Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Man?

Page 3 of 7

Sorchych reacts calmly to such criticism.

"I don't see it that way," he says when asked if he's made unfair attacks, if he holds the town hostage. "Obviously, I wouldn't."

The insults roll off his back -- or so he says. "I've got very thick skin about that, and I really believe that I'm doing a service to the community, and I believe I'm right or I wouldn't say so, so I really don't spend a lot of time worrying about it."

The old-timers grouse about how much Cave Creek has changed over the years, but to the untrained eye, it's a perfectly preserved specimen of the Old West -- not the faux Western schlocky turquoise and boot stores you find wedged next to modern art galleries in downtown Scottsdale, but rolling, saguaro-covered hills, wooden signs and sawdust-floored bars with names like Horny Toad and Harold's. You can take a pass down Cave Creek Road and pretty much see the whole town.

It hasn't even really been a town for long; Cave Creek just incorporated in 1988. There was strong opposition to incorporation from those who wanted no regulation at all, but the inevitability of a takeover by Phoenix persuaded the majority of the residents to make Cave Creek official. The place has always attracted independent types, mainly gold miners and tuberculars, before bars opened on the main drag and attracted a rowdy crowd.

Life was tough so far from the big city. It's still tough, or at least different from city life. Power outages are common. Most of the town streets are not equipped with fire hydrants; instead, the fire department keeps a map of homes with pools. Unlike the neighboring town of Carefree, which caters to a more obviously upscale crowd, Cave Creek has historically shunned gated communities and other trappings. That's not to say that rich people don't live in Cave Creek -- a million-dollar home is not uncommon -- but you'll likely have to take an unpaved road to get to it.

One of the town's original newspapers, started by a group of local women, was called the Vacuum Cleaner and promised to suck up and report all the good news. But even before Don Sorchych started the Sonoran News, there was hard-charging journalism in Cave Creek. The Foothills Sentinel opposed incorporation and didn't like the controls the newly formed town council was placing on residents. Jacky Davis, a town founder and its second mayor, remembers fierce opposition -- she was even the target of a recall supported by the Sentinel -- but the difference between then and now, she and others say, is that while there have always been personalities in Cave Creek, Don Sorchych makes things personal.

When he moved to town in the early '90s, Sorchych found himself a house in a secluded spot, on the edge of a ridge overlooking empty desert. He loved the idea of living rural, having grown up in another tiny town, Depue, Illinois, 110 miles out of Chicago. The only business in town was a zinc plant, where his father worked. It's now a Superfund site.

Sorchych left Depue for the Navy during the Korean War. The closest he'd come to a career in journalism before 1995 was an aptitude test he took upon entering the University of Illinois after the Navy; he was told he was suited for a career in journalism. Instead, he went into electronics. It was a smart move, financially -- how many journalists can eventually afford to buy their own newspaper? Sorchych got involved in the microchip business, working for companies in Florida and eventually moving to Mesa in 1986 to take a short-lived job with a now-defunct firm, then working as a consultant for Intel, among others.

Two weeks after he'd moved into his Cave Creek home, a man knocked on Sorchych's door and asked if he could take a look at the empty land below the house. Turned out he wanted to survey the land that was to become a large subdivision called Hidden Springs, later to be known as Red Dog Ranch.

"That's the way I met my neighbors," Sorchych recalls ruefully.

He fought the development for more than a year, mobilizing neighbors, citing geographic surveys that said the land was unfit for houses, watching engineers. He filed an unsuccessful referendum against the development.

The local media wouldn't listen. Neither would the town council. "It was very clear the council was wired" to do the developer's bidding, he says. Sorchych spoke to a local businessman, Kent Myers, who he says tipped him off that the council met privately at a restaurant called the Wagon Wheel. Sorchych could come along if he liked, he says Myers told him. Did he want to be an insider or an outsider? (Myers denies the conversation ever happened.)

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.