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Destination: Arizona, Baja : Low-Fat Desert : Rancho La Puerta and Canyon Ranch, two of the world's best 'ranch' spas, are close by, but there are differences. For starters, about $1,000 a week.

July 03, 1994|CAROL ISAAK BARDEN | Barden is a Houston-based free-lance writer and contributing editor to Conde Nast Traveler magazine

"I try to help guests clear their mind and experience their inner space," Pilgrim says. "Most people have never experienced this; in fact, many don't know what I'm talking about."

As for the food, there are lots of clever low-fat, low-cal entrees coming out of both ranch kitchens. Guests can eat, really eat, free of guilt. I had bread, pizza, caffeinated coffee, desserts--as much or as little as I wanted. Now entering its 54th year, RLP serves vegetarian fare and grows its food without pesticides in a six-acre garden on the property. RLP guests get butter with their bread and help themselves in the buffet line, while CR guests order from a menu, have a pasta bar and a salad bar, and feast on no-fat yogurt with no-fat chocolate sauce, waffles, risotto, hamburgers, French fries, lamb and beef tenderloin.

Both ranches generally have a few "prom queens" in residence, but they're definitely the exception. Having visited spas such as the Greenhouse in Dallas where ladies wear makeup and jewelry to dinner, I prefer both ranches, where most everyone walks around looking disorderly. Another wonderful feature of both places is that they're ideal for singles. At dinner, I was seated with others who had come solo, and the singles tables were always the liveliest.

At the end of my stay at either ranch, I have so much energy I can't stop squirming, but I'm so calm I've forgotten my ZIP Code. The last time I left Rancho La Puerta, I got off the plane, walked into my house and set off the alarm. I couldn't remember the security code. No, my hips don't disappear, but my stress sure does.

GUIDEBOOK: Ranch Renewals

Canyon Ranch Health and Fitness Resort, 8600 E. Rockcliff Road, Tucson, Ariz. 85715; tel. (800) 742-9000. Summer rates (mid-June to mid-Sept.) for eight days/seven nights: about $2,600 single, $2,350 double occupancy, including service charge and tax, five spa services, round-trip transfers from Tucson airport. Winter rates about 35% higher.

Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Baja California; P.O. Box 463057, Escondido, Calif. 92046; tel. (800) 443-7565. Summer rates for eight days/seven nights: about $1,600 single, $1,300 double, including service charge and tax, round-trip transfers from San Diego airport. Winter rates about 10%-15% higher.

Rates for both spas are for minimum accommodations, three meals daily, fitness classes and use of all facilities. Extra medical and salon treatments are a la carte.

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