Last month, on the day of my 40th birthday, I hopped on a plane and flew to Las Vegas where I met my college girlfriends for a road trip through southern Utah. Since it was my birthday, I decided to bring us together in a place we had never been, that would offer new vistas, an incredible hotel, and the silence of the desert. Our destination was Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah, just across the state lines from Page, Arizona.
After an obligatory stop at In-N-Out Burger in Las Vegas, we entered the highway and headed northeast, leaving Nevada and following the border of Arizona and Utah. The drive from Las Vegas to Canyon Point takes approximately four and a half hours, but traverses beautiful country, passing Zion National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Grand Staircase Escalante, and the Paria Canyon wilderness. Driving through southern Utah, the roads are empty and the passing towns appear deserted. The skies are big, and the landscape is colorful. Alone on the road for many miles, we skirted an enormous storm cloud, eventually passing through the fleeting snow and hail, to be greeted on the other side by blinding sunshine. Late spring in Southern Utah was promising to be beautiful.
We arrived at Amangiri in the late afternoon. The turnoff from Highway 89 takes you down a private road flanked by scrub and towering mesa rock formations. Weaving through the 600 acre property, the road dead ends at the hotel, which is tucked into a valley and blends in with its surroundings. The accommodations at Amangiri consist of 34 suites arranged in a semi-circle, all with spectacular views over the mesa below. Each suite features a private terrace, outdoor fireplace, and the utmost privacy.
Upon arrival, we were greeted and escorted on a tour around the property. A walk through the luxurious lounge and dining room took us outside to the spa at Amangiri, a destination all its own. The water pavilion, open to guests regardless of whether you have scheduled an individual treatment, is complete with numerous plunge pools where you could easily lose a day, maybe two. We were especially intrigued by the rejuvenation pool reflecting the healing attributes of the saline and buoyancy of the dead sea. Complimentary pilates and yoga classes are offered daily in the beautiful fully equipped studios, while personal trainers are available should you prefer an individual session. Needless to say, the spa at Amangiri is spectacular!
After touring the property, we were shown to the Amangiri Suite, a 3,500 square foot space, complete with a 775 square foot private pool and terrace looking out over the mesa. Inside, the suite is truly stunning, featuring an expansive patio with an outdoor fire pit, a shower fit for a family of four, and a private sky terrace above, where dozing and star gazing go hand in hand. Laying eyes on our pool, we knew it was going to be difficult to pry us away from our private lounge beds.
Meals at Amangiri are included in the price of your room, so feel free to order extra bacon at breakfast. The menu, inspired by Southwest cuisine, with hints of a Southeast Asian influence, has something for everyone, including children, should be traveling with little ones. I am ever the sucker for a good plate of jeuvos rancheros at breakfast; Amangiri did not disappoint. Dinner is heavy on protein, featuring a variety of steaks cooked to order. Take your time. Order desert. Watch the colors of the landscape change as the sun sets. At Amangiri, there is no reason to ever rush.
Amangiri is one of those places where you could easily do nothing other than relax by the pool, visit the spa, and enjoy the beautiful vistas. It is also the kind of environment where there is so much natural beauty to experience beyond the turn-off to the hotel that luxurious laziness eventual leads to guilt. I like to think that during our visit we found a middle ground that we were all comfortable with.
The 600 acres of property surrounding the hotel feature a number of hiking trails marked and maintained by Amangiri. Trails can easily be reached from the front steps of the hotel, or a driver is on the ready to drop you at a trailhead further afield. Because of the small number of guests on the property at any given time, hiking trails at Amangiri can be enjoyed in complete solitude.
The area surrounding Amangiri offers a host of activities in addition to hiking. The hotel is happy to arrange a custom tour of nearby attractions such as Lake Powell, Monument Valley, the Navajo Slot Canyons, and the Grand Canyon. We decided to indulge in a private tour of the slot canyons. The slot canyons of southern Utah are young geologic slices in the earth that have been carved by flood waters after an established water source upstream has been blocked. As a side note, you do not want to get caught in a slot canyon during a flash flood!
As a photographer, I had always wanted to visit Antelope Canyon, and observe its famous beams of light shining down through the canyon to the desert floor. But after conducting a bit of research, I realized that Antelope Canyon, specifically the upper portion, is incredibly touristy and full of people from dawn til dusk; my imagination conjured up images of selfie sticks protruding into the range finder of my camera. So rather than book a group tour with one of the local companies, I decided to have Amangiri arrange for a trip for the three of us to some of the private slot canyons, ensuring a unique and individual experience.
On the day of our trip, Raymond, our Navajo guide, met us at the hotel and drove us out to Rattlesnake Canyon. Situated on private property, only Raymond and his fellow guides have access to this canyon; we were the only ones there. Following Raymond, we walked into the canyon, scrambling over rocks, climbing up ladders, and following the sandy path of the sandstone canyon deep into the earth. As the position of the sun changed overhead, the shadows danced down the walls and the color of the canyon transformed from apricot, to orange, to red, and every shade in between.
A private tour of the slot canyons can be accomplished in 3 - 4 hours, depending on how long you linger, and is mildly rigorous (a small amount of controlled climbing is involved). I would highly recommend this excursion for photographers, families, and anyone interested in a hike that is easy, beautiful, and unique to the region.
The next day, after a relaxing evening, and a morning hike among the towering mesas on the property, we piled into our car and headed towards Monument Valley, with a brief stop at Horseshoe Bend. After being in the sanctuary of Amangiri for three days, driving into the parking lot at Horseshoe Bend felt like catapulting ourselves into Disneyland on a three-day weekend. The number of visitors ensured that we wouldn't stay long, but the incredible view of the landscape made the stop well worth the visit. Hint: I am guessing by the demographic of the crowd that was gathered at midday that if you arrived at sunrise or just before sunset you would have the place to yourself.
Two and a half hours from Amangiri is Monument Valley. Part of the Navajo Nation Reservation, Monument Valley sits on the Arizona - Utah border and is characterized by vast sandstone buttes rising from the valley floor. Thanks to Hollywood films, the landscape of Monument Valley is the image that typically comes to mind when people think of the American West. While Monument Valley is an easy day trip from Amangiri, it is best experienced by spending the night, as the views of the buttes are most stunning at sunrise and sunset.
On the rim of the Valley sits The View Hotel. Offering hotel accommodations, as well as cabins and camping facilities, The View Hotel is the only accommodation with front row access to the park. The Hotel, owned and operated by a Navajo family, is fairly basic, with a restaurant, gift shop and meeting spaces. In my opinion, the best rooms are the cabins, which have an unobstructed, front row view of the Mittens (pictured below) and offer a bit of privacy away from the business of the main hotel. Waking up to the peace and quiet of Monument Valley at sunrise was an unbelievable experience that I wouldn't want to share with a bunch of other photographers on the balcony of the main hotel.
Our quick stop at Monument Valley was a great way to end the trip, but four days is hardly enough to experience all that Amangiri and southern Utah have to offer. I would love to go back and explore the Paria Canyon wilderness, get permits to hike the Wave, and perhaps take a hot air balloon ride over the Grand Canyon. But, if I'd had only one more day, I would have woken early and rented a speed boat on Lake Powell. This had been part of the original plan, but given that it was my birthday and I was traveling without kids, a bloody mary breakfast somehow managed to trump my Lake Powell plans. Next time, right? Because, without question, I will be back.
Amangiri is approximately 4.5 hours by car from both Las Vegas and Phoenix International Airports. Chartered flights can land at Page Airport if you are interested in a more direct transfer.
Amangiri is an all-inclusive hotel, which means that all food (excluding alcohol) and numerous hotel amenities are included in the price of your room.
The best time to visit Amangiri and the American Southwest is during the shoulder seasons (late spring and late fall) when the temperature is moderate, the air crisp, and the crowds few.
Whats to Come:
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