by Sharon Spence

I dream of hiking on the moon. Until I get there though, scrambling among gorgeous red and gold sandstone cliffs will do quite nicely. As a guest at Red Mountain Spa, I’m one of twenty hikers enjoying this challenging morning workout in nearby Snow Canyon State Park.

“Utah is a geological fantasyland,” explains our guide, Sandy Bergen. “Can you believe the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau, and Great Basin all intersect right here? This Jurassic sandstone is 180 million years old,” she continues. “But that lava is relatively young: only two thousand years old,” she smiles.

I’m newborn compared to this surreal ancient landscape. Turning in each direction, I wonder where all the wildlife is hiding. Is a mountain lion perched on that four-story cliff? Does a six-foot rattlesnake wait for me coiled in shadow? Perhaps that stone is really a desert tortoise…. My imagination goes wild in the grand silence.

Along the way, Sandy gives me a botanical introduction to spiky green Mormon tea, Juniper and Pinon trees, fragrant broadleaf sage. The desert is in beautiful bloom.

After two miles puffing up steep trails, we stop to rest beside a Cholla. “This cactus is home to the desert wren,” explains our other guide, Lew Roberts. Staring into thick clusters of sharp golden needles I can’t believe a bird could navigate such inhospitable territory.

“How on earth does she get inside those needles?” I ask Lew. “Very carefully,” he laughs. “Mrs. wren folds in her wings, slides in between the needles, and settles onto her nest. Her babies are the size of your thumbnail.”

There’s no place like home, even for a desert wren…

Ahh…. Now this is a morning workout.

Culinary Indulgence

Back at Red Mountain’s Canyon Breeze Restaurant, it’s lunch time. I’d breakfasted on whole wheat soy pancakes topped with mango syrup, baked yams, cottage cheese, fresh strawberries, and cranberry juice.

Hopefully our boulder hike burned lots of calories, because I can’t resist today’s fragrant tomato basil soup, fresh spinach salad, just-baked multigrain bread, and succulent honeydew. Under the creative direction of Executive Chef Chad Luethje, Red Mountain’s meals are healthy and plentiful. I hear that Luethje’s mother was a vegetarian, Hatha yoga instructor, and massage therapist, so I don’t tell him about my addictions to french fries, chocolate, pizza, and hot fudge sundaes. But we are hardly suffering here on his menu of fresh grilled ahi tuna, shrimp-topped snapper, and roasted duck.

Choose from different levels of Adventure cuisine, depending on your activities and fitness goals: “Power Fuel” cuisine is for super active types, who spend mornings speed hiking and afternoons in pilates, yoga, and salsa dance. You’ll enjoy dishes like beef tenderloin with sweet potato pancake. “Call of the Wild” dishes feature local game and organic vegetables, like grilled turkey sage sausage with white bean puree. If you’re vegetarian, then opt for “Green Cuisine,” featuring dishes like roasted Japanese eggplant filled with squash and tofu lasagna.

Dr. Ralph Ofcarcik, Director of Nutrition Services, will help create your personal dining plan. Be sure to take home Red Mountain’s 140-page Adventure Cuisine Cookbook, featuring over five hundred enticing dishes, like blue corn griddle cakes, chile-rubbed halibut, or vanilla marscapone sabayon. Each recipe lists the calories, fats, proteins, carbs, etc. to help you continue healthy eating back home.

We spent a delightful afternoon the Spa’s Adventure Cooking School with pastry chef Lynnette Beck. The energetic and charming mother of three starts baking in Red Mountain’s kitchen at four a.m., turning out Ezekiel high-protein bread, multi-grain bread, and sumptuous healthy desserts. I fell in love with her cherry-topped chocolate cake and blackberry cobbler, and enjoyed dessert (mostly) guilt-free every night. Can a sugar addict like me stay fit and still eat dessert? Stay tuned.


My husband Warren is not a spa guy. “Don’t want to lay on a table and get smeared with greasy lotions,” he confesses. But the other male guests are raving over their treatments, so Warren books a facial. This is an historic event in our marriage. I eavesdrop outside the treatment room:

“Welcome Mr. Lieb,” says Jaimi Petersen, his esthetician. “Are you allergic to anything?”

“Facials,” Warren retorts.

(Uh oh. Is he going to walk out on her?)

“It won’t be that bad, Mr. Lieb,” she says. “After we cleanse, exfoliate, tone, and moisturize your face, you’ll look and feel great.”

“Are you gonna sandlbast and laser me?” Warren panics.

“Of course not, we’re more gentle than that.”

He settles down. During the next fifteen minutes it’s very quiet in the treatment room. I open the door to peek. Jaimi’s long delicate fingers are kneading his cheeks, forehead, and chin. Warren sighs with pleasure.

(Is Jaimi trying to steal my husband? Why did I encourage him?)

“Feels good,” Warren murmurs, sounding sleepy. “Reminds me of a Japanese haircut and massage I had once.”

“Oh, when was that?” Jaimi asks.


“I guess you’ve waited quite a while for another facial…”

“This does feel pretty good,” Warren murmurs.

“Like a sauna for my head. Jaimi, I’m hearing some Indian guy playing music…. Do you keep him in a box?”

Jaimi covers his face with a warm wet towel. Partly for his skin, partly to shut him up.

“Just a thought,” Warren mumbles through the towel.

“Yes Mr. Lieb?”

“What if my eyebrows fall off?”

“Not to worry, Mr. Lieb. You’ll love the results. I promise.”

She artistically paints a green seaweed masque on his face. Warren looks like a martini olive.

As the masque hardens, Jaimi massages his arms, shoulders, and hands. I’m hearing deep, happy-guy sighs…

(We’ve had twenty years of happiness though. Maybe he still loves me…)

Ten minutes later, Jaimi peels off the green masque in one giant rubbery sheet. Warren’s face glows, wrinkle free.

“You look ten years younger, sweetie,” I smile.

“I’m a new me,” Warren smiles. He turns to Jaimi. “Now if you can just create a treatment so I never have to shave again, you’ll make a fortune!”

“I’ll work on it Mr. Lieb. Just don’t wait fifty-five years for another facial, okay?”


Friendly Connections

Guests cosset themselves at Red Mountain for a myriad of reasons: to learn the latest health and nutrition tips; to lose weight; to navigate through personal and professional challenges; to renew their spirits.

“I love the outdoor activities, delicious food, and the chance to take care of myself,” says Nancy Wernecke, a psychiatric nurse practitioner here on her seventh visit. “The beauty of this place revitalizes me.”

Maurissa Morgan from Calgary Canada agrees. “I love these mountains. Red Mountain Spa is mellow, eclectic, a visual feast. I rest amidst peace.”

“I teach autistic children in New York,” says Ellen Kaye. “The constant din of the city, the bad weather…it’s so stressful, there’s no escape…except to Red Mountain.”

“Red Mountain is a touchable place,” says Naida Felman. “Getting so close to nature, I find out very quickly what I need most.”

After four days of mesmerizing mountain hikes, delicious healthy food, yoga and salsa class, hammock swinging, and star gazing, I’m doing okay without those hot fudge sundaes. So maybe I don’t need a moon walk after all. Just another recharging week at Red Mountain Spa.

Soon as possible.

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Red Mountain Spa won Reader’s Choice Awards from SpaFinder Magazine in
best hiking, best fitness program, best place to go solo, best spa cuisine, best weight-loss program, and best low-priced spa.

For more information, Call Patti Mangan at Tango Diva at 415-362-2625, or call t or 435.673.4905, or visit

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Recipe: Blackberry Cobbler

5 cups raw blackberries

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Combine ingredients in a bowl; stir gently. Spoon fruit mixture into an 11x7x2 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine 1 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Stir will, set aside.

Combine 1/2 cup yogurt, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 egg whites. Add to dry ingredients stir until moistened. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto the fruit mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and crust is golden.

Serves 12. 1/2 cup cobbler is 215 calories, 7 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrate.

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Sharon Spence has been a travel writer for eighteen years, and has written travel books on Seoul, London, Chicago, Santa Fe, and Trinidad, and two books on Florida. She has written over five hundred articles for magazines, newspapers etc on adventure, wildlife, nature, art, food and intense encounters with planet earth. Her column, The Globetrotter, appears monthly in The Moultrie News in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. She also teaches travel writing at Lifelong Learning Center in Mt. Pleasant and The College of Charleston.

Photos by Warren Lieb.