I recently went back to Arizona for a visit and hiked to the cave on Camelback Mountain.
*Another Spoiler Alert*
If you haven’t read Jukebox, think twice before reading on.
The cave I write about is the one Harper hikes to on her way to see Grace about halfway through the book. Ruthie has empowered Harper to go fight for Grace and Harper is unexpectantly sidelined by an enormous revelation, which happens in a secret cave she hikes to while killing time.
It’s a cave Harper’s been to before, one she discovered in her youth and somewhere she’d go when her world became unmanageable. This night alone on the mountain, when Harper’s demons come calling, is the peak of her experiences there.
The cave, of course—as so much in fiction is inspired by real life—really exists. Just like the bar, Ernie’s, that houses the inspiring jukebox.
I wish I could draw a map for you on how to get to the cave, as it’s really something spectacular. That way, if you happen to find yourself in Phoenix with your hiking boots on, you’d be able to seek out this beautiful contemplative spot. I’ll say this: Go to the Echo Canyon hiking trail of Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Hike about 2/3 the way up and then start asking around. Locals know where it is. And start paying attention if you see people veering off the trial into a place you don’t imagine is safe. If you get on the secret path to the cave, BE CAREFUL, as the drop is considerable and probably unsurvivable.
Legend has it the cave was a ceremonial place for the Hohokam Indians some 1000 years ago. Historians say they used it for religious purposes, so Camelback Mountain is considered a sacred place by many, including me. The Hohokam tribe has mysteriously disappeared since, abandoning beautiful monuments and cliff dwellings, like the ceremonial cave on Camelback, leaving nothing but structures and fascinating petroglyphs. The reason why is hotly debated, but perhaps the line I wrote in Jukebox regarding where the natives went is true: “…They were run out by settlers, rich white people with guns, whiskey and whores.”
From what I remember, the cave hasn’t changed a lick, aside from some graffiti now tagged on the rock walls (shame). As I sat there with my dad, it was a beautiful moment as I held the book in my hands. Like the mountain trail, which is no easy feat to conquer, the book, too, was like climbing to its own mountain. The metaphor was palpable at the moment we hit the summit together. And just like the view from the top of Camelback Mountain (see photos), the path to tell the Jukebox story was well worth the sweat, slips, red dirt stains and tears.