- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

For first-time visitors, especially city folk, the Enchantment Resort earns its name. It is magical and mystifying, as the full-color Land of Oz must have been to Dorothy after her prosaic, black-and-white Kansas. This certainly wasn’t the Washington I had left hours before.

It’s hard to imagine anyone becoming inured to the resort’s setting, 4,600 feet above sea level and blessed with some of the world’s most breathtaking views. Everywhere you look, you see jutting spires of rock, sandstone mesas and adobe-colored canyons with pine cactus and cottonwood trees. “Magical” and “overwhelming” are understatements. Even area residents pull their cars off the road to observe the vistas, which change according to the time of day and season.

The 70-acre Enchantment Resort is nestled in the core of the craggy, dramatic red rocks of Boynton Canyon and bordered by Arizona’s Coconino Forest. In counterpoint to all that wilderness, the resort is just 10 minutes from the very civilized town of Sedona, heartland of the New Age culture.

The area is known to attract many visitors who are trying to find themselves (no matter how old or young) and who seek a more spiritual, centered and focused life. It also offers the usual tourist trappings in boutiques, shopping malls, restaurants and a general air of kitsch.

I, too, was on a personal mission, although for neither spiritual cleansing nor inspiration. I came to Sedona simply to veg out and bring my stress level down to a mere twang. “Relax” was my mantra.

It wasn’t very spiritual maybe, but the Enchantment Resort works magic on the body as well as the soul. Some guests make the pilgrimage to satisfy spiritual and psychic needs. They’re welcome to share their visions or not. The Enchantment Resort is that type of place.

One of the pluses of this retreat is that there’s something for everyone, whether couch potato or physical fitness addict. Some of the latter looked as if they were candidates for Outward Bound awards.

They come mainly for intensive get-fit vacations.

You’ll find them out at 6 in the morning, resplendent in their Lycra outfits, headed for an awesome choice of easy or challenging trails. Or they might be pumping away in the resort’s gym, under the caring supervision of sport trainers.

Others book rooms at the resort to get rid of accumulated prison pallor derived from working too many hours in high-tension jobs. Their prescription: Arizona’s reliable sun, plus the resort’s four swimming pools, whirlpool spas and massages from skilled hands.

For youngsters, there’s Camp Coyote, a children’s version of the resort, complete with American Indian cultural activities and an emphasis on nature lore of the Southwest.

Besides hiking and biking, those on get-fit vacations hit tennis balls on Enchantment’s seven tennis courts, take group or private lessons, and participate in friendly tournaments. Tennis Magazine ranks Enchantment among the 50 greatest U.S. tennis resorts.

For golfers, there’s a private three-hole course at the resort plus privileges at a nearby 18-hole course.

The Sedona area also offers Jeep treks into the desert and much more. You can sign up for desert bike trips, kayaking and even a mountain-climbing school. There also are trail rides, working ranches and train and balloon rides. Had there been more time, I would have opted for the balloon and a dreamy glide over this geologically extraordinary area.

I arrived at Enchantment at night, so I didn’t get the full effect of its canyon setting and surrounding mountains until the next morning, but right from the start, I could see that the developer, Sedona Resorts, has made sure the natural environment of the area is not compromised.

Enchantment’s guests have a choice of 220 accommodations, from well-appointed guest rooms to luxury suites. The resort’s hallmark accommodations are the one- and two-bedroom earth-color stucco casitas (two offering private heated pools) along walking paths edged with desert plants. Most plantings are native species that require relatively little water, for it rains just a few days a year.

After I checked in at the clubhouse, a young man driving an oversized golf cart whisked me off to my junior casita (little house in Spanish). Ben was one of many employees who said they were there for keeps, as it had become a way of life, and “the living is good.”

I quickly ordered what turned out to be fabulous lobster soup and a beer. Within 10 minutes, Ben was back with a tray. The lobster bisque was in a thermos, so it really retained its heat. The soup also was on the spa menu and was made with yogurt rather than heavy cream.

The room’s Southwestern decor included an enormous bed and a fireplace (gas) in the corner. I couldn’t wait to use the huge bathtub (there also was a glass shower stall ample enough for two), wrap myself in a terry-cloth robe and climb into the freshly turned-down bed.

I fell asleep nanoseconds after my head hit the pillow. However, I had left a wake-up call for 6:30 a.m. because I felt it was my obligation to experience as much as possible. There was no way I was going to miss the Stretch Express and Power Walk that started at 7. About 15 men and women (more women) showed up, all carrying water, something I forgot. Then I realized I was in the desert and it could get very hot later in the morning.

Greg, a U.S. Forest Service ranger, escorted us on a nature walk, talking about the fauna and flora, including their medicinal purposes. We learned how Indians managed to survive in this barren area.

Next on my agenda was a Jeep trip. Six of us piled into one of the Sedona Red Rock Co.’s Jeeps and headed into the brush. Other cars are forbidden; people can hike in and out. The few loud motorbikes seemed alien in that otherwise silent, inspirational landscape.

Our guide, John, who looked as if he had stepped straight out of a Western, escorted us during the nearly two-hour outing. We climbed rocks and looked down small canyons (“Don’t walk too close to the edge”) carved by water and wind. John managed to educate the group without being pedantic.

I didn’t know that anyone in Arizona could carry an exposed gun, and I didn’t know the area had its own vineyard or that you could book a day at a cattle ranch. Want to shoot moose? Why not, if it’s the right season?

John told us to look down the arroyo to see something special. To him, “special” meant a coiled rattlesnake. Had it been any closer, it would have meant “heart attack” to me.

By this time, I felt as if I were experiencing a bit of the Wild West. Being a city girl, I had thought “resort” meant having massages and being pampered. Enchantment guests who want that exclusively are in heaven: Some of the best-known therapists gravitate to the vortex, which, it is claimed, focuses energy emanating from the Earth’s core for a healing and calming effect. Even sceptics have to be impressed by the energy radiating from the helpful, courteous staff and from the guests themselves, who form a mix of types, ages and interests.

Back at the resort, we had a cold lunch on the lawn and were offered sparkling wine. The lunch, served on picnic tables, was simple and delicious; the canapes, minisandwiches, fruit, cheese and cookies made up for the calories expended during the morning’s outing. It’s amazing how you can work up hunger in the fresh desert air.

After the picnic, some of our group returned to their rooms for naps; others tried their luck (and stamina) on the tennis courts. I checked in at the Mii amo Spa, Enchantment’s latest addition in making the resort stand apart from others in the area. It is beautiful in its simplicity and elegance.

“Mii amo” is an Indian phrase that means “passage” or “journey” or “move forward.” It also happens to be close to the Italian or Spanish “mi amo” or “I love myself,” and after all, self-love is the starting point for being able to love others.

Mii amo Spa is a complete health-oriented resort within a resort. Its guests can opt to remain exclusively within that 24,000-square-foot complex, staying in its guest accommodations and taking meals carefully prepared to be low-calorie and mostly fat-free in the spa’s dining room or at a long communal table near the open kitchen or on outdoor tables. Options at the juice bar go from spirits to high-protein smoothies in any combination desired.

Mii amo has its own pools, exercise and aerobics facilities plus outdoor fitness areas for yoga and tai chi. Every type of massage is available, including several I had never heard of. (Cranial sacral? Blue corn body polish?)

I especially enjoyed the treatment with hot stones, which so relaxed me that I quickly fell asleep. The therapist probably thought I was going to have to be moved physically to make room for her next client.

I awoke at the end of the 90-minute treatment rejuvenated and blissfully calm. For the first time in a very long time, I felt fully relaxed.

The changing rooms are pristine and complete with sauna, steam room and whirlpool. The mirrored exercise room with a glass window open to nature offers a different class each hour, including Pilates.

The workout rooms are filled with the latest equipment, and a trainer is on hand to oversee workouts and give private consultations. Guests can lounge by the inside swimming pool (whose dark bottom makes it look more like a reflecting pool) or enjoy the outdoor pool.

The building, seven times the size of Enchantment’s former spa facilities, was designed by New York architect Richard Gluckman of Gluckman Mayner.

It was the first such project for the firm, best-known for museum projects such as the extension of New York’s Whitney Museum and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M. In 2002, Gluckman Mayner received the American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum for Mii amo.

The concept for the spa is a two-level building that adjoins six casitas with 14 guest rooms and two deluxe spa suites with personal massage tables and arranged around landscaped courtyards with outdoor fireplaces. No design detail was overlooked, including Frette sheets.

Project manager Dana Tang of Gluckman Mayner says the firm would love to do another building. The complex presented unusual challenges in marrying modern design with the local environment. “We drew on our experience designing spaces for enjoying and showcasing art in order to create the simple, meditative spaces which define the spa,” Miss Tang said.

Some people might consider the design too hard-edged, but I found it a perfect mix of form and function and was impressed by how the architects used materials that blend into the natural surroundings. The effect is sober, elegant and quite appropriately Zen-like in feeling, especially in the domed Crystal Grotto. Each morning, barefoot guests and staff gather to meditate or gather energy. Even I was moved by this daily devotion to inward peace and to the spiritual aspects of life.

In my travels, I like to know something about the destination but not so much that I’m not receptive to new and different experiences. I have seen tourists with their noses so buried in guidebooks that they miss the glorious scenery around them.

Before embarking on this foray, I did some research on Sedona and the New Age. As someone who thought of it as a relatively new movement, I was amazed to see that it dates back centuries and evolved in many cultures. A brief Internet search unearthed Grecian mysteries and philosophy, Christian myths, Jewish mysticism and the cabala, alchemy, the Age of Enlightenment, theosophy and, of course, spiritualism.

About 25 years ago, Sedona became the place for New Age seekers who migrated there in search of benevolent weather, an intimate contact with nature and real estate prices much lower than in comparable areas of California. However, like all things in the world of real estate, cheap and calm end when an area is discovered.

Everywhere you look in Sedona, there are new hotels, housing developments and shopping centers where you can buy made-in-China crafts, candles, handblown glass, Navajo jewelry, precious and not so precious stones, and even huge metal sculptures. Crystal shops are down the road from organic supermarkets, and a philosophical exchange between clients and staff is the norm and not the exception.

This was not the Sedona I had yearned to visit, so I settled for a drive-through and a quick stop-and-see. I didn’t want to have my palm read for $10, and I was not looking for a reading or tarot cards.

I didn’t need a clairvoyant to tell me that I would be eager to return to the Enchantment Resort and its stunning accommodations and facilities, New Age (and any age) spa treatments and elegant spa cuisine, all combining to bring joyous new life to tired bodies and minds. I rate a stay at Enchantment as one of the best investments people can make in themselves and their well-being, whether it is spiritual, physical or just relaxing.

Fly to Phoenix, drive to luxury

The Enchantment Resort and its Mii amo Spa are affiliated with the Leading Hotels of the World and the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Fodor’s travel guides selected the resort and spa as one of its Choice Hotels of the World for 2004. No matter your age, physical prowess or personal goals, the complex offers it all.

More information is available on the Internet at www.enchantmentresort.com and www.miiamo.com, which list the different packages offered — and there are many. For Jeep trips and more — there are numerous companies — visit www.redrockjeep.com. The Washington area’s three airports offer flights to Phoenix, where cars can be rented for the two-hour drive to the resort.

— Karen Fawcett

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