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A Southern Utah Surprise
Am I the last person in San Diego to discover the scenic beauty of Southern Utah? Ever since my road trip through this area last month, I’ve been talking about the spectacular red rock mountains, sandstone summits, and desert wildflowers I saw, and — much to my chagrin — my friends and family aren’t paying much attention. It seems everyone I know is already a fan of this rugged region.
Being the last to learn about a travel destination is a new experience for me and not one I’m enjoying. However, I am having fun describing the stunning place in which I stayed, which opened last October and is news even to those who are familiar with the territory.
It took an Act of Congress to build Amangiri — the most recent addition to Amanresorts’ string of small luxury hotels. The company had purchased 600 acres in a protected valley near Lake Powell, but when Aman CEO Adrian Zecha hiked over the property, the building site he favored was adjacent — and owned by the U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BNM). Fortunately, BLM was amenable to a swap and Congress approved, so today, guests at the 34-suite resort gaze out at sweeping views of the rock formations in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (www.amanresorts.com)
I was prepared to be impressed. Aman resorts consistently top the lists compiled by Zagat, Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and others who rank worldwide lodgings. However, even expecting something special, my first view literally took my breath away, and I remained in this semi-heady condition throughout my stay.
The approach to the resort is down a long, winding road with expanses of desert and huge sandstone boulders on both sides. The rocks, sculpted by wind for millions of years, resemble pieces of modern art. By contrast, the style of the buildings is minimalist and rectilinear, as if not wanting to compete with the natural terrain. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, dining room, and all guest suites frame picture-postcard vistas. Gas fireplaces throughout the resort take the chill off cool evenings, while numerous contemporary water features seem to cool the days.
Since I was traveling alone, I was delighted to see an inviting counter in front of the open kitchen where I could (and did) meet other travelers and chat with chefs over meals.
“How long is dinner served?” I inquired upon arrival.
“Until the last guest has eaten,” replied a staff member. “Sometimes that means midnight when there are late arrivals.”
The next morning I joined three other women and a guide on the Hoodoo Trail, named for the phallic-like formations of Entrada sandstone and Dakota rock we passed along the way. We walked on slickrock and sand, pausing to drink in the spiritual energy of the area and to photograph profusions of wildflowers, as well as gorgeous views of mountains shaped like Buddhist shrines, flat-topped mesas, and reclining quadrupeds. The one-hour “tasting hike” turned into a three-hour outing because we were having so much fun.
Many guests use Amangiri as a base for touring Bryce Canyon National Park, Staircase-Escalante, and Zion National Park. Personally, I was disinclined to leave the resort for even a minute, but my yen to see Lake Powell and the Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend got the better of me, and I asked for my car — which thoughtfully arrived with the A/C running and cold bottles of water at hand. “It’s the Aman way,” was the explanation.
My excursion to the scenic spots was worth the effort, but when I came “home” I headed for the Amangiri Spa and stayed there as long as I could. This area includes five candlelit treatment rooms, two outdoor treatment pavilions, the Yoga Pavilion, the Fitness Center, the Water Pavilion, and the Flotation Pool. Amangiri spa experiences reflect elements of the Navajo culture and healing traditions. Treatments are designed to restore “hozho,” which in Navajo means “beauty, harmony, balance, and health.”
At first I thought I’d have a Thai massage because the pavilions for that purpose are literally steps from the desert and have a great view of sandstone boulders. However, in the end, I opted for the “Twilight Journey,” which includes a hot stone massage and 30 minutes of flotation therapy.
It had been a long day of hiking and sightseeing, but as I floated in the dark surrounded by 98-degree water and air, I went into a meditative state and awoke feeling rested — and with my hozho fully restored. ELIZABETH HANSEN
Getting to Amangiri:
The closest airport is in Page, Arizona, but first-hand accounts of bumpy rides in small planes made me glad I hadn’t taken that option. The resort also offers transfers from St. George, Utah; Flagstaff and Phoenix, Arizona; and Las Vegas, Nevada.
The drive to Amangiri from San Diego takes about ten hours and is best broken up with an overnight stay in Las Vegas. On my recent trip, I tried out the new non-gaming, non-smoking Mandarin Oriental Hotel and thoroughly enjoy dinner in their Mozen Bistro. (www.mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas)
On-property hiking options range from beginner to advanced and can be done with or without a guide. The most challenging trails include the use of a via ferrata, Italian for “iron road,” which is a series of fixed cables and ladder rungs used by hikers to climb steep mountain routes.
Guests can also take advantage of a wide range of off-property hiking opportunities. Guides can arrange full- and half-day hikes into areas rarely visited by the general public, and staff can also direct guest to self-guided desert hikes of any length.
Horseback riding, hot air balloon flights, private scenic aerial flights, and private off-road slot canyon tours can also be arranged. Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley are all within daytrip distance. Lake Powell and the Colorado River are 20 minutes from Amangiri. The resort can arrange private boat trips and fly-fishing on the river.
If You Go:
Be sure to pack sunglasses, sunscreen, a swimsuit and cover-up, hat and/or visor, and lightweight clothing that can be layered. You will also want to have a daypack or waist pack (for hands-free hiking), camera, hiking boots or sturdy athletic shoes, and possibly binoculars and work-out clothes.