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The Zen of Adventure

BY Beth Weitzman | August 29, 2016 | Feature Features

In the dramatic Four Corners region of the American Southwest, Amangiri, an Aman resort, is an oasis of calm, a departure point for exhilarating activities and, like its desert landscape, a natural wonder.
SET IN STONE Oversize bathrooms feature hidden wardrobe closets and a soaking tub, all with unobstructed desert panoramas.

If location is everything, Amangiri has it all—and then some. The resort’s setting is simply astonishing. A center of Zen amid towering red-rock formations, glistening mesas and dusty canyons, the intimate, ultraluxe destination spreads its wow factor across 600 cacti-covered acres in Canyon Point—a spot on the map in southern Utah near the Arizona border, but frankly, in the middle of nowhere.

With anticipation high from all we’ve heard about Amangiri (meaning “peaceful mountain” in Sanskrit), my friend and I take a private flight to Lake Powell Jet Center in Page, Ariz. Commercial flights are available from Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix to the adjacent terminal at Page Municipal Airport, but private is the way to go if you can swing it. After a 10-mile drive, we follow a long, winding driveway; reach the veritable desert oasis; and are instantly stunned by the 360-degree vista. The modern minimalist architecture, all concrete and glass, seamlessly blends into the wind-swept surroundings. Exterior to interior, materials and textures are one with the earthy palette.

We’re greeted at the Pavilion, the resort’s central gathering spot, which looks out upon a large heated pool dramatically built around an enormous, 165 million-year-old natural rock escarpment. Also found here are social spaces including the Living Room, Library, Bar, an art gallery and boutique (stocked with regional goods, clothing and Aman signature items), and the Dining Room (where magnificent meals are cooked in an open kitchen and served against a backdrop of the rocky landscape visible through floor-to-ceiling glass). We sit for lunch and share an array of fresh salads, charcuterie, smoked fish and a bevy of dips, breads and chips from the communal table. An a la carte menu is also offered: Favorites include the Phad Ka Proaw Tom (Thai basil shrimp, aromatic jasmine rice, fried egg and green onion), the chef’s daily pizza preparation and, of course, decked-out Utah burgers (buffalo or beef). All dietary preferences and restrictions are easily handled. Other dining venues include a private dining room and the impressive walnut Wine Cellar.

We spend plenty of time in and around the Pavilion during our three-day stay. Staff is congenial and discreet. They greet us by name, always anticipate our needs and make us feel like guests in their home. The overall atmosphere is informal elegance, and dress is relaxed—casual, fashion-forward, anything goes (including our uniform of comfortable sportswear).

With raw natural beauty as Amangiri’s primary motif, accommodations are sumptuous yet simple. With white stone floors, concrete walls and natural timber, all 34 suites, averaging 1,227 square feet, are laden with luxury. There are requisites, like Wi-Fi, but also roomy bedroom and living areas and sitting spaces. Open the sliding glass wall and behold a private outdoor retreat with central fireplace and daybeds for lounging. Skylit dressing rooms, spacious bathrooms with twin rain showers and substantial soaking tubs, and unobstructed desert panoramas add up to sheer bliss.

I’m staying in the 3,472-square-foot Amangiri Suite, which includes a private pool with floating steps, an expansive sun deck with outdoor dining areas and a sky terrace that is the answer to my stargazing dreams. Sunsets here are the stuff of poetry, as rays cast their golden glow across bluffs and striated stone. But after dark, the sky becomes my personal planetarium. Guests interested in an even more exclusive experience can book Mesa House, adjacent to the resort, which sleeps up to eight guests. Additional private homes are available for purchase.

After lunch, we settle in for awhile, then meet for drinks in the Pavilion and enjoy a divine dinner, the menu of which is the proud creation of Executive Chef Jacob Anaya. First, we share a round of apps, including the Hamachi Tataki with coconut avocado puree, toasted white sesame seeds and coconut flakes, and seared scallops with variations of celery and truffle versus vinaigrette. Entrees include an array of meat (bison, beef, local lamb and chicken) and salmon, prawns and other fish specials—all served in one of seven set preparation styles or cooked any way you would like. Side options are also offered, from veggies to rice and potatoes. Amangiri offers bespoke feasts too—from romantic picnics to alfresco dining under the sun or by moonlight.

Walking to breakfast at the Pavilion the next morning, I notice a natural waterfall down the suites’ exterior concrete walls. I’m told it’s to further assimilate the structures into the environment. Breakfast is made-to-order and/or buffet, and is just as delicious as lunch and dinner the day before. We’re careful to eat enough to sustain us because we have quite an adventure ahead.

When it comes to unadulterated thrills, the Hoodoo Via Ferrata rock-climbing excursion wins the prize. Hoodoo means “weathered rock” in Navajo and Via Ferrata means “iron rod” in Italian, which is ironic because the adventure takes iron will on my part. Despite my initial fear, negotiating the network of fixed cables and ladders that grant safe ascension up steep canyon walls is exhilarating. The best part is, you don’t have to know a lick about rock climbing; guides from Adventure Partners, Amangiri’s preferred outfitters, deck us out in full rock-climbing regalia—harnesses, helmets, special sticky shoes for hiking—and they are constantly at our sides, providing both physical and mental support as needed. Standing atop the 500-foot plateau, we’re rewarded with panoramas of Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain and Amangiri. And we’re filled with the sense that, after this exhilarating activity, there’s nothing we can’t conquer. That feeling of invincibility is soon put to the test as we sashay across a 238-foot-long steel suspension bridge with an 18-inch-wide grated deck. Again, it’s challenging but thrilling. Recently added to the outdoor programs is the even more mentally challenging Voodoo Via Ferrata, which runs up the face of the mesa it shares with the Hoodoo path. In all, Amangiri offers six spellbinding climbs.

Still riding the rush of endorphins, we return for a light bite before heading to Amangiri’s Aman Spa—a 25,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor haven, which is just what we need. Paying homage to the Navajo and Hopi tribes that have called the land home for centuries, the comprehensive spa menu features body and facial treatments, as well as Amangiri Spa Journeys—four sets of therapies featuring Native American rituals designed to restore Hozho, a Navajo term meaning beauty, harmony, balance and health. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a long journey, so we each opt for a 60-minute personalized massage, which are divine. Afterward, we take a few moments to enjoy the spa’s other spoils, including a large water pavilion with a swimming pool, steam room, dry sauna and cold plunge pool, and two outdoor treatment terraces. There’s also a state-of-the-art fitness center, yoga pavilion (for yoga, Pilates and other classes), salon, wellness coach and trainer available. A special wellness weekend, Amangiri’s Pilates, Mindfulness & Rejuvenation Retreat (Sept. 8 to 12), will feature Pilates aplenty, spa treatments, meditation, outdoor activities and more.

On our last evening, we indulge in the Hot Stone Dinner in the Desert Lounge, a mountainside meal for two, served on a terrace lit by fire pits. We’re serenaded by Trace Joseph, a Navajo flutist, as fresh seafood and meats are artfully presented tableside. The wine list is equally impressive, as is the make-your-own sundae cart that appears after the main course. It’s another unique and amazing experience at Amangiri, perhaps rivaled only by something they call the Raven’s Nest: After 45 minutes on horseback, guests reach their destination—a natural amphitheater, where a local Navajo elder regales with traditional tales before an alfresco dinner.

Outdoor recreation at Amangiri ranges from low-intensity activities such as stargazing and guided nature walks to touring the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks, Rainbow Bridge and Monument Valley. Also popular are pulse racing delights such as rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, ATV rides, hot-air ballooning and horseback riding. All experiences, of course, make the most of the surrounding terrain. On our last morning, we opt for the Slot Canyon Tour. As our Navajo guide shares stories of the land, we meander through canyons carved by water erosion over millions of years. Pathways both wide and narrow lead to curvaceous rocks dappled by sunlight; the scenery is so beautiful our jaws truly drop.

We return to the resort, and as we pack up and head out, all I can think is that Amangiri is scaling new heights—and the experience is transcendent. Rates from $1,250 per night, meals and some activities included; Amangiri Suite rates from $3,900 per night, meals and some activities included; 1 Kayenta Road, Canyon Point, Utah, 435.675.3999

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