Shangri-La Ranch Clothing Optional Resort, near Phoenix, Arizona

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We encountered several people during our weekend at Shangri La Ranch who most definitely call this desert oasis their absolute Naturist Nirvana. In fact, one could not help but overhear folks chatting in the pool about their experiences here, versus those at another renowned nudist place near Tucson. “Oh, the people are so much friendlier and real here! I felt at home the minute I arrived!” That points to an interesting dichotomy amongst people seeking out clothing-optional travel: those who are seeking a community where they can socialize and belong; and others who simply want to soak up Vitamin D near the pool with a good book – in solitude. Community is Shangri-La’s strong suit, undoubtedly integral to the charter of the family who’s been running the place for the past twenty-five years. As a destination resort, however, there are a few ragged edges. Mainly catering to RVers, the “updated rental accommodations” are showing their age, and the grounds are dotted with refuse materials (old appliances and such) that would be better hidden behind a fence on the back forty. We could look past that, however, for the virtue of the grapevine of hiking trails up the hill into the cactus gardens, where the golf carts don’t go. As a new generation of management is working to bring the place up to snuff, it will be fun to watch the place evolve in the years to come.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GET THERE? Located about ten miles north of Phoenix, I can’t imagine getting there without a car (or perhaps, an RV?) There are few amenities nearby, so even if you arrived by taxi, you’d likely feel isolated as the onsite restaurant is typically only open on weekends, and the boutique store in the office only sells towels, hats, sodas and such. Since we had a self-catering rental, we were pleased that it was only a 20-minute drive into the suburbs where you could find just about any shopping mecca you could want for.

WHAT’S THE FAMILY VIBE? Having visited on a fall weekend, we noted evidence of children having been on the grounds, (old playground equipment and Little Tykes toys) but the place was devoid of young families during our stay. The pool complex is lovely, with a large (but cool) conversation pool, and a warmer pool (seems counter-intuitive, I know) where the volleyball net resides in its permanent home. In addition to retired folk who have planted their RVs here for the long haul, this is one of those resorts that serves as a local escape for those seeking community and companionship on the weekends. Observations from our visit suggest the crowd is largely in the 50+ demographic, as there simply may not be enough going on to keep an eight-year-old entertained.

HOW ARE THE ACCOMMODATIONS? We stayed in a Park Model unit that had been designated as recently renovated. There were new fixtures in the kitchen, and a few other cosmetic updates to make the place livable, and it was reasonably priced for what it was. That said, we find that self-catering options at American naturist places are not the bread-and-butter of those establishments, as most of the regulars reside in elaborate RVs with all the comforts of home. This is one such place, with rental accommodations suitable for a decent night’s sleep while allowing you to cook for yourself, but would it make muster if you were renting a cabin outside of a nudist park? A recurring theme in the world of clothing-optional recreation, particularly in the US.

ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW? I referenced Shangri La – in a very positive light – in a previous post about the sense of community in American nudist places, telling the story of a couple who hadn’t intended to move to a nudist camp, but that was all that was available to them when they were seeking a place to park their RV. This is a community, and clearly a refuge of belonging and happiness to the people who are regulars there. That’s an important distinction in the world of nude recreation. Despite a few quirky things about the place, if that’s what you’re seeking, you could hardly do better than Shangri La Ranch.