I had an all too brief experience at Aji Spa (Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, Chandler, AZ) in 2009. This beautiful desert property is owned by the Pima and Maricopa Native American People Gila River Indian Community). Throughout the property, every architectural detail and design element, including operational protocols, are steeped in tribal culture and heritage; the Pima and Maricopa oversee every aspect of operation to assure conformity and authenticity to their culture and heritage. During my visit, I was even given a tour of the Resort by North America’s only Native American Concierge, which heightened the authenticity. I originally wrote about the property and my spa experience in my February 24, 2010 article post.
Back then, my treatment experience was the Native Herbs Cleansing Wrap (O’Otham Kuklan); it was administered to me by a Pima Native American. The treatment was especially meaningful given the authenticity of the therapist, plus the utilization of the Sacred Creosote Plant (Shegoi) throughout the treatment. At the conclusion of the treatment, my therapist also prayed over me. I also recall that after the treatment and while relaxing in one of the spa’s several relaxation areas, a staff member incensed the entire spa with a lit sage smudge bundle as part of its daily purification ritual; it is believed that burning sage blesses the space and those within it, while chasing away negative feelings and spirits.
FAST FORWARD ~ Both the Resort and Spa continue to receive major awards and accolades, including the coveted AAA Five Diamond Award for its Kai Restaurant, the only such restaurant in AZ to receive such an award of distinction. Kai has also received the Forbes Five Star Award. (Other awards have included AAA Four Diamond Award for the Resort, and Forbes Four Star Award for the Spa.)
In this edition, I’m reviewing some new “must-haves”, which includes Aji Spa’s new private label amenity products, “Indigenous” and Kai Restaurant’s “The New Native American Cuisine” cookbook.
AJI SPA INDIGENOUS PRODUCTS ~ Adding to the authenticity of the entire spa experience, Aji Spa now offers its guests their signature products, “Indigenous”. Each product continues the unique and authentic experiences based on culture and heritage of the Pima and Maricopa People. Products are used throughout the Spa and are also available in the retail area for purchase. These must-have products are formulated using locally sourced ingredients, revered by the Pima and Maricopa People for purification and healing properties. Product ingredients include creosote (a.k.a. chaparral and Shegoi), aloe vera, yucca, willow bark, desert mallow, rosemary, peppermint, and lavender, which are grown on-premise along the property’s Medicine Trail.
Products reviewed included the Natural Shower Gel With Organics, Organic Body Lotion, Natural Shampoo With Organics, Organic Silky Conditioner, and Soy Candle. Other products in the collection include a Body Scrub, Fizzing Bath Salt, Handmade Goat Milk Soap With Creosote, and Body and Room Mist. I enjoyed using the products. The aromas were fresh, green and energizing, with a slight medicinal note. The Shower Gel left my skin very hydrated; additional ingredient included wild indigo. The Body Lotion was extremely hydrating, non-greasy, left no residue, and was quickly absorbed; great for hands and cuticles; additional ingredients, calendula and shea butter. The Shampoo cleaned without stripping the hair; the consistency was watery, so care in dispensing must be used to avoid spillage or waste. The Conditioner is very dense, so very little was needed; leaves hair shiny. The Soy Candle emits a wonderful aroma, and is topped with creosote leaves and lavender, which add to the aromatics.
KAI RESTAURANT ~ Adding to the award winning dining experience is “The New Native American Cuisine ~ Five-Star Recipes from the Chefs of Arizona’s Kai Restaurant” Cookbook, (Marian Betancourt, Executive Chef Michael O’Dowd and Chef de Cuisine Jack Strong). This Cookbook, a must-have for any foodie or culinary history aficionado, exceeds being definitive of the culture and heritage of the Pima and Maricopa People with its treasure trove of authentic recipes, mainstay dishes passed down through the ages by these Peoples that utilized locally sourced ingredients, many grown on-premises. Also included is a glossary of ingredients that are traditional to Native and desert cultures, a shopping guide where to purchase traditional Native and specialty food items, a directory on educational resources for these cultures and those related to the Sonoran Desert, and a metric conversion chart. Kai Restaurant’s culinary wizards worked closely with the Gila River People and Farms to make sure they were not only using locally grown ingredients, but that the use of them preserved the honor of the culture and tradition, while pairing these culinary traditions with aspects of European culinary nuances that don’t detract or diminish the culture, heritage or traditions. The results are edible masterpieces by culinary wizards whose talents reveal unique and authentic taste experiences that clearly define the Peoples, their culture, traditions and heritage.
There is definitely a different vibe at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa and its multi-award winning Aji Spa and Kai Restaurant. There is a reverence and spiritual sense wherever you walk throughout the property because of the Pima and Maricopa People, their history, their culture and their traditions.
By Terry Herman
Terry Herman is a recognized expert in the industry, and regularly covers issues that include business, management, operations, customer care, treatments, products, and trends. In addition to writing and reviewing, she is also a management consultant and motivational speaker. She also serves on EXPERIENCE | PREMCHIT Journeys In Retreat To Wellness Advisory Board, which is comprised of ten international experts in various fields of wellness and spa. She also serves as a Group Manager for the popular LinkedIn group, The Spa Buzz. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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(Photo credits as represented from the specific brand.)