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Around 9 a.m. on a sunny, but windy day in remote Utah, I found myself standing on an aerial stairway strung between two sandstone towers more than 400 feet above terra firma.
It’s part of the Cave Peak via ferrata (Italian for “iron road”), a series of metal rungs, ladders, and sky-high bridges crisscrossing their namesake mountain that lead hikers to the summit. Ahead of me, there were still about 90 steps—fashioned out of metal pipes spaced 18 inches apart—and the only things preventing a fall were a climbing harness and some surefootedness. My vertiginous climb was part of my itinerary during a four-day stay at Aman Camp Sarika, a collection of 10 stand-alone tented pavilions in Canyon Point, Utah, right next to the border of Arizona. The focus of my time there was to explore new ways to connect with nature in this desert landscape, though at that moment I was more concerned about the connection between my carabiner and the cable that served as a handrail.
“Wasn’t that incredible?” our guide, Christian, asked minutes later, after I took my last shaky step onto more solid ground. “And look, from here, you can see the hotel.”
I followed his gaze, but for a moment saw nothing in the distant landscape but a patchwork quilt of camel-colored sand and shrubby sage set before a commanding mesa with rust and rose-hued striations. Then it appeared: Camp Sarika, a collection of low-slung canvas pavilions that camouflage to their surroundings. The via ferrata experience did indeed get me closer to nature—for much of the climb I literally hugged the rocky face of the mountain—but getting out of my comfort zone was worth it to see a nearly aerial view of the unique lodging and the geological Disneyland I’d had come to explore.
Opened midpandemic in 2020, Camp Sarika is the new tented extension of the iconic property known as Amangiri, which opened in 2009 to invite visitors to become immersed in some of the United States’ most otherworldly terrains. The likes of Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks have stayed here, and it’s so coveted that the high season (April through October) is often booked months in advance. Amangiri and Camp Sarika are one piece of the greater Aman universe, a collection of 34 hotels and resorts in 20 countries—many of which are near or within UNESCO-protected sites—each known for their unique sense of place and world-class service.
Though Camp Sarika’s suites look like canvas tents from the outside, guests aren’t exactly roughing it. Each one- or two-bedroom dwelling (1,882 and 2,825-square-feet, respectively) is fully enclosed and features a spacious lounge, bar, and dining area. Bathrooms have deep soaking tubs and both indoor and outdoor showers that face natural rock escarpments estimated to be 164 million years old. I wanted to spend all day on my terrace, which was equipped with a plunge pool, a telescope, and a cozy firepit area where each morning I saw the sunrise paint the landscape in shades ranging from indigo to apricot.
The property is set within a secluded canyon adjacent to Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, a 1.87-million-acre swath of protected land covering much of southern Utah. It’s an area with rich geological diversity, including low-lying desert and coniferous forest. In the 600 acres of the Colorado Plateau where Camp Sarika and Amangiri reside, there are flat-topped mesas, mountains, rivers, and deserts. Also surrounding the resort are five national parks and the Navajo Nation Reservation, the largest Native American reservation in the United States.
The via ferratas are managed by Adventure Partners, Amangiri’s own in-house guide service. In addition to testing guests’ mettle on the iron pathways, guides also take guests for hikes into famous nearby protected sites, including Zion and Bryce National Parks.
Because Amangiri has deep connections in the area, its staff can create bespoke itineraries for guests, ranging from horseback riding in the desert to hot air ballooning over public lands. One morning I ventured out with another Amangiri adventure-partner Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tour. Our guide, Joseph Secody, took me to a trio of almost Seussian slot canyons in the Navajo Nation. Because Secody is Navajo, we were able to go to visit slot canyons others can’t. As we hiked, Joseph explained how some of the canyons, like Antelope, are considered sacred sites of worship. He spoke about how all were shaped over thousands of years by wind and water, though traditional storytelling offers a different explanation of the wavelike appearance of the walls.
“Those waves, we believe, are people’s problems,” Secody said, adding that when people release or overcome their stressors, they manifest as undulations on the walls and, in turn, “something beautiful is created.”
My time with Secody was one of the many ways Camp Sarika and Amangiri offered me a deeper understanding of the region’s millennia-old cultural traditions. Every day, I had my choice of activities, including hoop dancing, storytelling, and flute performances—all led by Navajo practitioners. One afternoon I participated in a dream-catcher workshop led by Pearl Seaton. Two other guests and I sat around a table in Camp Sarika’s airy restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows, each of us carefully looping a long string around a metal hoop to create a web-like appearance. Seaton explained how the webbing of the dream catchers filters out nightmares and how the different stones and seeds incorporated into the design help protect you as you sleep.
Some Navajo traditions find their way into Amangiri’s spa, a largely open-air facility where guests can sip greenthread leaf–based Navajo Tea and soak up the desertscape between treatments. Covering 25,000 square feet, the spa houses five treatment rooms, two outdoor terraces, a water pavilion with a sauna, a steam room, and a plunge pool. After a massage that started with a smudging (inspired by Navajo rituals) and later incorporated oils made with local wild juniper, I spent much of the afternoon in the heated step pool. Tracing the lines in the nearby butte with my eyes and watching swallows flit between holes in the stone, I felt more calm and present than I had in months.
Each night during the turndown service, Camp Sarika’s staff leaves a different memento to take home: a sensory reminder, like a sage candle, or a visual one, like a photography book of the Southwest, or a cultural keepsake, such as one of Seaton’s dream catchers. One night, the gift by my bed was a linen bag containing four large aquamarine marbles. The accompanying note explained the number four is an important number in Navajo culture, representing the “four seasons that rhythm a year, four life values that Navajo people aspire to, four mountains that outline Navajo Nation, and the four stages of one’s life.”
Those same marbles were previously used in an art installation by Maya Lin in Camp Sarika’s lobby—bunches of the glass orbs depicted the nearby Lake Powell, a massive zigzagging artificial reservoir in an otherwise thirsty land. They now occupy a spot on my desk at my home back in Colorado, a daily reminder of my sublime adventure in the American Southwest.