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Splendid Isolation

by Jocelyn Zuckerman

At the massive wooden door to our treatment room, my massage therapist paused and gently set a match to a small bundle of white sage. I breathed in its earthy, herbaceous aroma, which, along with the juniper that dots this remote valley, lends the Southwest desert its signature scent. We’d arrived at Amangiri the previous evening, following a dramatic drive amid colossal rocks and striated canyons, towering buttes and flat-topped mesas glowing pink, blue and violet as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was thanks only to Google Maps that we’d spotted the tiny sign for this “peaceful mountain,” its inconspicuous entry in keeping with the hushed exclusivity that defines the place, a low-slung assemblage of concrete slabs tucked organically into the landscape.

The resort is surrounded by the Navajo Nation Reservation, and everything from the giant picture windows sited to frame the drop-dead views to the swimming pool built into a cliff face honors the majesty of the land. Accessed through a private courtyard, the 34 rooms blend dark wood fittings with leather and beige linens, the bedrooms and sprawling couples’ showers likewise framing panoramic views. In 2020, Amangiri opened Camp Sarika, a 10-minute walk away, whose 10 one- and two-bedroom tented pavilions feature plunge pools and a whole lot more. Think glamping, but more glamorous.

If you can pull yourself away from the 25,000-square-foot spa, there are hiking trails and rock-climbing routes, plus day trips to nearby Lake Powell and national parks including Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon. On my run one morning, I encountered a just-deflated hot-air balloon, having apparently missed out on the champagne breakfast. Evenings are for sipping mezcal cocktails to the strains of a Navajo flute player or musing over the skill of visiting Native American hoop dancers. We were surprisingly enthralled by the slideshow offered one night by a local paleontologist, who described how he’d discovered seven species of dinosaur amid the region’s 165-million-year-old sandstone formations. Mealtimes also pay tribute to the land and its earliest denizens, with offerings like mesquite-smoked duck salad, blue-corn polenta, chile-rubbed elk loin with pickled cactus buds, and traditional fry bread (recommended by our server, whose Navajo grandma made hers just like it).

My own extensive spa time involved an exfoliating rub with jade and Himalayan sea salt, an all-over smearing with buttery-soft local clay, and a tight wrapping, breakfast-burrito-style, in deliciously warming aluminum foil. A couple’s massage session focused on the fascia, the cobweb-like tissue that weaves through our muscles and wraps around our organs and bones and which, left untended, can cause discomfort and restrict overall movement. Using a contraption comprising two tennis balls wrapped inside a black gym sock (an amusingly low-rent touch given the surrounding splendor), we learned to massage the deep tissue in our feet, our glutes, our backs, our shoulders and our necks. Then we lay there blissed out, right on the edge of sleep, as our therapist serenaded us with a crystal sound bath, the vibrations doing for our psyches what those tennis balls had done for the tissue we’d only just discovered.

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