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TRAVEL

An exhilarating, exhausting time at Utah's Red Mountain Resort

Utah's Red Mountain Resort promises the everywoman (and man) a wonderful, affordable time

Just beyond Red Mountain Resort, my hiking group tackled the Indiana Jones loop trail by sliding on our backsides down a steep rock face into a crevasse, then crawling under shrubbery between two walls of rock.

As I gazed at the spectacular southwestern Utah landscape, I also wondered: Have I earned another chocolate lava cake?

I long assumed that all-inclusive spas were for one-percenters detoxing on sprouts, aligning their chakras and getting cocooned in seaweed. But Red Mountain promised the everywoman (and man) something different at affordable prices.

The resort's website features hikers and emphasizes outdoor adventures such as rock climbing and horseback riding. Like more expensive resorts, there's also a menu of spa treatments, trendy exercise and wellness programs, and on-site medical guidance.

The calming, earth-toned campus allows nature to be the star, and the friendly staff aims to please.

The bathroom scale recently suggested that I reconsider my morning walks to the local bagel shop. I needed a reboot. Though I am suspicious of such things, perhaps I did need to polish my chakras and find shamanic healing.

I decided on a three-day visit in late September at $265 a night (plus a $25 per night resort fee and taxes), just missing low season (from $175) by a week.

I wondered about spa food on the scenic two-hour drive north from Las Vegas. Should I stop now for chocolate and wine?

Spirit of fun

The next morning, I was delighted to find a copious breakfast buffet of fresh fruit, conchas, harvest potatoes, huevos rancheros, apple turkey bacon and more. Even better, it was all low-calorie, healthful and delicious.

A 2 1/2-hour hike required energy, so I indulged guilt-free on the restaurant patio while watching the sun rise.

At 8 a.m., affable guides led four hiking groups, organized according to ability, from lollygaggers to trail runners, on some of Snow Canyon State Park's more than 40 trails, right in our backyard.

They offered tips: Point your toes down when descending the lava rock to avoid rolling an ankle, and beware the venomous, endangered and rarely seen Gila monster. We stopped to smell desert sage and juniper berries, admired 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and attempted to feel our chi, or energy, in an alleged vortex area.

As we were coached along steep, narrow paths with impressive vertical drops — areas I would've skipped had I known beforehand — we encouraged one another: "You can do this!" and "Don't look!"

My mind was cleared of nonsense by the combination of exertion and setting: black lava rocks, green plateaus and swirling red and beige sandstone shaped by wind and rain. So quiet was the park that our groups of eight to 10 felt alone, unlike at nearby Zion National Park with its nearly 3 million annual visitors.

A guide told us that 17 years ago, 95% of the guests hiked. But with so many daily activities now offered (I counted 23), that figure had dropped to 60%.

I planned on just hiking and chilling, but soon suffered a common affliction: FOMO, or fear of missing out.

"Hydro challenge is a party," Clarissa Thomas said of an aerobic pool workout. She was here from St. Louis to celebrate her 26th birthday with her mother.

So it was, along with Drums Alive, which involved dancing and beating on large fitness balls with drumsticks. The instructor exhorted young and old, fit and fleshy: "Working out should be fun!"

What a concept. And what a welcoming atmosphere for beginners, the physically challenged and the merely clumsy.

A spirit of experimentation prevailed, and although many were here to kick-start healthier lifestyles, everyone seemed to appreciate the relaxed vibe.

The food was so good that, as enjoyable as Bootyque, ChiBall, gentle yoga and cooking demonstrations were, they became things to do between meals.

At lunch, my lemon grass-scented chi ball failed to confer self-discipline as I overloaded my plate with pulled pork, fresh bread, herb chicken, cioppino seafood salad and two chocolate peanut bars.

Magnetic forces

Somehow I missed out on crystals and chakras, but I did attend an "Earthing" ceremony during which we stood barefoot in the grass imagining we were trees. The goal was to reduce stress and pain by directly absorbing the Earth's energy. Flaky? I thought so — until I felt an undeniable magnetic force between my outstretched arms.

Perhaps I was becoming centered. I also discovered that my spirit animal was a golden retriever. Canine guests, incidentally, are treated as well as humans here.

Stars twinkling in the vast night sky appeared favorably aligned, and such was the excellent company of friendly Americans and Canadians (middle-aged professional women a slight majority) that I quickly felt as if I were among friends.

At the convivial community table, we bonded over grilled snapper, succulent beef sirloin and pan-seared duck. The portions were satisfying, yet reasonable.

We traded tips — I was warned off lymphatic drainage ("chaos with towels"), but facials and the hiker's massage got high marks. We discussed spirit animals, the spreading of genetic material, the drought, global bathing traditions and the handsome meditation instructor.

"You have the opportunity to make good choices," advised a witty librarian from San Francisco — one of many repeat guests — as we weighed dessert choices such as lemon cheesecake and orange crème brûlée. (We savored the richest offering: chocolate lava cake, worth all 410 calories.)

I felt Zen-like inside the eucalyptus-scented spa, where white-robed guests sipped tea and stared at the mountains as though in a trance. So relaxing was the Desert Dreams massage ($105 for 50 minutes) that I nearly fell asleep.

Another day, the blissfully energizing hiker's massage forced out toxins and allowed me to continue doing too much. Afterward, I was given an inspiration card reading: "I am surrounded by love. All is well."

After three days, I was wiped out but exhilarated. I finally flopped into a hammock and gazed at the red mountains, the noise in my head at last replaced by birdsong.

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If you go:

THE BEST WAY TO ST. GEORGE, UTAH

From LAX, connecting service (change of planes) to St. George is offered on Delta and United. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $423, including all taxes and fees. You may also fly into Las Vegas, 120 miles from St. George, which has nonstop service from LAX on Southwest, Virgin America, United, Delta and American and connecting service on American, Delta and US Airways. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $124, including all taxes and fees.

The drive from downtown Los Angeles takes about 5 1/2 hours.

Red Mountain Resort, 1275 E. Red Mountain Circle, Ivins, Utah; (877) 246-4453, http://www.redmountainresort.com. High season is mid-September through mid-November and from mid-March to the end of May; check the website for discounts and specials, menus and a list of daily activities. Individualized diets are available as well as vegetarian, anti-inflammatory and gluten-free options.

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