June 13, 2017


The word Retreat is meaningful because 1) I recently went on a retreat with my BFF to southwest Utah and had THE best time, and b) later this summer my new address will be on Retreat lane. A fitting name for my current season of life :)

Ten years ago my BFF and I went on a girls' getaway to Savannah, Georgia in celebration of our 40th birthdays. We stayed in a lovely B&B just off one of Savannah's infamous squares. So we knew we wanted to do a trip for our 50th, but weren't sure where. We considered Seattle/Vancouver, Boston and a couple of other places. Then I recalled that a work colleague had told me about a girls' getaway in Utah ... she told me at least 13 years ago, but for some reason it stuck with me all these years. I sent a link to the resort to my BFF and by some quirk of fate, she was interested in visiting Utah because her hubby has been on getaways there for hiking/skiing and thinks it would be a great place to retire. It was serendipitous!

We booked a year in advance so were pretty psyched when the time finally came. We flew into Las Vegas the day before as it was the cheapest and most direct route. We did the typical Vegas thing ... walked the strip, lost money at the casino, ate and saw the Bellagio water fountain show. The next day we rented a car to head east into Utah and decided to head out early to visit Zion National Park since we couldn't check into the resort until at least 3pm.
It was flat heading out of Vegas, then all of a sudden steep cliffs and "mountains" of every color appeared. Breathtaking - we'd never seen anything like it. We admired a few quaint towns leading up to the south entrance of Zion and then we hit major traffic - it was a gorgeous Sunday so of course it was very busy. Though we were skeptical, we felt that the universe had to be in our favor and decided to chance finding a parking spot inside vs. parking outside the park and hiking in before we even hit a trail. We'd done a little research online and picked The Watchman trail. Luckily that particular trail was just inside the south entrance and we found a parking space almost right away. Serendipity again! The trail is billed as a moderate two-mile hike with a mild 456 foot ascent that travels along the foothills beneath massive Bridge Mountain and ends at a bench near the base of the Watchman spire. Most of this trail is in full sun and through a hot desert environment, dotted with prickly pear cactus and a few other less common cacti. The end of the trail stops at a view point of the Watchman,  a red spire rising to an elevation of 6545 feet. It was spectacular! Both of us bought new hiking shoes for the trip and this was our first day wearing them ... neither had taken the time to break them in ... the universe smiled on us again as the shoes were super helpful and comfy (no blisters)!

We did a little shopping ... for rocks of course ... then headed to the resort. The location is about a mile from the south entrance to Snow Canyon State Park, bounded by beautiful sandstone rock and ancient lava flows. The resort offers accommodations equivalent to a typical hotel room as well as suites with kitchens and larger spaces for families/groups. We assume there are likely luxury accommodations as well but didn't see anything that stood out as special or unique. The property is well laid out with a mixture of rooms, gathering spaces, fitness studio, restaurant (with indoor and outdoor tables), spa, indoor pool, outdoor pool, store, and plenty of relaxation spaces with hammocks overlooking desert gardens and water features (babbling brook, koi pond, waterfall) almost everywhere you turn. Red Mountain is the least pretentious "resort" ...  very casual cool. There's definitely a wellness element, but not militant - go with the flow is the vibe.

Hiking ... I'm a hiker. Read that again. Who knew?! With The Watchman under my belt I was less anxious about the resort hikes, yet not sure what to expect. They have daily guided hikes for three levels of intensity - Explorer, Challenge and Endurance. I don't know what the Challenge folks do, but we heard the Endurance hikes were basically rock climbing. The Explorer level was plenty challenging with a pace to enjoy the surroundings and fellow hikers. There were also evening hikes available, but because we signed up for daily 8am hikes we felt once per day guided hikes were sufficient.

Day 1 hike was Paradise Rim from the Chuckwalla Trailhead in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. This was our favorite hike by far at the resort. The landscape was beautiful and we felt like we got a good workout. My phone recorded 19,870 steps, 9 miles!

Day 2 hike was 3 Mile Canyon. This was our least favorite as it was basically walking and lackluster scenery. We'd been spoiled by this point. My phone recorded 17,114 steps.

Day 3 hike was Hidden Pinon. This was the most physically challenging (uneven rock and tight spaces, including slot canyons) with major view payoffs. The elevation was 3,448 feet! My phone recorded 19,196 steps, 7 miles.

Other activities ... there is a hike, class, workshop, something offered almost every hour of the day from 6am to 10pm. They ran  the spectrum from intense (rock climbing/rappelling) to zen (Meet your Totem Animal and Lunch with Shaman Spirit Guide). Some activities were an additional fee, such as guided hikes to Zion, kayaking and horseback riding. We opted for fee medium active workshops like stretching, yoga, MELT and chakra balancing. These complimented the go-with-the-flow vibe, no pressure, come as you are.

The food ... breakfast buffet at Red Mountain was sensational - fresh fruit, yogurt, breakfast breads, steel cut oatmeal, pancakes/French toast, potatoes, eggs, bacon/sausage, toast/bagels, fresh fruit spreads, and my personal favorite, muesli. It's an addiction - it's distant second, but I eat this muesli at least two to three times a week at home. The lunch buffet rotates weekly for each day of the week. The basic formula is chili/soup/stew (my favorite was the New Mexico Green Chile Pork Posole), salad (spinach cranberry with toasted almonds and herbed apple cider vinaigrette please), meat (I'll take ALL the grilled carne asada beef skirt steak), tofu/meat alternative (the tandoori spiced tofu was good), vegetable and a bite-sized dessert. Dinner is where Red Mountain shines ... I can see why locals choose to eat there. The menu rotates as well with a range of offerings - beef, chicken, pork, seafood and vegetarian. There was always a soup/salad bar. My first night I had molasses-seared cervena venison with roasted shallot, blackberry & sage demi, pepita cinnamon-dusted yam and blue cheese. Love at first bite! I can't remember if my BFF had the farro dish or a plain tofu steak. One night my BFF ordered her tofu steak with the pork preparation - prickly pear barbecue glaze, agave carmelized pineapple and red chili pecan slaw. Doesn't that sound amazing?! She was very impressed. They didn't skimp on dessert either. We had tiramisu, cappuccino crème brulee, key lime pot de creme, cheesecake, blueberry lemon crisp and molten chocolate volcano cake. YUM!!!

So ... long story short, if you're looking for a retreat that is equal parts adventure, renewal and relaxation, you need to visit Red Mountain Resort and Utah's beautiful parks. I honestly can't wait to go back!

June 2, 2017

Monthly Book Review: May 2017

Only two books this month, but in my defense one was 17 hours. I also got hooked on the Starz series Outlander which is based on a book series so I'll count that too :)

The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier - Odd. If you ain't got nothing nice to say ...

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah - I was really looking forward to this as it's by the same author as one of my favorite books, The Nightingale. It's a cliched modern version of Beaches - follows BFFs Tully and Kate through three decades. Way too long.

Next up:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
I Let You Go by Rhys Bowen
In Farleigh Field by Clare Mackintosh
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams