Our last triathlon for the 2008 season was in Coulee City. On the way home, we stopped at Soap Lake, a natural mineral lake that is quite unique: the mineral content is among the highest of any natural body of water; the water is alkaline, causing the soapy feeling on the skin; and red shrimp native to the lake create ichthyol when they decompose. The purported medicinal qualities of the water and mud once supported a thriving resort town. These days, the beneficial properties of the lake seem to have been largely forgotten, and the town of Soap Lake has fallen on hard times.
Interestingly, the Russian community (many Russians settled in eastern Washington and Idaho) still likes to come to Soap Lake; invariably, we seem to meet groups of Russians at the lake, bathing or lounging on the shore, covered in the black lake mud. This time, our curiosity got the better of us and we gave it a try ourselves.
The lake is very shallow, so you have to wade out a bit before you can start swimming. The water does indeed feel slick and soapy … and smells distinctly of sulphur. The lake bottom is sandy, and I could see no sign of any life. We scooped up some of the mud and sand, but found it gritty and foul-smelling, not at all like the black mud we saw on others. Finally we asked one of the ladies that was scooping mud from a child’s little red plastic bucket filled with the stuff. We were informed that there was a particular cove on the far side of the lake, where you could find the best mud.
It truly is amazing stuff. It’s jet black when wet, and dries to a dark gray color. The consistency is very, very fine, like clay slip. It feels almost creamy and not at all gritty when applied to the skin; it doesn’t smell that badly either. The mud sticks to your skin, and actually it’s quite hard to get it off again. Vigorous scrubbing and rinsing is required.
We were skeptical regarding the medicinal benefits. But since both Wendy and I have some skin issues we diligently slapped on the mud – hey, it can’t hurt to try. A week later, I can’t really tell any difference; but Wendy has noticed that some bad patches she was suffering from are looking distinctly better – coincidence? I think we will have to make another expedition and bring back some mud for further experimentation. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to heal yourself with mud, rather than steroid creams with all their nasty side effects? Maybe those Russians are onto something …