CASTLE HOT SPRINGS

GENTEEL, DISHABILLE AND DECIDEDLY UNDERSTATED----WHO SAID COMATOSE?---ARIZONA'S GRANDE DAME MAY HAVE ONE LAST OPENING ON HER DANCE CARD

And yet the Talleys did away with some of the clubbiness at Castle Hot Springs, without, Pat Talley says, ever making it "touristy." While before only registered guests could dine there--three meals a day were included in the cost of a room--under the Talleys' ownership in the Seventies, the dining room was open to the public, and Castle Hot Springs became a popular place for locals to spend New Year's Eve.

Over the past few years, however, Pat Talley has seen Lake Pleasant affect the life that she and her ranching neighbors enjoy. "They're being overwhelmed with people from the lake," she says. "People come up with tremendous amounts of alcohol in four-wheel-drive trucks with semiautomatic machine guns. They shoot randomly at our houses and are wildly and unbelievably drunk."

Development is inevitable, she thinks, and threatens to destroy the very qualities that make Castle Hot Springs so precious. So while she and the ranchers in the area wait to see what the future brings, Pat Talley is enjoying the hotel while she can. Recently, she celebrated her 41st birthday at Castle Hot Springs--with the same friends, the same swim in the pool and the same night under the stars that had commemorated her 21st. "I feel enormously grateful in life that I have not only the place that I can go back to, but the same steady people," she says.

@rule:
@body:You have to drive eight miles on a dirt road and cross Castle Creek several times before Castle Hot Springs heaves into view. The yellow buildings and the green grass of the resort appear startlingly bright and lush against the background of dust and desert. For the past 15 years, Bud and Dorothy Mullins have been the caretakers of the place, and according to Bud, that involves mostly chasing away New Age types who climb over the fence to sit in the hot springs.

Bud is standing in front of the office building at the resort, which used to house the post office, and in front of which the stagecoaches used to draw up. Folks at the resort, tired of the golf course whose nine holes were actually three holes played three times, would place bets on where the stagecoach's wheel would stop.

At least that's what Bud says, but acquaintances' estimates as to the percentage of truth in Bud's stories range from a high of 50 to a low of 2 percent. He will also tell you that the phone booth at the resort was the first one in Arizona. There are a lot of famous firsts in Bud's tales.

He is standing by the golf cart he rides around on all day. A yellow dog named Blondie is waiting for his next trip. Blondie, who is a male but so gentle and sweet he is invariably called "she," has already hopped onto the seat.

Mockingbirds are singing, English sparrows are taking little baths in a fountain, the bougainvillea is blooming. Sprinklers are creating rainbows with their spray. A breeze is blowing through the palm trees and the morning air is still cool. God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world.

Then what looks like a small hippopotamus walks into sight. It is a potbellied pig whose stomach drags along the ground. It is also a confirmation of the belief that people who paid thousands of dollars for these were really dumb. Named Wilbur, the pig spends his time begging sandwiches from passing motorists at the resort gate.

Wilbur drags off to start his day's activities. Bud begins his tour. Guest accommodations at Castle Hot Springs consisted of the Stone House, a two-story building with long hallways flanked by rooms, and half a dozen three-bedroom cottages. There's also the office building, which housed the bar and looks out on the swimming pool. The dining room and additional rooms used to be located in the Palm House, the building that burned in 1976 and ended the resort's commercial career.

Bud points to the palm trees whose trunks are still blackened from the fire. He is equally assiduous in pointing out the difference between bat feces--they collect close to the walls where the bats hang--and the droppings of the ringtail cats who sleep on the beds.

Castle Hot Springs is a mess. Piles of junk are everywhere--piles of chairs, old bathing suits, old makeup jars. It has changed ownership more times than the Brooklyn Bridge, and each owner seems to have used it to store stuff he or she never intended to reclaim.

Piles of plaster on the floor attest to structural problems, peeling paint to neglect and unspeakable green-flowered bedspreads and ghastly red rugs to the halfheartedness of efforts to make it habitable.

Oddly, the beds are all made, a precious few covered with chenille bedspreads that again seem to demand an ocean and a reversal of the calendar 50 or so years. They date from the period of twin beds, transoms and sinks in the bedroom--all of which Castle Hot Springs boasts. Equally quaint are the clawfoot tubs in the bathrooms. In the Stone House, many of those bathrooms would have been shared by two rooms.

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