I Was a Spa Virgin

One man discovers that a restorative retreat is much more than mud, sweat, and (gasp) no beers

FROM A CERTAIN ANGLE, Red Mountain Spa, on the outskirts of St. George, Utah, looks like a desert village from the original Star Wars—a 55-acre cluster of adobe buildings and geodesic domes rising out of a jagged black-lava field surrounded by red cliff faces. Late one Saturday afternoon, with the mercury pushing 103, I checked into Red Mountain for my first spa experience. I feared I'd find a soap-opera world of women swishing around in robes with towels on their heads, and braced myself for a cojones-withering experience.
There was a white robe laid out on the bed when I entered my room. But when the sun began to set, the women and men at the spa were wearing wraparound Oakleys and scuffed CamelBaks, and were making their way home from grueling mountain-bike rides or hikes.
Red Mountain got into the adventure-spa business in 1998. The concept is brilliant: Use hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing as the cornerstone of a wellness program, and couch the fun in a five-star bubble of pampering. My stay was a seven-day package, two and a half of which were taken up by a 26-mile hike through the Grand Canyon.
Morning hiking is the foundation of Red Mountain, and before breakfast, guests divide into three skill levels, with the toughest group trekking about eight miles and climbing a total of at least 1,000 feet. I opted for group two, which covered a not-too-shabby six miles. After breakfast I signed on for a road ride down to the village of Kayenta, six miles away. By lunchtime I'd logged more miles than I do in an average weekend.
That afternoon, I visited the health-services division, where I had my basal metabolic rate charted. During the test, Eric, a personal trainer, strapped a metal contraption to my head, put a plastic guard in my mouth, and had me lie down and breathe—while drooling uncontrollably—for the next half-hour. Then, armed with my metabolic rate, we worked out an exercise plan and diet, which I religiously stuck to for a few months.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the air-conditioned workout center, taking stretching and weight-lifting classes followed by, I'll admit, a nice, long nap in my room. Dinner seemed a bit skimpy for a man burning an extra 2,000 calories a day. The other fellas at the spa agreed, and we all took a few extra trips to the salad bar.
The next two days included biking in the canyons, swimming, a massage, and hours in the hot tub. By the time our group of eight left for the Grand Canyon, at 4 a.m. Thursday, my muscles were loose, my lungs were strong—and I was beat. But I made surprising progress down the North Rim's North Kaibab Trail. When we arrived at our cabin at Phantom Ranch, I felt great. The trip back up the South Rim's Bright Angel Trail was tough, but conversation made the hours fly.
Back at the spa, I had to cram my treatments into a one-day tour de pampering. In the afternoon, I had a Red Rock Therapy massage: Juniper-oiled river stones were pressed into my muscles until they melted like butter. Later that night, I opted for the ultimate in froufrou, the Gentleman's Facial. After 50 minutes of a sour-cherry mud mask, tea-tree exfoliant, and a round of pore-squeezing that, I'm convinced, popped a couple of rocks out of my membranes, I was red-faced and felt inside-out clean. When I returned to my room, I thought about slipping into the fluffy white robe I'd unceremoniously thrown in the corner, but instead put on a pair of boxers and nibbled on my complimentary Luna bar.

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