Former Glory

Historic Arizona resort reopens as a luxury destination

For centuries, before the early pioneers settled in Arizona, the natural springs in the Bradshaw Mountains— north of what is now Phoenix and near Lake Pleasant— were a healing ground for the Yavapai and Tonto-Apache Indians. As its reputation as a restorative place grew, more explorers traveled west to discover the natural beauty and healing properties of its springs, which eventually became known as Castle Hot Springs.
The first person to recognize its potential as a resort destination was Frank Murphy, owner of the Congress Mine near Wickenburg, from which he extracted the modern-day equivalent of more than $2 billion in gold. In addition to building the railroad between Prescott and Phoenix, Murphy opened the original Castle Hot Springs resort in 1896. From the early to mid-20th century, Castle Hot Springs became renowned as one of the world’s most desirable resort destinations. In the early years, guests took a five-hour stagecoach ride on the road Murphy had built from Morristown.

“You really had to want to get there,” says Steve Sampson, director of sales and marketing for Westroc Hospitality. “Back then, they would stay for weeks at a time.” Visitors included the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Vanderbilts,
and several U.S. presidents, including future Commander in Chief John F. Kennedy, who recuperated there from war injuries from January to May 1945. In December 1976, an ember from the fireplace hit the floor
in the middle of the night and burned the main hotel building to the ground. With insurmountable costs to rebuild, the Talley family (who also owned the Arizona Biltmore) gifted the resort to Arizona State University, which used it as a retreat before selling it. The resort subsequently passed through a rotation of owners who intended to return the site to its former glory—but never succeeded. Fast forward to late 2014. With the property in foreclosure, Westroc Hospitality stepped up to the plate.

“Everyone said, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard this story before,’” says Sampson. “But we’re a hotel company, and this is what we do. It’s also a labor of love, because all the people involved in this project are lifelong Phoenicians.”

An all-inclusive adult wellness retreat, the new Castle Hot Springs Resort will offer the ultimate in luxury and relaxation. It’s also an opportunity to digitally detox: There are no guest room TVs and a cell signal is available only in the main lodge.

“We want guests to feel like they’re stepping out of the 21st century and going back to a more genteel time,” Sampson says, adding that following the trend in small, elite resorts, guests must be 16 or older. “We want people to get in touch with themselves and each other.”

Of course, the hot springs themselves are the main attraction: 200,000 gallons a day flow from two miles underground into three natural soaking pools.

“Unlike the high sulfur or lithium content of many hot springs, these are pure 120-degree waters,” Sampson says. “You could let it cool and drink it.”

The main administration building was restored for use as the main lodge, and accommodations include 32 private bungalows and cabins. Each is about 500 square feet, with deluxe king beds and water piping directly from the hot springs into oversized tubs. For larger groups, there’s also a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house called the Historic Cottage.

Activities will be tailored at the time of reservation to customize the experience, so no two weeks will be the same. Guests can choose from a wide range of programs, including stargazing, pottery and art workshops, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, archery, bocce, and horseback riding.

As you’d expect, the food and beverage offerings will be top of the line. An organic farm will provide fruits and vegetables for the Harvest restaurant—and a chance for interested guests to join the chef and farmer to pick produce that will appear on that night’s unique menu. Future plans include a beer garden, featuring brews from the on-site brewery using water from the springs.

Rather than a bumpy stagecoach from the west, today’s approach is from the east past Lake Pleasant. (The final stretch is on dirt roads, so four-wheel drive is recommended.) The resort also offers airport pickup and helicopter service to the on-property helipad.

Current plans are for the resort to open in late fall 2018, and from early October through Memorial Day weekend in future years.

 

Jake Poinier

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