A quick jaunt from Phoenix-Scottsdale, three small but distinctive communities stake their own claim to fame and are well worth a visit.
Little mystery remains about the origin of Fountain Hills’ name once you’re actually in the town. The fountain at the center of the hilly hamlet was once the tallest fountain in the world. It shoots water 330 feet into the air at the top of every daylight hour, and nearly all roads seem to lead toward the lake and its enormous man-made geyser.
Along the way are hillsides of Tuscan-style mansions, canyons of velveteen golf courses and little pockets of charming shops and independent restaurants. Hiking trails inside McDowell Mountain Park provide dramatic “altitude adjustments,” and thus, spectacular views.
Cave Creek and Carefree
Cave Creek and Carefree maintain an unfettered desert persona. Cave Creek is the more rough-and-tumble of the two, settled in the 1870s by miners and ranchers. Carefree is a bit more sophisticated, established in the 1950s as a planned community and now home to multimillion-dollar addresses.
The streets may be dusty, but Cave Creek offers many stops worth the car wash. Cowboy bar Harold’s Cave Creek Corral doubles as an NFL fan club for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Art galleries, motorcycle bars, antiques shops and “date night” restaurants make affable, if unlikely, neighbors.
And Spur Cross Ranch, some 2,100 acres of wilderness declared a Maricopa County Park in 2001, boasts foot and horse paths and frequent ranger-guided interpretive programs for outdoor adventurers.
In Carefree, Spanish Village provides alfresco dining options, and shops are lined along streets named “Ho,” “Hum” and “Easy.” Street festivals are common in fall and spring, such as the Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival Nov. 1-3.