Let's Talk Mud

I arrived in Calistoga on a hot and sunny Spring afternoon.  It had been more than a decade since my last visit to Dr. Wilkinson’s - one of my first spa experiences, and probably the one that shocked and intrigued me the most.  

I drove towards the tall neon sign that read ‘Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Mud Baths’ at the end of Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga’s main thoroughfare. I parked my car and walked into the motel lobby where I was greeted by Mark Wilkinson himself.  Mark’s parents founded Dr. Wilkinson’s over 60 years ago when his father’s interest in alternative medicine lead him to the charming Wine Country town of Calistoga, known for its natural mineral springs. 

The iconic motel-style resort has been updated through the years, but Mark and sister Carolynne made sure to stay true to their parents’ vision.  Common areas include two outdoor mineral pools, an indoor jet pool, and several lounge spots. Guest rooms are immaculate and reminiscent of times passed with retro touches and historic photographs of the baths adorning the walls. Mark walked me up to a second floor room as he explained the benefits of mineral spring water, various pool temperatures and gave me an overview of the place’s history.  He asked me if I’d been to the bath house before and explained that it’s not what most people expect - I knew exactly what he meant. 

Picture a room with cement floors and cinder block walls.  In the center, two tile tubs full of clumpy mud – a mixture concocted by ‘Doc’ that contains mineralized hot spring water, volcanic ash, and Canadian peat moss. Maybe not the most visually appealing for some, but definitely the most natural, effective, detoxifying experience I’ve had. The warmth of mineral spring water, cleansing effects of volcanic ash, and buoyancy of peat moss, create a mixture that relaxes and heals. I opted for the bathhouse’s signature treatment – The Works. 

Dr. John Wilkinson
Standing next to one of two tubs, I carefully sat on its ledge and then slowly slid in.  I found myself laying atop the mud, not sinking at all.  An attendant began applying handfuls of mud until I was completely covered, my head resting on a wooden board. Once I settled in, it was as if I was suspended in mid-mud, neither sinking nor floating to the top, and all my tension quickly dissipated. A mask and cucumber slices were applied, and a spritz of aromatherapy spray masked the scent of the warm mud mixture, which was now not nearly as potent as it was when I first walked in.

I lay there for ten minutes and let the mud work its magic, then slowly stood and climbed out of the tub to a shower stall where I rinsed off (and admittedly found mud in the strangest of places). I was guided to a white porcelain tub, one of many that line a wall in the main room.  I climbed in and the relaxation continued as warm mineral water bubbled, massaged, and rejuvenated my entire being. 

Laying there, sipping on cold citrus water as my body temperature returned to normal, I felt cleansed.
I moved on to the steam room and then to a private relaxation room where I was wrapped in a soft cotton sheet and left to doze.  I was awoken by Nicole, my massage therapist, who after a brief consultation mesmerized me with her fusion of deep tissue and therapeutic massage techniques.

Taking a moment to reflect after my treatment ended, I realized that Dr. Wilkinson’s was just as I had remembered it, only this time, it was so much better.  I was a novice when I first visited over ten years ago, and now, having visited a spa or two, I could fully appreciate the natural, simple relaxation that Dr. Wilkinson’s is all about.

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