“Edward Abbey kept his trailer here when he was a park ranger,” Andy Damman, Montage Resorts’ director of recreation, tells us, as we gaze at Arches National Park’s Balanced Rock. While passing dishes around the linen-covered picnic table, he rattles off stats on the precariously perched rock and nearby formations. To see who’s paying attention, he eases into an aside about how the park service saved the gravity-defying hoodoo with Gorilla Glue (not true). It’s a snapshot of what makes the exclusive hiking and mountain-biking day trips he leads from the 220-room Montage Deer Valley so compelling: great service, deep knowledge of a treasured landscape, and the ability to find fun behind every boulder.
A few hours earlier, our group woke up in Park City’s tonier sibling, Deer Valley, a four- to five-hour drive southeast. But instead of driving, we boarded a chartered jet for a 45-minute hop across the Wasatch and Uinta mountains on a flight plan customized for the best viewing of the Book Cliffs and San Rafael Swell. By noon, we’ve hiked through Arches’ mile-long Park Avenue formation and knocked off the three-mile loop to Delicate Arch. Now we’re spooning up gazpacho with fresh mint and passing around salads prepared by resort chefs. A couple of nearby picnickers manhandle cling-wrapped deli sandwiches and comment enviously that we’re doing things right – a “wow” moment if ever I’ve seen one, written on somebody else’s sun-reddened face. They don’t know the half of it. Next up: Windows and Double arches, before Damman makes the call in the near 100-degree heat to light out for a gelato shop in Moab and a dip in a swimming hole none of us would ever find on our own. In true day-in-the-wild style, a cooler of iced-down longnecks greets us on the private jet home. – Justin Paul, senior editor