A Diverse Local Legacy
The Ancient Peoples of Pinnacle Peak
As you hike among the boulders of the Pinnacle Peak area and stroll along trails in the McDowell Mountains, you may begin to feel the past and even see evidence of the indian cultures that have inhabited this area for thousands of years.
Archaeological evidence indicates the Pinnacle Peak area was roamed by ancient peoples as far back as the Early Archaic Period, arguably as long as 8,000 years ago. Signs of these early settlers and seasonal visitors is sprinkled throughout the area in the form of artifacts such as stone tools, projectile points, ceramics and petroglyphs. In addition, archaeologists have excavated a large prehistoric pit-house village smack dab in the middle of the Pinnacle Peak area. Not to get your hopes up though, as it’s been restored to invisibility and is not accessible to the public, as it’s being protected for future archaeologists.
In addition, temporary seasonal rock shelter encampments favored by Hohokam and their predecessors, have been found in many nearby environs. They favored camp-ready rocky shelters, usually near major washes, as their temporary, seasonal campsites. The rock shelter shown at left is in a newly acquired area of the preserve, a testament to what could have been destroyed with the development that was planned.
In this area we have also found linear rock terraces, likely used by the Hohokam to shepherd rainwater for agricultural purposes.
Hohokam translates to Native American variations of “Those of who have gone” or "All Used Up" and may be the ancestors of today’s Tohono Odom Indians and other local tribes. For reasons that are unknown but much speculated, around 1450 A.D. or so, the Hohokam disappeared.
From Archaic peoples many thousands B.C., to Yavapai in recent centuries, these hardy folks came to this area to hunt and gather nuts, seeds, cactus pulp, cactus fruit, and played an early form of golf with saguaro ribs and saguaro fruit buds, using gila monster holes as cups (just wondering if anyone is reading this.)
Some of the best existing evidence of prehistoric people is found in the many bedrock mortars in the Pinnacle Peak area. Known as bedrock mortars or metates, these oval-shaped indentations are found in smooth granite rocks. They were formed by the grinding of mesquite beans, nuts and seeds to make flour. This kind of granite is so hard, it’s amazing how much grinding it took to make these indentations in the rock. Makes us glad we can buy flour at the store!
All of this is just another great reason there is a McDowell Sonoran Preserve, as it’s more likely that archaeological sites, often well-preserved in this dry climate, will be protected. Neither the City of Scottsdale, nor the Preserve promotes these areas for the sad, obvious reason that across the Southwest, prehistoric sites are looted and defaced. There are estimated to be scores of sites in this area and only a few are known…mostly to intrepid hikers and archaeologists. In the Preserve you have to stay on designated trails, some of which avoid these sites. Perhaps the City and Preserve will consider opening up one or two to the public, while helping to protect them with volunteer site stewards, as has been discussed. So until then, Pinnacle Peak Local is mum about locations, but we suggest you get out on a trail and contemplate these hardy early visitors and how they subsided.
There is an exception if you would like to see some petroglyphs from the area, which is the popular nearby tourist destination of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.
Wright and his apprentices found many petroglyhs along the western sides of the McDowell Mountains near D.C.Ranch, while preparing the site for the winter campus of school of architecture in 1937. They incorporated boulders with petroglyphs from the area into the site. Wright mandated that all the petroglyphs be carefully placed in their original compass orientations as they were spread around the campus. (Today moving them would be a federal felony!)
If you come across a pottery sherd or arrowhead, please leave it there, as it loses its story when removed from the area where it lies. Many sites are awaiting future archaeologists to further interpret our fascinating past. Plus it is literally a federal crime…along with huge fines, both federal and local, for digging and defacing sites or collecting artifacts.
Pinnacle Peak Local’s Suggestions for Archaeology
The Cave Creek Museum
These hard-working curators of northern Maricopa county history have been building a fine reputation and artifact collection for years.
Take a very interesting, winding and beautiful saguaro-studded drive to the remnants of a Hohokam village found on a hilltop in the Tonto National Forest, only 15 miles from Pinnacle Peak, about 45 minutes or so by car, just northeast of Carefree. The Sears-Kay Ruin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Archaeologists say the 40-room site once provided shelter for more than 100 people.
Signs throughout the ruins recount the history of the site, which was estimated to be occupied from about 1050 to 1200 A.D. Most rooms are now just rows of knee-high rock walls, built around courtyards that were probably used for daily activities. Check out Seven Springs while you are out there, although you have to drive through some painful burned desert from the destructive Cave Creek Complex Fire a few years ago. Learn More
McDowell Mountain Regional Park
This park on the western side of the McDowell Mountains sometimes has guided hikes to the Dixie Mine and Petroglyphs…check out their event calendar.
Take a Day Trip to Ruins and Cliff Dwellings
You may want to experience more dramatic prehistoric settlements that are found a bit outside the area, but well within a day’s excursion out and back. Consider a road trip to the fantastic Montezuma’s Castle (and Montezuma’s Well) as well as Tuzigoot near beautiful Cottonwood. The Tonto National Monument off the Beeline Hwy. is also a dramatic cliff dwelling.
Cowboy and Rancher History
The Pinnacle Peak area also is known as Reata Pass and more recently Troon and Troon North…all names are pretty much interchangeable for the area. One of the coolest aspects of living around here is that we have a goldmine of rustic old historic buildings and cowboy relics everyone can all enjoy, thanks to one the first modern day settlers of the area, the late Doc Cavalliere. Today his kin run the historic Reata Pass Restaurant and Greasewood Flat, as well as the Cavalliere Blacksmith Shop in Old Town Scottsdale, the longest continuously operated business in the city. In 2012, George “Doc” Cavalliere Park was opened to the public by the City of Scottsdale.
Cavalliere’s Reata Pass
Reata Pass closed in 2012 and was sadly demolished in February, 2015. (See sister cowboy bar Greasewood Flat, below.) The rustic sprawling structure with beautiful patios was once the location of an 1880’s stagecoach stop connecting Phoenix to Fort McDowell on the Verde River. Portions of the original adobe wall remained through the years, and was a favorite photo op for jeep tours on the way to the Tonto National Forest. After the stagecoach days, Reata Pass was the site of a small store until the 1950s, when Doc realized the beautiful potential of the area and turned the facility into a cowboy steakhouse. Back then, the Cavalliere’s often spotted approaching customers from the front porch as headlights slowly navigated the dirt road from Scottsdale below. Doc also bought a ranch and he and other nearby ranchers such as E.O. Brown had cowboys, so Reata still had the hitching posts they used for their horses.
Doc was long a collector of old ranching implements and tools, many of which used to hang from the rafters. This included branding irons, spurs and beef hooks, many of which are over 100 years old.
When Doc had a big party booked and didn’t have enough space, he just built on another room. It was less expensive to build with the slope, which is why Reata’s rooms and patios rambled over many levels.
Reata Pass has been used as a backdrop for several Hollywood productions over the years, including “Cancel My Reservation” with Bob Hope, “Raising Arizona” and early portions of Bonanza. A young Michael Landon frequented the restaurant during the filmings.
Cavalliere Water Tower and Jailhouse
Across the road from the restaurant, the old Reata Pass water is a local icon. But long ago, the blinking lights were a sign to the ranchers that the limited electricity to the area was available!
Doc brought in the adjacent old jailhouse, which was actually an authentic Arizona Territory jail that once housed prisoners from the wild west days.
Greasewood will close on March 31, 2015, breaking the hearts of locals who have gathered for friendship and music under the beautiful Arizona sky, many for decades.
Greasewood Flat was originally a ranch house that was built around 1883 and used by stagecoach passengers. Later it was a cowboy bunkhouse for the nearby Lone Cedar Ranch. In 1975, Doc wanted a quiet place to hang outside with friends so he started Greasewood Flat, never thinking that it would become world-famous and literally attract thousands of people on a nice weekend. There is plenty of space by the way, because it’s all outside. John Denver and Glen Campbell would reportedly enjoy many a beer under the stars and end up doing impromptu songs.
The Cavalliere handiwork with iron is present throughout, from the beautifully turned railings to the ingenuity of the firepits themselves. There are countless fascinating old contraptions.
Greasewood Flat Travel Channel Video
In 2001, a then unknown Samantha Brown filmed a segment at Greasewood for the upcoming series "Great Hotels. " It was their 16th show and everyone said Greasewood was their favorite location to date.
The Day the Music Died - Greasewood Flat, March 31, 2015
Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse
In 1957, right around the time that Doc opened Reata Pass, nearby Pinnacle Peak Patio opened to serve travelers heading to nearby lakes. Today, Pinnacle Peak Patio is renowned "no necktie" tradition, and the ceilings attest to that with ties hanging by thousands from the rafters.
Golf Comes to Pinnacle Peak
In 1976, developer Jerry Nelson founded Pinnacle Peak Country Club after hitting water near Pinnacle Peak. In order to build golf courses in North Scottsdale, it required that he build all the roads to the area including Pima Road, Pinnacle Peak Road and Dynamite Boulevard. Pinnacle Peak Country Club was the first private golf facility in North Scottsdale.
The beautiful communities of Troon, Desert Highlands, Estancia, Troon North and the Four Seasons Resort followed, where today we think we live in a sunny, bouldery, desert paradise with plenty of elbow room to explore outside.
If you would like to read more about the history of “Pinnacle Peak”, a fascinating new book has been written by long-time local Les Conklin, and is available through Amazon (click here).