Even early Arizonans knew a resort when they spotted one.

For centuries, members of the Yavapai and Apache tribes luxuriated in the piping-hot, therapeutic waters of a site now called Castle Hot Springs north of the Valley near Lake Pleasant. More than 200,000 gallons of 120-degree water gurgles from the earth each day at the base of rugged and remote southern Bradshaw Mountains. Native Arizonans would soak their bones and bask in the healing properties of the mineral-rich, pure thermal waters.

The storied history of the site has now come full circle, as its latest owners, Mike and Cindy Watts, are restoring Castle Hot Springs Resort to its early 20th-century splendor and expect to reopen the property in early 2018.

“We have followed Castle Hot Springs over 30 years, and we realize that ownership of this property puts a great deal of responsibility on us in order to bring this treasure back to life,” Mike Watts says. “We feel very strongly about sharing it with Arizona residents along with people around the world, as it once was.”

So tell us more. Is it true past U.S. presidents visited Castle Hot Springs?

Yes, the site was first “discovered” in 1865 as Col. Charles Craig from nearby Fort Whipple pursued a band of Apaches who had raided a mining camp just south of Prescott. Soldiers under Craig’s command encountered the spring while on a reconnaissance mission near Salvation Peak.

The land in 1896 was purchased and developed by Frank Murphy, who also owned the Congress Mine near Wickenburg. He created the original Castle Hot Springs, which became one of Arizona’s first luxury resorts. The territorial governor at the time was Murphy’s brother, Nathan Oakes Murphy, who spent winters at the resort and out of the snow of Prescott, the capital of the Arizona Territory.

Wealthy families in the early 1900s fled the winter weather of the East and soaked up the sunshine and warm waters of Castle Hot Springs. The Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Carnegies and Wrigleys all frolicked in the desert splendor. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover each soaked away their worries as well.

Castle Hot Springs served as a rehabilitation hospice for wounded war veterans after World War II. John F. Kennedy spent three months at the resort rehab center in 1945.

In 1976, the property was destroyed by a fire and remained shuttered until the Wattses bought it in 2014. Castle Hot Springs’ signature canary yellow, two-story building that JFK stayed in remains intact and is being affectionately restored. Casitas, walkways and reconstruction of the original 4,000-square-foot pool infuse new life into the seductively quiet locale. Palm trees still sway, birds chirp, water trickles.

Unplug your phone. We’re going for a soak.

Contact “Only in Arizona” columnist Mark Nothaft at [email protected]. Send him the weird and fun facts and places found #OnlyInArizona.


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