It’s a warm evening in Arizona when I mosey up a dirt trail flanked by towering saguaros, finding myself lured by the smells of minerals emanating from a hot spring up ahead. The sun has just dropped behind the Bradshaw Mountains as I arrive at the edge of the pool, sling my towel over a boulder, and carefully dip one foot into the water, which clocks in at about 106 degrees.
This serene, turquoise oasis is one of three at Castle Hot Springs, a historic resort about an hour north of Phoenix where you’re more likely to see a kaleido- scope of butterflies speed by than a car. A recent multi-year renovation trans- formed the remote 1896 property—seriously, it’s a dusty, winding drive off the highway—into the contemporary wellness destination it is today.
With century-old palm trees and even older cacti perched stoically above me, I descend into the pool and wade up to my chin, the heat moving through my body in a slow swell that starts deep in my stomach before rising to my cheeks. As I float there, the adrenaline coursing its way straight through my forehead, my toes curl tight into the loose gravel beneath me.
Thomas J. Story
Then, like a kettle on the cusp of a whistle, I breathe.
It’s the first time in months I’ve felt this type of rush in my body, one that ultimately moves through me instead of settling in with a familiar unease. Here in this hidden corner of the Sonoran Desert, I consider the idea that perhaps I should work more canyon bathing (yes, the desert version of forest bathing) into my wellness routine. At this point, I’m all ears for any grounding practice after the unpredictability of these past few years.
The pool at Castle Hot Springs
Thomas J. Story
With travel grinding to halt amid the pandemic, and many trips canceled or post- poned, a lot of people have spent significant time thinking about—and saving for—their next vacation. If you’re looking to splurge on your first getaway in months, maybe years, luxury retreats like Castle Hot Springs have become all the more appealing to restart and refresh. For those who can afford an escape to such an oasis, a wellness getaway can quite literally be whatever you need.
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Sunset’s Wellness Issue 2022
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You could spend days on the property without interacting with another human being, or commune with fellow travelers over a mezcal and honey syrup cocktail with chamomile foam at the lobby bar. Spa treatments can be tradition- al, such as a tourmaline clay wrap in a creekside cabana, or totally touchless—think via ferrata climbs and meditative hikes meant to target stress and fatigue.
“Many people have gotten so used to this concept that where we are now is the status quo,” says Castle Hot Springs wellness supervisor Kristy Chavez. “Intentional wellness helps them to re-center themselves and helps them to rebalance their life.”
Across the West, many luxury spa resorts are abandoning a one-size-fits-all approach in favor of customized, holistic experiences. Book a massage at Castle Hot Springs, for example, and you can craft the service right there in the treatment room with your therapist.
“We wanted to get away from the typical menu,” Chavez says.
Touchless treatments were already on the rise; now you’ll likely see more of them, plus others like halotherapy in salt caves or contrast bathing—alternating between hot and cold water—in the great outdoors. There’s a focus on mindfulness, meditation, and catching up on something so many of us have lost in recent years—sleep. With that in mind, here are some of the region’s next-level wellness retreats.
Castle Hot Springs
Thomas J. Story
After a 20-minute plunge in the warm waters of the mineral hot springs, step under a cool rain shower right next to the pools. More bathing options abound back at your suite.
Cabins have white tubs in adjoining courtyards, while bungalows feature outdoor stone baths with three faucets: one for cold, one for hot, and another that pipes the mineral spring water right to the comforts of your patio. After your soak, cap off the evening with a glass of wine and discover the desert’s night skies with your private telescope.
Denver Beer Spa
The Beer Spa offers steeped, herbal baths using hops and malted barley in Denver.
Courtesy of The Beer Spa
Jessica French and Damien Zouaoui want to bring contrast bathing to the masses. The catch? They want to do it with beer. Well, hops and malted barley to be exact. The couple offers steeped herbal baths at The Beer Spa in Denver, part of a self-guided hydrotherapy circuit in private rooms that also include a sauna and cold shower. What the bath lacks in fermented beverage, you can pour for yourself in the communal taproom just outside your room, where guests are welcome to lounge for as long as they want.
Camp Sarika by Amangiri, Canyon Point, Utah
Courtesy of Amangiri
There’s a lot to love about this otherwordly oasis, but we’re pretty floored by the private, heated plunge pools with views of the surrounding desert mesas. A stay also grants you access to the nearby Aman Spa at renowned resort Amangiri, where two pavilions are dedicated to “water” and “flotation.” Trainers can guide you through a steam room, sauna, and cold plunge pool in a hydrotherapy circuit that’s as luxe as they come. Alternatively, indulge in a 90-minute immersive water treatment that ends with a steam shower.