TEXAZTASTE readers may have realized by now that I love to experience and write about vacation escapes, and even more so if one happens to be located in Arizona. Most recently, Hubby and I found one that I feel stands in a class of its own. Only 60 miles from our house, but a lifetime away from the frenetic pace of city life, lies Castle Hot Springs Resort. This secluded haven boasts a rich history dating 120 years, even before Arizona was a state. Mike and Cindy Watts, local entrepreneurs, are behind the the recent restoration, and the result is exquisite.
First, I am going to take you back to the mid-1880’s, to the pioneer days, to everything you may envision about the Wild West. Morristown, Arizona, was a stop along the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad system, and significant for its location near the copper, silver, and gold mines in the Bradshaw Mountains. The miners heard tales of a natural hot springs in the area from the Yavapai Indians. In 1896, Frank Murphy, a mining entrepreneur and brother of the then territorial governor, Nathan Oakes Murphy, built a 48 room resort near the hot springs, ushering in an era of tourism attracting America’s wealthy families, like the Astors and Rockefellers, to Arizona’s mild winter climate.
FUN FACT: There are over 40 ghost towns located in the Bradshaw Mountains with names like Bumble Bee, Old Cordes, Bueno, and Old Name Mining Camp – I sense a field trip in my future!
Castle Hot Springs Resort flourished for 80 years until December 11, 1976, when it suffered damage from a major fire and closed its iron gates. Many tried to resuscitate the distinguished resort, but only one hung in there, driven by an inner passion to restore an important piece of Arizona history. Mike Watts grew Sunstate Equipment Co., a construction equipment rental company, into one of the largest equipment rental companies in the world. He and his wife, Cindy, first invested in the Castle Hot Springs property in 1980 with a group of other investors. And while those plans fell through, Watts tracked the property for many years, finally acquiring it in 2014 for $1.95 million through an online auction.
In October of 2019 after an extensive five year renovation, Mike and Cindy Watts reopened the Arizona treasure to the public. Tucked into the Bradshaw Mountains, Castle Hot Springs is a true haven no matter where you originate. The last 7 miles to access the resort is down a dirt road. We borrowed a Ford Raptor from a friend and giddily charged through the washes and pot holes to the palm lined entrance. If you don’t have a four wheel drive vehicle, the resort can arrange a helicopter transfer (for fancy folks) or shuttle service from the airport.
Castle Hot Springs Resort is an adult-only luxury oasis on 210 acres marked by over 500 palm trees, many dating back over 100 years to the original resort. Driving through the main gate, these palms are the first to greet you, ushering the guest to the main lodge, an original structure built in the arts and crafts style.
There are 32 guest bungalows and cabins that, while minimalistic, blend into the natural surroundings. We booked a Spring Bungalow, situated along the spring that winds through the resort. The Spring Bungalows are an easy walk to the main building, dining, pool, spa services, and farm.
Our Spring Bungalow had a spacious, outdoor covered deck, and indoor/outdoor gas fireplaces. The interiors are lovely with wood beamed ceilings, leather furniture and woven rugs with colors inspired by the rocks surrounding the hot springs: moss green, ochre, and copper. There is an open air room off the bath with a soaking tub fed by waters from the natural spring. In fact, you will find that the springs provide all of the water for the resort, from drinking water to irrigation for the farm.
For the guests’ convenience, there is an Nespresso tea and coffee maker, robes, fridge, and a wonderfully comfortable king size bed. An important note to those who have a hard time disconnecting: there is only one TV and it is located at the bar in the main building. It is a charming indoor-outdoor bar, serving craft cocktails, beer, and wine throughout the day. You are encouraged to leave work outside the gates of the resort. In fact their wifi code is RUsureUwant2?
The big attraction is naturally the springs for which the resort is named. As I previously mentioned, all water on property comes from the natural springs which produce up to 200,000 gallons a day. There are 3 hot springs to enjoy of varying temperatures. They are hidden, canyon-side pools located a short walk from the main lodge. Golf carts are available to take the guests up if requested.
Castle Hot Springs has numerous amenities to tickle your fancy, including a 125,000 gallon water swimming pool, several fire pits throughout the property for roasting s’mores, star gazing with astronomers, pickle ball, bocce, ebike riding, hiking and horseback riding. On the more relaxing side, there are the hot spring soaks, creek-side massages, yoga, and meditation.
FUN FACTS: Castle Hot Springs had the first telephone in Arizona, and the telephone number was “602-1”. The phone is located in the main lodge. Castle Hot Springs also had Arizona’s first golf course, which is no longer there. In the evenings in the Stone House, be sure to catch a viewing of “Oasis of Time”, a 40-minute documentary on the 120 year history of the property, that received an Emmy in 2020.
There is an onsite sustainable farm and greenhouse which supplies a vast array of organic produce for the kitchen. We were told that Mike Watts had the idea for a sustainable farm as an homage to the past when all had to be produced onsite due to lack of transportation. It was a six-hour stagecoach ride from the nearest train depot in Morristown.
Tours of the farm are available every afternoon around 4 pm, something I highly recommend. It was fascinating to hear about the evolution of the gardens and to learn a bit about bio-intensive farming. As well, it was a treat to taste some of the newly picked produce. The minerals from the springs impart a certain acidity to the vegetables which was more easily detected on its own rather than in a dish.
And speaking of the food, I had heard a great deal about the onsite restaurant, Harvest. Three meals a day are included in the price of lodging. The menus offer a nice selection for just about any diet. For breakfast, we usually ordered an omelette and fruit, while at lunch we enjoyed Blackened Yellowfin Tuna with ancient grains.
For dinner, there is a Chef’s tasting menu. Portions are small but deliciously filling. There were three small appetizers, Bianco tomato bisque, harvest greens salad, and smoked salmon fillets. The entrée included a choice of three proteins, Neiman Ranch prime tenderloin of beef, Nova Scotia halibut, and Anderson Ranch rack of lamb. Dessert was always beautifully plated, like the chocolate cake below. Wine pairings are offered at $60.
Castle Hot Springs Resort is ideal for those who truly want a secluded, unique experience. It has a charm and appeal for those who enjoy the outdoors, albeit in pampered way. Its beauty rests in the many thoughtful touches throughout the property, the hospitality of the staff, and the exquisite setting. Much is owed to dreamers like Mike and Cindy Watts, people who share their vision and carry on the legacy of the great state of Arizona.
Looking for more escapes in the desert? Check out my recent staycation experience at Mountain Shadows Resort.
All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.com.