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Not Your Mother's Spa

Although the gender mix is appealing, it must be said that my most memorable hike at Red Mountain was a rugged, eight-mile trek through nearby Snow Canyon State Park with eight women in their thirties and forties, most of them doctors from Seattle. Topics of conversation: men, health clubs, running injuries, men, blended families, cute hiking clothes, which male massage therapists at Red Mountain are the hottest, Brazilian vs. bikini waxes, lip stain vs. lipstick, men, alternative medicine, trophy wives, male vs. female cardiologists (apparently it's still a boys' club), relationship strategies and penile anomalies. Probably a good thing there were no guys along.

4. Spa food doesn't have to mean deprivation. In fact, it's quite possible to overindulge at dinner -- though Red Mountain provides nutritional information for everything, so you have only yourself to blame as the numbers add up. Typical entrees include pan-seared salmon (198 calories, 12 grams fat), fettucine with pumpkin-seed pesto and parmesan (392 calories, 10 grams fat) and roasted breast of duck with herbed potatoes and strawberry rhubarb demi-glaze (257 calories, 5 grams fat). Did I mention the wine?

Other Adventure Spas in North America

"Twenty years ago spas were all about pampering; now they're really focusing more on wellness, stress relief and fitness," says Betsy Isroelit, spokeswoman for Spafinder.com, an online directory. The site is searchable by category; to find spas that combine traditional luxury services with rigorous outdoor activities and fitness programs, search under "Hiking."

Here are several North American spas Isroelit recommends for their strong hiking and outdoor progams. Unless otherwise specified, rates include meals, classes, lectures and use of fitness facilities, but not spa services.

El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa, Taos, N.M., 800-828-8267, www.elmontesagrado.com. "A true eco spa, with hiking and skiing," says Isroelit. Rates start at $255 per room per night, based on double occupancy, in the off season (April and November), $325 all other months. Meals not included. A one-night "Get to Know Us" package, available through Feb. 10, is $295 double and includes an hour's massage or custom facial, use of the fitness center and pool, yoga and other fitness programs.

Green Valley Spa, St. George, Utah, 800-237-1068, www.greenvalleyspa.com. "The ultimate hiking resort in a luxury setting." Rates start at $540 per person double per night and drop to $500 for a seven-night stay. The Complete Luxury Package includes one spa treatment per day, plus a $100 sports/medical credit.

Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, Edwards, Colo., 800-877-3529, www.cordilleralodge.com. "The setting and the skiing is the big thing." Rates start at $395 per person double per night and include hiking and fitness classes, but not meals. Shuttle service to the Beaver Creek ski area and use of the ski-in/ski-out facilities there are complimentary (lift tickets not included).

Miraval, Tucson, 800-232-3969, www.miravalresort.com. "A wonderful desert mountain setting. They're known for their equine program." Apparently you bond with your horse as well as find your inner self. Rates in fall and winter start at $550 per person double per night and include round-trip transfers from the Tucson airport and one spa service per night, up to $115. Summer rates start at $415.

Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa, Ainsworth Hot Springs, B.C., 800-661-5161, www.hiking.com. A small spa (14 guests max). "It's like being in Switerland, with big lakes and big mountains." The Fit Plan Weight Loss program requires a one-week minimum stay, includes meals, three massages a week, and all prescribed consultations and assessments . Cost: $2,700 (all prices in U.S. dollars). In the summer, the Mountain Hiking program has three- and four-night options for $1,300 and $1,750, respectively.

New Life Hiking Spa, Killington, Vt., 866-298-5433, www.newlifehikingspa.com. "It's not very expensive and it's really nice; their big thing is hiking." Operates May through October out of the Inn of the Six Mountains, a ski hotel in Vermont's Green Mountains. "We don't have loofah rubs," says founder Jimmy LeSage, "but we have excellent massages and facials." Rates start at $225 per person per night double for the two- to four-day program; $215 for five to 10 days; and $205 for 11 days or longer.

Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, 800-443-7565, www.rancholapuerta.com. "A huge range of fitness options, and the weather and the setting are fabulous." Weekly rates start at $2,080 per person double in summer and $2,460 in fall. Rooms with kitchenettes and villas also available.

-- K.C. Summers

5. The extraordinary beauty of Utah's red-rock country tends to put your misbehaving furnace and undone yard work in perspective. Not to get too sappy about it, but those postcard-worthy sunsets, puffy carpets of gray-green sagebrush and theatrical red peaks against an impossibly blue sky really do distract you from your mundane little problems.

6. The red rocks are actually rusting, petrified sandstone. Stained red by iron oxide, they've been carved into fantastic shapes by wind and rain over eons. Other geological oddities include slot canyons, volcanic cones, mammoth boulders, lava fields, lava caves and bright red sand dunes. There are also fossils and petrified wood and coprolite (dinosaur dung). Rock hunters routinely find topaz, jasper, quartz crystals and agate -- the same stones the Anasazi Indians used to make weapons and jewelry. And if you don't find any of these on the trail, you can always hit the gift shops in downtown St. George.

7. Desert plant life is astonishingly rich, even in winter. On our hikes, we passed stands of prickly pear, Joshua trees, junipers, barrel cactus and cholla cactus (with hummingbird nests!). You don't want to get too close to the cholla: It looks innocuous, but its barbs are like fishhooks. The creosote bush smells like railroad ties. And the bottlebrush plant, also known as Mormon tea, is a source of ephedra. Mormon settlers ground it up and brewed it for pain relief.

8. A three-hour, back-breaking, calf-straining, knuckle-shredding, toe-numbing hike can energize you. You'd think you'd crave a nap or a soak after all that exertion, but no, you find yourself gravitating to the exercise studio for a stretch class, or a little yoga or cardio salsa. You wonder: Could you transfer this concept to real life? Maybe, just maybe, exercising first thing in the morning could improve your sense of well-being and set you off down a path of renewed creativity and accomplishment.

Nah.

9. You're basically stuck with the body you were born with, but there's a lot you can do to help things along. The spa provides body composition analysis, strength training, acupuncture and other services as part of its mission to educate clients on how to lead healthier lives. "A lot of times," says health services manager Brad Crump, "they're not getting this information from their doctors." At least I'm pretty sure my doctor wouldn't tell me about a loofah yam wrap.

10. You might be younger than you think. The spa says it can determine your "actual age" (as opposed to your chronological one) by measuring such "bio-markers" as muscle mass, body fat, hip-to-waist ratio and blood pressure, followed by a pushup endurance test. I want to know, I don't want to know -- in the end, I can't resist. I'm pleased when my "actual age" registers two decades less than my real one, but cynical enough to wonder about the accuracy of this miraculous finding. Sure enough, my new doctor pals on the trail the next day tell me the test is probably worthless without other key measurements, like a VO 2 test to measure oxygen consumption. Gotta get one of those.

11. A Slickrock Survival Fango Treatment may, despite its foolish name, change your mind forever about massages. I'm initially skeptical about this "leg wrap of deep relief mud . . . detoxifying, healing and deep penetrating with natural pain relievers for sore muscles and joints." Toxic leg muscles -- give me a break. But soon I loosen up as the fabulous Tyler (I've heard about his hands from the women on the trail) rubs lovely warm mud (I never do find out what "fango" is) all over my legs, wraps me in plastic, covers me with towels, turns up the Yanni and dims the lights. I baste for 15 minutes, shower, and then Tyler returns to give me the most profoundly relaxing massage of my life. Stumbling out into the night, I can barely find the way back to my room.


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