PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- For Type-A personalities, slowing down can be a tough sell. I admit that, even on vacation, I like being busy: An ideal week off might include rock climbing, scuba diving, or surfing.
Yet whenever I chat with my mother on the phone, there is a line of questioning that inevitably arises: ''Why are you always yawning? Don't work so hard. You need to slow down, or you'll get sick."
In an effort to give my mind a rest at a place that also promises to work my body, I head out on a solo trip to the Arizona desert and check into Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, in Paradise Valley.
On the grounds of what was originally the 1950s-era Paradise Valley Racquet Club, the resort opened in 2001, followed a year later by a first-class, 12,000-square-foot spa. The 53-acre property has 98 casitas terraced up the northern foothills of Camelback Mountain, whose striking, layered sandstone summit is 2,700 feet above sea level. Home to prehistoric ceremonial cave sites and once a Native American reservation set aside by the federal government in the late 1800s, the land is now protected as part of the Echo Canyon Recreation Area.
I arrive at Camelback in the early evening, and the looming mountain landscape, with its red-rock beauty, is immediately calming. At 8 p.m., I wrap myself in a robe and head out for a swim in the spa's two-lane, 25-yard lap pool, under a deep aubergine sky glistening with stars. It's a treat to swim in an empty pool with the Big Dipper in clear view above. The desert air is warm on my skin even at 10, when I venture to the Sanctuary's Jade Bar for a glass of Fess Parker Viognier. Cool and refreshing with a hint of fruit, the white wine makes an appropriate nightcap.
Sanctuary's generous swell of an infinity pool is the largest in Arizona. Ringed by fluttering palm trees and umbrella-shaded white lounge chairs and served by attendants bearing ice-cold drinks, it's meant to be a place where sun-minded guests can easily while away the days, and many do. But not me. Upon waking, I head straight to the spa's mirrored, modern movement studio, which offers daily classes in yoga, Pilates, BOSU conditioning, and indoor cycling.
The array of exercise options is impressive (most come at a price, of course). Personal training sessions and private classes with instructors are available for those who want customized attention. Also on staff are consultants in such areas as stress management, nutrition, tarot reading, astrology, acupuncture, and numerology. Every month, the spa focuses on destination wellness and hosts a special four-night retreat called Satori (Japanese for ''enlightenment"). Starting at $2,500, the package includes seminars on tranquillity and rejuvenation, four customized spa treatments, a session with a personal trainer, and unlimited classes in the movement studio.
The variety of offerings ensures that visitors can be as adventuresome or as meditative as they like. The environment is decidedly noninvasive -- you can sit and drowse by the pool all day, and no one will force you to do anything. Bamboo grows rampant on the spa's grounds, providing shaded areas with cafe tables for quiet reading and relaxation. There's also plenty of opportunity for active pampering, whether at the nail salon for a pedicure (there will be a new full-service salon by next month) or at the spa for a massage.
At the spa, I discover a full menu of Asian-inspired treatments, from acupuncture and aquatic reflexology to Thai foot massage and Watsu water sessions for pregnant women. I opt for Luk Pra Kob, a Thai massage treatment that uses hot medicine balls filled with such ingredients as juniper, cypress, and camphor.
Natural light floods the treatment area, which is a perk in itself compared with the dark confines of many spa massage rooms. Thai massage is a curious thing. I'm pulled and pushed and pressed like a Gumby doll, and at the end I feel several inches taller and lighter on my feet. The steam-heated medicine balls have been pressed into my joints and muscles, easing any aches or stiffness. After two hours, I'm a new me.
The next morning, the sky looks stuffed with cotton, but I don't mind. After a day and a half of blazing sun, the overcast skies allow me to feel meditative in a way I haven't before. I've signed up for a ''balates" class with Vanessa Bossardt, 26, a dancer formerly with the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Arizona. She developed the custom class, a fusion of ballet and Pilates posture, especially for the Sanctuary. We begin by warming up with a series of classic Pilates mat exercises (leg raises, modified push-ups) and then move to the barre for classic ballet moves (plies, toe points).
The third portion is devoted to spontaneous dance across the studio floor. This is where I discover my inner Martha Graham. With Bossardt's encouragement, I jump and twirl in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, growing less inhibited with each pass.
It's in this newly invigorated state that I spend my final morning hiking to the top of Camelback Mountain with Melissa Branta, 28, a fitness specialist for the resort. ''Sometimes I'll go up the mountain several times a day, leading hikes," says Branta, adding that this routine has sharpened her abilities on trails elsewhere. She tells me Camelback has its own climbing guru: Jack Dunn, aka ''Camelback Jack," a 43-year-old adventure racer who routinely does three or four consecutive climbs to the top before breakfast. He currently holds the Camelback record for the most consecutive hikes (25 times in 24 hours).
It's a breathless hike to the summit -- the 1,300-foot elevation gain is over a mere 1.2 miles, which makes for some steep terrain -- and the 360-degree desert panoramas of Phoenix (Sanctuary is about a 15-minute drive from Phoenix Sky-Harbor Airport) and its surrounds are worth every puff. Ruby-throated hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, and the sun is just starting to heat up the landscape. Though I envy his endurance, I'm glad I'm not dashing from rock to rock like Camelback Jack.
The view from the top seems the right way to finish the weekend, and I balance on the edge of the cliff, feeling calm, clear, and good about the world below.
Bonnie Tsui is a California-based writer.