Montezuma’s Castle? In New Mexico?

Montezuma Castle

What does Montezuma’s Castle have to do with my new book, Ant Dens? The Castle, once a destination hotel where Queen Victoria stayed, is located just outside the historic town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Ant Dens takes place.

This area of New Mexico is amazing! In the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the scenery is outstanding. In that one place, you are only minutes away from the mountains, minutes away from the prairie, close to skiing at Angel Fire, close to fly-fishing or kayaking at numerous lakes … and on and on. But one of the most amazing places to visit is still Montezuma’s Castle.

The Castle is the popular name for the former resort hotel/spa in the mountains just six miles northwest of Las Vegas. The property there, over 200 acres, was owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in the late 1800s. The railroad company constructed the hotel in 1878-1882, and it was known locally as the Hot Springs Hotel at the Las Vegas Hot Springs. Visitors took a special railroad spur from the city of Las Vegas to the hotel.

The original wooden hotel, which could hold 300 guests, was destroyed by fire in 1884 and rebuilt. That second wooden building was also destroyed by fire a few years later and rebuilt. The third structure, of Queen Anne style with 400 rooms and 90,000 square feet, was a hotel until 1903, and then had several changes of ownership. It was owned by the YMCA, a Baptist College, and served as a Catholic seminary for Mexican Jesuits. It was actually the set of a horror movie, The Evil (1978) starring Richard Crenna. Shortly after, it was purchased as the only US site of an Armand Hammer United Wold College (there are nine around the world.)

The building appeared in 1997 on the list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places, and was designated an “American Treasure” by the White House’s Millenium Council. The UWC completed a remodel of the building in the early 2000’s (to the tune of 10.5 million dollars!) and it is now an iconic structure of the United World College – USA, serving as the Davis International Center. High school students from more than 70 countries come there to “understand and put into action ideas around environmental sustainability, compassionate leadership, and intercultural understanding.” About 200 students attend, mostly on scholarships. Learn more at

Obviously, there is a hot springs, nearby. I use that hot spring as a setting for scenes in Ant Dens. Here’s what an early promotional piece (1880s) had to say about the Springs: “…Hot Springs bubble forth from the red granite ledge, to the number of nearly forty, the temperature of the thermal waters varying in the different springs from 71 to 138 degrees.”

Apparently the first structure to be erected at the springs was an adobe bathhouse built there in 1846, although natives in the area had used the springs for both therapeutic and spiritual purposes for centuries. Promotional materials from 1867 note the presence of log cabin structures serving as bathhouses.

Today, there’s not much to look at. No actual bathhouses exist, just a sloping hillside from the mountain road down to the Gallinas River. That hillside, covered in underbrush, is crisscrossed by paths leading to several concrete slabs along the river and up in the trees. Openings in those slabs reveal the springs themselves.

Each time I have visited the site, people have been there, having picnics or enjoying the springs. The mountain air is crisp and clean. Occasionally, the voices of students or visitors carry across the river from the UWC. The setting is peaceful – like a visit to another world. To learn more, google Montezuma’s Castle New Mexico and see what you find!

Meanwhile, watch for a few more posts about Ant Dens before the book becomes available for purchase about November 4!!

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