Deep in the Utah desert, an otherworldly lodge sets a new standard for serenity. Our contributor checks in at Camp Sarika, where social distancing comes naturally. Text by Travis Levius; photographs by Kyle RM Johnson
I expected the more obvious elements of desert life—the dry heat, the dust—but not the silence. As I scanned the landscape of tanned mesas and buttes from my private deck, it felt to me as if a pair of invisible hands were cupping my ears. The stillness of this sunbaked slice of southern Utah was like nothing I’d ever experienced. The quiet was broken only by the cry of a bird of prey, somewhere out there.
I had found exactly what I was looking for: a pandemic-era getaway that would bring me close to nature and as far from other humans as possible.
There are plenty of high-end American escapes that achieve a similar out-in-the-wilderness affect—Colorado’s Dunton Hot Springs and Montana’s Resort at Paws Up come to mind—but few are as unabashedly luxurious as the recently opened Camp Sarika, the newest resort from Aman hotels.
This is the luxury group’s second effort in the Utah desert. Camp Sarika is the sister property of the 34-suite Amangiri, one of the most strikingly designed—and expensive—resorts on the planet. Amangiri’s Brutalist-style, low-rise design, juxtaposed with the stark landscape that rises up around it, has lured A-list celebrities and other jet-setters since 2009 (Kylie Jenner and the Biebers are among the recent visitors). The hotel is perhaps best known for its Instagram-famous swimming pool, where ice-blue water wraps around a 165 million-year-old rock escarpment—a sight that resembles Horseshoe Bend, the I photogenic oxbow in the Colorado River that’s half an hour from the resort.
But Camp Sarika, Aman’s first tented resort in North America, is something entirely different, even if it’s only a five-minute chauffeured drive or an easy 30-minute hike from Amangiri. At first glance, the camp’s 10 stand-alone pavillions, which are designed to blend into the landscape, give the illusion of luxury safari tents, with their massive canvas roofs. They are, in fact, one- and two-bedroom villas, built from concrete and thus comfortable for year-round use in the desert environment. The camp’s main building, which opens onto a large lap pool, is home to the sole restaurant, a pair of spa treatment rooms, and a glass sculpture, Wahweap, by Maya Lin that depicts Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
Though the resort’s July 2020 debut was planned well before the onset of the pandemic, its design was coincidentally prescient. After months of staying home, I was glad for all the personal space. Each of the pavilions is at least 90 metres from the next, and the fantastic Southwestern, vegetable-driven cuisine can be delivered to your bedroom or patio if you prefer to avoid the dining room. All of the villas have private plunge pools with views of the surrounding desert.
Whenever I was ensconced in my sprawling pavilion, I didn’t see—or even hear—another soul. The privacy was bliss. I spent one night roasting marshmallows in my personal firepit; the next morning, I spotted jackrabbits darting past as I lathered up in my outdoor shower.
For all the en suite comforts, the best thing about Camp Sarika is the location itself. The resort offers a multitude of outdoor activities—many of which can be done without leaving the 600-acre grounds. One hot, clear morning, I hiked to Broken Arrow Cave with a guide, Kyle Davis, who showed me petroglyphs and other ancient artefacts, such as arrowheads and pottery shards, some roughly 8,000 years old. (Both Archaic hunter-gatherers and, centuries later, Pueblo peoples inhabited these lands.) That afternoon, we barrelled through the rust-coloured terrain on a hair-raising UTV ride to the top of Studhorse Mesa, where we had a sweeping view of Lake Powell.
Another day was dedicated to conquering the via Ferrata, a climbing course consisting of ropes and metal rungs driven into cliffsides. My guide, Christian Seamans, calmed my nerves and a few silent prayers stilled my jittery hands. The pay-off was worth it. I got to see a panorama of hoodoos, buttes, and cracked ochre earth that stretched out all the way to Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, just visible in the distance. It was among the most frightening yet exhilarating experiences of my life. (Beyond the Aman preserve, some of America’s most iconic national parks, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion, are also close at hand.)
But what sticks in my memory is that silence. On my final night, basking in the warmth of my firepit, I looked up at a meteor shower—something I’d never seen before. Constellations revealed themselves in the inky black sky, against which I could just make out the silhouettes of mesas standing sentry on the horizon. For a moment, it felt as if I had the entire desert to myself.
A Utopia in Utah
United Airlines has flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Las Vegas via San Francisco and Newark, respectively. Camp Sarika is a four-hour drive from Las Vegas.
Camp Sarika offers 10 canvas-roofed pavillions. Villas from INR 2,60,712 per night, all-inclusive; aman.com