Fire on the Mountain
A trip to Utah’s Red Mountain Spa offers equal amounts of healthy living, sumptuous pampering, and jaw-dropping natural beauty.
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This past year, I spent endless hours searching for just the right paint color for our bedroom. I waffled between seemingly hundreds of shades of chocolate brown, golden yellow, and brick red. Red, the experts told me, would be both invigorating and sensual; the downside is that it can make it difficult to relax. But after spending five days at the Red Mountain Spa — the ultra-luxurious destination spa and resort in St. George, Utah — I find that utterly impossible to believe. Being surrounded by a ring of stunning stark red mountains set the stage for one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had in years. And this unique spa adventure is intricately connected to the magical topography that surrounds it.
Red Mountain, which opened in 1998, is best known for its extensive hiking program. Each morning, groups of hikers ranging from beginners to advanced head out to explore the surrounding desert and the famous fiery red Navaho sandstone formations. And while I’ve always loved hiking, I’ve silently scoffed at the notion of being connected to the earth (Scarlett O’Hara’s rants about Tara notwithstanding). But I must admit that after several days of these morning treks — during which we walked through black lava flows, studied cacti, and marveled at petroglyphs — I found myself believing that the rocks (dare I say it?) were exerting a powerful influence over me. “People say it is enchanting here,” says Tracey Welsh, the spa’s general manager. “While many guests do come for the fitness programs [which include biking, rock climbing, and kayaking], more and more are opening themselves up to our self-improvement programming. It’s such a stressful time, what with the economy, and people are open to alternative ways of coping.”
Clockwise from above left: Outdoor adventure activities are one of the spa’s main draws; guests can stay in one of 82 rooms or 24 villa suites; sometimes, guests enter the Spiral Circle Walk after being smudged with the smoke of white sage
Take, for instance, the popular fire ceremony, which is held twice a week at sunset. Participants write their intentions on a scroll and then toss it into the fire. A Native American flute player often accompanies the service — and the plaintive wail soon leads you to forget about life’s more mundane trivialities (like choosing paint colors) and makes you believe you’re capable of much greater things. “Some guests who come are grieving over a loved one or their health, and they want to move forward. We’re finding it to be a very emotional release,” says Welsh.
The spa offers up a dizzying array of exercise classes: tai chi on the rocks, cardio salsa, balletone, and at least six different types of yoga among them. There are also specially organized programs for detoxification and weight loss. One morning I skipped the hike and opted instead for a Nordic walking class. My very buff and cheery instructor, whom I’ll call Greg, informed me that swinging the ski-like poles could help me burn up to 40 percent more calories than regular walking. We headed up a hill leading to Snow Canyon State Park — yet another stunning vista of pure rust-colored rock and petrified sand dunes — and chatted about the good life in southwestern Utah while Greg worked in vain to ensure that I was swinging the correct arm while striding with the correct leg. Another afternoon, I took a mountain bike out by myself and rode through the park, where I was sufficiently awed by the immenseness of the land.
But the highlight of my outdoor adventures was an all-day hike to nearby Zion National Park. At the risk of overusing a well-worn cliché, this park is truly a national treasure that should not be missed. While I marveled at such things as Kolob Arch, one of the largest natural arches in the world (and secretly worried about spotting a tarantula), I was most impressed by one of our guides. Lew Roberts has white hair, but that is the only clue that this powerhouse of a man is 81 years old. So what’s his secret? “I don’t take vitamins and I don’t believe in diets (although I do eat light),” he says. “But the secret to my success has been a good, hard hour of exercise every day.”