For boomers, the first usher into the petite Cave Creek Museum in the Sonoran Desert Foothills was likely the actor Lorne Greene.
Greene—so identified as Bonanza’s patriarch Ben Cartwright— is, for many children of the ‘60s, THE image of what a rancher looks like. How remarkable to learn from our guide in this hors d’oeuvre of a museum that the sign with an arrow pointing out that the Cartwright Ranch was thataway is THE Cartwright ranch that inspired that long-running TV series.
It matters not. Here you are in a modest museum without benefit of any bells or whistles—all artifacts displayed without much ceremony. But linger with them, and ponder the souls who came to these parts because there was gold in them there hills or perhaps dry air that promised a cure from consumption.
Cave Creek Museum swirls with stories from the past
The stories swirling from these archives reach farther back still to prehistoric times. Whether you are striding the bridge over canals in downtown Scottsdale they first engineered , or hiking one of their fort ruins in Sears-Kay, or admiring the pottery in the Cave Creek Museum’s archeology section, the mystery of the Hohokam captures your imagination. How did this ancient tribe come to be so advanced and why did they disappear? Though small, the archeological collections then tour you through more recent Native cultures who followed.
By the time the Spanish conquistadors showed up in the 1500’s it was the Apache who dominated the land. Cave Creek the town actually came to be because it was a way station between two forts the US Army had built to wage war against the area’s native inhabitants.
What really put Cave Creek on the map was gold. You’ll see the worldly goods that miners of that time and place possessed. An assay office—an all important place of financial reckoning for these miners—is reconstructed with accuracy. You learn how the gold was extracted from quartz with either cyanide or mercury, causing you to ponder if this population too was mad as a hatter, or dying prematurely from poisons in their midst.
A prize possession of Cave Creek Museum is the 10-stamp mill you find on its property and which is put into operation once a month, weather permitting, except during the hot summer months when the museum is closed. At one time Cave Creek boasted the only one of this size in all of New Mexico and Arizona, and the tales of how bad boy real estate deals and other shenanigans brought it to a close seems as much a part of the landscape as the desert flora.
Cattle, Sheep and Consumptives
The keepsakes of sheep and cattle ranchers who came to dominate in the economy as mining faded are here on display without fanfare. They seem to have been rescues from local attics—intimate and authentic.
In the 1920’s some of these ranches became the first dude ranches where urbanites could come for restorative cures. You’ll see a one-room modest TB cabin from 1920’s, perfectly restored, and listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
Tips on your visit
You only need about an hour to take in what Cave Creek Museum has to offer, although true history buffs will likely want to stay longer. If you are in the area this is a highly recommended stop on your tour.
It’s a tiny museum, that packs a lot of history in them there walls.
Open October thru May:
Monday – CLOSED
Tuesday – CLOSED
Wednesday – 1:00 to 4:30 pm
Thursday – 1:00 to 4:30 pm
Friday – 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Saturday – 1:00 to 4:30 pm
Sunday – 1:00 to 4:30 pm
Closed Holidays: Easter, Mother’s Day, Observed Memorial Day,Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day
6140 E Skyline Drive
Cave Creek AZ 85327
Students 12 and over, $2.00
Children Under 12, FREE