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Independent Minds: Mike Watts, Castle Hot Springs

A secret hot spot enjoyed by native Arizonan tribes for centuries, the storied site of Castle Hot Springs has since welcomed the U.S. social set to its warm waters in the rugged Bradshaw Mountains. Responsible for restoring the remote resort to its former glory, owner Mike Watts has reimagined an off-grid oasis for a new era.

The adventures of the Arizona desert never run dry at Castle Hot Springs, a sun-soaked retreat which is home to three thermal springs that well up from deep within the desert surface and offer pristine 115-degree waters filled with revitalising minerals. The waters are also piped through for guests to enjoy in their rooms and to feed the three-acre sustainable farm. As the winner of the ‘Most Mindful Wellness Retreat’ in the SLH Awards 2020, Castle Hot Springs is somewhere to truly switch off and reconnect with nature.

For husband and wife Mike and Cindy Watts, this project has been many years in the making. The carefully renovated Lodge and newly-created Spring Bungalows and SkyView Cabins are just the latest chapter in a long story, which has seen Apache tribes, World War II soldiers, and the likes of The Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, and John F. Kennedy himself come to stay.

What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?

Being ‘independently minded’ allows us to focus on our perception of the most important aspect of developing the guest experience. Our focus is on staff development that results in each being inspired on their own to want to genuinely look after the guest in all aspects of care. Being independent also allows us to focus on things without necessarily driven to be a hotel chain financial model.

What was the inspiration behind the hotel, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?

We were drawn to the property by its history, where members of native tribes have enjoyed the hot springs for centuries, before becoming a favourite with past U.S presidents and the social elite in the early 1900s. The natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and the very exclusive hot springs experience unique to most resorts has long been drawing guests to the Bradshaw Mountains. In a way, the springs themselves are our sources of inspiration, and continue to make our offering at Castle Hot Springs so special.

How do you think your hotel stands apart from other boutique hotels?

The natural beauty of the rural surroundings and our natural hot springs that provide healing, relaxation and outdoor experiences through our adventure programme. Unlike other Arizona adventure resorts, the Castle Hot Springs adventure begins upon arrival – venture up an unpaved dirt road, passing through canyons or flying above the desert on your way to the resort. From horseback riding to helicopter tours, and our Oasis Ambassadors will organise an array of activities including but not limited to our own Via Ferrata, horseback riding, a farm tour, e-mountain bikes, hiking and enjoying nearby Lake Pleasant. We encourage guests to go wild and also take time to relax and rejuvenate.

If you only had 24 hours to get a taste for your hotel experience, what would you recommend a guest must do?

Our Spring Bungalows or Sky View Cabins provide a different, yet exhilarating experience. A 24-hour guest certainly must experience exploring the natural surroundings of the property with the many hiking trails, and of course a soak in the hot springs with either a massage or yoga experience. All guests should ask our mixologist for a list of their specially prepared cocktails. Lastly, our guests must be prepared for a detox experience – although they have access to Wi-Fi, we encourage time spent here without it.

SLH Insider: Go beneath the surface of Castle Hot Springs following our most recent visit here.

Do you have a vision for the future of the hotel?

We see ourselves as the perfect off-grid escape for guests looking to switch off from the stresses of daily life, which will become increasingly important in the post-pandemic world. Many of us have become more reliant on technology as a source of communication and entertainment during quarantine, but we hope to offer an oasis from the outside world where getting back to nature is the best luxury experience of all.

We also continue to cultivate and harvest over 150 different crops during each season, with over three acres of farming land right on property. We invite guests to learn about the intricacies of growing in our unique eco-system with daily farm tours, educating them on our sustainable growing practices and how we compost nearly all of the resort’s green waste (including paper). We have recently extended our farm to include a flower garden, where the team is cultivating a variety of season flowers which are used in floral arrangements, spa products and to enhance our culinary offerings. New farm yields and cultivation continue crop up as we grow.