The Boulders Resort Creates a Unique Sense of Place in Carefree, Arizona


I was expecting The Boulders, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Carefree, Arizona to have something to do with rocks. Massive 12-million-year-old hillsides of boulders thoughtfully designed into a luxurious and tranquil desert oasis, however, completely exceeded all of my expectations. On a recent stay  and visit to the spa, I easily determined why locals and visitors from afar cherish such a special retreat.

‘Minimal visual impact’ sums up the design philosophy of the noted Arizona architect Bob Bacon, who designed The Boulders. A mindful observer of nature's design, Bacon spent 15 months trekking around the 1,300 acres of the high Sonoran desert where The Boulders now exists, contemplating and then executing a seamless design that minimized any disturbance to the natural landscape. Indeed, the main lodge of The Boulders seems part boulder itself with graceful interior curves as smooth as the rocks outside.

The 160-guest casitas and 61 Pueblo Villas and Haciendas are woven seamlessly throughout the property as if Bacon hand-stitched each casita into a cacti cocoon. There is almost no feeling of the resort being distinct from its stunning setting, allowing it to feel immersed in the solace of the desert. “The best architecture should elicit an elevated emotional response and boutique resorts should aspire to this by capturing the essence of their location and culture,” said Bacon.

Six onsite restaurants give guests an array of dining delights to try. As a health enthusiast, I appreciated the Waldorf Astoria Spa Café, complete with a fresh juice bar and tons of hearty selections for vegans and vegetarians. The Spotted Donkey Cantina features locally sourced ingredients and zesty southwest flavors. Breakfasts are best at the Palo Verde restaurant, just past the lobby, where a circular dining room provides views of the golf fairways against pristine desert sunrises.  

Opened in October 2001, the Waldorf Astoria Spa has become a favorite among spa enthusiasts. The spa’s design and facilities capture the indigenous roots of its locations by showcasing an authentic 26-foot tall teepee that is used for guided meditation sessions for up to 10 people. Among their many treatments, the Turquoise Wrap — based on the Native American belief that turquoise shields the body from harm and promotes inner peace — is an elaborate process which includes a dry brush massage using blue cornmeal and a wrap with ionized turquoise clay. It is ideal for rejuvenating sun soaked skin. Also, as a treat to Arizona residents, locals enjoy 25 percent off all spa services during the summer months.

The warmth of the Southwestern desert combined by the stillness of its landscape and a spa folding into its natural surroundings makes for a great Arizona retreat. And, the pool area, healthy cafe, and west wing of the 33,000-square-foot facility offer serene views of the ‘boulder pile’ at the resort, all framed by flowering cacti forests. Whether dropping in for a quick spa treatment or a weekend getaway, you’ll leave The Boulders feeling rejuvenated and at peace.