Dirty little secret: Word-of-mouth attracts mud bath soakers to Soap Lake to heal

SOAP LAKE, Wash. (AP) -- When Mary Olson arrived at Soap Lake last month, about two-thirds of her body was covered with patches of red, dry sores. Her skin was itchy, and painful where the sores cracked open and bled.



October 15th, 2010

By: K.C. MEHAFFEY
The Oakland Press

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Photo: The Oakland Press file photo/JOSE JUAREZ Birmingham Detroit Country Day High School senior tennis players Aurko Joshi (left), Alex Crawford (middle), and Cooper Ziecik are hoping to best rival Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood for this year's Division 2 state title.

When she left Soap Lake two weeks later, her skin was clear of sores, tanned and beautiful, she said.

A program assistant at Western Washington University, Olson, 61, suffers from psoriasis, a skin disease.

She's had it since she was a child, and has tried prescription drugs, ultraviolet-light treatments and more ointments and creams than she can recall.

Nothing works as well as the two-week vacation she takes in Soap Lake in Grant County every September, she said.

Each day of her vacation, in the morning and again in the afternoon, she takes a brisk walk, lies in the sun, soaks for 30 minutes in the lake, covers her body in mud and, after it dries, washes it off.

Before bed, she takes one more Soap Lake bath in her motel room and rinses it with warm fresh water.

When she goes home to Custer, her skin stays clear for up to three months, she said.

Throughout the summer, dozens of people gather daily at Soap Lake's two public beaches to bathe in the water and "mud up" in hopes of healing one ailment or another.

Some, like Olson, have wounds or skin disorders.

Some are looking to relieve arthritis, aches or circulatory problems.

And some are there just to see what it feels like.

Carmen Eckhart, whose family owns Notaras Lodge in Soap Lake, said the biggest reason people stay at the lodge is the Soap Lake water, piped into the bathtubs of every room.

The majority of their customers are eastern Europeans who now live in the United States. Korean nationals also frequent the area.

On Main Avenue, massage therapist Bridgett Oie also offers hot Soap Lake baths, steam saunas, and a variety of Soap Lake products, from mud soap to skin butter.

Oie said the baths seem to relieve the pain and distress of skin diseases and conditions like arthritis.

"I don't have any scientific proof, but I think it does help," she said.

On the town's public beach, Galina Andriyuk has heard many stories about people who were healed by these waters.

She's a school-bus driver in Kent -- originally from Ukraine -- and in mid-August she came to Soap Lake for a vacation with her husband, Ivan, and some friends.

"We read about this water. It has about 20 different minerals," she said.

She said word-of-mouth brings former Eastern Europeans to the area.

Marina Mysko, a Russian native who runs a child-care center in Bellevue, said she comes to Soap Lake every summer for a three-day vacation. She sat on a beach chair next to Antonina Papusha, who had applied mud to her arms, hands, knees and feet, and was letting it dry in the sun.

Papusha doesn't speak English, but Mysko said she has arthritis, and the Soap Lake mud relieves it.

Vadim Lanford was also hoping to arrest symptoms of arthritis in his knees by swimming in the lake, although he wasn't expecting much because he and his wife, Tatiana, could stay only one day. Lanford is an interpreter in Seattle, and is originally from Moscow.

"People are supposed to be here for a long time. It's not like you walk in and walk out and you're better," he said.

He said it's part of their culture to believe in natural healing, and there are many medical resorts in Russia where people stay for two or three weeks to heal.

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