Friday, September 18, 2009

A Tub of Mud

Just before sunrise in Calistoga, CA
September 15, 2009

From the moment we turned onto historic Lincoln Avenue (Calistoga's Main Street), I knew we were going to have a wonderful trip. Surprisingly, it turned out to be our last day, September 15, 2009, the day I woke before sunrise that was the best day of all.

Combine Lincoln Avenue's charm of yesteryear with Indian Springs and its simple white cottages, croquet, and shuffle board courts and you will soon feel transported back in time. This is precisely what happened to us.

After being lost in the past for a couple of days, we left our room and strolled along the palm tree lined drive toward the large white California mission style spa building. We scheduled mud baths and 1/2 massages and then walked across the drive to lounge in the giant geyser-fed Mineral Pool and enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains. The Mineral Pool is kept at a temperature of about 90 degrees and is one of the best parts of the resort.

The reason the place feels so nostalgic is because it's been around
close to forever and has quite a history. The original spa, mud baths, and water plunge (now the Olympic-size Mineral Pool) were built on the property in 1861. Also noteworthy, Leland Stanford purchased the resort in 1880 with the intent of locating Stanford University on the property (he obviously changed his mind).

So let's get to the good part, the tub of mud. I was originally a bit skeptical about immersing myself in mud. Chris was intrigued enough for both of us. This is often our story. I'm lucky to have him around, gently nudging me into the great unknown.

We begin our experience in the spa lobby. After a very short wait, my name is called. I wave goodbye to Chris, and I, along with another guest whose name has been called, follow a pleasant attendant back to a quiet white room. She hands us our locker keys and explains next steps while my eyes wander over to the beautiful bowl of fresh orange slices, the lemon & cucumber water, and a wooden crate filled with bright white hand towels tightly rolled and arranged perfectly. I undress and wrap myself in a green & white seersucker robe
(love the robe!) and slip into my spa sandals. I eat a juicy orange slice, rinse the sweet stickiness off of my hands, dry them on one of the neatly rolled towels, and relax for a bit on a cushioned bench. I lean back against the wall and exhale with a quiet and comfortable sigh. It is a peaceful place.

Soon a new attendant greets me and the woman from the lobby
(it seems the spa has guests travel in twos) and guides us to the mud room. The mud room is all-business. Concrete tubs filled with shiny black mud (volcanic ash mixed with mineral water), exposed pipes, industrial faucets. The room is functional and solid as a rock. We are asked to get wet beneath a shower head and are then given directions to enter our tubs by yet another attendant sit down on the edge of the tub, place your left hand... Soon I am suspended in mud. It's amazing, really. I don't sink at all. I float on top. The attendant pushes mud onto all parts of my body that weren't covered during my entry and asks if I'd like mud on my face. I say I don't know, do I want mud on my face? She says Oh, yes. It is very good for your skin. It will make you beautiful. So of course I say yes. I'm told I'll be resting in my mud for 12-15 minutes.

My body heats up and my mind drifts into a dreamlike state. I keep looking above my tub at the three dimensional representation of some sort of goddess-like figure, just a head. A woman with long flowing brown hair decorated with apples, or perhaps peaches. She looks down at me. I can not wait to ask who she is. I'm starting to feel a little lightheaded when an attendant begins stirring the mud in the tub beside my tub with a giant pitchfork
(or was I really lightheaded?). I wiggle my fingers and toes and begin looking out the open window high above me, palm fronds blowing in the breeze, trying to cool myself down. I squish the mud between my fingers and try to think of words that accurately describe the texture. Dark chocolate pot de creme mixed with finely ground almonds. It was hot... I start getting that heartbeat feeling throughout my body, you know, when it feels like your entire body is a beating heart. Luckily the attendant returns and asks if I'd like to stay for a few more minutes or get out. I look over at my Swedish traveling companion (I later learned she was Swedish) and she doesn't look like a beating heart. She looks completely content, the picture of serenity. Grudgingly I say Yes, I'm ready and the attendant carefully removes my top layer of mud and helps me out of the tub. I rest on the edge and she asks if I'm okay, several times. I say I'm okay, but I actually feel a little woozy. She sees through me and we wait a bit before she helps me rinse off beneath a cool shower.

Next, a new attendant and another white room. This room has two claw foot tubs
(white) filled to the brim with lukewarm mineral water. Each tub has a tray with a cup of drinking water & straw and an orange stick for removing any residual mud from beneath our nails. I later learned that the men had pumice stones, but no straws in their cups. I was a bit jealous about the pumice stone, but a straw is very helpful when reclining in a tub. I drink a lot of water during this stage, probably 4-5 cups of water. I keep drinking and my attendant keeps returning at the perfect moment to refill my cup. It is nice. No ladies with apples in their hair in this room, but it is peaceful and I cool down.

Once I am nice and cool it is time for a steam. I am handed a towel to sit upon and a cool washcloth for my face. I heat up again in the lavender and eucalyptus scented steam room and then it is time to cool down, again. I see a pattern emerging. I exit the steam room and am told to lift my arms. I am wrapped in a layer of cool soft flannel and taken down a hall to a small quiet room, shown where my seersucker robe is hanging in the corner, and told to lie down and rest on what is best described as a simple daybed. The attendant places a cold cucumber slice over each of my eyes and covers the cucumbers with a cool washcloth. Soft music plays, a gentle breeze blows, and I doze off.

I awaken to a kind massage therapist removing my cucumbers and telling me she'll meet me in the hall. She points to my robe (perhaps she thinks I'm so sleepy I'll wander into the hall nude). I follow her through what seems to be a maze of white and then outside to a small hut near the coveted Buddha Pond.

After a 30 minute massage I am told I can do whatever I want to do, go back inside, visit the Buddha Pond, return to the Mineral Pool. I decide on the pond and find that Chris has made the same choice. We sit side by side, drink fancy water, and watch the dragon flies dart about above the pond.

It was a complete experience. I glide through the rest of my day, but I never learn about the lady with the apples in her hair.

Thank you Christina & Charlie!

The most beautiful laundromat I've ever seen. Calistoga, CA
September 15, 2009


  1. gorgeous sunset shots and the mud bath sounds heavenly, once you get past the mud part - you know what I mean.....I guess the fact that you're supposed to be in mud?

  2. Your experience sounds so dreamy!!
    Love the photo!

  3. Oh wonderful I would like orange slices and cucumber water nicely folded towels and most of all a mud bath.
    And yes...who was the lady with apples in her hair. Hope you are rested and glowing after your break.

  4. Char- Thank you for your note. They are actually sunRISE shots. I know, I can't believe it either! Waking before sunrise on vacation--what silliness... It was helpful to learn that the "mud" was actually volcanic ash and mineral water. It sounds better, for some reason. I admit to originally being a bit skeptical about the whole "mud" thing, but I'm glad I took the plunge.

    Kat- Thank you. It was kind of fun to be out in the world before sunrise, while most were still snug in their beds.

    Aimee- Thank you. I love the word "divine".

    Rachel- Yes, it was a very likable experience. I seriously need to contact the owner and ask about the lady with apples in her hair. I am intrigued.

  5. What a restful place... Thank you for sharing it with us - I feel relaxed after reading your words. How nice...

    And I love the photos. That laundromat one has a completely surreal quality to it... And is that Wisteria..? How lovely to look at that as the sun rises and the clothes tumble around and around...


  6. Maria- It just might be wisteria. I'll have to return to confirm. Ho hum...back to the mud baths. Poor me.