The Luxe Life



July 10, 2003 -- It has been one hell of a 200 million years in Snow Canyon, Utah. In one 5,300-acre patch, ramparts of rust-red Navajo sandstone, the product of giant sand dunes given a few million years' shake-and-bake, rise 800 abrupt feet from the canyon floor. Lava flows 100,000 years old drape cliff sides in form-fitting rigor mortis. The canyon itself is the product of 20,000 years of river gouging, during which boulders were pressed into cliff rock like marbles into soft clay. All that's left now are wind-scalloped sockets, some of them big enough for a man to stand up in.

This is the extraordinary backyard and playground of Red Mountain Spa in southwestern Utah, "a miniature Zion Park," according to resort geologist
Ken Puchlik. The spa combines exercise, diet, fitness assessments, spa treatments and relaxation (there are two pools) into one package at a moderate price, although the reason to come here is the morning hiking
and biking in Snow Canyon and the surrounding area.

Four levels of hiking are offered, from rank beginner to experienced. The hikes are well-organized, depart punctually (no waiting for sleepyheads) and the leaders are veritable encyclopedias of natural history. The gym is large and well-equipped (and was empty during most of my stay) and there's a full line of exercise classes. Fitness assessments are standard (body composition to cholesterol profile), but one, the cardiovascular metabolic test ($100), is noteworthy for being offered at only one other U.S. spa, Arizona's Canyon Ranch. Metabeat, as it's called here, is a treadmill test that uses computer software to pinpoint ideal exercise heart-rate zones. Most people, says health services manager Brad Krump, learn that they should lower their cardio training intensity. "Exercise smarter, not harder," he says. (When was the last time you heard of a spa telling you to take it slower?)

The food is tasty and varied and the fat-gram and calorie contents are listed
for each dish. You'll have to get fat-gram and calorie guidelines from the nutritionist, though, to make effective use of the numbers. Accommodations vary widely, from the handsome if minimalist villa rooms (the most expensive) to the trios (budget rooms that sleep three). My value-for-money choice would be a deluxe king or double. The best time to go is spring and fall when the temperature is moderate, with mornings and evenings cool to chilly. The best deals are to be had during the summer, when the thermometer passes ninety while still in second gear.

The one area in which Red Mountain improvises is the spa. There is a full menu of treatments but no dedicated spa building. That means that you can't take a sauna or steam before or after treatments and that you must change in your room and walk to treatment rooms in a robe. A new spa, opening in the fall of 2004, will fix that. In the meantime, the inconvenience is a small tradeoff for the chance to experience some of the most dramatic red-rock scenery in the west, with a good deal of creature comforts on the side.

Rates at the Red Mountain Spa range from $245 to $485 a person during high season, which is March through May and September through December. Meals and most activities are included in the rates. Reservations: 800-407-3002 or via E-mail.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Gary Walther. All rights reserved.