Red Mountain Spa: Utah's Outdoor Haven

Physician's Money DigestFebruary28 2005
Volume 12
Issue 4

It's a land lost in time, where twogreat geological provinces—theColorado Plateau and the Basin andRange—impacted each other. "It'sone of the few places in the world with allthe pages in the book of geological time,"points out geologist Ken Puchlik.

A number of people have called thisplace home. The Anasazi, the ancestralPueblo people, lived here until about1200 AD. In time, the Paiute Indians,whose names are still visible on the sheerNavajo sandstone walls, appeared followedby Mormon pioneers. Today, thoseseeking rejuvenation and lifestyle changeslook to the 5000 foot-high red peaksdominating the area for inspiration. Theyare today's worn-out Americans.

"When I started here in 1999," saysDeborah Evans, the general managerof Red Mountain Spa (800-407-3002;, "our clientsarrived mentally tired. Now they comeburned out. Time is a big luxury, and wenever have enough today."

Seeking the Outdoors

In the past, Red Mountain Spa was apopular fitness institute where obesepatients came to stay for months and losehundreds of pounds. But since changingownership back in 1998, it has beenexpanded and upgraded. After completelyaltering its focus, Red Mountain Spa isnow the second largest destination spa inthe United States and has a staff of 211,with 41 professionally trained wildernessand hiking guides on board.

Although it offers health and fitnessservices, cooking classes, golf, tennis, andmore than 30 different spa treatments, itsforte is the outdoors. Outdoor activities atthe spa include rock climbing, mountainbiking, horseback riding, stargazing, visitingnearby Zion and Bryce NationalParks, and hiking in small groups on oneof the trails in Utah's famous SnowCanyon State Park. "We call it ‘chooseyour own adventure'," Evans says.

Evans is a realist. She wants her gueststo achieve something that is often missingeven in the lives of the very fit: a sense ofbalance. "When I see them looking at theirwatches and checking their pulses, I wantto give them permission to come out of thebox. I want them to play," Evans explains."And as for dieting, I let them go 70/30: Ifthey're watching what they eat 70% of thetime, it's okay to slip 30% of the time."

Moved by Mountains

Despite the fact that the RedMountain Spa has an excellent chef, thecalorie-labeled meals are delicious, thecheerful staff is obliging, and the competentspa attendants are helpful, it's theoutdoor expeditions that guests appearto remember most.

Cathy Farneman, a local herbalist, is aself-described "desert rat who came fromSanta Barbara, Calif, and spent her first10 years in Utah trying to get back." Shefinally embraced the Southwest, madefriends with local tribes, and learned howthey used desert plants as medicine. Now,she takes guests into the desert to demonstratewhat she has learned.

Boma Johnson takes guests into boththe desert and the distant past. Withmaster's degrees in Native Americanstudies and archaeology and a strong sensitivityto Indian spirituality, Johnson hasearned the trust of the local tribes. "It'sokay to call them Indians," he points out,"that's what they call themselves."Bending over rocks, he shows spa gueststhe dense black desert varnish of manganeseand iron oxide. Chiseled by stonesout of the varnish many centuries ago arepetroglyphs, which Johnson describes as"story panels sharing information withviewers in an attempt to communicate."

Perhaps the red rocks themselvescommunicate. What does a geologist likePuchlik think when he ponders the land?"Our land is fragile," he says. "Therocks speak of unmentionable chaos.They show order is limited and the slatecan be wiped clean at any moment bythe wrath of nature. Life is precious. Weought to slow down and enjoy it."

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