Luxury Lodgings in the Land of Lake Powell

The dockhand at the Antelope Point Marina on the south shore of Lake Powell is a wonderfully-weathered hybrid of old southwestern cowboy and no-nonsense Gulf Coast fisherman. He hands me the keys to my just-rented speedboat and I unfold a map showing the 186-mile long lake along the Arizona/Utah border with its 2,000 miles of jagged coastline, hundreds of navigable canyons, and countless rock formations. As I slowly ease out of the dock, it dawns on me that I can go anywhere on this lake that I please, as long as my budget can keep up with the meter ticking at $75 per hour.

To navigate the nooks and crannies of this most nooked-and-crannied lake in America is to feel the sort of freedom they push in sports car commercials, many of which are shot on the mesas surrounding this paradise. Every twist in the waterway reveals a whole new landscape, varied by color, shape and lighting. Conscious of time, I promise myself that I’ll turn back after each bend, only to keep breaking my promises.

Almost 3 million visitors a year explore this region and the many national parks nearby, but on this mid-October day, I seem to have the dark waters to myself. Soon, it’s time to return to the marina, sad that my aqua adventure is over, but eager to get back to my base camp: the brand new Amangiri resort.

Travelers to this area used to gripe about a lack of high-end lodging options, but with the arrival of the Singapore-based Aman boutique hotel group, that’s no longer the case. Hidden in the middle of 2,000 acres of private property just 20 minutes north of Lake Powell, Amangiri is a hotel that grows from the rocks and sandstone cliffs, fusing with them without sacrificing an ounce of luxury. With rooms starting at $950 a night, you'd expect nothing less, even way out here.

The architects, designers and managers of Amangiri have created what they call a “geologically literate” hotel. Every aspect of the resort invites you to be a part of your surroundings: minimalist design and neutral colors, open-air walkways that feel like dramatic slot canyons, and a pool that literally traces the contours of the massive rock mesa behind the main building.

Of course there’s a world-class spa, service that can only be provided by mind-readers, and foodie-friendly dining, but the resort also has its own in-house adventure company, offering custom-designed hikes, 4x4 tours and even archeological excursions. But on this morning, head guide Mike Friedman has us up at 8 am to conquer something you used to have to go to the Italian Alps to experience: a Via Ferrata.

Common throughout Europe, a Via Ferrata is a series of metal rungs, cables and ladders that are permanently embedded into sheer cliffs, ascending to jaw-dropping views atop a seemingly insurmountable summit. In essence it’s a chance to play mountaineer-for-a-day for the mere mortals among us who shudder at the thought of clinging for life on an inch-wide ledge hundreds of feet above the desert floor while pounding metal spikes into solid rock. But, since Friedman and his team have already done the hard part and built the hand and footholds, all we have to do is clip ourselves to the cable that runs up the route and, rung by rung, scamper upwards like a 12-year-old on his way into a backyard tree house.

As we climb, Friedman shares the secret to coaxing relaxation-seeking luxury vacationers away from the pool and spa: “If I were to ask them to go mountain climbing they’d look at me like I was crazy, but when I offer them a Via Ferrata, it sounds like a dessert.”

But as I look out over 1.8 billion years of geological history bursting with color, I realize that there’s a whole lot more up here than just a cherry on top.