Once again there's joy in Mudville. Visitors to Glen Ivy and Murrieta Hot Springs, just off Interstate 15 south of Corona, can slosh around in mud that once was thought fit only for pigs and hippopotamuses.
"The first time we came to Glen Ivy, we were almost afraid of the mud," said Steve Morgan, who brought his family for the day from El Segundo to escape the jet noise of nearby LAX. "We were real conservative putting it on. Now we hate to take it off."
Mined From Clay
This mud isn't your typical garden or barnyard variety, however. At Glen Ivy, otherwise known as "Club Mud" among the regulars, the mud actually is clay mined from nearby Temescal Canyon. Indians first used the clay more than 200 years ago to build primitive saunas, or sweat houses, which were called "temescals."
Michael Baim, the 38-year-old part-owner and vice president of marketing, is up to his ears in the stuff. "We go through a ton of mud every week," Baim said. "Bathers use it to firm and tone the skin and to help release toxins and other impurities in the skin."
Called "nature's poultice" by spa visitors in the 1920s, the mud at Murrieta consists of bentonite clay, peat moss, sea kelp and tule root. The clay supposedly has a drawing effect to firm and tone the skin, while the peat moss holds in the heat to soothe aching muscles and joints.
Good for the Soul
Scientific claims aside, there seems little dispute that wallowing in the mud is good for you psychologically.
In the lush setting at Glen Ivy, which could best be described as "Apocalypse Now," bathers wade thigh-deep in a 25-foot-by-15-foot egg-shaped pool heated by 104-degree mineral water. At the pool's center, they scoop wet clay out of a birdbath-like receptacle and smear and slop it over arms, stomachs, chests, faces and hair, behaving like kids with their first can of Play-Doh.
"I was always the teacher's pet in school," said Doreen Morgan, "so this gives me a chance to misbehave a little."
While Morgan was cavorting in the mud, husband Steve was busy transforming himself from Cyrano de Bergerac (with a long mud nose) into the Elephant Man. The sudden metamorphosis confused one of the younger children in the pool.
"Can he change back?" asked Ryan Crane, a 4-year-old preschooler from La Verne.
Diane Cornelius, a costume designer from San Francisco, came to Glen Ivy at the urging of two friends from Los Angeles: Thom Moran, an account executive with radio station KWVE, and Marco DeCordova, a Beverly Hills hairdresser.
"Hey, look, my ring is turning back to silver," Cornelius said.
Whether silver rings can be restored to their original luster is debatable, but the red clay, by all appearances, can quickly stain white swimming trunks or add a new hue to platinum or blond hair. Nevertheless, Cornelius seemed undaunted.
"I'm looking for a new shade anyway," she said.
After covering their bodies with clay, the mudders repair to lounge chairs on a rose-colored terrace, where they bake their skin to a crimson crust.
"Let's take the pottery class next," Cornelius said, already beginning to feel the clay tightening on her skin.
Catherine Buck, 23, who was spa-hopping with her friend Renee, likened the drawing effect of the mud to a vacuum-seal bag: "I feel as though someone put Saran Wrap on my face and is sucking all the air out."
If the mud at Glen Ivy is a self-serve affair, then the mud at Murrieta Hot Springs, just five miles north of Temecula, is strictly full service. Moreover, the decidedly democratic air that pervades Glen Ivy turns more aristocratic at Murrieta.
Men and women bathe in private rooms in separate wooden-framed bathhouses, with only an attendant nearby to monitor length of time in the mud, calming bath and relaxation room during the 1 1/4-hour session. Swimwear is optional.
Greg Kash, a 26-year-old lawyer in the Navy who was celebrating his first wedding anniversary, balked at slipping into the 3-foot-by-4-foot mud bath. "It looks like quicksand," he said.
After several assurances from Danny Stringfellow, the mud bath supervisor, Kash gradually lowered himself into the murky waters.
Here to Relax
Kash actually was stepping into 36 gallons of dry matter mixed with 140-degree mineral water, which is cooled and aerated to a temperature of 104 degrees.
After a few minutes in the mud, Kash asked whether he should move his arms or legs.
"People always think you're supposed to do something," Stringfellow said. "I let them know they're here to relax.
The average stay in the mud bath is 10 minutes. Those with heartier constitutions may go up to 15 minutes, but any time longer than that may put the bather at risk.
After about 12 minutes in the mud, Kash was helped by Stringfellow to hose off with fresh mineral water. Then Kash slid into a hot mineral bath scented with cypress and orange oils.
"I'm going to slide out of this place," Kash said. "It's the total prenatal experience."