Los Angeles Times
Where a renewal springs up naturally
>>> SANTA FE, N.M. — Lenox, my first healer at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in New Mexico, occasionally drooled and gnawed on my hand. Another, named Princess, clucked and preened as I sat in her office near a garden overflowing with herbs and wildf lowers. ¶ Had someone told me a year ago I’d find stress relief from absorbing medicine wheel energies, sitting in a sweat lodge and petting silkie chickens and Labrador pups, I’d have told them to take a hike (which one can also do here to view ancient petroglyphs in the scenic Sangre de Cristo Mountains). ¶ Sunrise, opened by the owners of the popular Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa (about 50 miles north of Santa Fe) a little more than a year ago, offers the organic cuisine, solicitous staff and trendy fitness and wellness activities of much more expensive spas.
The resort draws inspiration from a Native American medicine wheel, symbolic of health and the cycles of life, lying at the heart of the campus. As stars filled the sky at dusk, a fire blazed at its center and I felt my cares drift away like so much smoke.
Santa Fe’s natural beauty has long drawn artists and seekers. I came here in September on a three-day getaway seeking to chill out and untie a knot in my stomach.
A $280-a-night R&R package (for two, plus tax) offered all activities and breakfast each day. I chose a solo “wellness exploration” (two-night minimum stay from $885 plus tax), which added lunch and dinner, one 50-minute massage, one private “experiential” session and a spa credit of $200.
“It’s like camp!” said Karen Anderson, a fiftysomething aesthetician from southern New Mexico who was here on a girls’ getaway.
I had met Karen and several other guests, mostly millennials and middle-aged professionals, at the nightly welcome reception.
Blame it on the full moon (and craft cocktails), but it soon became apparent that my solo getaway would involve more socializing than navel-gazing. We discussed travel, vision quests and the upcoming sweat lodge ($65 per person).
After drinks, marvelous diver scallops and baby-back ribs awaited at its Blue Heron Restaurant. Other highlights included crispy flat breads, pan-seared salmon and grilled shrimp fettuccine.
As I scanned the dessert menu, I recalled the wise words of an art instructor here: “Dessert can be healing.” Key lime coconut tart, chocolate walnut cake with raspberry sauce and a carrot cake-vanilla ice cream concoction were indeed restorative.
So much for my fantasy of losing a pound or two.
Guilt led me to multiple fitness activities daily, such as the aspirationally named “body sculpting” class.
As for yoga, this inflexible 50-year-old usually avoids it but the instructors were so supportive (“You’re perfect, wherever you are”) that I went daily.
One morning, our instructor used a crystal bowl to produce allegedly healing sounds. “You hear this inside a Buddhist temple,” Tess said. “It’s the sound of breath.”
Although strange at first, the loud ringing muffled my noisy brain for the rest of the day, and I was thankful.
Horticulture classes with Danielle proved popular. Who knew you could make your own herbal lotion bars and lip salves and actually want to use them?
We also learned about herbal teas (two of my four “creations” were drinkable; my coffee substitute, less so).
The doctor is in
Dr. Sally Fisher, Sunrise’s medical director, led a presentation on global eating patterns. (Summary: The Western diet is heart-attack material.) She also offered consultations (from $80 for 25 minutes) on topics as diverse as diet and nutrition, sleep, stress reduction and Eastern medicine.
All that activity can wear out a gal. Spa treatments with hot stones or blue corn and prickly pear salt scrubs promised renewal, but I chose a traditional massage. Katie quickly worked tension out of my back and shoulders and ended with a scalp massage that left me delirious.
The spa’s interiors, echoed in other buildings here, combined chic Scandinavian minimalism with warm Southwest touches. On the way out, I toured the steam room and private mineral pools and regretted not having time to use them.
I drifted zombie-like past other guests in robes, past the koi pond and back to my pretty, TV-free room.
Sunrise is a tranquil place and the only sounds I heard were hummingbirds, crickets and the rustling willow.
Solitude is easily found, with only 32 rooms and 20 casitas spread across 70 acres. “Even when it’s full, it’s quiet,” my art teacher said one day.
Another day, we assembled collages based on medicine wheel themes, such as the self-awareness and introspection appropriate to midlife.
Sunrise has a soft spot for its resident animals. Danielle introduced us to the chatty chickens, whose calm temperaments make them good support animals for autistic children and Alzheimer’s patients. (Warning: Don’t be the last one holding “chicken crackers” in your outstretched hand.)
Guests also could help socialize and learn about the puppies raised here as part of the on-site service dog program.
Sweat it out
The highlight of my visit was the sweat lodge, a Native American ceremony to purify body, mind and soul.
Concha, a traditional healer, began with prayers to Mother Earth. Eight of us entered the stone and wood lodge and sat around a hot stove in darkness, symbolizing a return to innocence.
A talking stick was passed around, offering each of us an opportunity to speak from the heart. Drumming and flute-playing accompanied the occasional song.
Twenty minutes later, sweating bullets and fearing I might pass out, I stepped outside to the cool night air. The cycle repeated three more times and afterward, I felt not just refreshed but connected to the others.
On my final day, I noticed that the knot in my stomach had disappeared. Was it the tea? The sweat lodge? The belly laughs? Perhaps all of it had somehow mysteriously realigned my chakras.