Ropers at the north end of the metroplex tend to congregate around Desert Hills and Cave Creek, founded as a cavalry camp in 1870 and now home to a population of 5,000. The suburb holds onto its Old West heritage with art galleries, antique stores and its famed nightlife. Nestled into steep foothills, it also boasts the nearby Sonoran Desert as a great place to hike, bike or ride your horses on picturesque trails. Cave Creek is most famous for Harold’s, a saloon founded in the 1930s where you’ll see motorcycles parked next to a horse someone rode there. The town is still country enough that you’ll run into someone you know, but is less than 30 miles from downtown Phoenix. It’s also an easy jaunt south to Scottsdale or north for day trips to Sedona, Prescott or Jerome.
Where to camp, practice & jackpot
• Dynamite arena
No commercial roping arena in the West has more heritage than Dynamite Arena, which began hosting twice-weekly jackpots in the 1970s, frequented by young upstarts like Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper. Now in its second season with a second arena under management by Yost Events, the tradition is going strong.
Dynamite offers 15 full RV hookups and 50 stalls for the winter. The property’s friendly backyard atmosphere makes it a favorite gathering place for weekly ropings, as it continues the popular Senior Wednesdays for the over-40 kids and Dynamite Sundays for all ages. The other wildly popular day is “Legends Fridays”—including an over-60 roping that draws more than 300 teams. Yost plans to offer a #12.5 slide for all ages on both Wednesdays and Fridays, too. (520)251-1495
• Other Camps
Another camp for ropers is operated by Idaho’s Cliff Cordova in Desert Hills. His Ponderosa Ranch offers practice every weekday and by appointment on weekends, along with RV hookups and horse boarding. Meanwhile, Winchester Ranch offers roping clinics, arena rental and full RV hookups in Cave Creek. Also, Rio Rancho Verde is 20 minutes from Scottsdale and sits on 62 acres with full hookups for your living quarters, along with covered stalls, a round pen, arena, laundry room, wash rack and incredible views.
• More jackpots
For jackpotting, you’ll also want to check out the action right in downtown Cave Creek, at Outlaws Arena (6705 East Cave Creek Road). Outlaws Bar & Grill is the largest bar and restaurant in northern Arizona and has a full-size arena just steps from live music and dancing. Last season it offered a weekly breakaway roping on Thursday nights, team roping practice Wednesday nights and every Saturday, and ranch sorting and a rodeo on Sundays. You can expect Friday night team ropings under the lights in front of the bar crowd. (928) 710-3155 or (602) 290-4113; outlawscavecreek.com.
• OTHER EVENTS
Various other arenas around northern Phoenix offer riding to the public and team ropings and events. The Mounted Posse Arena (12401 N Seventh St.), for instance, is hosting a Walt Woodard roping school in early January. (702) 983-4380; themountedposse.org. The non-profit, Arizona Horse Lovers Park (19224 North Tatum Blvd.), is where the longest-running producer in the Valley today—Chad Willson—started 17 years ago. Stalls and dry camping are available, and two nice outdoor arenas host several barrel races and, last year, had ropings all winter. (602) 330-5553; azhorseloverspark.org. And just north of Cave Creek, in New River, the non-profit, Larkyn Memorial Arena, has two outdoor arenas with parking, while the Memorial Arena Rodeo Grounds in Cave Creek hosts a PRCA rodeo and various other competitions
Where to Shop
Anything you need in Cave Creek—from a jar of Furazone to a rope to a saddle—can be purchased at Dynamite Horseman Supply (dynamitehorsemansupply.com) a few blocks from Dynamite Arena, where the team-roping Irion family has been taking good care of ropers for 20 years. Additionally in North Phoenix, 6 header and 16-time NFR saddle bronc rider Mel Coleman owns Black Mountain Feed, Anderson’s Feed & Tack and the C&C Hay Barn (blackmountainfeed.com). The Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer has lived in Cave Creek since the 1990s.
Countdown: 11 Family-Fun Tickets
1) Frontier Town—located in the heart of Cave Creek—mimics an Old West town, complete with a gallows and boot hill cemetery, costumed performers and a restaurant and gift shop open every day of the week.
2) The Rock Springs Café is a historical landmark and pie haven that’s just a short drive north on I-17. The Rock began as an early Indian encampment, then cavalry post and stagecoach stop. Since 1918, visitors have included Tom Mix, Jean Harlow and Wyatt Earp.
3) Just 25 minutes down Cave Creek Road, Turf Paradise opened its 64 horse-racing season in October. Races—and betting—run Saturday through Wednesday, with post time at 1 p.m.
4) Any mutton busters in the family? Take the kiddo to The Buffalo Chip Saloon any Friday night to test his or her mettle.
5) Spur Cross Ranch is great for hiking, biking or horseback riding, with never-ending, high desert views and a six-mile, round-trip trail that climbs slowly and serenely into the mountains.
6) Businesses like Extreme Arizona in Cave Creek will rent top-of-the-line ATVs to your family for a half-day, self-guided excursion through the desert.
7) Head south down I-17 near Loop 101 to try Casey’s SportsWorld for ball games and laser tag, or to Castles N’ Coasters for mini-golf and thrill rides.
8) Just up Cave Creek Road, the Carefree Desert Gardens is one of only two public botanical gardens in the entire Valley, open 365 days a year.
9) Just down Highway 51, near Horse Lovers Park, is the Musical Instrument Museum, rated the top attraction in Phoenix and one of the top 20 museums in the country.
10) About 20 miles west of I-17, off Hwy 74, sits Lake Pleasant—roughly 23,362 acres of water for boating, fishing, swimming and hiking, with RV and tent camping.
11) Cave Creek Regional Park winds around a mountain and boasts the popular 4.8-mile Go John Trail, with sites marked where 1870s gold seekers staked their claims.
Where to EAT
Time spent in Cave Creek at Harold’s Corral or the Buffalo Chip Saloon will put a smile on your face whether it’s midnight or just raining all day and you don’t feel like shaking out a loop. Voted one of Arizona’s 17 most iconic bars, Harold’s offers live music, hand-carved steaks and fresh seafood with dancing lessons each Friday night. The next-door, all-ages “Chip” also has multiple bars, dancing and live music, but one-upped Harold’s by adding a bull riding arena out back. Catch the toro-twisting Wednesday and Friday nights. (480) 488-1906, HaroldsCorral.com; (480) 488-9118, BuffaloChipSaloon.com
• The Horny Toad (TheHornyToad.com) began as a rival to the former Satisfied Frog, and still offers good fare in Cave Creek.
• Other eateries in town you don’t want to miss are El Encanto (ElEncantoRestaurants.com), the Mexican cantina complete with its own duck pond, and Cartwright’s (CartwrightsModernCuisine.com), a throwback, elegant steakhouse. The par-70 Rancho Mañana golf resort in town was a historic dude ranch and offers the acclaimed Tonto Bar & Grill (TontoBarAndGrill.com). West of town, down Carefree Highway, you’ll find El Encanto Dos, frequented by ropers, and Peaks and Valleys (Facebook.com/PeaksandValleysAZ)—another roper hideaway serving lunch, dinner and booze. Also along Hwy 74, breakfast at Heart & Soul Cafe (HeartAndSoulCafeAZ.com) should be on your bucket list just for the Crazy Biscuits.
• When you’re not in the mood for the urban country vibe at, say, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row (DierksWhiskeyRow.com) with locations in Scottsdale, Tempe and Gilbert, check out the iconic Rusty Spur Saloon (RustySpurSaloon.com)—the oldest bar in Scottsdale. A favorite stop for celebrities like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, it’s filled with bar stools shaped as women’s legs donning cowboy boots, and lunch daily from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. offers cowboy chili, Sonoran hot dogs and more, plus a wide variety of beers, margaritas and tequila. Did we mention daily live music?
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