Green retreat

In Taos, New Mexico, Tom Worrell's El Monte Sagrado resort offers luxury with a social conscience

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Biolarium notwithstanding, don't call El Monte Sagrado an eco-resort, at least not in Worrell's hearing. "I try to avoid that word," he says. "It makes people think of granola and dirt and hippies and giving things up. I want to show that you can conserve resources, respect the Earth, and still live very, very well."

Certainly no one staying at El Monte Sagrado will experience grubbiness or want. Even the most modest rooms are large and stylish. The resort hired a designer and local artists to decorate every room, resulting in what's almost a stage set, particularly in the most expensive two-bedroom suites. The Argentina Suite has massive leather furniture and handmade tiles; the China Suite, seductive crimson walls; and the Kama Sutra Suite, a wooden bed elaborately carved with its eponym.

This level of luxury is by its nature elitist, available only to a wealthy few. Is that any way to spread a message of environmental activism?

Absolutely, Worrell insists. A self-made millionaire (thanks to a publishing empire of regional newspapers that he sold in 1995, in part to finance the building of El Monte Sagrado), he says it's "only by reaching the decision makers, the people with real influence" that environmentalism can have an impact. So El Monte Sagrado has played host to a United Nations delegation. It has set up tours of its water-reclamation system for top Japanese architects. It has massaged the egos and the lower-back muscles of movie stars and financiers.

The approach is working, Worrell believes. Dharma Living Designs Group, which he also owns, is installing natural water purification and energy conservation systems in buildings in Florida, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, and Dallas. The Dharma Living Designs Group website gets more than 70,000 hits every month.

But it's in the mindset of quietly powerful visitors to El Monte Sagrado that Worrell expects to have lasting impact. "What I hope is that some of the people who stay with us will decide that their company's next office building should reuse gray water and storm runoff," he says. "That's my idea of success. We change the minds that can change the world."

Info:  El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa (from $325 a night, spa treatments from $115; 317 Kit Carson Rd., Taos, NM; 800/828-8267)

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