Sunday, May 07, 2006

From Dude Ranch to Nude Ranch

Forgot your bathing suit? Not a problem at this ranch.

Just in time for Tucson's sweltering summer heat, a new "clothing optional"
resort plans to open Monday in the desert on the Northwest Side.

In its two-year incarnation as the Coyote Moon, the resort at 7501 N. Wade
Road catered to gay, lesbian and transgendered travelers. But new owners are
relaunching the guest ranch near Marana under a new name, the Mira Vista
Resort, with plans to cater to guests who prefer wearing birthday suits over
any other type of suits.

"It's hard to go back to wearing a bathing suit once you've tried it nude,"
said Dave Landman, one of six new owners of the Mira Vista.

He's targeting an annual $400 million industry in the United States, which
has doubled in the last three years, according to the American Association
for Nude Recreation.

Landman, who owns another "clothing optional resort" east of San Diego, said
the Southwest is ripe for expansion.

With most nude recreationists in their 40s to late 60s, Tucson is a good fit
for the resort's target audience, he said.

"We want to develop a high-end resort in the desert," he said.
Other Mira Vista owners include Wayne and Suzanne Schell, operators of
Laguna del Sol, a nudist resort outside of Sacramento, and Joe and Becky
Lettelleir, who operate Paradise Lakes, near Tampa and Paradise Valley
outside Atlanta.

They plan to combine club memberships at Mira Vista, which roughly
translates to Watch the View, with access to other resorts owned by the Mira
Vista collective.

"There's a boon with interest in the Southwest. Winter visitors, baby
boomers and nude recreation go hand in hand," Landman said. Nationally,
interest is growing with nudism becoming more mainstream, said Carolyn
Hawkins, spokeswoman for the American Association for Nude Recreation based
in Kissimmee, Fla.

The association lists four "naturist groups" in Arizona, with the Shangri La
Ranch just north of Phoenix as the state's other nudist resort. More than
50,000 people are part of the association, she said.

What we have "is a drop in the bucket" in terms of potential members,
Hawkins said.

In the past six months, six new nude-friendly resorts have opened around the
country, Hawkins said, with more resorts expected to open next year.

A lot of travelers are adopting European attitudes toward nudity and aren't
afraid to bare it all, she said.

"We're excited about the Mira Vista opening because it is considered an
upscale resort," she said.

Spread over 30 acres, the resort is housed in the former La Tierra Linda
Guest Ranch Resort, a dude ranch where Hollywood's elite vacationed during
the 1930s.

The resort features 14 guest rooms, a restaurant, a wellness center with a
yoga and Pilates studio, a pool and a whirlpool spa, tennis courts and the
facade of an 1800s "Wild West town" on the property.

Rooms at the resort are expected to range from about $90 to $130 a night,
and plans are to offer time shares.

Landman said he expects to draw older guests during the winter, with younger
guests flocking to the resort during the summer. "Nudists don't seem to mind
110-degree weather," he said.

Over the years property owners have turned the ranch into a tourist draw,
said Marana Assistant Town Manager Jim DeGrood.

"It's a small property, but it's had a number of prior resort type of uses,"
he said. "It's not something we expect to have an impact on the town, one
way or the other."

The Coyote Moon Resort and Spa offered gay and lesbian travelers holistic
health education and wellness programs, before it closed in December 2005.

Councilman Jim Blake, a Continental Ranch resident, who lives near the Mira
Vista, said he doesn't have a problem with the opening of the resort. "It's
not something I would do, but as long as they don't display themselves
publicly, I don't think it's going to hurt anyone," he said.

Guests at the resort are expected to undergo background checks and need to
abide by resort rules, said Keith Bradkowski, general manager of the Mira
Vista. Bradkowski also managed the Coyote Moon property before its closure
and was asked by Landman to stay on. Guests under 18 must be accompanied by
parents or guardians, Landman said.

People who violate rules are put on caution lists maintained by the
Association for Nude Recreation and are banned from other nudist resorts.
Rule violations aren't usually an issue, and most nudists are extremely
friendly, Landman said.

"It's hard to be a jerk when you're naked. There's nothing to hide behind,"
he said. "We're not a wild and crazy group. We are family-oriented," Landman
said. "We have strict rules of behavior set up. In general, we tell people
not to do anything they wouldn't do in their mother's living room."

A few Tucsonans are looking forward to lounging around at the resort.
Hoping to draw a few more members, Bill Seligman, president of the
Buff-A-Teers a 10-year-old local nudist club, said the opening will attract
more people who appreciate the nudist lifestyle. Seligman said the 80-member
club gathers weekly at homes around Tucson. "It's depressing with a city
this size. We should find at least 300 to 400 more (people)" he said.
With a mix of professionals and working-class people, Seligman said, most
nudists drop prejudices when they are naked.

"All of those social barriers and sexual pressures go away," he said. "It's
what you would find normally if society didn't have restrictions." Some
misconstrue nudism, he said. "It's not a sexually charged group. I don't go
to try to meet women or have a romantic relationship," he said. "It's a
free- spirited movement. We don't go out to flaunt our nudity, but we
appreciate the ability to enjoy our lifestyle sans clothing."



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