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Wine Country: Down to Earth

What makes Napa mud so special?

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If you travel to Calistoga, you will be confronted with an odd reality: People there like to bathe in dirt. Actually it’s volcanic ash, which has a pumice effect, that has been combined with hot spring water and Canadian peat (to add buoyancy and help keep things toasty). That particular recipe came from a chiropractor named John “Doc” Wilkinson, whose eponymous hot springs resort (see page 129) has been bringing people to Calistoga since 1952. Murky lore suggests that Samuel Brannan, the boozy millionaire who founded the town in 1859 as California’s Saratoga Hot Springs, was the first to dabble in mud baths there, though the Wappo Indians beat everyone to the punch. While claims that the treatment draws out toxins are dubious (you’ll certainly sweat), there is one undeniable benefit from being suspended in a tub of warm, heavy mud: It feels good. 

Illustration by Andy Friedman