Guest Post – The Healing Desert: Spa Journey in Scottsdale

Credit: Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau
Credit: Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau

You can’t toss a rock without hitting a spa in Scottsdale, where they have multiplied like desert jackrabbits. Because the competition is keen, many offer services that are more than skin deep. Any one of them would be a restful getaway, but two or three together makes a journey. I particularly like the ones that pay homage to Native American practices, incorporate a variety spiritual modalities for healing, and that borrow from time-honored Asian traditions. Plus, some claim there’s a spiraling energy vibe in Arizona you won’t find elsewhere. Scottsdale has it all.

1) Agave Spa, Westin Kierland

Relaxing grounds of the Westin Kierland (Photo credit: Westin Kierland)
Relaxing grounds of the Westin Kierland (Photo credit: Westin Kierland)

It’s not often I allow myself a second helping (a lie I tell myself), but my first spa service at Agave was so soothing I immediately booked a second with the same massage therapist for a half hour later. My morning Rain Massage utilized warmed rainsticks made of polished saguaro ribs filled with cacti needles and small stones that were rolled over my muscles. With the rhythmic swish swish sound of the rainsticks I felt like I was being rocked like a boat in gentle waters. Next, I had Rollersage, a proprietary brand developed at the Westin Kierland, that incorporates warmed round gemstones of your choice: Hematite for circulation and to stimulate the root chakra; Rose Quartz for love and clearing resentments, which works on the heart chakra; Sodalite for truthtelling, corresponding to the throat chakra; and Tiger Eye for optimism, personal power and physical love, working on the third eye chakra. I also had the Fresh Start Renewal salt scrub and Vichy shower, emerging as polished as a rollersage gemstone.

Result: My chakras (energy points) must have shifted. When I left the spa everything looked brighter and more colorful — and it wasn’t just the sun shining. My energy had definitely been tuned up and I felt both taller – closer to the sky – and more grounded.

Resort: There’s a keen sense of history at this contemporary 732-room property: photographs, artwork, and plaques promote an understanding of Arizona’s past. And it’s a fun place to play, with multiple pools, including one that features “flowboarding,” a kind of surfing that amazingly requires no prior skill; but the resort does provide a strong young wavemaster should you want a lesson, which I recommend as enrichment for a girls’ getaway. Deseo, the resort’s Nuevo Latino restaurant, offers outstanding dishes and drinks with layers of flavor, but my favorite thing was the gluten free rolls, which were so flavorful you will want the recipe.

Best leisure activity outside the spa: Sitting around the outdoor fire pits drinking hot chocolate and talking under the stars, and Kierland Commons shopping mall, an easy walk.

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, 6902 E. Greenway Parkway, Scottsdale, 480-624-1000 

2) The Spa at Sanctuary

Infinity Pool at Sanctuary (Photo credit: Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa)
Infinity Pool at Sanctuary (Photo credit: Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa)

Experience: Passing up some deliciously fragrant services like a wild lime blossom massage and the coconut and jasmine body ritual, I chose a new Thai massage treatment called Tok Sen, and Soul Connect energy work, both 90-minute services. Tok (a tapping technique) Sen (energy lines throughout the body) is a combination of vibration therapy that helps with energy blockages and poor circulation, and compressions and stretching utilizing the massage therapist’s elbows, arms, feet, knees, and anything else that might help break up toxins and physical pain in the body. The Soul Connect began by setting my intentions with the help of Divinity cards and then surrendering to guided meditation, chakra balancing, and intuitive massage.

Result: Each time I left the spa I was able to focus on details in the landscape I had not noticed—a bowl of succulent plants at the entrance to the resort, bamboo reeds and the sound of water–as well as walk with less pain from my sciatica issue.

Resort: A boutique hotel, Sanctuary’s 105 casitas are terraced into a mountain slope. Contemporary and colorful in design, with Asian motifs and amenities like rock salt for a soak in the tub, the rooms have a cool urban apartment feel. The restaurant, Elements, offers fresh American cuisine with Asian accents, wines so fine they go up to $2400, and dazzling vistas of Paradise Valley and Camelback Mountain.

Best leisure activity outside the spa: Hanging out on the royal blue cushions at the Edge bar at sunset, overlooking the infinity pool, catching up over drinks and small plate appetizers.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa, 5700 E. McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley, 480-948-2100

3) Waldorf Astoria Spa, The Boulders

Doors to the Waldorf-Astoria Spa at the Boulders (Photo credit: The Boulders)
Doors to the Waldorf-Astoria Spa at the Boulders (Photo credit: The Boulders)

Experience: The golden doors of The Boulders’ spa signify you are entering a different world: peaceful, powerful, nature-oriented. I was fortunate to have a 120-minute taste of a new spa service called The Dance of the Sacred Circle, designed to help guests find the inner resources to deal with anything that might be blocking their ability to “dance” through life’s journey, particularly the low phases such as death of a loved one, chronic illness, or depression. An expanded version will cover four days of activities that correspond to East  (meditative elements that provide the clarity needed for enlightenment), South (heat modalities that help you go deep into the soul for awareness), West (cleansing and shedding of old skin and old ways to symbolize letting go), and North (full integration). This is another innovative service to add to a menu that includes astrological soul reading, a shamanic experience, herbal poultices, and a labyrinth.

Result: The experience was profound for me, bringing up and “melting” away many of the issues I wanted to work on when I scheduled my spa journey in Scottsdale.

Resort: On the outskirts of Scottsdale in Carefree, this property is built into a prehistoric landscape of 12 million-year-old boulders that look as though they just tumbled off a mountain. Everywhere you look is a balancing act; but one that’s been solid for longer than we can imagine. Although there are 160 casitas, 60 villas, 6 restaurants, and 2 golf courses the resort never feels crowded. In fact, you feel like you might meet a coyote on the way to dinner.

Best leisure activity outside the spa: A desert photo tour at sunrise or sunset that explores the most scenic areas of The Boulders with a professional nature photographer.

The Boulders: A Waldorf-Astoria Resort, 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree, 480-488-9009

4) Well and Being at Willow Stream, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Terrace at Willow Stream Spa (Credit: Fairmont)
Terrace at Willow Stream Spa (Credit: Fairmont)

Experience: My friend Georgia, who joined me here ten years ago for for a getaway weekend, drove down from Flagstaff to celebrate our 50+ year friendship. This time I wanted to try the spa’s brand new Well and Being program, a medically guided customized approach that combines integrative medicine with fitness, nutrition, and spa services. While I saw a doctor, exercise physiologist, and nutritionist, Georgia had her favorite Spirit of the Stone massage and took advantage of the inhalation and steam rooms to banish her cold. Dr. Diane Downing made some suggestions for dealing with my piriformis syndrome (literally pain in the butt or piriformis muscle), one of which was to try a different drug for my high cholesterol as statins can promote muscle pain. Craig Cristello put me in a space age like “bod pod” to measure lean and fat body weight and designed an exercise program for improving my pain level and building strength. And Chrissy Barth helped me with a practical plan for weight loss. I also was one of the first guests to experience the spa’s aerial hammock yoga class, in which silk sling are used both as “cocoons” and as ropes to support yoga positions.

Result: I left with a detailed plan for dealing with a physical problem that had sabotaged my exercise program for years that I’ve been able to follow-up at home and with my own doctor, and Georgia and I had the biggest laughs about my attempts at aerial hammock yoga.

Resort: The Fairmont Princess is huge, with over 800 rooms and casitas. Our room was convenient to the spa and La Hacienda restaurant, where we sampled tequilas and mini-tacos, fell in love with our attentive waiter Julio, and were entertained by the fireworks of flaming coffee. We loved the flowers cascading down pillars and exquisite floral designs around the property. If you can swing a Fairmont Gold status, the Gold Club offers a relaxed breakfast buffet and cocktail hour.

Best leisure activity outside the spa: We loved the cabanas at the rooftop Mesa pool, where you can also have spa services and small meals.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 E. Princess Dr. Scottsdale, 480-585-4848


Other Scottsdale area spas to try:

Aji, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa

On Gila River Indian land where Pima and Maricopa tribes live, Aji offers authentic Native American-inspired spa services, including sessions with Native American healer with Belen Stoneman. Five-star, five-diamond Kai restaurant offers a 13 course tasting menu.

Spa Avania, Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch

Avania follows your body’s rhythms with different services, snacks, and music depending on the time of day. I love their indoor/outdoor treatment rooms and that they have a cold plunge pool for alternating hot/cold therapy to promote blood circulation.

Judy Kirkwood blogs at Spa Spot and has published articles on Third Age as well as in magazines, including National Geographic Traveler and articles for National Geographic books, most recently Walking New York in NG’s Cities of a Lifetime series.

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  1. The spas are amazing. For the holidays, my daughters and daughter-in-law and I will be enjoying a spa afternoon. It will have a winter scene since we live in Utah.

  2. It seems like “spas” are a virtual industry in Scottsdale. The photos make them look very enticing and I really like the sound of a surfing experience (flowboarding) at which even balance and grace challenged folks, like moi, might have a chance of succeeding.

  3. With several extended stay in Scottsdale I have never seen the ‘spa side’ of it. I enjoyed reading and day dreaming about finding such indulgences here in Belize 😉

  4. Wow, these spas all look so beautiful! Those warmed round gemstones such as Hematite and Rose Quartz at the Agave Spa sound especially healing. I’ll definitely be pinning a few of these for my next visit to Scottsdale.

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