On the west bank of Cave Creek’s flood plain that is surrounded by desert shrubs and grass, a 100-foot deep cave cuts into the gray rocks. It’s the cave many believe gave the creek, and subsequently the town, its name.
Today the creek runs dry, but the rock shelter remains a symbol of the town’s history.
“It’s kind of the worst-kept secret in town,” said Thom Hulen, conservation director of the Desert Foothills Land Trust. “A lot of residents like to see it.”
Ten years ago, the cave, which is technically a rock shelter, and 15 acres surrounding it were placed under the protection of an easement by the Desert Foothills Land Trust.
At the time, the cave was threatened by a proposed housing development.
“It probably would have been destroyed,” Hulen said. “Having houses built too close to it would cause the cave to collapse because of the heavy equipment that would be necessary.”
Carefree resident Robin Kilbane said the history and the stories behind the cave are incredible.
“I think it’s wonderful that it is protected,” Kilbane said, “so it will be around for future generations to see.”
Primitive rock art chipped and painted on the walls have led archaeologists to believe the cave was once home to the prehistoric Hohokam Indians.
And a charred black layer on the rocks was most likely caused from a still used to make liquor in the cave during the Prohibition period.
While the cave has been preserved, parts of the creek have suffered.
Right now, all that’s left near the cave are three small puddles that are homes to a variety of frogs and birds.
The creek, which bubbles up from the springs in the Tonto National Forest and cuts through town, still runs a few feet below the soil and surfaces in the spring and winter.
But even that could disappear.
“We have a lot of people in Cave Creek that are on wells,” he said. “So when they’re drawing the water out of the well system, they are actually lowering the water table.”
Cave Creek Cave
The Desert Foothills Land Trust conducts six guided tours of the cave each year. For information, call (480) 488-6131 or visit