On our recent Southwest road trip, I spent the entire journey from Arizona into southern Utah anticipating our return visit to Amangiri, Aman Resorts’ renowned desert retreat. (However, we still made time to stop at some dramatic landscapes and historic sites along the way.)
We started up Highway 89A through the scenic Oak Creek Canyon and, after a quick refuel in Flagstaff, headed across the high desert. In northern Arizona, we crossed a subtle border into the Navajo Nation, where road signs reminded us of the sovereignty of the territory. Passing through, we enjoyed visiting the pueblo ruins of Wupatki National Monument and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Driving down a steep hill approaching Utah, we could see a line of cliffs stacked along the horizon — the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — with an unsightly coal-fired power plant blighting the view. This is slated for removal in 2019, but at least for the moment, Page, Arizona, is an energy town. Nearby, the Glen Canyon Dam generates electricity with the water of Lake Powell. It also served as our final bridge into Utah.
The Hideaway Report has recommended Amangiri for almost a decade, but it seemed important to revisit the property because it is the centerpiece of any luxury road trip through the Southwest. We wound our way down a long, scenic road and into a parking lot lined with BMWs. A friendly group of hotel staff waited to greet us in a broad concrete courtyard. They each knew our names and encouraged us to abandon our Jeep and leave the unpacking to them. We surrendered to the attentive, anticipatory service. Sergio, the charismatic dining director, advised us, “While you are staying here, it is just as important to consider what not to do. I hope you can relax and enjoy the space.”
We were escorted to our assertively modern Desert View Suite. Our luggage had been expertly unpacked and arranged by the valet. I was also impressed that the Wi-Fi and cell phone reception were perfect despite the remote location. Most of the furniture, including the base of the queen bed, was of concrete construction. Our bath was nearly as large as the sleeping area but lacked privacy. Nevertheless, the soaking tub and assortment of sage-scented bath products were a compensation. The private porch came with a stylish gas fireplace and overlooked a wide desert plain and distant mesas.
It was like having a national park entirely to ourselves.
The architecture of the resort mixes Frank Lloyd Wright and Ancestral Puebloan styles, and it blends seamlessly into the sun-bleached landscape. Although it is concrete throughout, the design doesn’t come across as cold and seems to be in harmony with its harsh desert surroundings. Plants and water features have been artfully arranged. There is always a fire burning, and the smell of sage is in the air.
Sage is the signature scent of the vaunted 25,000-square-foot Amangiri spa. Initially, I felt skeptical that the treatments could justify the stratospheric prices. However, after my massage, I was so sublimely relaxed that I booked another one for the following day.
The resort is situated on a 600-acre plot of private land, which is set within a much larger tract of protected land. On our excursions, we barely saw another guest. It was like having a national park entirely to ourselves. Aside from hikes for all skill levels, there are guided climbs for the more adventurous. We started by hiking to the nearby Broken Arrow Cave, which contains ancient petroglyphs and graffiti from miners. As we walked around a small mesa, the red rocks reflected pink light onto the passing clouds. We crested a rise, and the entire Grand Staircase and Lake Powell stretched before us.
Each day ended with a panoramic view of the desert through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the hotel restaurant. The Amangiri kitchen serves a selection of multicourse tasting menus each night, including both Native American and pan-Asian styles. The chefs are also happy to accommodate any dining request. A nearby table seemed to test this by requesting that the meat-heavy tasting menu be served to them entirely vegan. The food throughout our stay was always good, if rarely dazzling. But I did thoroughly enjoy the dining room’s tranquil atmosphere. We spent a good amount of our time lingering there with glasses of wine.
Amangiri’s high price tag brings the few small mistakes into greater relief. More than once we requested items from the staff that were entirely forgotten. For example, we had to call the front desk twice before the extra pillows that we asked for appeared, and a trail map offered to us at dinner never arrived. Still, it is a special place.
On our final day, the staff kindly offered us a late checkout so that we could go hiking one last time. When we finally departed, we tried to thank our favorite concierge for her help, but the recent arrival of an A-list celebrity left her too starstruck to notice us. Amused, we slipped out to our waiting Jeep and continued on our way to Zion National Park.
For more about our stay, watch our highlights video of Amangiri.
The dramatic setting; the stunning architecture; the superlative spa; the attentive service; the resort’s sensitivity to the environment.
The sky-high prices make the small missteps stand out.
Early morning hot-air balloon flights offer unforgettable panoramas. Launching directly from Amangiri, they take in views of Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, the Vermilion Cliffs and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Considering the stupendous scenery, it’s surprising that there aren’t other hotels of note in southern Utah. Under Canvas Zion advertises itself as a “glamping” camp with “luxury tents” and is praised on well-known hotel-review sites, which made it the most interesting candidate for recommendation. The property charges upward of $200 a night for a safari-style tent, which implies a certain level of service. At the very least, we thought, sleeping in a tent would be an amusing change of pace after Amangiri.
The camp is scattered across a scenic hillside on Kolob Terrace Road near the northwest border of the national park. We parked our car at the welcome tent, which was perplexingly fronted by a large empty volleyball court. Inside, the lobby was somewhat messy, and the staff member who checked us in was clearly ill.
Various annoyances arose during our stay.
We followed her in our car to our tented Suite. It was done in a Southwest-safari style, with a king bed, a couch and a wood stove. There was no electricity, but battery packs were provided to charge phones. The décor was more drab than the photos on the camp’s website had shown, and our tent smelled strongly of cheap air freshener. There was also a conspicuous amount of mud on the exterior of the canvas walls. Our sick host managed to make it all even less appealing by coughing heavily during our tour.
We returned to the main tent to have dinner at the camp café, the menu of which included basics like salads, burgers and fries. It was of little interest to us, but the multiple families traveling with young children seemed to love it. The kids also enjoyed the s’mores by the campfire. After roasting our ration of marshmallows, we retired to our tent.
A benefit of booking a Suite tent is that it has a private bath. Unfortunately, ours was poorly designed. There was no counter space, and the canvas walls weren’t well-secured and would blow into us during showers. Fortunately, the bed was comfortable and the wood stove heated up quickly. I slipped between the sheets thinking that a hot-water bottle would have been nice. We woke up to frosty breath the next morning — our fire had burned out. At least the smell of smoke masked the air freshener.
Various annoyances arose during our stay. For example, we showered in the bathhouse on our second night, but it comprised a series of poorly designed stalls with no separation between the communal toilets and the shower floors. Under Canvas does not provide Wi-Fi access at the camp, encouraging all guests to disconnect. But, ironically, roads crisscross the property, and our moments in nature were regularly interrupted by the sounds of cars and gas-powered golf carts.
My expectations had been high after seeing the striking photography on the property’s website. I had hoped that Under Canvas Zion would be like a luxurious African safari camp. Perhaps it could be a fun family experience, but in this event it just felt like an overpriced summer camp.
The stunning view of Zion from Kolob Terrace Road; the child-friendly environment.
The disorganized staff; the poor attention to detail.
Opt for a tent with a private bath; the camp is closed in the winter months.