Travel: The Best Spas in the American West

Thinking of a spa invokes visions of soft-lit rooms infused with the aromas of oils and spices. A masseuse — or masseur – massages away kinks and knots. Wraps and scrubs, oils and creams all penetrate the pores. The only “problem” is deciding whether to head for a hike, sauna or poolside lounge.

We are two enthusiastic spa-goers who also happen to be a mother (Marilyn) and daughter (Erica). Here, for the weary soul seeking retreat, we highlight some of our favorite all-season destination spas in the Western United States. They all leave their clients feeling indulged and divine, but they aren’t cheap. We’ve found that in the current economy, however, discounted rates, package deals and promotions abound.

ARIZONA

The Mii amo spa in Sedona is a sensory feast even before the treatments begin. Built into a red rock mountain, its architecture and earth tones meld into the natural landscape.

The American Indians of this region believed in awakening the senses, and Mii amo, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, does just that. Here, ayurvedic wisdom blends with botanical treatments of juniper berries and chaparral. But what is most memorable about Mii amo is its eclectic menu of fresh, nutritious meals, such as seaweed salad, blackened scallops and pecorino gnocchi. Guests can also enjoy cooking demonstrations offered throughout the week.

Mii amo is a Native American word that means “journey” in Yuman. All journeys here include casitas, three meals and two spa treatments per day. The particular services for which clients sign up become part of their journey. Mii amo also offers workshops and lectures, such as “Accessing Your Intuition,” “Optimal Aging” and “Integrated Healing Yoga.”

Contact www.miiamo.com; 888-749-2137.

Miraval Resort in Tucson is another favorite. Landscaped for the low-water climate with purple-flowering cacti and succulents, it is surrounded by the Catalina Mountains. Wild critters such as the javelina we spotted closing in on a breakfast of prickly plants scamper about the ranchlike grounds. The Catalina suites and rooms offer Zen simplicity, including an outdoor shower. But the real distinction at this spa is its novel program of activities.

The Desert Sky Zipline is one adrenaline-pumping adventure popular with male guests. There is also an “Equine Experience,” overseen by Wyatt Webb, a gray-bearded, kind-eyed cowboy-cum-social worker who believes the way you hold a hoof pick speaks volumes about your personality. Or you can do what I (Erica) did, the “Quantum Leap II” from atop a 35-foot telephone pole. When I asked my activity guide why I should put myself in a heart-thumping state of panic, at a spa no less, she smiled. “It’s about finding balance,” she said. “It’s about overcoming your fears and inhibitions in a safe place.”

Dutifully, I put on the hard hat she handed over. Forcing one foot above the other, I felt the first wave of real anxiety roll in less than halfway up. “Keep exhaling,” I told myself, figuring my years of yoga practice ought to come in handy now.

The guide shouted, “Release judgment! Go ahead and cry, scream, or laugh. Just keep going!”

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Finally, some breaths later, I found my legs frozen in a crouch on a platform at the top. I slowly straightened my legs, on the verge of relief when it hit me that the scariest step was still ahead.

“Whenever you’re ready!”

“Here it goes,” I yelled back, and stepped off. Suddenly, I was dangling by a harness and ropes in midair. Now I was able to have some fun — striking random poses as I sailed jubilantly to the ground.

Miraval has a full bar— not a common sight at a spa but a popular hangout at this one. The cocktails are great but cost about $15 each. I sampled — and heartily recommend — the Blueberry Lime Margarita.

Contact www. miravalresorts.com; 800-232-3969.

CALIFORNIA

Terranea Resort near Los Angeles is the newest spa on this list. About a year and a half old, it is a perfect family getaway — even for those with babies and toddlers. On the Palos Verdes Peninsula and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Terranea is just 20 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport . This resort makes for a convenient luxury destination for tourists who might be visiting friends or relatives and need a respite from Disneyland and Hollywood.

I (Marilyn) took my grandchildren, Devin Alyssa, 12, and Alec, 9. Within 10 minutes they had settled into their chaises and ordered lunch, poolside. Three restaurants offer everything from casual to fancy, but on every child’s lap was a plate of french fries. The TV wasn’t turned on for two days. Instead, the kids were busy swimming or playing at the children’s center. In the evening we made s’mores around a campfire while listening to stories.

I advise coming before the Terranea word gets out and while they are still offering deals. I had time for just one 60-minute massage, but that dreamy treatment gave me the energy and patience to face the freeway traffic after departure. Contact www.terranea.com; 310-265-2800.

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The Golden Door is in Escondido (which means “hidden” in Spanish) near San Diego. Once guests pass through the door (which is actually brass, copper and semi-precious stones representing the tree of life), they leave the world behind and feel at peace. Japanese gardens, a huge sandbox with rocks, wild rabbits, hummingbirds and a koi fish pond can be seen on the other side. Golden Door’s activities, classes and beauty programs are individually tailored to each guest’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Golden Door has occasional couples’ weeks, but on our visit it was all women, including three mother-daughter sets. They were university professors, business executives, screenwriters, artists and moms who left the kids at home. Discussions at dinner were diverse and interesting. Oprah Winfrey and Courtney Love are other guests who have stayed at Golden Door.

Guests are encouraged to stay for one week, which costs about $7,000. We drove, and some come by commercial airline. The spa also caters to those coming by private jet, suggesting that clients have their pilots get in touch with the concierge desk. This is reputed to be the oldest spa in the United States. Its grounds are filled with the scents of citrus trees, vegetable gardens and other fruits that are served on the choice menu each day when the chef prepares tasty calorie-conscious dishes and snacks.

Guests get a daily 50-minute massage in their rooms. Then there are pool workouts, hikes, stretching, yoga, salsa and zumba classes, private weight-training sessions and many other activities to keep the body moving but the mind at rest. Visitors also receive a variety of beauty lessons and treatments throughout the week, from head (scalp massage and style) to toe (bamboo stalks painted on pedicures). Contact www.goldendoor.com/escondido; 800-424-0777.

TEXAS

Lake Austin Spa is located on scenic Lake Austin in Texas Hill Country. It’s a perfect urban retreat with a homey, casual feel. Visiting the main house feels like staying with a meticulous aunt or close friend. Its feminine country fabrics and furnishings invite conversation and provide quiet reading spaces. Visitors roam around the grounds in robes and smell the herb and vegetable gardens — essences also used in the spa treatments.

Making friends here is easy in this relaxed, friendly environment, especially at mealtimes. This spa is also a great girlfriends getaway. The staff will take water-lovers out in a small boat under sunny skies for added beauty and tranquility. There are dozens of different spa treatments to choose from, a range of fitness classes and the new individually customized “Power of 7 Program.” Stays at Lake Austin are usually three days or longer.

Contact www.lakeaustin.com; 800-847-5637.

Photos courtesy of Erica Zeitlin.

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