Peace. That’s the word that resonates with me on the several occasions I’ve had to visit Aji Spa at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass. Once you make the turn off the I-10 freeway and cross into the expansive Gila River Indian Reservation, your pace naturally begins to slow. A gently curving two-lane road leads you into the property with a stream trickling alongside and the rolling golf greens just beyond. As you make your way toward the spa, you’ll occasionally have to touch the brakes so that a family of Gambel’s quail can strut across the street (they fly only in emergencies it seems). The landscape beyond the golf course looks rugged yet serene and is home to wild horses that roam among the Estrella Mountain foothills in the distance.
Ah, the spa. Aji (pronounced with a soft “j” sound) is the first structure you come to after the scenic drive. It seems to rise up out of nowhere as a shelter from the placid desert it guards. As I cross the wooden foot bridge that leads to the spa on this particularly gorgeous sunny day, the sound of a singular wooden flute and Native American drum beat welcomes me – so fitting for a property grounded in the traditions of the ancient Pima and Maricopa cultures that shaped the land.
The reception area is truly breathtaking with a painted domed skylight and an arched window that frames a view across the spa pool and distance mountains. Dark woods and decorative sconces cast shadows across the space, contrasting with the blazing Arizona sun outside. As I’m led from check-in toward the women’s lounge, I take in the intricate tile mosaics and paintings sprinkled throughout the spa that tell stories of the native people.
The spa attendant left me to settle into the spacious lounge and change into my spa robe, which I found expertly folded like a papoose with the belt in a tight coil like a snake in my locker. The women’s lounge rocks a steam room, sauna, whirlpool, showers, several vanity nooks and a private outdoor deck with another whirlpool. After taking it all in, I wandered into the co-ed relaxation room where I sipped tea from the refreshment bar and finally sunk into one of the full-length loungers to await my treatment.
My therapist was the resort’s cultural caretaker, Dawn Enos. I had chosen a treatment off the spa’s signature Indigenous Collection menu – rituals that honor authentic Native American traditions and developed by Dawn and Aji’s Pima and Maricopa tribal members.
I had decided on the Sacred Salt Wrap and my journey began with Dawn leading me on a short trek to the river behind the spa to gather the salt that would be used in my treatment. She explained as we walked how salt was vital to the native people both for cooking and medicinal purposes and that our walk was symbolic of a sacred salt journey.
Carrying the small bowl of salt, we headed back to the spa and entered a body treatment suite – complete with a shower and a steam capsule. The capsule is essentially a treatment table with a lid that envelopes you from the neck down in steam – excellent for detoxifying and losing a pound or two. First Dawn slathered my body in Shegoi oil made from the indigenous creosote plant and then covered me in the course salt grains from neck to feet. Then, she closed the lid and a warm mist slowly crept over my body while she massaged my scalp. At one point, she held her hands gently over my ears and my head filled with the sound of the ocean. Very trippy.
The treatment finished with me rinsing off followed by a final foot soak and scrub that Dawn explained would seal in positive energy. She gave me a small suede pouch of the remaining salt grains as a memento of my journey.
Afterward, suddenly famished, I hit the refreshment bar again for a handful of the spicy nut and seed mix I had spied earlier. The detoxification process was obviously still well in progress because no sooner had I licked the salt off my fingers from the tasty mix, when I was overcome with drowsiness. The rest of my visit was a bit hazy as I finished it out in a lounger by the pool. Suffice it to say, I left peaceful, thankful and grounded from a sense of true journey. That’s the beauty of Aji.