Travel: Tough Love

  • Roger Cox

Given the choice, I’ll take a mountain trail over a StairMaster any day, and when it comes to aromatherapy, I much prefer tramping through a lush meadow of wildflowers to a eucalyptus wrap. So I raised a few eyebrows among my friends when I planned to spend four days at, of all places, aspa. “Do you really think you’ll be happy frittering away the day in treatment rooms?” one asked.

I crave massages as much as the next guy, but I chose Red Mountain spa, north of St. George in southwestern Utah, because its package focuses as much on adventure as it does on pampering. A vacation there affords an activity junkie like me a lengthy menu of outdoor pursuits—hiking foremost among them. Best of all, many outings take full advantage of the region’s colorful red rock mountains and canyons, including nearby Zion National Park.

Red Mountain hunkers in the sagebrush flats beneath a 1,400-foot red sandstone promontory called—what else?—Red Mountain. That sets it just outside Snow Canyon State Park, a miniature Zion that encompasses a colorful collection of red-and-white sandstone canyons, lava fields, cinder cones, and sand dunes. Some of the park’s hiking and biking trails literally begin at the edge of the spa property.

The signature activity at Red Mountain is its guided hikes. The spa divides them into four levels by degree of difficulty, from Discovery, the easiest, which takes on flat to gently inclined terrain at a slow pace, to Adventure, which may require scrambling up or down steep slopes and rocky terrain to elevations as much as 1,500 feet above the valley floor. Much of the hiking takes place in Snow Canyon itself, though once a week there are day trips to Zion National Park and seasonal excursions to Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and other nearby geologic wonders.

My options went well beyond exploring on foot, to include mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, rappelling, and horseback riding, as well as a selection of some 30 group classes ranging from Spirit Stretch to cardio boxing. Probably for those reasons, Red Mountain attracts a far more diverse crowd than I associate with destination spas. Many of the dining tables had one or more men, for example, and although weight loss or stress reduction was a goal for some of the guests, others said that they had come primarily for an invigorating vacation.

My four-day stint was too short to experience everything that appealed to me. Hikes took all morning, mountain biking a chunk of the afternoon. In between I squeezed in a fabulous Dynamic Stretch class perfectly scheduled to dovetail with the morning hike. By day’s end, a spa treatment like the Slick Rock Survival Massage, which focused on feet and lower legs, seemed less like an indulgence than a necessity.

Throughout my stay I ate surprisingly well. On my first night I was surprised to find beef tenderloin among the three entrée choices. At lunch there was an extensive salad bar, fresh fruit, and perhaps eight hot items, including a veal-and-rabbit étouffée—all of them prepared to emphasize fresh, natural ingredients and nutritional health. Best of all, I often sat down at a table with people I’d gotten to know on the trail, adding an indulgence I hadn’t expected to find: camaraderie and good company.

Red Mountain, 800.407.3002, www.redmountainspa.com

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