Shash Dine’ Eco-Retreat: A Glamping B&B in Navajo Nation

Some 12 miles South of Lake Powell, deep into the red soil of Navajo Nation, lays an unassuming eco-retreat by the name of Shash Dine’. It is here that Baya, a native Dine’ (“the people” in Navajo), her husband Paul and their young daughter welcome you into the wild, desert beauty of northern Arizona, where simplicity rules by definition.

Born and raised on the land of the Bear People Clan whom she belongs to, as the property’s name derives from the Navajo language, Baya lives by her people’s traditions. The ranch on the premise – where sheep, goats, chickens and horses are roving about – is her home.

Photo Credit: Shash Dine Eco-Retreat
Photo Credit: Shash Dine Eco Retreat
Photo Credit: Shash Dine Eco-Retreat
Photo Credit: Shash Dine Eco Retreat

As natural building enthusiasts, Baya and Paul set out to welcome guests on site, in traditional Navajo log and earth hogans – the traditional dwelling of the Navajo people – canvas wall tents or tipis, providing an unique cultural experience, an appreciation for, and education as to how the Dine’ lived not so long ago.

It was pitch dark when we arrived. The only sign leading to our overnight stay was a bear claw sign leading up to the driveway, from which Baya picked us up. From then on, a dirt road eventually led to two secured, white canvas, wall tents shining in the night.

Tip: To avoid getting lost, it is highly recommended to arrive before dark. You should provide an approximate check in time. This is a remote location. It is imperative to let your hosts know as to your arrival time so you can be guided through.

In true off the grid nature, the only sound disturbing the silence came from the two watchdogs nearby. I can’t remember any other time when I felt more intertwined with nature. Sleeping under a bed full of stars, cowboy stories chanted by Navajos lingered in the air.

Tip: Be prepared with torches and headlights during the night, or ask the hosts for some. No other light exists.

Photo Credit: Monica Suma
Photo Credit: Monica Suma

Despite the vast wilderness, convenient items can be found inside the wall tents – a large canister of drinkable water, two comfortable camp beds, two sleeping bags, Navajo blankets, books and even theme board games. To set the décor, two large candlelights added the finishing touch. Outside each tent there was a large bucket filled with water, to make up for the lack of running water.

The morning after, we noticed a pastoral wooden veranda, which included a fireplace and basic tools to grill meat and vegetables. We skipped the Navajo porridge breakfast offered to us, but we were grateful for the quick breakfast to go – coffee and a generous basket with fresh fruit – that our host brought over.

Photo Credit: Monica Suma
Photo Credit: Monica Suma

Two nights later, we learnt more. More than a unique, off the grid glamping experience, Shash Dine’ hosts voluntourists and workawayers, in what has recently become an increasingly popular concept – the so-called working vacations. Volunteers from all over the world are welcome to stay on property, free of charge, as long as they pay for their own meals and transportation.

The self-sustaining ranch and bed & breakfast is in constant need of extra helping hands for farming, building earth structures and tending to animals, as well as assistance with projects such as teaching and language practice. While experiencing life on the Reservation, volunteers can also participate in the educational workshops provided, geared towards permaculture, natural building and Navajo culture.

We met one such volunteer the morning we left; she seemed content. And why wouldn’t she be? Free to explore nearby monumental sites nature created – Lake Powell, the jaw dropping Antelope Canyon and the awe inspiring Horseshoe Bend being some of the closest ones – Navajo Nation comes with many lessons to be learnt, and discovered.

Note: This April, Paul and Baya Meehan are starting construction on a cob Hogan to welcome guests in, in the hopes of educating visitors to northern Arizona, most of which are unfamiliar with Navajo culture. A crowd funding campaign has been set up for all those who wish to support.

Rolling Huts Review

I didn’t know “quiet” was a sound until I stayed at Rolling Huts. Set deep in Washington State’s backcountry where the Cascades tumble into the Methow Valley, a herd of six huts graze in an open meadow.

As a city-slicker who relishes in outdoorsy weekends, the Olson Kundig Architects-designed Rolling Huts have become one of my go-to glamping muses. They bring an industrial-chic aesthetic you might expect to see in a billionaire’s home to the countryside. Think: Basic-yet-bright bungalows built as a contemporary alternative to camping.


High on functionality and design, and low on frills, the modular masterpieces—so fetching they could grace the cover of Architectural Digest—feature a minimalist interior with a cozy sleeping section, as well as a main room flanked by an outdoor deck and a basic food prep nook. Here, a set of building block-style moveable seats also double as an extra sleeping platform for kids or friends.

The creative placement of the herd’s personal bathrooms and water source is where Rolling Huts’ glamping grade goes from A to A+. In an effort to maintain a low environmental impact, each hut has a private outhouse accessible via the deck. As for where to find the Cascades’ glacier water? Well, it wells up from the land in a faucet at the base of each unit. (Clean freaks don’t fret: If you crave a little more pampering, like me, a main bathhouse with sinks and showers is a short stroll away.)

Wanting a taste of Washington’s most progressive glampers, I visited in the summer with my husband and our four-legged fur-child. Totally enamoured with every detail of the mod campers, we spent a lot of time photographing every steel and plywood detail pretending we were in-demand photographers on “a shoot” for a magazine.


Despite the basic kitchens, we ate in every evening. Nightfall was too beautiful to leave as the alpenglow-effect turned the distant mountains a shade of pink—a spectacle we watched from our balcony while drinking Pacific Northwest wine.

In the morning we worked off our vino biking along part of the region’s impressive 120-mile trail system to breakfast at The Mazama Store. Offering a grocery bag full of organic goods, gifts, espresso, wine, and fresh-baked goodies, I will never forget their strawberry scones topped in coarse sugar. Due to these scones, biking to and from the store became part of our morning commute, which we also used as an opportunity to pick up food for the rest of the day including local cheeses and fresh-baked sel de mer baguettes.

Back at “the ranch” over wine, cheese, baguettes, and the quietness of the Methow Valley, we started planning our return—one visit only whet our palate for more—this time in the winter to cross-country ski along the same trails by day, and retreat into our personal warming hut by night.
Insider Information

– If you like a cushy mattress bring extra padding for the foamy provided in each hut. You’ll need sheets and a duvet, too.
– Along with a bar fridge, microwave, and coffee maker, basic kitchenware is provided. If you want to take your meal into Michelin territory, bring tongs, a cheese grater, and wine glasses.
– There is a central barbecue area for cookouts. If you don’t feel like cooking, find a restaurant onsite.
– Several hundred feet beyond the huts, the same property also features 15 safari-style canvas tents in case you crave a more rustic form of glamping.

Glamping Review: Grootberg Lodge, Damaraland, Namibia

I had been told that the view from the award-winning Grootberg Lodge was spectacular, but when I got there it wasn’t. Granted, I arrived there in the dark of night after a dusk drive up Namibia’s Skeleton Coast — part of a custom itinerary organized for me by CW Safaris — and the non-descript patches of nature that I could make out in the near distance were only made visible from the short, confined beam of a flashlight.


However, even without the view of the Klip River Valley yet visible, I was already impressed with this lodge on the edge of the Etendeka Plateau — particularly with its story. Unlike many safari lodges in Africa, Grootberg Lodge has been operated by the local community for almost two decades now, with over 95% of the staff coming from rural villages. This is part of the efforts of the ≠Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy, unifying two thousand local community members who not only operate the lodge and prepare the meals, but run the education and conservation programs to protect the region’s wildlife.


With that said, some members of the conservancy know a thing about animals, especially the desert elephants of their Damaraland wilderness — in fact, “≠Khoadi //Hoas” in the local language of Khoekhoegowab translates to “elephant’s corner.” (The punctuation marks denote different click sounds.) Grootberg Lodge offers elephant tracking excursions for you to encounter them — with the caveat that there’s no guarantee of any actual sightings. Desert elephants are elusive after all.


On the morning I set out to find one of the trunked beasts, I didn’t set my expectations too high. The group that had gone out the day before hadn’t encountered any pachyderm, even after a long day of searching. Driving around in a Land Cruiser, my guide looked for clues in the wild — footprints, the freshness of dung, and impressions in the shrub and trees — just as the guide did the day before without any luck. For a couple of hours, we drove around the desert, shrubs, and thickets — two hours seemed like an eternity without a sighting — until, around a bend, stood an old lone bull munching on a tree.


Being only several yards away from him was a thrill, but my guide suspected he wasn’t alone and assured me that others had to be nearby. With a little more driving, we encountered the rest of the herd: young elephants, mothers with their babies, all getting in their morning routine and making their way across a valley. Driving in slowly and cautiously, we had quite an intimate experience with the herd from the safety inside our vehicle. In fact, a few curious elephants curled their trunks on our antenna, trying to play with a big, unusual metal creature.


Close encounters weren’t exclusively animal affairs in Damaraland. For me, nothing could have been more intimate than watching an old tribal elder woman in a hut, “bathing” herself in incense. However, this was not an act of perverted voyeurism; it was part of another excursion you can arrange from the Grootberg Lodge, where guides bring guests to see how one of the few remaining traditional tribes around live: the Himbas. The incense, along with otjize — a natural all-body ointment made with ochre and butterfat — keep the tribespeople clean while protecting them from mosquitoes and the sun.


Because of their nomadic behavior, the Himbas’ aren’t always in the same place, but fortunately venturing to them in a gas-powered vehicle can get you to wherever they relocated on foot. When stationary, the tribal community maintains their traditions: cattle farming, building shelters from mud and cattle dung, and their traditional attire and dance. The Himbas I visited performed their traditional dance for our group, which was like a Soul Train dance off. From my observations, the women dominated.


With these tribal visits and tracking excursions for elephants — or rhinos if you wish — you’d think there was plenty enough for me to be impressed with at the Grootberg Lodge. However, back at base, when I gazed out from the veranda of my solar-powered hut with a comfortable bed, nothing beat the view of the Klip River Valley — that is, when it was finally illuminated by the sun. With a poolside view like that, it almost made me forget that there were excursions available.