The end of an era for Grand Canyon Eco Retreat

This is a difficult letter to have to write, but a necessary one. Honesty and transparency in all parts of life are important values of ours, and we have tried to share both the ups and the downs with you, our amazing supportive community, all along the way!

We know that many of you have been waiting for an update on our home-base, Grand Canyon Eco Retreat, and the return of Arizona retreats, for quite awhile. So, I won’t beat around the bush too much.

In May 2019 we bought 10 acres of undeveloped land near family in Arizona, with a just-barely-enough loan from a family member. We started building our vision immediately – with finding someone to dig us a driveway so we could even get our vehicle onto the property being the first obstacle! Our vision was sober yoga retreats and glamping (glamorous camping), and we had already tested out the glamping concept with one giant bell tent and an off-grid bathroom on someone else’s property. We came from years in the hospitality industry, travel experiences around the globe, and multiple past electrician/builder gigs. Basically, we had the hands-on skills and the knowledge of what travelers wanted.

We were in a “General” zoning area within Coconino County and checked the Planning and Zoning Code thoroughly to figure out what we could legally build and have on the land. Everything we built from the ground up was legal, including platforms for furnished bell tents, an off-grid composting bathroom with on-demand hot-water showers, the yoga deck, and the adorable custom-designed A-frame cabin.

I remember the first week of rushing to get the first tent platform done and the tent furnished and connected to solar power on the same day our first Airbnb guests arrived. We had generous friends helping and the manual labor in the June sunshine was tough, but it felt right, aligned. Like a dharma, a calling. This place felt blessed to us from the start. We finished less than an hour before an adorable family from Phoenix showed up. They loved the place, and their kids voluntarily lined up rocks alongside the trail ascending to their bell tent.

The rustic yoga deck with its stunning view was also finished the week of our first of many yoga retreats here. Half my brother’s pinkie was sacrificed in cutting a board for the A-frame (TMI, sorry, just please be careful with power tools). Blood, sweat, tears, prayers, dollars, heartache, and JOY went into building this place.

And it worked.

In 2020 we were busier than ever with Hipcamp and Airbnb guests because no one trusted hotels and people needed a safe, spacious place to relax during the pandemic.

In 2021 we won Best Hipcamp in Arizona and were featured in Outside Magazine. People started to notice, and copy us (we took it as a compliment). My in-laws, who previously said, “No one wants to stay in a tent on vacation,” were getting paid to clean for us when we were too busy.

We started hosting more yoga retreats, added guided hiking at the Grand Canyon, hired an intern (shoutout Sydney!) and built a sauna and Mongolian yurt. Our signature yoga and hiking retreat was so popular it sold out months in advance.

We kept things safe and ran a tight ship — no campfires in high-risk fire season, no partying, etc. This is a serene place to unplug and feel nurtured by nature, as many of you have experienced. We began building our own tiny house here as well, as we had finally saved enough money to do that, after years of living in our Sprinter van.

In late 2023, Coconino County began “cracking down” on places such as ours. They created a new permit requirement, which had never existed before, and delivered us this news by barging onto our land and aggressively getting in Zach’s face. There was no option for getting “grandfathered in” to the permit, after already existing peacefully and successfully for so many years. We were abruptly told to shut down until we got this permit, hence the reason we haven’t been able to plan or host Arizona retreats at home this year.

Since then, we have been working on our application, having meetings with the county, with neighbors, with the local fire department, discussing our five seasons of experience doing this, any changes they would like us to make, safety, neighbors’ concerns, etc. We reminded our neighbors that we are a sober, responsible, experienced couple hosting peaceful retreats and that they haven’t even noticed our existence over the last five years.

We finally finished our application, paid a $1400 filing fee, and had our permit hearing with the county commissioners last week.🤞🏻

We were denied. 😭

The reasons we were denied were illegitimate and political, in our perspective. Several neighbors (who haven’t noticed we existed for the last 5 years) raised concerns about traffic, trash, fire, etc, all of which our application thoroughly addressed, and the County Commissioners for some reason jumped over to their side, without referring to our thorough application at all. Another entrepreneur who had the same thing happen to her recently was told flat-out, “We aren’t giving these permits to individuals or small businesses, only to corporations.” And that definitely seems to be true, since a same-sized copycat REI campground nearby was just approved with no issues.

We have been told that to appeal would be a pointless expense by a representative of the county. It is too bad that they claim to support small business, sustainability, and creativity, when in practice they absolutely do not. And so we have lost the majority of our income, like that, in the blink of an eye, for terrible reasons. So, is this truly a free country?

The point of this email is to be transparent and to inform those curious about this sacred place. We are still here, and you are still welcome to come visit us anytime. Grand Canyon Eco Retreat, as a business, is for now, done. We are open to suggestions and ideas but most likely have already thought of most of them ourselves. We have always seen this place as a stepping stone on the path to wherever is next, but having the choice taken away from us feels violating and unfair.

Honesty and authenticity are parts of yoga and thus we always want those who care to know the real story. We are not sharing this for sympathy, but rather because we know this magical place has had an impact on so many of your lives, as it has on ours, over the years. We hope that we have created inspiration and sparked imagination, no matter if you’ve stayed here or only seen pictures on Instagram.

Of course I get all up in my head with questions and doubts now, things like, “Was this a dumb move to even start this in the first place? Should we have seen this coming?” But even so I don’t think I have any regrets. One thing about Zach and me — we’re never afraid to leap and try something and learn as we go. And we have learned loads, and grown older, and changed, and burned ourselves out, and recovered, and healed, and loved this land and all the transformations witnessed here. In the early days of the pandemic when things were uncertain, I wrote, “Whatever happens, we have been lucky to live here, amongst the trees and underneath the starry sky.” That is still true.

I have gratitude and anger at the same time. I feel immense frustration and powerlessness yet also trust that this will all turn out for the greatest good. Opposite feelings can exist at once, and toxic positivity doesn’t do anyone any good. For now, we are allowing ourselves time to let all the emotions wash over us. The end of this chapter feels confusing, and too soon, but we can still look to the golden light peeking over the mountains every time the sun rises.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

If you are worried, please know that we will be okay. We always are. This is not a plea for charity or donations. We would much rather you support us by buying something we’ve created for you. Here are some ideas for win-win ways you can show your support:

Sign up for online yoga with Carrie – even if you aren’t going to use the videos, ha! This is a sustainable way to support us by choosing your sliding scale monthly fee between $15-25 per month.

New BLA t-shirts and tank tops were recently created – $35 includes shipping

Now “Limited Edition” Grand Canyon Eco Retreat hoodies & t-shirts – hoodies have all sizes available, t-shirts are down to just L and XL.

Pre-order Zach’s cookbook for only $35 including shipping!

Book an online Ayurvedic wellness consultation with Carrie

For $FREE.99 you can join our new, exciting Facebook Group where we’ll be sharing special tips and an occasional retreat discount!

And of course, signing up for a retreat helps us immensely! Grand Canyon Eco Retreat is a huge part of the reason we have been able to keep prices for Bigger Life Adventures retreats so low. We will do our best in the future to keep things as affordable as possible. Right now, we are already booking mostly 2025 trips. Early-bird pricing for the Yucatán trips ends on June 30! Supporting these trips specifically helps us a lot!

Thank you thank you thank you, and please reach out as always with any questions. Om shanti, and in closing, a beautiful video we never even got a chance to share:

Grand Canyon Eco Retreat from Leslie Allred Films on Vimeo.