Wild horses still roam free here. That’s just one aspect of the unique visitor experience at this luxury resort on the Gila River Indian Community in Chandler, Arizona. The 500-room Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, opened in 2004, was designed to be an authentic representation of Native American heritage and culture. The architecture, art and legends of the Pima and Maricopa tribes are reflected in every detail possible, indoors and outdoors, against a stunning backdrop of the Estrella Mountains near Phoenix.
For example, the entrances to the hotel, spa and casino face the sunrise, the same as the homes of the indigenous residents.
“The sun rises from the East,” says Rosie Rivera, the resort’s cultural director and a Pima. “We rise with the sun and pray our thanks for a new day.”
Let Rosie take you around the property and share its history. Originally belonging to Mexico, the territory became American with the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. The cooperative Pima and Maricopa tribes were promised they could always live here. The life-sustaining Gila River, however, was moved away from their access. What ensued was the country’s longest water-rights lawsuit—117 years. It was settled at the federal level in 2004, giving control of 51 percent of the state’s water to the Community.
“The settlers said they have rights, but we were the first to settle,” says Rivera.
With that decision, the community had to decide how to most thoughtfully use the land to benefit its tribal members and their future generations. That’s how the resort, spa and casino came into being.
In the main lobby, the focal point is a ceiling dome that is surrounded by a 10-panel mural. Each one depicts a different aspect of the culture: agriculture, basket-weaving, songs and dances, family, pottery. Guest rooms are split into two wings, celebrating each tribe’s art forms. Design motifs in the Pima rooms reflect basket patterns while those in the Maricopa wing showcase pottery designs, all carefully selected to complement the natural desert ambiance.
Resort amenities include four pools, fitness center, golf, tennis, equestrian center and interpretive trail.
Dining options are extraordinary: Ko’Sin offers desert bistro cuisine all day. Kai, which in the Pima language means “seed,” is an elegant AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurant with a contemporary approach to Native American cuisine. Here is the link to my earlier post about Greater Phoenix hotel restaurants that includes Kai, Ko’Sin and Aji Spa.
Now, let’s talk about the spa part of Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa. You must indulge. Aji Spa gets its name from the Pima word for “sanctuary.” Legend has it in times of battle women and children were sent to a safe mountain haven called Aji. “Aji” also refers to a sanctuary high in the world from which one can see great distances with clarity.” At Aji Spa, therapies are based on ancient legends and rituals, and they incorporate desert ingredients such as red clay and smooth rocks from the Gila River.
My treatment, the Blue Coyote Wrap, the spa’s signature service and named after a Native American “Aesop’s Fable” about a coyote who should have known better, and combined an ultra-relaxing steam aromatherapy and massage. The first step is a relaxing aromatic steam bath while you are coated in cobalt-blue mud. The second is a full-body massage with a hydrating oil of cedar and sage.
Aji Spa offers full-service salon and wet and dry facial and full-body treatments for women, men, children, couples, bridal parties and mothers-to-be. Some spa treatments are administered by Native American healers only.
The serenity continues alongside the spa’s private pool, where you’ll partake in a flavorful health-conscious lunch from Aji Café while wearing your lush terry robe.
Mova sapo (“thank you” in Pima) to my hosts for sponsoring this stay. I hope that we will meet again.