Some come because they loved slopping around in mud puddles as children but their parents forbade it. Others claim that soaking in mud--or painting it on their bodies and then baking in the sun--is a wondrous, all-around folk remedy: chicken soup for the outside of the body.
Still others (particularly young women who can be seen scrubbing dirt off their faces and asking friends, "Am I beautiful yet?") consider mud a cosmetic: mother nature's answer to autumn-leaf skin and summer-straw hair.
Then there are the enthusiasts who come for the fun and idiocy that mud bathing can inspire. (At some spas, mud bathing is communal and but one slippery step away from mud wrestling.)
And, of course, there are people who take their mud seriously: Connoisseurs who know their Dead Sea goo from their Arizona red clay gunk. Status-conscious jet setters who point out that you need a physician's prescription before you can get a mud bath in several European countries.
There are even mud lovers who get down and dirty--literally--for spiritual advantages. These practitioners feel that their ritual, like any intense contact with nature, is good for the soul. Just the ticket to restore peace and calm to those who've had too much concrete lately.
Whatever the reasons for indulging in it, Southern California's mud season is in full swing. Or full fling, as the case may be.
There are two prime Southern California locations for full-body mud bathing, both in Riverside County and that part of the state known as the Inland Empire: Murietta Hot Springs ("The Peaceful Place") in Murietta and Glen Ivy Hot Springs ("Club Mud"), about 30 miles to the north in Corona.
As you might suspect from the nicknames, the two spas could hardly be more different in their approaches to mud. At Club Mud, mud bathing is a party. At the Peaceful Place, it's more like a religious experience.
Glen Ivy's "Club Mud" offers mud baths free with general admission ($12.50 on weekends, $9.75 during the week). Most of the laughter at this place can be heard emanating from the spa's big mud puddle, actually a concrete pool filled thigh-deep with water and outfitted with a bird-bath-like receptacle of clay at the center.
The idea here is to slip on a swimsuit, step into the pool, grab some clay, and smear it on your body or someone else's. Writhing around like a wart hog is optional. So are creating gigantic clay noses and sculpting devil horns, which can be spotted occasionally in the spring but reportedly increase toward the end of summer. (Last year, in recognition of the artistic talent of Glen Ivy's regulars, a clay mask competition was held on Halloween.)
After mud has been applied to the body, bathers stretch out on chaise longues for the sun-baking of the clay, which is mined from nearby Temescal Canyon to the tune of 20 to 30 tons a year. When it's dry, the loosest clay is brushed off the body with the hands, and what remains is then soaked off in the pool and rinsed off under outdoor showers.
A cautionary note for those who still think mud bathing is glamorous: Mud stinks. That is, if it's prepared correctly.
Flavored With Mineral Water
The odor of properly presented mud is not that of rich potting soil, which experienced gardeners consider to be as fragrant as night-blooming jasmine. No, mud that's intended to be slathered all over the body--at least in Southern California--is flavored with mineral water full of sulfur from underground hot springs.
To most people's way of smelling, this produces a scent as pleasant as that of curdled milk. But, according to veteran mud bathers, the smell of sulfur-laced mud is one to which noses swiftly become accustomed and usually manage to overlook.
While there is no exact count on how many people come for Glen Ivy's mud baths (the spa also offers swimming facilities, massages and other treatments), the number of guests is increasing. Dramatically.
By general manager Mike Baim's estimate, about 70,000 people visited Glen Ivy in 1985, up 20,000 over 1984. Baim expects this year's attendance, however, to be about the same as last year's, chiefly because prices were raised recently. Even so, a typical mud season (April through October) weekend, draws about 300 to 500 visitors a day, Baim said, but crowds of 800 are not unusual on holidays at this spa with no overnight accommodations.
As Dr. Carole Hurray, a San Diego-based family practitioner who was enjoying a mud bath with friends on a recent weekend at Glen Ivy, described the experience: "It's like being a kid again. You lose all of your inhibitions."
What did the doctor think of the reputed health benefits associated with mud?
"Just relaxing is healthy," she said, as she lounged in the sun, allowing the mud to dry on her skin while she deftly avoided the issue. "This sure beats having a mud pack facial."