When we were kids, Mom used to drive us on Sunday mornings over the desert and through the cactus to Carefree, where there was little more than a tiny convenience store and (luckily) a bathroom. We were too young to appreciate the beauty of the raw landscape; we just wanted to go back to the city, to Thomas Mall, and get an Icee. Today, we finally appreciate a nice open expanse, but alas, the Valley's been mowed by development. We love the drive from Scottsdale to Phoenix, via Cave Creek, because to us, it represents the best of both worlds. We can check in on the new acres of homes (there are certainly some cheesy developments, but as we get to the more expensive parts of north Scottsdale, we have to admit that some are downright habitable) and still glimpse an expanse of soothing desert.
From Scottsdale Road, head north. Don't take the freeway. If you must, cut over to Hayden to avoid mid-Scottsdale traffic, then dip back to Scottsdale Road and head up to Carefree. In those parts, Scottsdale Road turns into Tom Darlington (not the only cute name in the town check out some of the other street signs, but only if you're a passenger; we're not trying to get anyone killed here) and you'll turn left (west) on Cave Creek Road from Darlington. That takes you through the picturesque home of some pretty good junk shops, as well as the Satisfied Frog brew pub and a number of biker bars (again, we're not telling you to get a beer; just sharing the info) and then, outside that town, you'll hit a nice expanse of desert.
Keep driving and, eventually, you'll hit the outskirts of Sunnyslope, then central Phoenix, when Cave Creek runs right into Seventh Street. It's a half-loop you don't hear much about in these days of new freeways, and it might not be the quickest way to get to your destination (and maybe not the best bet if you actually have a destination in mind) but it'll show you a part of the city we bet you haven't seen.