Liam Ezekiel is participating in a Buffalo Bills minicamp this weekend as an undrafted free agent. The self-designed packages include hiking, hot-air ballooning, tennis, day trips, and riding.The eco-friendly facility that opened only last year is compact and walkable and designed to complement the landscape.PHOTOS COURTESY COYOTE MOON RESORT
TUCSON -- Lying flat on my stomach in the soothing new spa room, I winced as my spa technician, James, slathered every inch of my body with a cold mud mixture the consistency of oatmeal. It clumped on my body, creating a tingling sensation.
''What is this again?" I mumbled, lost in my spa-induced reverie.
''It's a remineralizing desert wrap," James cooed. ''It's called aroma tree."
By now, I was nodding off in bliss as the seawater and salt mud wrap penetrated my tired pores.
''Two lesbian partners created this line," he added. ''They used pure essential oils and natural ingredients from the local desert."
As James washed off the sweet-smelling wrap and spritzed me with a soothing body spray, I completely surrendered to his gentle ministrations, savoring my weekend at Coyote Moon Health Resort and Spa, the first (and so far, only) spa resort geared specifically to gays and lesbians.
Nestled in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains, enveloped by the quiet, lush beauty of the Sonora Desert with its wildlife and saguaro cactuses, the 30-acre resort and spa has been getting lots of buzz in the gay and lesbian community. Besides offering a gay-attuned environment (open-minded heterosexual guests are fully welcome, though), part of the resort's appeal lies in the flexible, individualized services offered by founder Joe Studer and his well-trained staff.
Studer, a Chicago native and a former hospital administrator, lived in the South End and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston from 1991-2000. During a trip to Tucson for Chicago Cubs spring training in 2000, he decided to give up Beantown for the ideal climate, dramatic vistas, and quieter, small-town life of southern Arizona. In the face of the uncertainty and deep malaise that gripped the country after 9/11, Joe, his partner, Todd Martin, and friend Keith Bradkowski decided to embark on a new and challenging endeavor in the health and wellness realm.
Although Canyon Ranch and Miraval, two renowned destination resorts in the spa capital of Tucson, have many gay and lesbian guests, Joe, Todd, and Keith knew of no spa resort in the world that catered specifically to gays and lesbians. Where could they feel completely at ease talking about gay and lesbian health issues and other concerns? Where could they hold hands without fear of derision or awkward stares? Like many entrepreneurs, the three designed the type of project they would want to pay to enjoy, spending the next three years formulating a solid business plan and lining up financing with the help of Mel Zuckerman, the founder of Canyon Ranch.
After purchasing and substantially renovating a historic old Western dude ranch that hosted Hollywood's elite in the 1930s, Coyote Moon opened last November. As evidenced by high rates of occupancy, there was a pent-up demand for this type of unique resort.
The owners' philosophy was to develop a world-class facility where the best practitioners and teachers could share their skills and passion for holistic health, spa treatments, fitness, and entertainment with gays and lesbians from around the world. Studer summed up their philosophy by saying, ''We want to offer a welcoming environment for renewal of mind, body, and spirit."
Like other upscale destination resorts, Coyote Moon offers self-designed packages attuned to individual interests; when guests check in, they are assigned a guest services director who will tailor their schedule and coordinate activities. As part of either all-inclusive (three meals, one spa treatment per day, outdoor excursions and classes), or à la carte packages (accommodations, breakfast buffet, and use of resort facilities), guests can be as active or as lazy as they want, by engaging in their own schedules of exercise, pampering, eating, and relaxing with no pressure to join any activity. True hedonists can just relax by the pool and Jacuzzi, soaking in some of the ample Arizona sun, and indulge in spa treatments; more ambitious types can rise before sunrise for a hot-air balloon ride, followed by desert hiking, yoga, horseback riding, tennis, and day trips, while enjoying scrumptious, yet healthy, cuisine.
It's a warm, inviting, spiritually focused environment that attracts guests of all types. In fact, when I was there recently, I met one married heterosexual couple from Illinois who didn't bat an eye over visiting a primarily gay resort.
''We're here to escape winter and for the fantastic spa treatments!" the wife proclaimed.
Sixteen comfortable guest rooms, in authentic Spanish casita style, surround the central building, which houses the dining room, reception area, juice bar, and cozy living room that is used for eclectic evening performances by local musicians and any ambitious piano-playing guests. Every area of the eco-friendly facility is compact and walkable, yet the grounds felt spacious and uncrowded and startlingly quiet. I enjoyed silent strolls along the desert paths to the horse stable and Old West Town, a façade movie set, as well as an evening on the stargazing deck, bundled up in a cozy sweater with a cup of tea, reflecting on an exhausting day of spa treatments and physical activity. On the deck, I told a smiling guest how much I had enjoyed my desert wrap. Christian, a spa resort veteran who was used to the most cutting-edge treatments, nodded in agreement, saying his massages and facials surpassed his expectations and ''were tailored to me." Dave, a meteorologist from Boston, raved: ''The spa staff really got to know my body after a few days."
The resort's low-key atmosphere, along with the accommodating staff (Want your spa treatment in your room? No problem.), allowed me to forget about deadlines and pressures back home in Los Angeles at least temporarily. It was tempting to try everything available, but I reluctantly pulled back to focus on the other, nonpampering part of the health equation: the wellness, health, and educational seminars geared toward improving myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Almost every night, seminars are offered on topics like optimum aging, sexual potential, nutrition, and financial planning. Some of the most popular classes are gourmet cooking, decorating, aqua fitness, piano playing, and soap-making. Learning hasn't been this fun for me in years.
Special Focus Weeks," centering on one health topic, will have themes such as Women's Health, the Gay Family, or Positive Living with a Chronic Illness.
The expansive desert and stark, yet inviting mountain scenery surrounding Coyote Moon begged for exploration. One afternoon, I went on a rigorous guided hike through the mountains to enjoy the desert scenery full of stately cactuses (most were more than 100 years old). It was in the low 70s, sunny and clear. The desert air was invigorating, and there was no one else in sight.
The following morning, a guest services director led a group outing to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an outdoor exhibit that is more zoo than museum. Observing majestic hawks, owls, mountain lions, snakes, and coyotes close-up and learning about the mysterious desert terrain helped me appreciate Coyote Moon's surroundings.
All this walking and touring let me enjoy the fabulous cuisine at Coyote Moon without guilt. Even had I simply lounged around the pool all day and walked to and from the spa building, however, I wouldn't have felt guilty. Meals were delicious and healthy, featuring all-natural meats and seafood, and organic produce from local farms. Any dietary restrictions can be met with ease. A typical lunch menu might be grilled shrimp with creole sauce or mixed green salad with fresh fruit and vegetables, and dinner choices might include pepper-crusted beef tenderloin or pan-seared duck breast with bing cherry ancho sauce. Every morning I looked forward to finding out what muffins the chef had prepared.
Coyote Moon's official philosophy is ''Balance in an unbalanced world." I'm already planning a return visit.
Stan Wu is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.