A twenty five minute drive is all that separates Amangiri from the closest town of Page, Arizona, but once the complex comes into view you feel worlds away from anything familiar. Surrounded by Southern Utah’s majestic mesas, Amangiri sits on the floor of a small valley spread out over 600 acres. There’s only one way in and one way out, a winding road that quickly changes elevation and effectively hides the resort much of the way down. When the main structures come into view they’re simple in appearance and not at all what you expect, but then again, that’s the whole point of Amangiri.
Amangiri is the collaborative vision of architectural firms Wendell Burnette, Rick Joy, and Marwan Al-Sayed. Completed in 2009, the retreat’s design was born out of the Southwest and the local Navajo heritage, incorporating traditional Native American themes and avoiding even the smallest amount of eye-rolling kitsch or anything resembling cultural appropriation. It also shows a deep respect for the natural environment, as if the minimalist monochromatic concrete resort was simply the result of the same natural processes that shaped the sandstone rock formations surrounding it. As a result Amangiri feels completely authentic.
During my stay, I felt connected to the natural world anywhere I found myself. The Pavilion’s entryway is reminiscent of a temple on a distant planet abandoned by an ancient civilization. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, the hall has a low ceiling relative to its width, focusing on the perfectly framed view of the desert and guiding the eye to hidden vistas that change with the lighting conditions. Behind me were large, flowing rock formations shaped by time and weather, their surfaces given texture by Tafoni, the sometimes microscopic and sometimes cavernous pockets common to Southern Utah. Though I was sheltered, it still felt like I was outside; and that is perhaps the most alluring part of the Amangiri experience.
Joining the main structure of the Pavilion are north and south wings, each housing a handful of visitor rooms. Water trickles down some of the walls in the North Wing, echoing through hallways so dimly lit that you are provided a small flashlight at check in. There’s a miniature pool stocked with colorful fish, moss grows here and there, smooth stones surround the bases of trees planted along the walkway. It wouldn’t feel out place to sit down anywhere in the common areas to meditate or roll out a yoga mat. Of the many moments I look forward to on any trip, few are as exciting as opening the door to my accommodations for the first time. That feeling of anticipation, wondering if it will look as good as it did in the photos, getting a feel for the space once I’m in it and going over the details—it’s an absolute high. To date, nothing has come close to the sensation of walking into my room at Amangiri.
You walk under a stone archway and through a private courtyard screened in by Douglas Fir planks when a glass wall appears, opening into a modern and minimal room. The bed is on a elevated stone island that incorporates a desk at the head and a lower sofa at the foot. Everything in the room, from the hooks on the wall to the throw blankets on the armchair, have been carefully selected to continue the overall theme of locality. Hides and leathers are placed around the room without overdoing the native Southwest vibe. Forged and blackened steel fixtures are also incorporated, suggesting the historically altering presence of the railroad in the West. These beautifully realized rooms are a distillation of the overall concept of Amangiri. The natural world is invited into manmade spaces and from within those spaces you can truly connect with the natural world. As Tame Impala’s “Live Versions” played over the room’s killer audio system, I lit the fire pit on the desert facing patio, watching the firelight flicker over the ground. Beyond that, nothing, just the inky blackness of untouched land.
The following morning I rose before dawn and climbed the rock formations behind the resort in the cool morning light. As time passed warm light began spilling out from the cold concrete structures, my fellow guests waking up. What could have been the harsh lair of a Bond villain just minutes before transformed into a welcome oasis for weary travelers. The clouds thinned, the color palette shifted and Amangiri came to life before my very eyes. Just another day in the desert and one of the most magical things I’ve ever witnessed.