Two Sisters Meet up for One Big Cleansing Breath:: Canyon Ranch, Tucson


Ahhhhh, three nights, four days all for us–just my East coast sis and me, catching up in the middle. She arrived medium-blue from all the New York snow, while I was slightly soggy from San Francisco’s rains, both a bit dismal from the continuous barrage of economic woes and the fact that we’re still trying to unload 2008’s extra holiday poundage, with little success. In other words, we’re in major need of a primo spa getaway to whip us into better mental and physical shape. I loved “The Ranch” when I last visited it 15 years ago, but would it stand the test of time?

We’re off to a good start when their van pulled up, right on time, for the 35 minute drive from the airport to C.R. First stop is the Club House reception area, totally decked out Southwestern style with soothing desert tones, where we’re greeted with prezzies: a Canyon Ranch tote bag, a water bottle printed with your name, and a weekly organizer for you to fill in with your schedule.

We joined the orientation tour to get a lay of the land. Our guide pointed out the facilities: the Clubhouse, the 80,000 sf spa and gym, the tennis and golf center, health & healing center, etc. We started giggling because just 2 minutes into the tour we were already completely turned around, but no worries, there’s plenty of signage so you can’t get seriously lost.

TIP: If you hadn’t previously phoned in your dinner reservations and your massage and beauty treatments (which I highly recommend doing early) than better do it now before all the best time slots are filled.



Our room was a very comfy double, with feather duvets, oversized shower, TV, DVD, coffee maker, robes and toiletries galore. The thoughtful layout included a make-up area outside the bathroom so we could both get ready at the same time, as well as individual bed lights perfect for late-night readers.

Tip: You can easily pack all you need in a carry-on, since all you need to bring is work-out clothes, good hiking sneaks, a hat and a swim suit. The Ranch will supply everything else, from backpacks, robes, flip-flops, and sunscreen. Their library is loaded with good books and videos.


Be forewarned. The ranch has plentiful, gourmet albeit healthful food, with an eat- as- much-as -you -want policy. Calorie counts are noted, but between the dining room’s daily changing menu and their specialty cook-to-order omelet, sandwich and pasta stations (the whole wheat linguine and mildly spicy sausage rival that of any good Italiano kitchen) one needs to eat somewhat mindfully, partic when it comes to the tempting desserts. The Basil/Lemon house gelato was a tasty burst of lo-cal zest. Come to think of it, all the gelato’s were delish, so was the hot chocolate soufflé cake, the apple strudel and…)

There is also a casual poolside cafe for dining al fresco, or room service or you can even order a picnic lunch if you want to do your own thing.

Tip: Water, energy drinks, coffee and tea stations are thoughtfully offered throughout the Ranch-along with bowls of fresh fruit. Healthy snacks, such as the energy-recharging hummus, are available anytime.


At these prices, there was no way we were going to be chaise-lounge potatoes so we both tried a variety of physical activities from the humongous selection.


This was our fave exercise–perfect for clearing the cobwebs. My big-city sis loved being outdoors taking in the panoramic desert views. The morning hikes start early but the strawberry-hued sunrises and the lovingly prepared egg-white scramble loaded with veggies and tasty tofu bacon, made up for that early wake-up call.

Hikes are offered in a variety of lengths and levels; ranging from long walks with slight inclines to some extremely challenging treks up to the mountain tops. Our first day we did a level 2 for 4 miles, day two was level 3 for 5 miles, and day 3 we joined the big boys for a level 4 -8 miler! High-five time! The hikes were fun, invigorating, and kudos to the two C.R. leaders who provided us with chilled water, lunch, trekking poles, an informative history and geography lesson plus lots of welcome encouragement. Less-strenuous artsy hikes are available that include painting or photography opportunities.


The ranch offers a variety of classes that cover mind, body and soul, and are geared to all levels. My sis opted for the more chill selections: Sun Salutations, Vinyasa Flow, and Pilates classes, while I went in for the kill and took Wallyball, (which almost did kill me—very intense) Boxing, and Jump’n’Jive.

Pleasantly tired but determined to get our money’s worth, we decided to finish the day with a relaxing guided sunset bike ride… since we’d be back in time for the “mock-tail” happy hour, which sometimes included entertainment at the piano-bar.

Scattered throughout the day are all sorts of informative lectures and nifty art activities. I took Beading one afternoon, and made my sis a lovely crystal bracelet, while she decided to peek into the future and check out the Clairvoyant lecture which included a psychic demo at the end. We didn’t get a chance to attend the Lunch & Learn cooking classes, but had heard rave reviews from others about the great healthy cooking tips they were shown.

Spa Treatments

After scaling the mountain tops we were more than ready to claim some highly deserved pampering. My Older sister(even though she always claim to be the Youngest) opted for an arthritis massage, using essential oils, while I kept going back for the dependable Canyon Ranch massage, which soothed my sore muscles and prepared me for tomorrow’s hike. If you prefer more eclectic treatments, the 100 plus service menu offers everything from Abhyanga-Shirodhara, (based on India’s traditional healing methods) to a Neydharting Moor Mud body treatment.

The Crowd:

Unlike many spas, C.R. has a pretty even ratio of men to women. Although the vibe at the ranch is very low-key we sensed that we were often chatting with some very accomplished folks. During our stay we met a big-deal rock star, who graciously played the piano for us one night, a top financier, a mystery writer, a caterer, a podiatrist, a theater stage manager, a specialist in Asian languages, a sociology professor, and a shrink, plus a fair number of doctors and lawyers. Age runs the gamut. The youngest was a 15 year old girl who was thrilled to have reached the age limit so she could join her parents who had been coming for years, and there were some gentlemen well into their 70’s that hiked with far more ease than my sister.

One tip
that almost escaped us is the incredible Medical Facility at the ranch. Top notch nurses are available at no charge (I know, because I a terrible sinus headache and sore throat from the airplane so I popped in for a visit) along with a complete team of medical specialists, combining traditional and alternative methods, that will check you out from head to toe. The advantage here is that these professionals really take the time to look and listen, unlike the 10 minutes allowed by most physicians. I learned that some ranch guests have been making it their business to visit CR once a year for a check-up, viewing it as a part of their overall health management.

Bottom Line:

I’m happy to report that since my last visit, there have been a lot of changes at Canyon Ranch, but they still strive to provide the gold standard for a healthy vacation and lifestyle. Sure it’s pricey, but who wants second best while pursuing optimal health? Both my sister and I left happier, healthier, relaxed and with lots of good resolutions. Even if we don’t keep them, we know where to come back for a good kick-in-the butt.

Saving the best tip for last:

Since the rooms aren’t guaranteed to be ready until late afternoon, which could have meant a wasted day, we (rather brilliantly if I do say so) flew into Tucson the night before and stayed at the Best Western Las Brisas Hotel-Tucson Airport, which turned out to be a great choice. The hotel offers free shuttle service for the two minute drive from the airport, there’s an outdoor heated pool where my sis and I relaxed and caught up on all the family gossip over poolside drinks and later at the bar’s happy hour, (since the Ranch is a “dry” destination.) The rooms were spacious, immaculate, comfy, and included is a tasty breakfast with homemade omelets and waffles, all at a VERY reasonable price. We made arrangements with Canyon Ranch to pick us up right after brekkie, wore our gym clothes, and arrived at the ranch just in time for lunch and a full afternoon of exercise, and then checked into our room.

For Canyon Ranch Reservations:
Check out the website for their latest special packages.

Posted by Janice Nieder on March 16, 2009 in Travel

Comments (2)

  1. Shira N.
    Shira N. says:

    What do you suggest is a reasonable amount of time to spend
    at Canyon Ranc.? I want to be kind to my wallet, but I also
    want enough time to unwind and get a good start on
    losing some weight.

  2. the token redhead
    the token redhead says:

    Hi Shira,

    I have to tell you that I was there for 4 nights and I felt really rushed trying to fit in everything I wanted to do, and had no time to relax. I really suggest looking on their website for one of their special packages and going for a whole week. That way you really get to do/try almost everything AND have time to just relax.

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