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Calistoga Mud Bath, Indian Springs Resort
(Photo: Indian Springs)

A Calistoga Mud Bath: Like Being Buried Alive, but Good

The first thud of heavy, wet dirt lands on my leg. The second, and then the third come in close succession. Soon, I’ve lost sight of most of my body. My limbs feel the weight of the mud on top of me. I try to remember to breathe, and some part of me expects to wake up from the fringes of a nightmare at any second. But this is no nightmare, this is a Calistoga mud bath—a spa experience with a reputation for softening the skin, detoxing the body, and calming the mind. Now, if I can just convince my mind that there’s nothing weird about being buried in mud up to the neck for leisure, I could get started on that relaxation.

What to Expect at a Calistoga Mud Bath

I’ve come to Indian Springs Resort for the Calistoga mud bath, the signature spa treatment that’s been drawing visitors to this mecca of healing waters atop Napa Valley for decades.

While the spa’s front desk and locker room are recognizable to any spa goer—think peaceful music and soft robes—by the time I wind my way through the building to the mud room, I’ve entered another century, a time when health was a rigorous rather than relaxing pursuit.

I’m asked to disrobe and then escorted to a large cement tub full of steaming mud. The “mud attendant” coaches me through my approach: “Put your right arm across and swing your legs out straight.” One body part at a time, I sink into the jiggly sludge. Then the attendant gets to work, piling the heavy, sticky, hot mud on top of me (bathing suits are allowed, but to reap the full benefits, you don’t want anything between you and that magic mud).

Sound a bit claustrophobic? It can be. On a scale of one to 10, my personal claustrophobia is a four—discernible but manageable as long as I tend to it diligently. It takes me about three minutes of looking around the room, noticing a second attendant carefully preparing the bath next to me, to allow myself to get used to the weight of a heavy blanket of mud on my body and calm down.

Initially, I had said ‘yes’ to also covering my hands with mud, but I realize it feels too much like being buried alive. I wiggle my hands free and feel significantly better.

After a few minutes, I begin to realize that I’m quite … comfortable. A small inflatable pillow cushions my head. The mud, a combination of hot geyser water, volcanic ash, and mud that Indian Springs digs up on its property, envelops me in its warmth.

After lying still under this blanket of mud for about 10 minutes, the attendant returns to dig me out, scraping off three inches of mud and helping me up. I rinse off and then sink into an antique clawfoot tub filled to the brim with hot mineral water. Here I soak, drink ice water, and pass the time scraping the mud from beneath my fingernails with a stick provided.

Eventually I’m escorted to a quiet room where I recline on a soft surface to cool down from this double whammy of hot mud and hot mineral water. And when I awake from a short nap, I feel refreshed, relaxed, and a Calistoga mud bath convert. I’m ready to do the whole weird, cool, and surprisingly relaxing treatment again. Just, you know, not right away.

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Christine Sarkis spent the night in Calistoga courtesy of the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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