Castle Hot Springs resort is home to legendary mineral springs in the middle of the Arizona desert. The resort once hosted the most powerful and famous people in the world, and after falling on hard times, it is springing back to life.
Steve Sampson is a longtime hotel marketing manager and has worked at many famed properties across the country. As the current Manager of Sales and Marketing for Castle Hot Springs, he is helping to revive the property from a 40-year hiatus. “I was fine being retired until this came up. I saw Castle Hot Springs as the chance for that final home run. The history and the stories behind this place are fascinating,” he effused. “One little knot from a story would unravel and open windows to other pieces of the past. I felt like Lloyd the bartender from The Shining.” And while the hot springs are not known to be haunted, they do have a colorful past.
In the early 20th century Castle Hot Springs was an exclusive oasis, catering to the likes of Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, the Rockefellers, the Wrigleys, the Carnegies, and the Vanderbilts. Some of the most well-known and powerful people on the planet would retreat 50 miles north of Phoenix to enjoy the mineral waters that bubbled up from the ground in the middle of the rugged Bradshaw Mountains. The resort had become well known due to the healing properties of the hot springs, fed by an ancient cistern 10,000 feet below ground. The unique non-volcanic mineral waters produce 200,000 gallons per day, all at a steamy 120 degrees.
Aside from the rich history of the resort, the water is truly one-of-a-kind. Unlike many other hot springs, the water from Castle Hot Springs does not have Sulphur content, so there is no foul odor. Another puzzling fact is that when you find one hot spring in an area, there are usually more nearby – but for hundreds of miles around Castle Hot Springs, there is nothing but desert.
The resort near the hot springs has had its share of fortunes, both good and bad: it began as a rugged frontier outpost and blossomed into a world-class resort. It’s been bought, sold, and abandoned numerous times, but the healing springs have never ceased to flow from the depths of the desert, and it attracted visitors long before the land was settled.
WATER IS WHAT STARTED THIS RESORT, AND IT’S WHAT BROUGHT THIS RESORT TO FAME. YOU CAN’T HELP BY IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE WATER.Scott Lyon
Before commercial use, the Yavapai people and subsequent Apache people were known to make pilgrimages to the springs for medicinal purposes. The hot springs were eventually discovered by American settlers in 1867 when the U.S. Cavalry was forced to chase a group of bandits that had robbed a nearby mining camp. Less than 30 years after the initial discovery, a resort opened in 1896 as a sanitarium that offered healing waters in a clean desert climate.
As people migrated west, the resort developed a reputation as one of the premier destinations in America. Celebrities, dignitaries, and even wounded WWII soldiers flocked to the resort to relax and recover. The vistas and spires of red rock that cradled the property gave guests the sense that they really were in a castle, tucked far away from the city of Phoenix. By the middle of the 20th century, the desert landscape was obscured by tennis courts and a golf course, but as time wore on, interest in the hot springs waned. The world-class resort slowly declined into mediocrity as celebrity guests were replaced by locals looking for an inexpensive weekend getaway. When a fire struck the famed Palm House lodge in 1976, none of the 19 firehouses nearby were able to respond to the alarm and the building was razed. This proved to be the beginning of the end for the hot springs resort. The final blow came with another fire in 1996 that destroyed the historic Wrigley Cottage, named for the famed chewing gum magnates that were once regulars at the property.
Time and mother nature worked in tandem as junk began to accumulate and abandoned structures collapsed around theproperty. One of the world’s premiere destinations had slowly faded away into obscurity. For nearly 40 years (beginning in 1978) the resort exchanged hands, and nothing was ever quite accomplished in the area. The projects to uplift the resort to its former glory proved to be too difficult and too costly.
Locals bemoaned the defunct resort and recalled its glory days. Younger generations around Phoenix only heard whispers about it. It was nearly erased from public memory. However, in March 2014, Mike and Cindy Watts led an investor group to purchase the 210-acre property for $1.95 million. With the help of Westroc Hospitality to manage the property, the resort has risen from the ashes, but it’s being reimagined for a new era. Westroc Hospitality was founded by Jet Linx friend and aircraft owner Scott Lyon, now the company’s CEO.
“We have worked feverishly to complete all construction,” Watts said. “Cindy and I are truly delighted to have the responsibility of bringing this project back to life and sharing it with so many people.” Watts has been intrigued by the property since the late 70s and early 80s when he stumbled upon it while four-wheeling in the desert. He kept a careful eye on the property over the years, wondering when it might take off. It never did, and now Watts is righting the ship.
Sampson believes all the pieces are coming together. “The people of Arizona have embraced the rebirth of Castle Hot Springs. Mike and Cindy Watts are longtime Phoenix locals and they have had the courage and fortitude to make this happen. It’s a bit of a selfless act, restoring this legacy for future generations to enjoy.”
It’s not hard for guests to enjoy themselves, as some of the cottages are outfitted with soaking tubs that can be filled directly with the mineral waters. “The unique feature of the spring bungalows is they have these oversized tubs with an open ceiling, and you can literally flick a spigot and the water from the hot springs is going to come in at 120 degrees, fill your tub, and you’ll be able to soak under the stars at night,” Sampson said.
At Castle Hot Springs, everything comes back to the water. “Water is what started this resort, and it’s what brought this resort to fame,” noted Lyon. “You can’t help but immerse yourself in the water, whether it’s with what you eat, the swimming pool, the soaking tubs, or the springs themselves – it’s all the same source.”
On top of the private soaking tubs, there is also a restored 125,000-gallon pool (formerly the largest pool in Arizona) filled with waters heated directly from the spring. There are also two natural soaking pools and a rustic rock grotto.
Aside from 32 new cottages and cabins around the resort, other additions to the property include an onsite organic farm, curated outdoor adventures, wellness programs, and an ethos of digital disconnection. “We call it Immerse and Emerge,” Lyon explained. “First, you need to escape when you come here. You’re escaping the city and the trivialities of daily life. Time spent here is for disconnecting and then reconnecting to yourself and the people you’re here with. We want people to immerse themselves in this experience and emerge a new person.”
The on-site organic farm is an important addition, giving the new health and wellness approach at the resort a major boost. The 4,000-square-foot farm will yield more than 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables for the on-site restaurant, which will be designed by James Beard award-winning chef Chuck Wiley. The restaurant will provide three meals a day with indoor and outdoor seating.
The new owners even have plans to bottle the water for guests, and Sampson added, “We even use the spring water to produce our own beer, ‘Castle Hot Springs Lithium Lager,’ which is available on site.”
Aside from being used to grow vegetables and brew beer, the waters will also be stored in a man-made lake in case of a fire on the property. The nearest fire station is still 40 miles away across unforgiving terrain, and the owners don’t want history repeating itself.
Instead, the Watts’ plan to write a new chapter in the history of the resort. For anyone over the age of 30 around Phoenix, the resort was legendary. For those below the age of 30 – it’s a resort full of mystery and nostalgia worth exploring.
“It’s going to transport you back to the 1920s, the 1930s, and 1940s, to the heyday and glory of Castle Hot Springs,” Sampson beamed. “History has played a very important part in the work. A lot of people in Arizona know all about Castle Hot Springs. We need to live up to expectations and then some.”