South Mountain Park & Phoenix’s Mystery Castle

Mystery Castle vs South Mountain Park

With close to 17,000 acres, it’s no wonder that Phoenix, Arizona’s South Mountain Park has been referred to as the world’s largest municipal park. Founded in 1924, the area was first called Phoenix Mountain Park. As additional acreage was added over the subsequent decade, the park began to be called South Mountain by the many residents who came to spend their leisure time relaxing at their mesmerizing city park.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

The park boasts a variety of natural wonders that include its pristine mountainous landscape and desert vegetation. Some of the park’s important plant species include saguaro cactus, brittlebush, and palo verde trees. The park is also home to coyotes, foxes, snakes, lizards, and various birds. The summit of the mountain contains more than fifty miles where visitors come to hike, bike, or just enjoy the view. The park’s lookout point is over one thousand feet above the desert below so there are many fine views to be enjoyed from various points of interest.

Summit of South Mountain Park
Summit of South Mountain Park

Trails range from easy to difficult depending upon a specific trail or trail portion and reach peaks of over 2,300 feet featuring views of the Phoenix skyline. This is a great place to experience ancient Indian petroglyphs that are spread throughout the park.

Located within the park’s foothills is the famed Mystery Castle. This dwelling is home to the founder’s daughter. The structure is a conglomeration of stone, adobe, cement, and some say goat milk that forms a castle-like home. Built for by Boyce Gulley during the 1930s for his daughter, the home’s interior is no longer open for tours, but many visitors still marvel at the exterior view.

Ranger Office: (602) 262-7393

Main Entrance:
10919 S. Central Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85042

Pima Canyon Entrance:
9904 South 48th Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85044

Things To Do at South Mountain Park

The park contains various ramadas that are open to large groups. Many groups come to South Mountain Park to picnic and hold many kinds of celebrations. Others come to the park to enjoy hiking and biking. The park boasts fifty-eight miles of trails that range from intermediate to difficult. Others prefer to let their horses do the work; horseback riding is also a popular activity during the summer months. Others come to the park simply to enjoy the great scenery and the terrific views from various locales around the mountain and to relax among family and friends.

Environmental Education Center

The park also boasts an education center that provides information about the natural beauty and diversity of the Sonoran Desert. The center provides considerable information about the trails, trail maps, a reading room, ranger-led programs and events, and other educational resources.

Getting To South Mountain Park

Located south of Phoenix along Central Avenue, visitors can access the park from the north, east, and west by I-17 or I-10. Its official address is 10919 South Central Avenue.

Mystery Castle

Castles are made for princesses and the Mystery Castle in Phoenix isn’t an exception. It was built in the 1930s by a father who thought he had just a short time to live as a final gift to his daughter – his “little princess”. The Mystery Castle still sits on the slopes of South Mountain overlooking the panoramic views across the Phoenix AZ skyline.

Phoenix Mystery Castle

In a whacky sort of way, the Castle has touches of architectural brilliance laced with a bit of cuckoo. Those that visit will discover an amazing feat by a reclusive man that had no construction skill but possessed strange creative vision. One look will conclude there likely was no diagrammed plan of construction, but rather a spontaneous daily vision based upon what recent pieces of discarded junk arrived at a nearby dump.

Castle of Mish-Mash

The 18-room castle is comprised of clever-use of whatever Gulley could find. Mystery Castle can be described as an early southwestern mish-mash. An eclectic structure that gives the appearance of having always been part of the desert landscape.

Native rock, artifacts, and abandoned junk from around the region make the architectural style difficult to classify. There are floating staircases of stone and many of the recycled boulders contain original hieroglyphics from ancient indigenous people.

Interestingly, the interior of the castle contains both a chapel and a tavern. The castle has 13 fireplaces spread around 18 rooms. A pump organ in the grotto once belonged to a lady named Elsie, known colorfully as the widow of Tombstone, Arizona who buried six husbands in Boot Hill.

Picture of Mystery Castle Phoenix, Arizona

Boyce Gulley appeared to be somewhat adept at structural engineering, but plumbing and electrical wiring were not his specialties. Consequently, the house initially lacked modern conveniences until they were subsequently added in the 1960s that replaced the bright pink outhouse known as “Pinky.” An upside-side down bathtub serves as an exhaust vent over a kitchen stove. Windows were formed with wheels of Gulley’s Stutz Bearcat. Its windshield became a glass panel on a terrace wall. He used railroad ties to create steps and stairways. Unusual pieces of stone became arches. Welded scraps of metal became both components of the structure as well as decorative elements.

Perhaps Gulley was one of the first with “green attitude” in mind. He protected natural elements and landscapes. Getting from the parlor to a bedroom required a flight of stairs that traversed over a large boulder and down its other side so it would not disturb what nature placed their millions of years before.

Interestingly, the interior of the castle contains both a chapel and a tavern. There is a wishing well on an above patio floor. Originally, the pail from the wishing well could be lowered to the cantina with a drink returned to the patio.

The decor is comprised of fragments sculpted into new weird renditions. But somehow the whacky seemed to have a perfect place. The view had to be planned. The castle seems to stand guard high above the views of desert beauty below long before tall buildings dotting the cityscape of today.

Tours of Mystery Castle

As of the date of this article, the Mystery Castle is still open for tours from early October through the end of May on Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 AM to 4 PM. Get there before 3:30 for the last tour of each day. Call (602) 268-1581 for recorded messages.

Directions To The Mystery Castle

From Downtown Phoenix. Take 7th Street south across the dry Salt River. About 2 miles south of Baseline Road, turn east (left) on Mineral Road. The road dead-ends in the parking lot.

From East Valley Areas. Take Interstate 10 to Baseline Road. Drive west to 16th Street and turn left. Drive about a mile to Dobbins Road and turn right. After passing the golf course on your left you will approach 7th Street. Turn left to Mineral Road into the Mystery Castle parking lot.

Mystery Castle
800 East Mineral Road
Base of South Mountain
Phoenix, Arizona
Call (602) 268-1581 (Recorded Message)

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