Purple Sage Ranch is about half a mile from the spa's main 400-acre grounds. Although suburban sprawl is intruding on the local landscape, the area still has an austere Sonoran desert beauty. A covey of quail tip-toed through the paddocks during our Experience; a couple of days later, a clan of javelinas nosed around the agave plants by our room.

Desert birds fluttered about the mesquite trees that shaded the pathways between buildings.

The place has a restorative calm. Cellphones are forbidden in most public areas; there's no piped-in music. Many classes are held outdoors; for one late-morning Chi Gong session, we gathered on a patio where we made slow, reaching movements toward the Santa Catalinas, the spa's monumental, 9,000-foot backdrop.

Miraval's 117 rooms are grouped in six clusters of desert-toned casitas. There are three pools, various exercise rooms and indoor and outdoor spas. The Catalina Center features meeting rooms, the Brave Bull Lounge (care for a prickly pear Lemon Drop martini?) and a dining hall.

We were here in mid-winter, when daytime temperatures were routinely in the 70s, and the outdoor patio was packed at lunchtime. This was our third adventure spa, and the menus here were uncategorically the best.

There's spa food, and then there's corn-bread-stuffed quail and smoked wild salmon carpaccio. A wine list came with dinner. Jody later complained, "Who goes to a spa and gains weight?"

The final part of our Equine Experience was in a tent-covered round corral. The idea was to make a horse mind just by using body language. Star of the show? Elvis, of course.

Knowlton began her demonstration by walking toward him. As she did, Elvis started to walk around the perimeter of the corral. Then she made him reverse course. She carried a 5-foot whip but never waved it around or touched him with it. Finally, she stopped and Elvis, right on cue, did too.

"Wow, that's amazing," said somebody in the group, speaking for all of us.

All except the Ringer. When it was Jody's turn, she put aside the whip and put Elvis through his paces unaided. Walk, trot, canter, gallop.

Clockwise, counterclockwise, clockwise again. She stopped; Elvis stopped. When she was done, she stood in the center of the corral with her back to him. Elvis walked up to her and nuzzled her neck. Magic.

"Not really," she told me later. "It's just basic round pen work. But that said, making a horse do your bidding empowers people. That's why therapeutic riding programs work."

It's doubtful that the Ringer gained self-esteem from the Experience, but others were energized by their encounter with Elvis. "He was so beautiful," said 43-year-old Debbie Wolpov from New Jersey, sounding like a groupie. "He just spoke to you; he was inviting."

Cawley called it "euphoric." "It's completely changed my outlook on horses," she said. "To be able to not have that fear is a really cool thing."

And me? Well, I don't know if I discovered my authentic self that afternoon, but I did work up an appetite for grass-fed sirloin carne asada that night.

travel@latimes.com