Saturday, November 22, 2008

Montezuma Castle

BEWARE, there are a LOT of pictures in this entry. Now that I've warned you of that, prepare yourself, these photos are our tour of Montezuma's Castle, a beautiful old hotel nestled in the Sangre de Christo Mountains outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

We were fortunate enough to be able to visit the last time we were here in Las Vegas. That was when I took the shots posted here, but I never got around to posting them.

While sitting around looking for local events, Terry saw a notice in a small local paper that the Castle would be open this afternoon for tours. I got all excited, thinking this was my chance to get some great shots. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we found that the tour was cancelled, because they were filming at the location. Have I mentioned that they're filming a biography of Georgia O'Keeffe in this area? It will star two of my favorites, Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. We're hoping they might be filming up at Ghost Ranch when we're there, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Anyhow, before I get into the particulars, I want to apologize. Some of the interior shots are pretty bad, but they're the best we got on the one day we were able to visit the Castle. As always, click to enlarge them, most (not all) look much better in a larger version.

Now for just a bit of history.

The original Montezuma's Castle was built in 1882 by the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad. With numerous hot springs located in the area, it was a perfect spot for cross country travelers to visit for a respite on their journey. It was also the first building in New Mexico to have those new fangled electric lights! The Hotel was a huge success till it burnt down in 1884. Since it had been such a success, it was immediately rebuilt, but burnt down again in 1885 but rebuilt AGAIN in 1886. When it reopened, it was renamed the Phoenix as it continued to rise from the ashes.

In its final incarnation it boasted 90,000 square feet, a bowling alley and a casino. Famous guests over the years included Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Jesse James. It was a going concern till the Hotel closed in 1903.

Since then, it's been used for many things including a stint with the YMCA, a Catholic Seminary and a Baptist college. It was then left empty for many years and suffered serious vandalism and generally fell into disrepair.

Then in the early 1980s, it came to the attention of Armand Hammer, who purchased the property to be used as a campus for the United World College. In 1997 it was placed on the list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Finally, in 2001 the school spent $12 million to restore the Castle to its former glory, with stunning results.

So now on to my photo tour of Montezuma's Castle.

As you drive up the private lane that leads to the entrance you get this view

This plaque is located at the guards shack.
You must sign in here to enter the campus.

The entrance to the Castle

One of many shots I'm including,
just because I like the way this old beauty
looks in photos.

The Lobby.
Can't you imagine walking into this in the 1880s?

I'd like to apologize again
for most of these interior shots.
I didn't have my tripod
and the flash shots looked really bad.
Even though it's not very clear,
this beautiful old fireplace is a wonder

The top of the fireplace.
This fireplace is actually made from clay, not stone.
It's a beauty.

A full shot of the fireplace and the lobby

This is the reception desk.
Amazing woodwork,
warm with the patina that only old wood can show

Terry took these next two shots
Somehow he found this lovely spiral staircase.

I missed this completely
so I'm really glad he saw it and took these shots.

There are numerous tile fireplaces in the Castle

Another fireplace

This one was my favorite.
Enlarge it and you'll see that
even the tile in the firebox is unique.

An engraving of the hotel from the 1800s

Famed Glass Master Dale Chihuly
donated these chandeliers to the College.

While I greatly admire his work
I have to admit I don't really think
they fit in this venue.

Some of the windows in the dining room

One of the enclosed sun porches.

There are wide porches circling most of the Castle

Not only do the porches afford a spectacular view,
I love these photographs.

The shapes and angles
of this beautiful old building fascinate me.

I also like the mixture of textures,
wood and brick
and the organic trees

Also the way the light shines on the polished wood
It really is this beautiful

Another shot that shows the shapes and angles
of the Hotel

Then when you just think the angles are a bit much
they throw in a round turret.

I also like the way they've incorporated the ramps
Don't they look like they are part of the original design?

Another turret

The Castle seems to fit so well into her surroundings

A shot from the back of the Castle

As you explore the grounds,
you discover paved pathways
wandering in the forest

A parting shot

We took this shot of the Castle
from higher up in the Sangre de Christos.
It's the white building in the center,
I felt it would give you
a better perspective on the location.

If you're ever in the area and learn that the Castle is open for tours I recommend you go and see it for yourself.

It's quite remarkable, a tribute to a time past and now being used to help improve our future,


photowannabe said...

Amazing place Kate. Glad you shared.
You have dropped off the map again. Just thought I'd let you know.

Mimi said...

I have to agree Kate, I don't think that Chihuly piece fits very well either. That said, when the man offers to donate you don't say NO!
We had a friend was his photographer for a while, and got a private tour of his shop in Seattle once. Fantastic! I'm hoping I still have some of the shards from pieces that didn't come to his high standard, they are immediately smashed.
Great post and pics as usual!
Love Mi

Robin Lomax said...

Hi, My name is Robin Bjerke, I am an Alumn' of the class of 2008 from UWC-USA. I would like to thank you for the lovely pictures of what I called home for 2 fantastic years. I am glad you like it, I sure did.

We all have a love/hate relationship with the Chihuly's. I have fantasized about playing golf in the dining hall many a time ^^. They are insured for $500k each, says alot about the donation.

Many regards and international love

Kate said...


I would LOVE to visit the Chihuly Studio, I'm sure it's an amazing experience. So, if you have any shards left, where would you be storing them in Tortuga (Jonna and Mimi's 26 foot Lazy Daze)?

We sure miss you guys.


Kate said...


Thanks for your kind comments. What a wonderful experience you must have had, two full years at Montezuma, I'd love to hear more. Do you have a blog?

Feel free to email me if you's like, I'd love to hear more about Montezuma.