What's in a name: Castle Hot Springs

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Castle Hot Springs Resort in the Bradshaw mountains. (Source: Arizona State University) Castle Hot Springs Resort in the Bradshaw mountains. (Source: Arizona State University)
Historic Castle Hot Springs resort.  (Source: Arizona Archive Online) Historic Castle Hot Springs resort. (Source: Arizona Archive Online)
The hot springs pool and the resort from above. The hot springs pool and the resort from above.
Rough stage ride from Hot Springs Junction to the Castle Hot Springs Resort. (Source: Arizona Archive Online) Rough stage ride from Hot Springs Junction to the Castle Hot Springs Resort. (Source: Arizona Archive Online)
The aftermath of the 1976 fire that ripped through the resort. (Source: Arizona Archive Online) The aftermath of the 1976 fire that ripped through the resort. (Source: Arizona Archive Online)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The tourism industry in Arizona is big business ranking as one of the state’s top export-oriented industries.

According to the Arizona Tourism Office, we welcomed more than 38 million overnight domestic and international visitors in 2013.

For Arizona this popular industry blossomed from a remote canyon north of Phoenix over 100 years ago where a hot spring bubbled up from deep below. 

Located about 55 miles northwest of Phoenix, Castle Hot Springs was Arizona’s first resort destination.

During its 80-year run, it attracted some of the nation’s most prominent citizens to its remote desert location. The Castle Hot Springs resort was a successful operation until a fire ripped through part of the property in December 1976. After that the business never recovered.

Nestled in the Bradshaw Mountains in a remote canyon, the hot springs were formed tens of thousands of years ago. From its source deep underground, the hot springs provides approximately 188,000 gallons of water a day at 122 degrees. It spills out of the side of the canyon wall collecting into several pools.

Long before any development took place, the Yavapai knew of the location and considered the water hole medicinal.

Injuries seemed to heal faster when treated in the comforting waters at the spring. Could be they just felt great after a good soak in the therapeutic bath!

The Yavapai believed the springs were magical and they took care to keep their location a secret. But when white settlers came to the area, the secret place was soon discovered.

While giving chase to a group of Yavapai suspected of having raided a nearby mining camp, Col. Charles Craig and his troops came across the hot springs in 1867.

During that military foray the name, "Castle Springs", was coined. The rocky peaks that surround the spring reminded the soldiers of the defensive architecture of medieval castles, hence the name, Castle Springs.

The hot springs became a popular stage coach stop on the ride between Wickenburg and Phoenix. Weary bone bumped travelers could seek relief from the heated comfort of the pooling waters.

Word spread about the hot springs and how the waters worked wonders on all sorts of ailments. One man who caught wind of the hot pool location was the industrious Frank Murphy. Murphy was a railroad entrepreneur who would take the lead on many projects that shaped Arizona's early days. 

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He and his brother purchased the land around the hot springs with a plan to develop it into a resort. After some work, it opened for business in 1896. That first winter season the resort had 30 guests, they were up and running.

In order to get guests to the remote location, Murphy built a railroad line to Hot Springs Junction, now known as Morristown, and from there it was a four hour coach ride to the Castle Hot Springs resort. 

In 1901, the resort became the first in Arizona to be electrified with the construction of an “electric light” plant and an ice plant. They even had one of the first phones in the state. 

They brought in 540 palm trees, built a nine hole golf course, horse stables, tennis courts, a swimming pool. They had an onsite masseuse, physician, chef, indeed, the wealthy could come and stay in the style they were accustomed to here in the flora of the remote Arizona desert. 

The elite vacationers would travel to Arizona in their private railroad cars to experience the desert in all its glory. “Visitors would arrive by rail from across the country, spend the night in Frank Murphy’s hotel, and the next day take a stage ride out to the resort,” says Arizona's official state historian, Marshal Trimble. 

[SLIDESHOW: Castle Hot Springs, Arizona's first resort]

"The resort drew visitors from among the world's most distinguished family names at the time; Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Cabot, Wrigley, Carnegie, Roosevelt - all stayed at the Castle Hot Springs during the resort's heyday during the 1920s and 1930s," says Trimble. 

Visitors to the resort could stay in a number of accommodations. The Stone House was a two-story building with rooms on both floors.

There were also rooms located in the Palm House, along with the dining room. About a half dozen cottages were on the property. Some of the more frequent visitors even had their own cottages built. 

During WWII the military used the resort for extended RR for recuperating soldiers, one of which was a future president. After his discharge from the Navy in 1944, John F. Kennedy spent three months resting at Castle Hot Springs. 

Everything came to a halt for the resort when a fire tore through the compound, destroying some of the buildings. The resort closed its doors in 1976.

The land was purchased by Arizona State University and used for conferences. "By the 1950s and 60s the place had become pretty run down,” says Trimble.

In 1987 the university sold the property and it has gone through a series of owners. Most recently, the 210-acre property was purchased in 2014 by an investment group for $1.95 million.

To get there from Phoenix, take I-17 to the SR74 Carefree Highway and head west toward Lake Pleasant.

Drive past the marina entrance and turn right onto Castle Hot Springs Road. The hard surface road takes you to the northwest side of Lake Pleasant. Once past the back end of the lake, the road soon turns to dirt.

Signs direct you along the way, stay on the dirt road as it makes its way through the Castle Creek wash. The properties on either side of the road are private, mind the signs that ask you to respect their privacy.

Soon the compound becomes visible as you round a corner. Again, it's private property and signs will say so. Still, it is visible from the road. 

Once beyond the property you can turn around and go back the same way, or take the off-road long route back to SR74 and near Morristown.

The second option follows the old stage route from Hot Springs Junction that former travelers would bump along in a stage to their destination in the desert. It's bumpy, rough and a longer ride back than the lake route.

As it is off road and parts of the trip are out of cell phone operation, plan ahead accordingly.

Take plenty of water and always tell someone where you are going and what time you're expected to return.

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