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Day Spahhhh

Three local oases offer lush ways to retreat—and repair—from the scorching high desert sun.

Story by Donna Clayton Lawder

 

Pretty much anyone who regularly partakes of day spa services will attest that these are special places. You step inside a rarified atmosphere, one scented by lavender, perhaps, or something faintly floral-and-green-tea, and an amazing transformation begins.

A client enjoys a massage at Cienega day spa. (Cienega photo)

Your shoulders drop their tense posture. A little voice inside your head says, "It's okay. The people here know what you need, and they are going to take care of you."

Here in the high desert, the sun and dry air take their toll in insidious increments—sun-damaged, overexposed skin, hair fried to a crisp, calloused dry soles barely fit to be seen in sandals. In Southwest New Mexico, reveling in the special space and services of a day spa seems less indulgence, more survival.

Not everyone hereabouts, however, enjoys equal access to spa relief. According to the Deming Chamber of Commerce, the poor souls (and calloused soles!) in that hot, dry place lack any day spas in their downtown. But Silver City—Land of Spas, you could almost say!—boasts more day spas per capita than even Las Cruces, its much more populous neighbor.

Discovering myself living in "Spa City," I selflessly embarked on a reconnaissance mission of our local day spas (what I won't do for this job!) and got the skinny on what kinds of rejuvenating services are available at three local day spas: Datura Day Spa, Elemental Day Spa and Ciénega Spa & Salon, all in downtown Silver City.

For our purposes here, I will define a "day spa" as a facility offering a full array of basic cosmetic and therapeutic body treatments: facials, manicures and pedicures, at least one form of therapeutic massage and special product lines—the bottles and jars, lotions and aromatherapeutic candles, etc., that make wonderfully thoughtful gifts, or allow you to take the spa experience home. Most spas also have full hair services, including cuts and color.

I'm not including here the cosmetic nail salons, nor the numerous hair salons in the area that also offer some traditional day spa basics. Shear Reflections in Silver City, for example, is a full-service hair salon offering manicures and pedicures, massage services and specialty skin and hair care products, but (sadly!) no longer offers facials and does not consider itself a "spa," but rather a "beauty salon." While they're the place I turn to for my sassy haircut and color, my sun- and wind-abused face must go elsewhere for rejuvenation.

Fortunately, I have options.

 

First on my list is Datura Day Spa. Tucked away in an unassuming spot on West Street in Silver City, the spa is located in the same building as a barbershop run by a pleasant gentleman named "Tex." Datura Day Spa is owned and operated by Cherie Crane, a licensed esthetician, manicurist, pedicurist and reflexologist.

I'll admit, I don't know what to expect when Crane describes her shop to me over the phone as I set up my visit. "It's a couple of rooms in the back of the building," she says. She promises to meet me and let me in, as Tex is off on Mondays and she'll be answering the door.

I'm pleased the shop is easy to find, and even more pleased when Crane, an impeccably groomed, lovely woman in a professional white lab coat, welcomes me at the door and escorts me past the solo classic barber chair to her reception area. The space is comfortable, well-lit and secluded. Beautifully packaged specialty items fill the bookcase that serves as a dividing wall from the barbershop.

Spa for a Day

The following day spa locations offer all the basics: facials, manicures and pedicures, some type of therapeutic massage and special product lines. Most also have full hair services, including cuts and color.

Silver City

Datura Day Spa
352 W. 12th St., 534-0033

Elemental Day Spa and Salon
406 N. Black St., 534-1811

Ciénega Spa & Salon
101 N. Cooper St., 534-1600

Las Cruces

Carmona's Salon & Day Spa
609 E. Amador, 523-5736

Duncan Noble Rejuvenating Salon
1980 E. Lohman Ave., 526-9219

Sebastian's Salon Mystique
705 S. Telshor Blvd., 532-9097

Crane politely finishes up a phone call, then gives me her full attention.

"That was a client," she says with a laugh, "and she says I must tell you that I sell Bare Escentuals makeup!"

I am incredulous. A gal-pal and I recently searched online for this exact cosmetic line, and she traveled to Tucson to pick up a stash. Here, in my own backyard, is just what I'd been looking for. Crane shows me a group of the jars of shimmering powders, made from pure, ground minerals. They are light on the skin and offer excellent protection from the sun, she tells me. All I know is that my girlfriend looks gorgeous! I promise to make a date for a makeover in the very near future.

This is Crane's sixth year of operating her spa. "Some of my clients tell me I'm the best kept secret in Silver City," she says with a chuckle.

Heading into Crane's two back private treatment rooms, past a waiting lounge I'd be happy to cool my calloused heels in, she rattles off all the services she offers. A one-woman show, she serves not only as receptionist, but delivers all the therapeutic treatments, including facials, reflexology (a therapeutic type of massage, usually on the hands and feet), manicures and pedicures, aromatherapy and body treatments like detoxifying wraps and waxing.

"One thing that my clients appreciate is the privacy," she says of her space. She takes care when booking appointments to schedule a little buffer of time in between, "in case a client requires a little extra time and runs over, and so people don't have to feel like they're stacked up," a problem she says is rampant in some of the really large big-city or resort spas. The time buffer also allows her to relax and prepare for the next client, disinfecting and setting up the area.

Education is ongoing for all spa professionals, Crane says, and she is no exception. She attends seminars and conventions every year to keep up with developments in techniques, equipment and products. She ran a beauty school 30 years ago, and lists among her credentials training with ethnobotanists, herbalists and Japanese masters in facial and massage technique. She makes a point of experiencing all new therapies herself, so she knows what she is offering her clients and how it feels and benefits them. She is very specific about the facial options, offering many customized treatments.

"I really work with sensitive skin," she emphasizes. "A lot of spas give lip service to that, but I'm fanatical about it. Someone may want a peel (a process that strips away dead skin cells) but their skin may tell me that they can only (endure) a partial treatment. They may have to work up to a regular peel over a few sessions."

Datura's treatment rooms, replete with pedicure tubs, tables with all the usual scissors and files, massage areas and facial equipment, are private but adjoining, providing space enough for clients who'd like to enjoy treatments along with a spouse or friend.

She describes her services as "healthful for people, with beauty as the bonus," adding, "We all need help, no matter our ages." Improving circulation with regular reflexology, keeping skin deep-clean and hydrated, she says, "all add up to our being able to look our best, from the inside out."

Crane likes to think that her individualized attention, plus the familiarity she develops with her roster of repeat customers, may have even saved one client's life.

"You get to know a person and how their body is," she explains. Crane tells the story of a senior lady, a customer who had come for a few pedicures with reflexology. "It was about the fourth time I'd seen her, and her feet just seemed different to me that day. She seemed just a little disoriented, too. I told her husband on the way out that he needed to keep a particular eye on her, and that I was concerned."

Turns out the lady was air-lifted to the hospital with heart problems later that day. Perhaps her husband's especially close watch, triggered by Crane's therapeutic eye and comments, provided the difference of crucial minutes in the client's health crisis.

 

Talk "therapeutic" and you're speaking Mari King's language. "To us, what's 'elemental' are the ancient healing arts," King says. To that end, she and massage therapist Laurie Lawson, co-owners of Elemental Day Spa, have focused on uniquely therapeutic products and techniques from among the world's ancient healing traditions. The spa's extensive list of massage therapies is enhanced by special elements from Japanese, Ayurvedic and Turkish healing traditions.

After welcoming me with a glass of cool water, the pair has escorted me through their facility to the "treatment bungalow," a separate building where the air is cool and quiet—away from the hum of blow-driers in the salon and product area up front.

We relax into comfortable chairs around a round coffee table, heaped with some of those wonderful specialty products. Elemental sells all the hair-care products and massage oils and lotions they use on their clients, and a substantial variety of hostess gifts, including a wide range of cookbooks. They even sell gifts for the dog who has everything—a line of all-natural products and treats for the spa-goer's best friend.

The room we are in has a variety of soft scents, a combination of the fragrances from "relaxation pillows" and some pretty little sacks of things—probably herbs and bath salts, I think.

King is an esthetician, a hair and cosmetic specialist, with a clinical degree in herbalism. Lawson is a massage therapist who comes at her work from a background and licensing in physical therapy and exercise physiology. She also teaches at Western New Mexico University.

Their desire to work deeply with a healing arts type of practice and business is what led the duo to leave another day spa and establish Elemental two years ago. Reflecting this direction, King says, are the kinds of special therapeutic products and techniques the spa employs. Ayurvedic work, a 5,000-year-old East Indian healing tradition, seeks to put the whole body into balance, taking into consideration the client's "constitution"—body type, personal tendencies, lifestyle. The Japanese work they do focuses on ancient healing methods dealing with meridians, energetic lines in the body.

The Turkish approach uses unique oils and creams "designed to bring heat to the body," King says.

Lawson jumps up to offer a demonstration. She pours something wonderful-smelling on both my hands, rubbing them, kneading my tender palms that I didn't know were tender until this moment.

"Hey, you're a writer," she says with a laugh. "You type all day, right?"

Indeed, my hands feel warmer. I wash off this layer of product and Lawson dries me gently with a towel, then puts on another colorful liquid and rubs it in. Okay, my hands are getting warmer! This product has an astringent smell, not unpleasant, but not sweet and floral, either. I decide I like it.

We repeat the process, me washing off the stuff, she drying me and putting on another lotion, this one almost paste-like and sort of gritty. This is a sample of the therapeutic coffee products that are used at the spa to detoxify the skin and body and enhance the massage.

One more time with the wash, dry and new product application. This one is, okay, really warm, and I love its distinctive smell and texture. I think I am getting a special kind of hand massage, but Lawson quickly corrects me.

"No, I'm just doing it on your hands, but this would be over your whole body," she says. My head swims at the heavenly thought.

Note to self: When was my last massage?

 

Next on my list is Ciénega Spa and Salon. My fledgling Spanish failing me, an Internet dictionary search turns up the meaning of ciénega as "an area perennially wet, supported by a spring." (And Silver City, of course, was originally known as La Ciénega de San Vicente.) I think of pure, flowing water, an oasis—a refreshing image in this high desert town. I climb the front stairway to Ciénega Spa, Al Green playing in my head, "Take Me to the River."

Dip me in the water, indeed.

At the top of the stairs is the large, wraparound porch where the afternoon's last diners are sipping cool drinks before heading out into the sun. The Orchid Café, Ciénega's restaurant, offers lunch and dinner, in an elegant indoor dining room and on the mostly shaded open-air porch, with a view overlooking the town. (See review in the August 2005 Desert Exposure.)

Ciénega owners Pam and Robin Hogan greet me at the reception desk and escort me through the facility—past the salon area with numerous client chairs, past the peaceful waiting room where clients are relaxing with drinks (two choices of iced tea or chilled water), to a table in the dining room. The serene atmosphere is complemented by the work of local artists and pottery from Mata Ortiz, Mexico.

In terms of square footage and employees—more than 20 on staff at last count—Ciénega is the largest day spa in Silver City. The facility has multiple treatment rooms for massages and facials, plus a pedicure suite, and a studio downstairs accommodates yoga and T'ai Chi classes.

It also boasts two guest suites, making it a "destination spa," says Pam. I think of the lucky visitors able to make this their home base while visiting the area, prolonging their blissed-out post-spa treatment state.

"It's amazing how much business we do with people from Tucson," Robin says. "Five of the top spas in the world are in Arizona. It's like the spa capital."

"They say they feel more welcome here," Pam adds. "We give them one-on-one treatment. In the bigger spas, you feel like a number."

But it's the locals who keep them going, she says, the regular customers who get their hair cut and receive massages, manicures, pedicures.

The addition of the facility's restaurant completes the picture, the Hogans agree, offering "true spa cuisine." Many of the Orchid Café's dishes are salads and grilled meats, so someone who's just detoxed with a seaweed wrap, say, can feel downright virtuous chowing down on grilled salmon atop a bed of greens, drizzled with homemade dressing.

Having served me a glass of their restaurant's fresh homemade lemonade, the Hogans sit back and relax, taking a well-deserved breather between the busy lunch shift just ended and their haircutting schedules that resume in about a half-hour.

The Hogans come from a long cosmetic-services tradition. Long-time New Mexicans, she grew up in Las Cruces and he in Mesilla, at the arm of his mother's and grandmother's hairdressing chairs in the beauty school they owned and ran. The Hogans' daughter, having obtained her esthetician's license, is fourth-generation in the business.

Together they have watched the spa industry's explosive growth. Thirty years ago, on South Padre Island, Texas, they worked at one of the first "real" spas in the country, Robin says, a hair salon that eventually added hot tubs and all the "body" services. Around that time, he says, "the spa industry went from about 200 facilities nationwide to something like 20,000."

Like all the spas in Silver City, you can customize your spa experience at Ciénega. Finishing up my lemonade, I look over the spa's brochure and note all the usual wraps and massage offerings, all of which sound inviting and healing to body and soul. I glance down the list of spa packages, a few of which run for hours and include lunch or snacks.

My mind drifts off as I consider Dia Ciénega, a package that includes full body massage, a wrap, manicure and pedicure, spa lunch, hair treatment and more. Surely I could do more research. . . .

 

Senior Editor Donna Clayton Lawder
was last seen under a seaweed wrap.

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