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Living With Volcanoes

The Plus Side of Volcanoes
Spas and Resorts

Mud Baths

Calistoga (Napa Valley, California) and mud go way back - Mud baths -- said to relax muscles, sooth aches, improve circulation and smooth the skin -- have been a visitor staple in Calistoga ever since Sam Brannan reined in the thermal springs at the foot of Mount St. Helena and opened his Calistoga Hot Springs Resort in the 1860s. Spa after spa followed; today there are more than a dozen, making Calistoga the most spa-ified town in the West. "In the natural state, what we had around here was hot springs bubbling up all around. When they put wells down for swimming pools, it concentrated it, and the hot springs were lost," said John Merchant, whose Indian Springs Spa and Resort stands on the site of Brannan's fashionable 19th century watering hole. Until rather recently, mud baths were promoted as an arthritis treatment. They entail lying for 10 to 15 minutes in a sarcophagus like tub filled with mud made from hot-spring water mixed with volcanic ash, peat moss, clay or other materials, depending on the spa. "The mud bath is done in Japan, it's done in Europe -- it's a very old procedure," Merchant said. "In the 1930s and '40s, people with arthritis would come here, take a mud bath every day and come away feeling healed." Nowadays, mud baths are generally included in a larger course of treatment aimed primarily at reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Though it sounds, well, dirty, mud baths actually are quite sanitary, spa operators say. Brochures from the establishments that offer them explain that mud in the tubs is pumped through with 212-degree water and thoroughly raked between customers. Indian Springs -- which locals persist in calling Pachita's, after a previous owner -- remains the classic place to go for "the works," followed by a swim in a magnificent, 60-by-120-foot, geyser-heated swimming pool dating from 1913. According to the Indian Springs Spa and Resort Website (2003): "Indian Springs history began millions of years ago with the eruption of Mount Konocti, 20 miles away. The eruption deposited volcanic ash on the land, which we use exclusively in our mud tubs. The eruption also left a fissure in the earth through which groundwater reaches the hot magma at 4,000 feet, and then resurfaces as Indian Springs's four thermal geysers (212 degrees). The water rises through old sea beds adding rich mineral and salt traces." -- Information courtesy Napa Valley Spas and Lodging Website, 2003, and Indian Springs Spa Website, 2003

Hot Baths of Rotorua

The Rotorua-Whakarawarewa area (New Zealand) is known for numerous hot springs, geysers, and other geothermal features that support a significant tourist industry. The supply of hot water to baths of Rotorua may have failed for a period of several weeks sometime in the first half of 1886. Local changes in hot-water circulation are not uncommon, so we cannot be sure that the failure, even if it did occur, reflected any unrest on the scale of Rotorua Caldera. -- Excerpts from: Newhall and Dzurisin, 1988, Historical Unrest at Large Calderas of the World, USGS Bulletin 1855

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07/13/09, Lyn Topinka