CAVE CREEK, AZ - Tucked away in the residential desert landscape of Cave Creek is a rugged crescent-shaped cave believed to be the town's namesake.
According to historians, the cave has played a variety of roles over the last 11,000 years. It is believed to have been used as a shelter for ancient Hohokam and Tonto-Apache tribe members; the site of a deadly Christmas Day battle between Native Americans and the U.S. calvary; a place for moonshiners to hide their loot; and, now, reportedly the occasional dwelling for a mountain lion.
It is also believed to be the "cave" in Cave Creek. (There are two theories of how Cave Creek got its name. We'll look into those in a minute.)
Take an exclusive 360-degree video tour of the cave.
Today, the land is owned by private citizens but is protected and managed by the Desert Foothills Land Trust through conservation easements, a contractual agreement that gives the Trust access to the land with the purpose of preserving it, said Vicki Preston, the trust's executive director.
It is not regularly open nor accessible to the public. Through those easements, however, the Trust is allowed to conduct six tours a year -- three each in the spring and fall -- each capped at 20 people. You can register for a current tour or signup for a waiting list at the Trust's website, www.dflt.org.
Due to the cave's exclusivity, the Trust allowed ABC15 special access to the cave to record a 360-video and share that with our readers.
View from the cave at Cave Creek
Within the cave are inscriptions of reported names of soldiers dating to the early 1900s, Native American pictoglyphs (painted symbols) and petroglyphs (carved symbols), and miscellaneous artifacts left behind.
Tour organizers show off fragments of bone and stone that may have been used as tools by Native American tribes. Deep holes in rocks are said to have been used as storage compartments, while shallower divets were used to mold sticks and tools.
Fragment of carved bone
While archeologists and historians have explored the cave, it has never been excavated. That's because, according to Preston, the risk of damaging the cave further is too great.
Over the years, the cave has been a victim of vandalism. The lower parts of the cave's ceiling have been blackened by fires, and names and words have been scraped over the symbolic paintings or inscribed into other parts of the walls -- all irreversible damage, the Trust said.
The Trust has also refrained from registering the cave as a historic landmark because "it becomes a dot on the map," said Preston. "It sounds stupid, but there is something to keeping things not public."
It's a delicate balance between sharing the cave's history and ensuring its survival for future generations.
On our tour, it was noted that the infrared camera installed to observe the mountain lion and javelinas that occasionally visit the cave had been shot and damaged. While not a substantial cost to replace, certainly an unwarranted one.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
There are two theories as to how Cave Creek was named.
According to Kraig Nelson, a docent at the Cave Creek Museum and the town's historian, one theory involves a man named Edward G. Cave, also known as "Old Rackensack", who deserted the Confederate Army and came to Arizona to mine gold and silver.
He started in Tucson and then arrived in Cave Creek after 1870, said Nelson. He lived and mined in Cave Creek for 30 years before he died.
The second theory is that the town was named after the cave itself. Nelson said a military map from 1866 shows that the military was aware of the cave's existence. The cave also runs near the Cave Creek creek, a wash that reportedly flowed during the 1800s (it is mostly dry today).
While Nelson admits there is no "definitive" answer, he theorizes that the town was likely named after the cave itself because, according to the map, the military was aware of the cave before Old Rackensack arrived in town.