When adventurers get lost in the wilderness, the guy with the biggest muscles isn’t necessarily the one that walks out of the woods. Survival skills matter more than instinct or toughness, which is why it behooves anyone going for a walk in the woods to learn how to build a fire. There are many survival skills clinics around the country, but only the week-long school at Tucson’s Canyon Ranch offers training in the context of gourmet food and a full-service spa. The thinking here: Just because you’re learning how to live off the land doesn’t mean you should suffer.
The resort offers regular classes in fire building and native awareness. It also offers a Primitive Outdoor Skills package twice a year that also includes sessions on making Hoko-style knives from stone, sticks, and yucca-fiber string; tracking and observational skills (helpful for finding the way out of said wilderness as well as avoiding becoming a bear’s next meal); and hunting with rustic weaponry. Instructor Randy Kinkade also teaches “outdoor skills with nothing” at a local college and serves on search-and-rescue tracking teams.
Fire building, as it turns out, is incredibly satisfying. Kinkade teaches the bow and drill method, using a stringed bow to twist a drill stick against a notched fireboard. Sufficient friction – which takes longer to reach than one might expect – creates a coal, which, when tamped carefully into tinder and blown on, bursts into flames. The entire process, including preparing the drill, fireboard, and tinder, takes time, and Kinkade warns that frustration is typical. As with most things, though, fire building gets easier with practice.
In between classes, guests take guided hikes and bike rides on more than 50 trails in the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains. Hiking trails range from three to more than 20 miles, at elevations starting around 2,000 up to more than 9,000 feet. Somewhat ironically, given its emphasis on survival education, the resort provides guides, transportation to the trailhead, packs, water, and snacks. For rides on more than a dozen bike trails, bikes, helmets, snacks, and water are provided. The resort also offers a high ropes course for anyone looking to monkey around.
Within the context of the luxurious resort, survivor skills don’t come into play, but the mind-set taught in Kinkade’s classes – an emphasis on situational awareness and resourcefulness – is hard to shake. No matter how opulent the setting, everybody is a little bit wild.
More information: The resort is all-inclusive, including transportation from the Tucson airport. Four-night stays start at $3,030 per person.