You’re more likely today to find yuppie bikers and artist studios than cattlemen in Cave Creek, but the town manages to retain more of its Old West character than any other Valley community.
This hardscrabble outpost, first settled by miners and ranchers in the 1870s, has changed significantly. In the 1920s, tuberculosis camps first popped up in Cave Creek, as those suffering from lung ailments thought the dry desert air would cure them. By the 1940s and ’50s, dude ranches took over old homesteads, and the visitors have been coming ever since.
You can get a sense of Cave Creek’s Old West past and have a little tourist fun at Frontier Town (6245 E. Cave Creek Rd., 480/488-3317, www.frontiertownaz.com ), an “1880s-style theme town.” Sure, it’s a little hokey, but you can’t help but smile while walking the wooden boardwalks and dodging hitching posts and antique wagons on your way to grab a beer.
In the 1930s and ’40s, the WPA set up camp, providing living quarters for workers building Bartlett Lake and Horseshoe Dams. Today, Frontier Town is home to restaurants with live music on the patio, gift shops, and even an old-time barber shop. The Leather Mill gift shop is housed in one of the original WPA cabins.
For an authentic slice of the Old West, the Cave Creek Museum (6140 E. Skyline Dr., 480/488-2764, www.cavecreekmuseum.com , 1–4:30 p.m. Wed.–Sun.) is just down the street from Frontier Town. You can see the last tuberculosis cabin in the state of Arizona, one of 16 cabins originally found in a 1920s camp.