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Weekend Escape: Corona : Club Mud : Dipping, soaking and lazing in the natural mineral hot springs of Glen Ivy Spa

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are a few things that middle age steals from us: the ability to roll down a hill (I tried recently and after a quarter turn, I thudded to a halt); the stamina to jump rope or play basketball for hours as we did after school every day, and the desire to play in the mud.

Or so I thought.

But No. Welcome to Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Corona, a stretch of Riverside County that bubbles with natural mineral springs. For more than 100 years, people have been coming to Glen Ivy to rub red clay mud on their bodies and bake it dry in the warm sun.

Most of us have heard about Glen Ivy. At least one friend, relative or co-worker has wandered out there. But for some reason, I had the impression that the spa was overly New Age-y, a hippie holdout or a minimalist sulfur pool enclosed by wobbly bamboo.

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Instead, it’s modern and spacious and, at $19.50 per person for a one-day pass, a nice place to be left alone to find your pool of luxury.

The first Saturday in December, we--a couple in need of a break in the routine--headed out to spend a seductive weekend at Glen Ivy. We checked into the Country-Side Inn, a comfortable motel 10 minutes from the spa. For $89 plus tax (the rate has since gone up $2), we received a night’s stay in a room with a four-poster bed, admission for two to the spa, evening refreshments (beer, cheese and crackers) and a Sunday breakfast buffet. Singles can have the same package for $66.

There are several area hotels that offer Glen Ivy packages, including the renovated Mission Inn in Riverside ($130 a night with two passes) and several Spartan motels in Corona. We selected Country-Side Inn because this affordable chain (often near freeways, as is this one in Corona, but noise-proof) is a step up from a Holiday Inn, and the youngish staff is happy to serve. Plus, it’s recommended by the staff at Glen Ivy.

By 1 p.m. Saturday, we had dropped our overnight bags in our room, picked up our spa passes from the front desk and headed south on the Corona Freeway (15) to Temescal Road, the exit to Glen Ivy. (If you miss it, don’t be confused by the next sign down the freeway that reads “Glen Eden Sun Club”: That’s a nudist colony.)

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At Glen Ivy, we separated at the locker rooms. The women’s area has plenty of elbow room around the vanity mirrors and hair dryers; a few stall showers with spa shampoo, conditioner and body gel, and walls of lockers. In addition to a towel, swimsuit and a change of clothes, take quarters to feed the locker.

The men’s facility is comparable, I’m told.

A lot of women and couples come to Glen Ivy but very few single men. I saw some rowdy guys making “Star Trek"-type headdresses for themselves out of the mud and beckoning women into the water (they consistently struck out), but for the most part, Glen Ivy is not a body shop or a destination for supermodels.

Because it was off-season, there were hundreds of empty chaise lounges around the six-acre property. The only time we had to wait was for a spot in one of the popular sulfur baths. An older woman in the bath next to me said she bought a yearly pass ($500) to Glen Ivy to “partake of the waters” as she did when she lived in Germany. She said the mineral water soothes her muscles and eases her arthritic pain.

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The staff at Glen Ivy will tell you that no medical experts have proven that any specific health benefits are derived from soaking in hot mineral water, but it sure feels good to be in this caldron. And don’t worry about the sulfur smell. You get used to it, and it doesn’t linger once you’ve wandered to another part of the property.

After the sulfur bath, we plunged into an almost Olympic-sized lap pool filled with mineral water cooled to a comfortable 80 degrees. Next to it is a covered therapy pool maintained at 104 degrees. Too relaxed to join the 2 p.m. aqua aerobics class assembling in the lap pool, we pulled ourselves out of the water and padded off to the fenced mud arena.

To answer a few common questions about the red clay: Yes, it’s clean mud (an oxymoron if there ever was one). According to the staff, it’s brought in every day from a clay mine three miles away, and it’s never recycled. Every evening, the mud bath is drained and cleaned.

And no, you don’t lower yourself into a vat of oozing mud a la Tim Robbins in “The Player.” You’re not sitting in sludge that someone else has been in.

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This is the drill. Here in the mud area, you enter a shallow, warm, pond-shaped pool. When you’re ready, glide over to the middle of the pool, where a pedestal holds 50 pounds of red clay. Pull off a clump and rub it over your wet skin. I was a little overzealous and put some in my hair as well. Fortunately, I’m a brunet. Some light-haired mud-lovers have unwittingly henna-ed their hair this way. (The staff at the spa cautions that clay mud may stain some fabrics. But it didn’t harm our swimsuits.)

When you’re as muddy as you like, step out of the water, but hold on to a handful of the clay. On land, fill in any spotless parts on your body, then find a lounge chair away from talkers or gigglers. Remember: You’re here to relax.

Lie in the sun until the mud dries, then rub your skin until the dust flies off. You’ll either feel like an explorer back from a yearlong expedition in Africa or a really dusty elephant.

Now it’s shower time. At the showers near the mud pool, scrub up and check the mirror to make sure you’re dust-free. Then you’ll be able to jump into any of the other pools on the property without messing up the mineral water.

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We re-entered our respective locker rooms, washed our hair and changed into dry swimsuits before enjoying lunch, a garden burger and a Chinese chicken salad, near the champagne-flute-shaped pool at one end of the property. You can’t bring any food or drinks into Glen Ivy, but a small snack bar sells fresh sandwiches ($3.50 to $6.40) and sizable salads ($4.25-$6.40), as well as beer, wine, juices and soft drinks.

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There are plenty of places to sit and talk, horizontally or vertically, in shade or sun, near noise or silence, on sun decks or alongside grassy esplanades. Even though it’s wintertime, the average temperature in the afternoon is 70 to 72 degrees.

We didn’t move for a long time, feeling overly relaxed by the palm tree surroundings tucked into the hills in the Temescal Valley. Temescal means “sweat lodge” in Aztec. The first inhabitants of the valley, the Luiseno, named it after the mud saunas they built around the hot springs long before the Spanish missionaries arrived in 1818. Glen Ivy has been luring people to its waters since 1890.

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There’s a number of massage and beauty treatment programs available. While my companion was being rejuvenated by Serena, who gave him a 50-minute, full-body Swedish massage (he enjoyed it; enough said), I steamed away in the sauna.

By 5 p.m. we were two rubber-muscled humans driving back to our motel room. For dinner, we discovered a restaurant well-known among people who live in Corona: Pasta Pasta. Don’t let the name mislead you; it’s not spaghetti takeout. It’s in a strip mall, but the food, service and decor are elegant in this 10-table restaurant.

We eyed the shelves of wines and selected a pleasant 1988 Gaetano d’Aquina Chianti Classico Riserva ($18.50). For an appetizer, we tried the breaded artichoke ($5.95, a so-so filler). For main courses, we ordered the house specialty, roast lamb shoulder with garlic, herbs and rosemary ($15.95), and fresh salmon filet baked in parchment paper, topped with rock shrimp, fresh herbs and tomato, served with angel hair pasta ($15.75). We were so impressed with both that we vowed to return to Pasta Pasta, with or without a stop at Glen Ivy.

The next afternoon, we removed the boxed leftovers from our motel’s mini-fridge and picnicked at Tom’s Farms, an entrepreneur’s dream on Temescal Road, near the entrance to Glen Ivy.

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Tom’s Farms was once a roadside produce and burger stand, but now it has been gentrified. One of the buildings is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, and the wine-and-cheese shop had me--a struggling wine connoisseur--mumbling the word nirvana . For $1, you can sample four wines from nearby Temecula wineries and others around the world.

After listening to a band play near the duck pond, we packed up our jelly bodies and headed home, happy to know that we could return to this relaxed state any time.

Eastman is an assistant Life & Style editor for The Times Orange County Edition.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Budget for Two

Country-Side Inn package: $ 94.90

Lunch at the Spa: 18.90

Swedish massage (for one): 56.00

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Dinner at Pasta Pasta: 71.10

Wine tasting, Tom’s Farms: 2.00

FINAL TAB: 242.90

Country-Side Inn, 2260 Griffin Way, Corona, Calif. 91719; tel. (909) 734-2140 or (800) 448-8810. Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa, 25000 Glen Ivy Road, Corona, Calif. 91719; tel. (909) 277-3529 or (800) GLIVSPA.

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