Taking Calistoga's Muds: Mud Baths are the Quintessential Calistoga experience

If you’ve come to Calistoga for a visit, chances are you’re a spa visitor, looking for a little pampering and relaxation. And there is no more quintessentially Calistoga experience than the local mud baths.

Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa and Resort general manager Deanna Murray offered the Weekender an overview of what it is that makes Calistoga’s mud so special. She herself does a mud bath once a week.

“I like everything about it. It takes the tension out of your muscles that you didn’t even know you had, it exfoliates your skin – it’s a real nurturing feeling,” she said.

Murray admits that sometimes when she looks at a tub full of mud, she thinks to herself: “I’m going to get into that?” But, she says, “Once I’m in it...oh, the tension is gone. It’s like being in the womb, I would imagine.”

Behind the scenes, this is what happens: the spa buys the mud in dry form, and runs it through a filtering process at the back of the resort, to sort out twigs and other unwanted items. Then the dry mud, which is a mixture of peat moss and clay, is stored in big bins.

When it’s time to set up a new bath, the dry mixture is put into the tubs, and then mixed with hot mineral water to a certain consistency. The spa attendant checks the temperature by sticking her arm into the mix and making sure it’s warm to the skin, but not too hot. Coils full of hot mineral water run through the bottom of the tub to keep the temperature even.

The same batch of mud is used for more than one customer – but each time someone is in it, the spa attendant cleanses the mud by flooding it with mineral water, mixing it, and draining it before cooling it down for the next guest.

“That a really intricate part of the process – the cleaning,” said Murray.
Guests stay in the mud for about 12 minutes, relaxing with a cool washcloth on the forehead, and a enjoying a wet facial mask at the same time.

After the mud bath, the guest showers (again using mineral water), and then soaks in a hot mineral pool, sipping lemon water to get rehydrated. The process is then completed with a blanket wrap in a cool, dimly lit room, with cold compresses on the forehead and the back of the neck.

“A lot of people go to sleep because it is so relaxing,” Murray said.

If you’re interested in a massage as well, now is the perfect time. “After a mud bath, all the muscles are soft, so it sets you right up for a massage,” said Murray.

But, there are two schools of thought on that. Murray said that some people like to do the massage first, to break up the toxins in the muscles. Then the mud acts as a poultice drawing the toxins out. “I don’t know which is best. I’ve done it both ways,” Murray said.

Here with that special someone? “We specialize in couples mud baths, for two people in the same room so they can enjoy and laugh and giggle,” Murray said. “We’ll even take your picture in the mud.”

Taking the Mud

I’ve been hearing about mud bath since I arrived in Calistoga two years ago, but hadn’t yet made the time to try it out for myself. Golden Haven Hot Springs offered me a “first-timer’s experience” so I decided to give it a shot.

Jamie Ramirez acted as my spa attendant. First she led me to a private dressing room, where I undressed, placed all of my clothing into a spa carrying bag, and slipped into a Golden Haven robe. I then sat out outside the dressing room on a cushioned bench sipping lemon water until my mud room was ready.

Jamie came to get me within a few minutes. She took the bag with my clothes and led me to a private, tiled room with two mud baths in it.

The room was fairly large, with a bench against the wall, the Mud baths, a large showering area with two shower heads (and chairs to sit down on), and a sunken pool with hot mineral water.

Jamie told me how to get into the mud: sit on the side of the tub, go in feet first, ease the rest of my body in. She told me that it was denser than I expected, and I wouldn’t really sink, so I would have to pull the mud up over my body. Then she left, to give me privacy while entering the tub.

It was quite an unusual sensation. The mud was comfortably warm, but not too hot. As I settled into it, I found that I really was just barely under the surface. I used my hands to cover up my legs, chest and finally my arms, and then was “floating” in warm mud.

Jamie reentered the room, snapped a photo for me, and then applied a facial mask. After putting a cold washcloth on my forehead, she left me to relax. Twice she returned to the room quietly, made sure that I was o.k., and re-applied the washcloth.

Twelve minutes doesn’t sound like very long, but it was enough – because of the heat, I was ready to get out of the mud. Jamie gave me some tips for a graceful exit, and again left the room.

I managed to get out without taking too much of the mud with me, and headed for the shower. By this time, I was definitely relaxed, and a little bit light headed, so the chair in the shower was a welcome feature.

Once I had completely rinsed myself, I walked over to the hot mineral pool, to sit for another ten to 15 minutes. A pitcher of lemon water at the side of the pool helped me stay cool and hydrated, and the big rubber ducky helped keep me entertained.

Once I was out of the pool and back in my robe, Jamie came to bring me to a separate room for the blanket wrap. I slipped in between the fold of a cotton blanket, then she came in and bundled me in a wool blanket. It was an interesting cocooning effect, that was very comforting. The room was dimly lit, and soft music was playing. For the next 20 minutes or so, I rested there, with Jamie periodically changing the cool clothes on my forehead and behind my neck. It was deliciously relaxing, and the perfect way to follow up the Mud baths.

Finally, I was treated to the talented hands of massage therapist Monique Dis for a half hour neck, shoulder and back rub. As Murray noted, some people prefer a massage before the Mud baths, but I can vouch for doing it in this order, too. My muscles were already completely supple and warm, and my skin felt incredibly clean, so moving to touch therapy seemed just the right segue.

With the half-hour massage, my complete treatment lasted about two hours.

Now that I have finally “taken the mud” – I finally understand what everyone has been talking about. It is truly a special Calistoga experience, and one that will leave you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready for the rest of your weekend.

Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa and Resort is located at 1713 Lake St. They are open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome.

Golden Haven Hot Springs, 1713 Lake St. Calistoga. (707) 942-8000. Or check the website, http://www.goldenhaven.com/.

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