The invitation appeared via Instagram messaging, which I don’t always pay much attention to. But when I finally read the message, I was to be one of 10 special guests invited to spend a luxurious weekend of wellness at Sunrise Springs Spa & Resort. Located about 15 minutes south of Santa Fe in La Cienega pueblo, this uber-wellness and integrative spa and resort had been on my radar since landing here in the fall of 2017. Sadly, driving by and nearby its sister property, Ojo Caliente, on our way to Abiquiu, Taos or Colorado was as close as I had come. Until now.
It took me about a millisecond to respond with YES! The lure of a staycation at an award-winning wellness resort to experience the Spa Cleanse package was all I needed to be all in. Because I mostly spent 2018 as my husband’s caregiver after major surgery, this was exactly the retreat I needed.
As 2019 kicked-off, I happily and successfully retired my caregiver hat and was now back among the living. But it was a challenge to figure out how to maneuver and jump back into life in what was still a very new city for me. This would be my official “coming out” party. I knew no one–not the hosts, Amy and Caitlin of Simply Social Media, or most likely any of the other invitees. It was these “unknowns” that made this an adventure worth the risk and definitely a timely gift. I mean, how miserable could a weekend at a spa be?
On a crisp, cold and cloudy Friday afternoon in early March, I drove to Sunrise Springs for this special weekend getaway. When I arrive, Jaime, a resort greeter, is at the circle to welcome me and take my bags into reception. After a brief check-in, I am given a folder with my personalized weekend schedule. Jaime then leads me across the resort to my private casita located near the back of the property.
To get there, we cross the bridge over a natural pond and turn right. The trees are lifeless and the grounds lack color. But as I close my eyes, I see a spectacular scene of colorful landscape, blooming flowers and leafy trees that bring the property back to life once old man winter awakens from his slumber.
As we walk, he mentions the art and yoga center when we pass it and the adjoining patio area. He casually suggests I take some time to sit by the koi pond and read a book there–or do nothing.
I can already feel my heart rate slowing as we walk. The only noise is the crunch of our shoes on the pebble pathway. The seclusion and tranquility of Sunrise Springs is already sinking in and I like it.
On the other side of the property, he points out the puppy school where they train service dogs. A kitchen where Ayurvedic cooking classes are held. The chicken coops, a beloved part of the resort, is where I can cuddle with sweet Silkies.
And the greenhouse is where they grow all sorts of things, including one of my favorite spices, turmeric.
A Warm Welcome
When Jaime opens the gate to my private patio, I knew this was going to be a weekend I wouldn’t soon forget. How lucky to have been one of 10 ladies, selected merely by my healthy, food-centric Instagram feed. (For those who profess the contrary, this is proof social media has the potential to deliver powerful new connections.)
Being a tea lover, the welcome tea service lovingly placed on the bed was a good sign. A very good sign this was all meant to be. As he shows me around the two-bedroom casita, Jaime informs me the tea is grown and dried on property. A coffee bar and mini-fridge in the bathroom is stocked with Iconik coffee and a French press, along with Pelligrino water, more tea and an electric kettle.
The joy of waking up Saturday and Sunday morning to sip decaf coffee or tea and read a book while still in bed immediately jumped to the top of my list of things to do. Meanwhile, Jaime directs me back to the moment and mentions the two robes in the closet. He recommends guests wear them to the restaurant, spa and around the resort, as it’s customary at Sunrise Springs.
After settling in and unpacking, the schedule in my folder instructs me to convene at the entrance at 5 pm.
Meet and Greet
As the group begins to gather, I know one person! Katelyn Hilburn is the mastermind behind the adored craft broth business, Madre Foods, and a vendor at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. She and I know each other from when I was a customer before she was at the market, so we’re old friends.
Warmly, we all begin to introduce ourselves and get to know one another. There is a jewelry maker in the group, an Albuquerque TV host and three fellow Santa Fe food professionals. An owner of a hair salon, Miss New Mexico 2018 and a social media wiz are also with us. And a book lover/local book store employee and Amy and Caitlin, our stellar hosts, complete the group of 12 women. I immediately feel comfortable, as if we had all been together before.
This was the beginning of what would be a magical weekend.
A Much-Needed Cleanse
To celebrate new friendships and healthy experiences, our gathering commenced with a glass of fresh carrot juice.
To further cement our experiential weekend of wellness, we all participated in a traditional Four Directions Ceremony. The ceremony was performed by the amazing Concha Garcia Allen, a curandera, and her two nephews. “To mark our place and time on Earth to promote harmony with the Universe” is the ceremony’s purpose.
Subsequently, several of us had opted for the two-hour sweat lodge, known as a temezcal in Mexico. Because I missed out on this ritual more than 20 years ago when I vacationed at Maroma in Playa del Carmen, I may have been the first to sign-up.
Sunrise Springs’ website describes the sweat lodge experience this way:
The sweat lodge is said to be the first sacred ceremony to be given to the Native people. It symbolizes going into the womb of Mother Earth to renew oneself and engage with the four elements–water, fire, earth and air. Guests experience four rounds or phases of the sweat to symbolize the four seasons and the four stages of life. Concha incorporates a variety of traditions and invites her ancestors into the ceremony to offer blessings of introspection, cleansing, gratitude and renewal.
The idea behind the sweat lodge ceremony is to promote physical well-being and healing. It is also considered a spiritual practice that, through the intense heat of the four phases, encourages reflection and introspection. While the body rids itself of toxins through serious sweating, the spirit is renewed through deep rituals which include maracas, chanting, singing, sharing intimate details of your life and meditation.
All I can tell you is it was worth the 20 year wait. If you ever have the chance to experience the sweat lodge, please say yes.
Saturday in Camp
Waking up refreshed on Saturday morning, I felt like a kid in camp. While I did have a schedule the resort created specifically for me, I could, theoretically do whatever I want. Feeling the urge to be a follower for perhaps the first time in my life, I stick to my program with one small change. Because I was already an overnight oats expert, I replace this class on my schedule with yoga at 9 am.
When I arrive, the yoga studio is filled with about 15 women of all ages, and a young perhaps newlywed couple. More rigorous than traditional Hatha yoga, I love the teacher’s style. Alexis isn’t the typical, stick thin yoga teacher. Rather, she is a strong, robust woman who can roll and move her body with the skill of a talented belly dancer. I find myself gazing at her fluidity throughout the class, almost in awe. She is intense and the class is both physical and meaningful. And, while we lie in shavasana (corpse pose), she sings to us. As class comes to a close, I feel a tear trickle down my face.
Food as Medicine
After yoga, I sashayed over to Dr. Sally Fisher’s “Food as Medicine” seminar. Being that I am already a disciple of this way of thinking about food, I took notes and certainly enjoyed the class. Her presentation sparked a lot of questions and conversation among the group and I think what she said resonated with the participants in a big way. Below are nine takeaways from her session:
- The best kept secret in medicine: food is medicine.
- The #1 top cause of illness and death in the US is dietary risk nutrition.
- 80% of illness could be modified by diet.
- More than 2/3 of cardiovascular disease is attributed to poor nutrition and low intake of healthy foods.
- The absence of plant-based diet is more impactful than the presence of a cheeseburger.
- Legumes are the most important dietary predictor of longevity worldwide.
- Americans need 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, though an average person gets only 1.7 daily servings.
- Plant-rich diets are anti-inflammatory and create and cultivate healthy gut bacteria. Gut microbes determine our overall health.
- The absence of healthy foods from the plant kingdom may be the biggest driver of health.
Dr. Fisher’s class goes over our allotted time, so I quickly hustle over to the art studio where class has already started. Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed making jewelry with Ruth. She is another fabulous and fiery woman. She has a head of wild, curly hair that was the envy of the room. Or at least the envy of this forever straight-haired girl. I walk away with a bracelet in my favorite color, purple, and a pendant necklace I made for my husband as a thank you for the weekend getaway.
For the Love of Animals
The resort was trying out a new offering and I was delighted to be a guinea pig. Claudia Mardel, a pottery teacher at the resort, was launching and beta-testing her skills as an animal communicator. By merely looking at a picture of your animal or animals, she connects with them. She determines if any problems exist or can answer any health questions you may have about your beloved four-legged friends. The session is recorded and she subsequently sends me the link for posterity.
Her intuition and connection with animals is palpable. I have two Labradoodles and did nothing more than show her their pictures. She said Nacho wants to know if “we are staying here,” because he really likes it. She feels Guero would benefit from classical music as he relaxes at the end of the day. She said he soaks up everyone’s emotional energy and needs to decompress–and there has never been a more true statement.
It was a cathartic and emotional session and one I highly recommend if you have animals. Whether you want to understand them better or need affirmation they are happy and healthy, let Claudia guide you. All she needs is a picture of your animal and a private session can be conducted on the phone.
Let’s Get Cooking
Next on the schedule was an Ayurvedic cooking class. As I make my way over to the Willows Kitchen, it begins to sprinkle. But the moment I open the door, the pungent aroma of toasted cumin and coriander seeds is a warm, inviting welcome that pulls me inside.
Aditi is the instructor and she has been sharing her love of Ayurvedic cooking for decades. Everyone was ready to learn. She reminds us of the inherent healing properties of Ayurvedic herbs, which are especially good for the digestive system. The most prominent herbs and spices used are ginger, mint, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric and black peppercorns.
While she and some volunteers in the class begin chopping and cooking the recipes, there are questions and chatter as we probe into her vast knowledge. To prepare our palate and digestion, she serves a simple chai-ginger tea.
The smells, the easy (and vegan) recipes and the incredible flavors activate our senses and culinary curiosity. When everything is ready and served, the room goes silent as we savor the food and its deep, rich flavors and textures. From the carrot-lime soup and saag-turmeric greens to red lentil rice, we are all full and happy and inspired to recreate these Ayurvedic dishes at home.
To wrap up a perfectly memorable day, I had a mineral soak scheduled at 9 pm. Normally, I would be in bed by this hour. But the crisp and cool outside temperature is an ideal contrast to the warm mineral bath, which makes it that much more alluring and relaxing.
After a 30-minute soak, I jump next door into a friend’s hot tub where three of us relax, laugh and solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. The burning kiva, hot tub and warm connection with new friends culminate our wild Saturday night.
Blue Heron Restaurant
You may notice I haven’t yet mentioned anything about the food at the resort. That is because I like to save the best for last.
Ever since returning from this sensational weekend retreat at Sunrise Springs, I can’t help think about it. The good times with new friends, the unique experiences, the overarching wellness theme and the spa food that left us all wanting more. More time at the resort, more time with our new friends and more of the delectable food. We can thank Executive Chef Rocky Durham. He is the creative leader behind the menu at Blue Heron Restaurant, which is open to the public.
Spa Cleanse Menu
Because we were invited to experience the Spa Cleanse package, Chef Rocky serves a vegan menu that had carnivores asking for the recipes. We all love the blueberry smoothie.
And the warm lentil salad was equally a hit with the group.
The almond gelato ended dinner on a very sweet note, indeed.
But the spring pea soup is the first dish that got everyone’s attention. Served as an appetizer Friday night, I remember hearing most everyone mention at breakfast Saturday how they want more of that soup!
Not everyone in the group was vegan or even vegetarian, but there was consensus that Chef Rocky’s culinary creations are satisfying, soulful and worth repeating.
Luckily, Chef Rocky was kind enough to share with us a few of our (and his) favorite recipes.
Spring Pea Soup
With spring in full force, I have adapted this elegant, yet simple, spring pea soup recipe. It’s bright green color, silky smooth texture and few ingredients make the peas the star of the show. When something this good can be made in less than 20 minutes with not much effort, it is certain to become a staple in your spring recipe repertoire. It can be served hot, warm or cold–depending on your mood.
Perhaps you would rather book a stay at Sunrise Springs for a weekend or a week and let Chef Rocky Durham cook for you? I promise you won’t go hungry nor will you feel deprived. Instead, you will feel nourished and be able to relax and rejuvenate your soul during your stay. Each day will be punctuated by healthy and hearty meals that will leave you wishing the resort had a cookbook you could purchase. Yes, the food is that good.
Whether you seek an adult camp experience, a wellness immersion or a reset, Sunrise Springs has it all. It’s proximity to Santa Fe means you can arrive early or linger another day or two and get your Santa Fe fix.
Spring Pea Soup
This was one of many dishes we all fell hard for during a Spa Cleanse weekend at Sunrise Springs resort. With spring in full swing, this soup offers just enough density to make it satisfying while still being light enough to welcome the new season with open arms.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic diced
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 2 16 oz. bags frozen organic peas
- 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley finely minced
- 1 tablespoon mint finely minced
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- White pepper to taste
In a soup pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and onions. Stir well to coat and let the onions soften. Stirring frequently, cook for about 3-5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn't burn.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and stir well to get up all of the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Add the frozen peas and let cook about 2-3 minutes, until the peas are no longer frozen. Add the parsley and mint.
Turn off the heat and begin to puree the soup in a blender until its perfectly smooth.
Return silky smooth soup to the pot over medium heat, add coconut milk and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if needed and season with white pepper.
Serve when the soup is hot. Refrigerate any leftover soup and enjoy tomorrow and the next day.