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An off-grid adventure in the Arizona desert

In search of some pre-winter warmth before the snow starts to fall in Chicago, SLH’s Barter Room Co-ordinator, Katrin Holtkott, ventures into the sun-soaked Arizona desert to experience the natural beauty of Castle Hot Springs, an off-grid oasis set within the Bradshaw Mountains.

Driving the last 7.5 miles on a ‘primitive’ road it became apparent why a high clearance vehicle had been suggested at Phoenix airport, only one hour south of Castle Hot Springs. We took it slow in our four wheel drive truck and marvelled at the stunning, film set-like vista of cacti, distant mountain ranges and the occasional donkeys. Nestled in this wild and utterly beautiful landscape is Castle Hot Springs – an oasis of green lawns, thermal springs and kitchen gardens.

Ad Astra – Reaching for the Stars

Our Sky View Cabin, opposite Salvation Peak, epitomises understated elegance with no creature comfort neglected. The private outdoor bath and shower (and there is an indoor shower too if the great outdoors do not call your name), the telescope on the balcony for star gazing at night (no light pollution makes for an unbelievable firmament of twinkling brilliance), the Nespresso machine with great sized mugs for morning coffee while watching the sun rise in a delicate shade of pink on the mountain peaks opposite, makes you want to spend as much time as humanly possible in the cabin – but there is just so much else to experience.

The Main Attractions

The farm tour, the history tour, the Petroglyph tour, morning yoga and meditation, massage treatments, Via Ferrata, paddle board yoga, guided hikes, wine tasting, mountain e-bikes, pickleball, Bocce ball, the film documentary on Castle Hot Springs – all vie for your immediate participation – and we tried so, so hard to sample everything on offer in four days, while at the same time taking time to float in the mineral rich waters of the natural hot spring pools, soaking up sunshine and expertly prepared cocktails by bartenders Russell and Marcin.

Yoga and meditation in the Stonehouse – led by Mike and Colleen was the perfect start to my day. My husband Paul elected to remain wrapped in the softest terry robe on the planet, on our private balcony, enjoying the silence and scenic desert mountains, before meeting for breakfast overlooking the pool. No downward facing dog for him – but relaxation never the less, before immersing ourselves in the Castle Hot Springs daily activities.

One of the highlights was Via Ferrata – a climbing experience employing rungs and ladders fixed to the rock face traversed by steel cables to which the climbers are secured with a harness. Ryan, our wonderful lead guide, took us from valley level to about 350 feet with breath taking views and confidence building encouragement. Paul’s Bradshaw Hot Stone Massage left him equally elated without the need of changing altitude.

The history tour made us realise that we were following in the footsteps of some of America’s most prominent families, who all flocked to Castle Hot Springs in their heyday – The Rockefellers, the Wrigleys and future President J.F. Kennedy all stayed at the resort. Do ask about the link between J.F.K. and the flag on Salvation Peak – it is a great story and made us hike to the peak one morning, just because we could – and we were rewarded with sweeping 360-degree views of the Hieroglyphic Mountains.

From Farm to Table

Josh, one of the enthusiastic gardeners, hosted the farm tour, pointing out where the ingredients for our amazing meals came from, how they experiment with new varieties and how the bar and kitchen vie for special and new ingredients to create their magic – who knew that there were so many different varieties of pepper, cucumber and tomatoes! And this brings me neatly to the outstanding meal experiences, which were Highly Commended in our SLH Awards 2020.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all included in your stay – and if none of the activities entice you to venture into the Arizona desert – the food prepared by Executive Chef Christopher Brugman and his Equipes is reason alone to make the trip. We have never, ever enjoyed food like it – to say we ate dinner is a disservice, we savoured each and every fork and spoon full, the fresh and delicate flavours explode and combine to create unrivalled culinary memories. I was prepared to offer my first born in exchange for the mint chimichurri recipe – I still am!

Local Landmarks

We did manage to tear ourselves away from this historic resort to explore the surrounding area – Montezuma Castle National Monument is a leisurely 90 minute drive away, and well worth a visit. The changes in the landscape and vegetation are amazing and the actual monument is awe-inspiring. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is only an hour away (pre-booking the house tour is essential), as is the Hole in the Rock. These two landmarks can easily be visited on the way to or from the airport.

Keep Coming Back For More…

Frankly there is more than enough to keep you at Castle Hot Springs – with horses arriving in November for trekking, more Via Ferratas possible in the future, and the new Agave farm five miles away with a bike path planned to link the farm and the resort, why would you venture further afield? In five years, the Agave will be ready for distilling – and I feel it is my personal responsibility to check on its progress annually between now and then. Castle Hot Springs is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, it is now also on my personal register of places to return to again and again. But in the meantime, bring on the Chicago winter. Our stay at Castle Hot Springs has ensured we are ready!

SLH Insider Tips

  • Plan your activities in advance – some have to be pre-booked and with so much on offer you really don’t want to miss out.
  • Keep hydrated – the complimentary, refillable water bottles are yours to take with you as a souvenir of your stay.
  • Try not to ask for the Wi-Fi code – immerse yourself in this off-grid world of adventures. It’s no wonder that Castle Hot Springs won the title of Most Mindful Wellness Retreat in the SLH Awards 2020.