Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The difference between Cave Creek and Cave Creek Road

I've lived in Phoenix for a long time now, and one thing that I learned is that very few people here know much about its geography. I'm not talking about being an expert on rocks and minerals (that's geology, anyway), I'm talking about people who assume that when I say “Cave Creek” I mean Cave Creek Road, or the City of Cave Creek. When I say, “no, I mean the creek”, usually the response is “there's a creek?”

To be fair, places like the Agua Fria River, or Cave Creek, are not really marked all that well on road maps. When people need to travel around Phoenix, they need to know the roads, not the geography. And when I ask someone, I am usually referred to some historic map, or maybe I should go look at a book in the library. And with the huge amount of historic maps and documents that have become available on the internet recently (in only the past 2-3 years), I am getting the answers that I have been looking for. So I will stop asking people and hopefully I will get less “are you crazy?” looks.

Cave Creek (I'm talking about the creek now, not the road, or the town), flowed diagonally just to the west of the Phoenix Mountains. In modern terms, it's where the flood plain is today, just east of the Metrocenter Mall. And yes, there is a flood plain there, and that's why the freeway does that little jog right there. Take a look at a Google map Satellite view and you'll see it.

The map above, from 1892, shows Cave Creek in its historic location. Of course now it's all dried up, except when it rains, and the water flows through storm drains into the diversion channel (Thunderbird Paseo Park).

This was the trail, along the creek that took you to the gold mine areas north of Phoenix, especially F.A. Shaw's Maricopa Mine near Spur Cross Ranch. To get there, you just followed the creek past Shaw Butte. No need for a road map!

Where Cave Creek is in Phoenix, Arizona

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  1. I live near the Union Mine, which was a stopping place on the way to Cave Creek. It spawned the town of Union and the Union Hills. All that's left now is a fenced shaft but it (and the Jack White Mine a mile or so north used to be quite an operation, even supporting a ten-stamp mill!) It was owned by a succession of notables, including Frank Alkire, until it finally went bust in 1981.

    Incidentally, there's also a "cave" that gave the creek its name.

    1. Very cool! Have you written about the Union Mine? I would like to post its history on my Phoenix Historical Images page!

    2. I've spent some time researching it in the Department of Mines but it's been pretty slow going. As you can imagine, it's *very* hard to search for.

      That might be a good project though. It fascinates me because I used to go shooting and dirt bike riding in that area when I was a kid in the 80s. I bought my first house in the area right before they demolished the town's ruins.

      If only I had known, I could've explored some. The lesson I took was the same as I get shopping at Costco: seize the moment because it might not be there when you go back.

    3. It would be a great project! I would like to learn more about it, and the stuff I've seen so far is pretty thin! Keep me informed of your progress. Yes! Seize the day!