Majestic Mountains: Red Mountain Resort & Spa

Lynn Burshtein

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If happiness were a colour, it would be the colour of Red Mountain – more specifically the russet-hued rocks located in St. George, Utah on the northeastern tip of the Mojave Desert. Its epic scenery surely makes this one of the more picturesque places on earth. Indeed, it is as if the area has been photo-shopped by Mother Nature herself.

Set against an impossibly blue sky, the red sandstone cliffs invoke a peacefulness and serenity that make it the perfect setting for a health spa, and so we find the eponymous Red Mountain Spa & Resort, a 55-acre property boasting over 200 deluxe guest rooms and two-bedroom luxury villas. At once promoting its outdoor fitness and adventure programs as well as therapeutic spa treatments, the resort cleverly coined its own motto, “between a rock and soft place”.

The resort’s numerous outdoor activity programs make full use of the red rocks that engulf the property. Of course, daily guided hikes along diverse terrain are de rigeure (hiking groups are divided into Trekker 1, 2 and 3, according to one’s level of experience). More rigorous excursions can be organized to Bryce and Zion National Parks, where the latter’s “Angel Landing” towering mountain top is considered to be the pinnacle of hiking in the Southwest region but proved too ambitious a climb for this writer. No matter, the hike through the park’s lush Emerald Pools was stunning enough.

Sunset at Red Mountain (3)

Kayaking classes led by friendly and patient instructors at a nearby lake provide a good upper body workout, while guided bike trips to the artist community known as Kayenta is also worth seeing. There are other specialty outdoor classes that showcase this setting. An outdoor yoga class with British expat Ian is particularly uplifting, whatever your level of expertise. Whereas mantras such as “reach the sky” and “feel the earth” taught in urban yoga classes might seem a little hokey, here these instructions are intended to be taken literally, as we assume our various poses directly on the red rocks set against a golden sun and majestic blue sky. The experience is made even more surreal when Ian nonchalantly advises us that a roadrunner just scampered by. Other wildlife such as rabbits or snakes might drop in on the class uninvited, but Ian carries on without missing a beat. Just another day at the office, I guess.

For those looking for a different kind of animal adventure, Red Mountain offers two unique programs. One is the “Pound Puppy Hike” (scheduled weekly). Guests meet in the morning and are escorted by professional outdoor guides to the nearby Ivins City no-kill animal shelter. Upon arrival, participants are matched up with dogs residing at the shelter (the guide is careful to assign only dogs that are sufficiently socialized, and to keep the slightly more aggressively dogs a safe distance from one another). As the moderately-paced three-mile hike through St. George Valley and Padre Canyon gives our four-legged friends a good cardio workout, the humans are given the added benefit of upper arm strengthening as the dogs pull hard on their leashes. Even though a few training refreshers along the way prove necessary, it is hard not to fall in love with these pups, especially when they show you their immense gratitude during the cookie and water breaks. We then head inside the shelter to play with some of the resident cats. As Red Mountain General Manager Tracey Walsh claims, the Pound Puppy Hike is “a win-win situation for guests and shelter animals alike”. In fact, a number of animals have been permanently adopted by Red Mountain guests as a result of this program.

A more intense undertaking awaits participants of the Best Friends Animal Society Volunteer Experience (by appointment only). This day-long activity begins with a fairly short hike in Zion National Park, after which guests head to the nearby animal haven nestled on 33,000 acre ranch in Angel Canyon to visit the nearly 2,000 rescued dogs, cats, horses, pigs and other animals in residence.

Most of the hikes take place in the morning, generally before the desert heat is in full force. After lunch (held at the Resort’s Canyon Breeze restaurant and featuring a well-balanced and varied salad bar, along with calorie-conscious items served, like breakfast, buffet-style) guests are encouraged to take part in afternoon activities, many of which are held inside the resort’s expansive fitness building (Balletone™ and Drums Alive are two guest favourites). Cooking and photography classes, geology walks, and self-awareness workshops are also available throughout the week. Guests can also cool off in one of the resort’s three swimming pools or relax in one of the nearby Jacuzzis. At some point during their stay, most guests find they need at least one afternoon nap and there is nothing wrong with that. The nicely appointed, terra cotta coloured suites blend in seamlessly with the scenic mountains, adding to the overall dream-like quality.

Dinner at Canyon Breeze is a laid-back affair, served by a youthful staff, free of pretense. The salad bar is on offer again, along with a choice of soup and freshly-baked whole-grain bread. Guests choose one entrée and one vegetable dish from the menu, which is Southwest inspired and calorie-controlled (vegetarian and “detox” menus are available). Desert and coffee are served as well; wine is optional.

After dinner is the time most guests sample the menu of over 50 spa services at the resort’s Sagestone Spa and Salon. The Sagestone is located within a unique geodesic dome building and decorated with a contemporary flair. Guests are provided with robes and keys to a locker room equipped with a Eucalyptus steam sauna. Of course, hardcore hikers may need some real massage therapy so the Canyon Warm Stone Massage and Red Rocks Hikers Massage are perennial favourites. All body treatments and wraps at the Stagestone are made from freshly-harvested botanicals, mineral-rich muds and essential oils derived from native ingredients.

Though many guests are content to drift from the massage table off to bed, some might want a night out on the town. To this end, an evening musical at the nearby Tuachan Amphitheatre is a must. Colloquially referred to as “Broadway in the Desert”, Tuachan is a 2,000-seat, open air amphitheatre set against the red rocks. The production values here rival any of the big city musical productions. If you are lucky, you will see the stage adaptation of “Footloose”, starring the incredible Thayne Jasperson [High School Musical, So You Think You Can Dance] in the role of Ren McCormack (picking up where Kevin Bacon left off); or you might catch an adaptation of Annie or Elton John’s Aida.

In terms of value, the resort has consistently been voted best spa for affordability. This is especially apparent when compared to more expensive destination spas located in the nearby Arizona or California deserts. While guests can choose to have all of their services priced a la carte under the “Stay and Dine” option”, many find that the Signature Package, which includes daily hikes, three meals, unlimited fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and other amenities, causes less of a hassle on check-out. And after a few days at Red Mountain, who really wants to come down from this high?