Five minutes into my hike along Amangiri’s Cave Trail, and I’ve already made seven stops. While it’s easy to marvel at the vast expanse of desert terrain here in the centre of the Grand Circle, I’m not just staring up at the glorious eroded rock formations spanning 180 million years of geological history – hoodoos and mesas of such epic proportions that evoke scenes from The Land Before Time. Instead, I’m perpetually drawn to the details within this stark landscape. I spot a black tailed jackrabbit, and freeze, unable to reach for my camera fast enough to snap a photo before he leaps behind a row of Indian ricegrass. I take a minute, turning the small, brittle rocks in shades of ochre and dusty pink over in my palm in an attempt to digest the pages of prehistoric context that they hold.
I am constantly drawn to the abundant growths of desert plants. I can’t seem to make it more than a few steps without touching, smelling, ogling. I’m enamoured with the flowering prickly pear cactus (I later discover you can eat it grilled, with olive oil). I pull leaves from the frosted mint shrub and the sand sage bush, rolling them in my fingers for a hit of their invigorating scents. If only my potted herbs back home smelled like this. It takes self restraint to stay on the path, such is my desire to immerse myself in the perfumed expanses. I imagine myself skipping through the fronds, spikes, and creeping leaves, arms outstretched. But it remains a fantasy; I really don’t want to be the idiot who steps on cryptobiotic soil.
Later, after the sun has made its march across the sky, I make my way back to Amangiri. I pause on the penultimate knoll to take in the structure of the property from afar. It’s a paean to architectural elegance, with low set rectangular buildings matching the subtle colours and textures of the surrounding Entrada sandstone, blending seamlessly into the rugged landscape. Despite having all the creature comforts to the highest level (a 2,300 m² spa, a private courtyard and terrace for each suite, and a clear, blue pool wrapped around an enormous, ancient boulder), it’s clear that nature plays the leading role. Set within 240 ha of wilderness on the invisible border between Utah and Arizona, there is a profound sense of the American Southwest here. It’s not by chance that the resort lies within easy striking distance of Lake Powell, the Slot Canyons, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley; Amangiri deliberately places you in the middle of all this natural splendour.