Carefree, Arizona, just 34 miles north of Phoenix, began as a planned community in the 1950s by entrepreneurs Tom Darlington and K.T. Palmer. The master plan was designed for residential sections to center around a spirited downtown. Today, Carefree’s downtown offers art galleries, boutiques, and the chance to — literally — walk down Easy Street. The town also offers the sights of the Sonoran Desert, such as statuesque saguaro cacti and the towering stone boulders that are part of Black Mountain.
Really Big Things
Carefree is a small town with big things. The Sundial in downtown Carefree is one of the world’s largest sundials, measuring 62 feet in length. It points in the direction of the North Star. The sundial dates back to 1959 and indicates the correct time on the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. The sundial is surrounded by shops, such as Easy Street Car Shows, Art Festivals and the rest.
Tonto National Forest
Carefree offers several access points to the campgrounds (forestcamping.com) in the Tonto National Forest (fs.usda.gov). The nearly 3-million-acre forest includes desert environs with saguaro cacti and mountains dotted with pine forests that lead to the cliffs known as the Mogollon Rim. The Civilian Conservation Corps campground is home to Sycamore trees and the creek known as Seven Springs Wash. Sit under the shade of a Mesquite tree or float down the Lower Verde River at the Riverside Campground. Visit the Seven Springs campground, which has stonework built by the CCC that dates back to 1934. All three campgrounds are roughly 10 miles from the prehistoric Hohokam dwelling known as the Sears-Kay Ruin, where visitors view the remains of a 40-room dwelling, which housed more than 100 people. See the glyphs, carvings and paths, which are all constructed of stone. The ruin sits on top of a hill that, on a clear day, offers views of Weaver’s Needle, Four Peaks and the Superstition Mountains.
Spurs Cross Conservation Area
Explore over 2,000 acres of the Spur Cross Conservation Area (maricopa.gov). Walk through the Sonoran Desert and experience its seasonal changes. See Cave Creek, which flows only in winter, and the wildflowers that bloom in the spring. You will see tools left by ranchers and miners, dwellings built by the Hohokam tribe and prehistoric art that along the Dragonfly Trail.
See Carefree and the surrounding area with Johnny Ringo’s Carefree Adventures (carefreeadventures.com). One tour includes a visit to a gold mine in Rackensack Canyon, in Tonto National Forest; another brings you to the neighboring town of Cave Creek where you’ll learn about desert animals, plants and the boulder called Black Mountain. Other tours include a visit to the top of Humboldt Mountain for views of the rivers and mountain ranges below, and a tour that stops at the county’s highest summit, the Four Peaks, which includes instruction on the varieties of desert cacti and how the Native Americans used them for medicine and food.