Mystery Castle, Phoenix, Arizona

One of the main themes of my blog is that life is an adventure. I’m not going to expound upon this much today, but it’s something I firmly believe in; and as such, I try to find something extraordinary in each day that I’m alive. When I travel, it’s easier to find adventure and the extraordinary, but sometimes it requires a little bit of planning. When I say “planning”, what I am talking about is doing a little research about where I am going, and what there is to see within a certain radius of that spot. Today, it’s easier than ever to do research about locations with the internet; and because of this ease, I’d say that if you want to find an adventure, you can find one no matter where you are going. In fact, I don’t just say that: I guarantee it. If you want an adventure anywhere, you can find one; whether through word of mouth; internet research, or just plain luck.

For example, when I headed out to Phoenix a couple months ago with my girlfriend, I did some research. While I knew certain areas of Arizona, I knew there was more to explore than what I’d seen before. After a couple minutes, I found out about the Painted Rock Petroglyphs, and I also found out about the Mystery Castle in Phoenix. On our second day in Phoenix, we headed out to the Castle armed with nothing but our internet knowledge and our adventurous spirits. After a short drive through the desert heat, we were at the Castle, which immediately caught our attention by its unique architectural style. Once we had walked around for a couple of minutes, we wanted to know more, so we decided to take the tour. On the tour, our guides filled our heads with the strange history of the place, which was almost as warped as the structure itself.

After taking the tour, what struck me about the place was that it was a location that demonstrated the triumph of man’s will over just about anything. The castle’s creator, Boyce Luther Gulley was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1920s, which was basically a death sentence. Rather than give up, he headed down to Arizona with nothing. Using his knowledge of real property law, he acquired the land on which the castle on the cheap – it was near the Phoenix dump at the time. Then, using his architectural and engineering knowledge he proceeded to build the castle on his own with materials he either salvaged from various areas, or acquired cheaply as they had been discarded. The castle is truly an example of being able to construct something from nothing. Even more importantly, the castle is a classic example of the inscrutable nature of man – because Boyce Luther Gulley concealed all of this from his family until his death.

While the Mystery Castle was interesting in its own right, what made it more interesting to me, were the parallels (and lack thereof) between the Mystery Castle and Scotty’s Castle. Both Albert Johnson, the owner of Scotty’s Castle and Boyce Luther Gulley had chronic health problems that improved when they went to the desert. Both of the structures were created around the same time, and both are quintessential desert dwellings that represent the extremes one finds in any desert, from things built with limitless money (Scotty’s Castle); and things created by  man’s ingenuity and imagination (the Mystery Castle). Finally, to me, both represent the transformative power of any desert to change people and structures over time. (More on that here and here).

Most importantly though, was it an adventure? Yes. Did it deserve the hype that it’s received over the years? Yes. Is it something you should see if you’re in Phoenix? Yes. And that my friends, is how research pays off. My hope is that this post will be an example to you when you’re out in a new spot!

Directions: The castle is located at 800 East Mineral Road, Phoenix, Arizona, 85040, and tours are offered from 11am to 4pm on Thursday through Sunday each week (October – June).