

By Kamala Kirk
Foothills Focus Contributing Writer

For the past 30 years, Johnny Ringo’s Carefree Adventures has been a cultural pillar in the Cave Creek community. Owner Johnny Ringo is known far and wide for his popular guided adventure tours that showcase the beauty and magic of the Sonoran Desert.

As a young boy, Ringo watched spaghetti Westerns and dreamed of becoming a cowboy with a black-and-white horse. That dream became a reality many years later after he left the corporate world and moved to Arizona to pursue his dream. After years of hard work, Ringo built a successful tour business that entertained and educated people about the area’s history and wildlife while driving them around in Broncos and Jeeps.

On May 30, tragedy stuck when the Ocotillo Fire tore through 1,216 acres in Cave Creek and destroyed 20 buildings—eight homes and 12 structures—including Ringo’s entire fleet of custom tour vehicles and his garage filled with equipment, tools, artwork and treasured memorabilia. The source of the fire remains under investigation.

“I lost two Jeeps and two Broncos, as well as my ’66 Volkswagen Camper Riviera,” Ringo said. “We saw the fire moving toward us pretty fast, so I made a phone call and a friend that lives nearby rushed over to help take our three horses to safety. I was able to save my ’84 Chrysler LeBaron convertible and drove away through the fire before the garage blew up.”

Had it not been for the vigilant efforts of Ringo’s neighbors, Larson Excavating, he would have lost his home as well.

“While everything was burning and my vehicles were blowing up, they attached big hoses to water trucks and were spraying everything,” Ringo said. “One guy was standing in my door fighting the fire and pushing it away from the house. The fire went completely around the house—they saved my house and my property. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have a house.”

Prior to the fire, Ringo’s business had already been hit hard as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in multiple months of canceled tours and lost income.

“Cave Creek is a tourist town, and we all depend on the visitors who come out here,” Ringo said. “Like all the other businesses, I’ve been affected. To help me save on some expenses, I temporarily took my vehicles off the insurance because they were just sitting here. I had planned to reinsure them when tours were ready to start up again, but then the fire came and destroyed them all. Those Jeeps I had were very rare and hard to find.”

Ringo has received an outpouring of support from the community. His longtime friend Amy Dunn started a GoFundMe page on June 2 to help Ringo replace his tour vehicles.

“I moved to Arizona in 1993, and Johnny has been a part of Cave Creek for as long as I can remember,” Dunn said. “He has one of the biggest hearts out there and will always be the first to offer a hand. He has been very involved in helping nonprofits and organizations within the community. For the first time in Johnny’s life, he’s asking for help. His dream is to bring people to our backyard to create lasting memories for them. He has been a long-standing pillar to the town of Cave Creek, and if anyone deserves to continue living their dream, it’s Johnny.”

Cathy Wasner runs a team-building program for corporate executives who visit Cave Creek every October to participate in a desert adventure led by Ringo.

“Johnny does a lot of great things for this town and supports all of the other businesses in Cave Creek,” she added. “He’s such a fixture in the community—he’s a local celebrity. Anyone who has ever met Johnny loves him.”

A friend who is a builder and structural engineer has already begun designing a new garage for Ringo, while others have come up with ideas to make road art out of his old vehicles. A creative welder is going to take the collapsed tin roof from Ringo’s garage and flatten it with a tractor, then take it to local Cave Creek Museum, where it will be included in a historical exhibit on the Ocotillo Fire.

“The entire town is so special to me,” Ringo said. “People have been knocking on my door to check on me, give me courage, and share ideas for things that can be done with what’s left. I haven’t stopped crying. Cave Creek is an amazing community where everybody helps each other out and looks after one another. There’s no place like it, and I don’t ever want to live anywhere else but here.”

After taking a photo of the rubble left from the fire and looking at it later, Ringo noticed a rainbow—the ultimate symbol of hope.

“Everyone who’s seen that picture has said the rainbow is a sign,” he shared. “I’m going to rise from the ashes and be back bigger and better than before. I have this energy inside of me from the fire, and I plan to rebuild and bring people back out to the desert so I can continue to live my dream and share it with everybody across the world.”

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