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by Erika Lenkert

Drag Yourself Through the Mud

The Scoop On Calistoga's Famed Mud Baths

To me experience is one of life's greatest riches. For this reason I usually am, in the words of Samantha on "Sex & The City," a trysexual. I'll try almost anything once. However, my adventures are not so much about games we play in the sack. They are out in the world, be it jumping off of a 40-foot cliff into a swimming hole on Maui, dining by candlelight on grilled forest rodent in Guatemala, or shimmying into a mud bath at Dr. Wilkinson's Resort in Napa Valley's northern town of Calistoga. For the exploratory Northern California wine country visitor the latter is certainly the easiest and least intimidating activity that can take you outside of your comfort zone and add currency to your memory bank.

I discovered this firsthand a few years ago while entertaining a girlfriend visiting from New York City. Neither of us had partaken in mud baths before so we made reservations at Dr. Wilkinson's, which has been muddying people up since 1952, and embarked on our spa journey without the slightest idea what to expect.

Upon arrival we were greeted by staff, given instructions to strip down and store our personal items, and escorted to a communal room with a line of big concrete tubs of mud, showers, and semi-private massage rooms.

After a brief opening of the pores in a petite old steam room followed by a shower we were escorted by staff to side-by-side tubs loaded to the rims with thick, black mud. The adventure began as I attempted to lower myself into it.

I expected the wet dirt to be dense and gooey, like a giant vat of the stuff we girls use for facemasks and imagined that when I stepped into it my body would sink. But boy was I wrong. Calistoga's famed mud is a restorative blend of volcanic ash, which cleanses and smoothes skin, naturally mineralized hot springs water, which heats everything up, and Canadian peat, which makes the concoction thicker and chunkier than a big bowl of turkey chili. Rather than sleekly settle down to the bottom of the tub I had to gently force my limbs and trunk into the gritty goo and even then my body was suspended halfway between here and there. I felt like a floating magician's assistant.

With cucumbers over our eyes, heads resting at the end of the tub, and a facemask coating the only skin that was not submerged in Calistoga's black gold, my friend and I giggled at each other like schoolgirls.

But once settled, the experience was relaxing. The staff cooled our foreheads with cold compresses and refilled water cups accompanied by bending straws. They let us linger until we were good and pruned, helped us shower away the mud, and finished a fantastic, if curious, spa adventure with an hour-long massage.

At the end of the day my skin did feel smoother and my body was more relaxed, but the best part of the experience was the creepy-fun mud. It's a definite must-do for any Wine Country adventurer.

Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs
1507 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga

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