By TARA ALATORRE
He stands over a grave 50 miles northwest of Phoenix in Morristown, Ariz., the names Erwin and Ena McGuire, engraved in the headstone. Yet another ghost story he’s uncovered connected to the enchanted, legendary Castle Hot Springs Resort, but before leaving the small desert town he gets a chilling email.
Steven Sampson, who is a part of a dedicated team of local hospitality experts painstakingly restoring the historic Castle Hot Springs Resort back to its original glory, has just taken a picture of the dusty headstone when the McGuire’s granddaughter – who he has never met, contacted and didn’t even know existed – sends him a message of gratitude about the revival of the iconic resort.
“A chill ran down my spine,” Sampson said about the haunting moment, while adding that he immediately emailed the woman a picture of her grandparents’ headstone in a moment of disbelief. “So, I contact her, and I tell her what just happened. Dead silence, dead silence on the other end.”
The McGuire’s granddaughter, who lives in West Virginia, saw through social media that the resort would be reopening soon. She coincidently reaches out to Sampson in the same moments he snaps a picture of her grandparents’ headstone.
“She tells me, ‘You’re probably going to uncover a lot more, it is a very magical and mystical place.’ Interesting coincidence!” Sampson said. “The history of Castle Hot Springs is like peeling back the layers of an onion.”
Erwin, who was known as Mac, and Ena McGuire, both worked at the Castle Hot Springs Resort, and eventually became the caretakers of the property when it was abandoned after a fire destroyed it in 1976. They lived on the property until their deaths, and their granddaughter spent her childhood summers there, which she described as the “garden of Eden.”
This illustrious Arizona desert oasis is being restored to its original splendor by local business owners, Mike and Cindy Watts, since the couple purchased the abandoned property in 2014. Castle Hot Springs is a passion project for the dedicated couple; as well as Westroc Hospitality that manages the property, along with the exclusive resorts Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort, Hotel Valley Ho and Mountain Shadows.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Castle Hot Springs, which was once one of the most luxurious and desirable resorts of the 20th century, is coming back to life better than ever. It’s raising the bar for boutique high-end resorts that will appeal to celebrity and elite guests from around the globe, seeking seclusion with world-class luxury amenities. Not to mention the stunning, sweeping views of the rugged Bradshaw Mountains.
Sampson, who is director of sales and marketing of Westroc and Castle Hot Springs, is in some ways the unofficial historian of the property. Over the years, he has been researching the fascinating history of the hot springs, while uncovering lost artifacts and stories.
The Foothills Focus was granted an exclusive sneak preview of the property earlier this year. Sampson gave us a tour of the resort’s new modern accommodations, and the charming restored historical features that pay homage to the resort’s legacy.
Castle Hot Springs is only accessible by driving miles on a rustic, desolate dirt road near Lake Pleasant, setting the scene for this unique experience before you step foot on the property. It is the same rugged road the resort’s past elite guests used, who traveled long distances by train, then endured a rough five-hour stagecoach ride so they could stay at the opulent resort.
Today, the travel will be much less difficult for guests, but the payoff is just as sweet as you feel like you are stepping into a Zane Grey novel, except with all the extravagant, modern amenities you could ask for.
There are 32 luxury accommodations spread across the luscious 210-acre property. Deep natural stone pools are filled from hot, spring-fed waterfalls cascading out of rocks tucked against towering cliffs. It’s the hottest non-volcanic mineral water in the world, flowing at a rate of 200,000 gallons a day at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Castle Hot Springs will be able to take people back in time, to a more genteel way of life. Soaking in these historic medicinal waters as people did 100 years before,” Sampson said about the nearly completed resort.
There are 12 new bungalows with king beds clustered on a hillside, overlooking the restored main swimming pool that is 9-feet-deep and was built in 1917. Holding about 125,000 gallons of pristine turquoise spring water, it was the biggest swimming pool in Arizona until Big Surf was built in 1969.
Each bungalow has an indoor/outdoor fireplace, a private outdoor room with an open roof and a large soaking tub with hot mineral water directly piped from the springs.
Seventeen Sky View Cabins are perched high on the canyon, including a wood deck equipped with a telescope for stargazing into the magnificent star-filled skies. They also have outdoor tubs plumbed with mineral water directly from the springs.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Sampson says while showing off the newly built bungalows that sit next to a meandering creek fed by the spring. “This will be a world-class destination resort like Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur or Paws Up in Montana.”
A farm and greenhouse will produce over 150 varieties of fruit and vegetables for the resort’s farm-to-table restaurant called Harvest. Guests will have the unique opportunity to pick produce for a true farm-to-table culinary experience with Harvest’s Executive Chef, Christopher Brugman, who has worked with famed chefs like, Chuck Wiley, and Gordon Ramsey.
The resort will also be producing its own signature craft beer called Castle Hot Springs Lithium Lager that will be made from the property’s spring water. Helio Basin Brewery in Phoenix will make the beer until their onsite brewery is completed.
“We’re going to bring in enough water, so they can make enough beer that we can provide this place with it,” he said. “The water is so pure, you can put you water bottle up to the springs, let it cool, and drink it. In addition to making our own beer, we plan to bottle the water for guests in room and our Harvest restaurant.”
The Castle Hot Springs’ water mineral content and history is as rich as its former guests.
In 1945, former President John F. Kennedy, lodged at the resort for three months when he returned injured from World War II in 1945. It was also regularly enjoyed by some of the most notorious American families like the Roosevelts, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts just to name a few.
Today guests can relax in the same historic cottage they did, which was known as the Wrigley Cottage. It is over 1,200-square-feet with three bedrooms, a wet bar, living room and a large spacious covered deck overlooking the pristine grounds. The impeccably restored building is over 100-years-old and accommodates up to six people.
Patrons can even drink in the Lodge at the solid wood bar past presidents Coolidge and Wilson sat at, while taking in the same sunset views of the renowned palm-lined driveway.
The resort has also restored Arizona’s first-ever telephone that was installed by the Arizona Territorial Governor, Nathan Oakes Murphy, somewhere between 1898 and 1902. Guests can make calls from the antique rotary phone that is located near the lodge’s bar.
“That’s the original phone,” he said, while explaining that Oakes Murphy would winter at the hot springs and had the phone installed so he could conduct business while away from Prescott. “It survived the fire, along with some priceless Hopi and Navajo rugs that are in storage at ASU.”
It also happens to be one of the only functioning phones guests will have access to because the resort is a “digitally-disconnected space.” That’s right your smart phone won’t work here. The “electronic detox” concept also helps maintain the privacy of the resort’s soon-to-be high-profile guests.
If you are looking to disconnect to reconnect and immerse yourself in the tranquil, warm waters of one of Arizona’s most exclusive resort experiences, look no further Castle Hot Springs Resort north of the Phoenix Valley. It is opening in February 2019 and is accepting reservations now. Cabins and bungalows will range from $1,200 to $1,600 per night, which will include all meals and gratuities for two adults.
For more information or to book a reservation contact castlehotsprings.com or call 1-877-600-1137. Or connect with them on social media through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.