LA GRANGE – Swept up in the majestic scenery on a May 2012 trip to Sedona, Ariz., Peggy McDonald and Karen Stoelinga decided to visit Seodona's Center for the New Age, a spiritual center that attracts tourists for its psychic readings.
"We were skeptical, but we were like, 'Let's just do this. It's going to be fun,'” McDonald said.
They received mostly different feedback from their psychic readings, but one thing was the same.
"We separately were told, 'You need to be in business. You need to be your own boss,'" Stoelinga said.
Fast forward 11 months and shift the scene to downtown La Grange, where Primal Oceans Salt Cave has been open for business since April 1. McDonald and Stoelinga, friends for 16 years, were moved by the spiritual nature of Sedona's Red Rock formations – and nudged by their overlapping psychic readings – and decided they wanted to offer their own version of peace and relaxation.
Online research of Sedona's rocks quickly led them to crystal salt and its natural healing properties. Primal Oceans, at 8 S. La Grange Road, is named for the bodies of water that evaporated hundreds of millions of years ago beneath what are now the Himalayan mountains, which stores the world's most pristine salt in its caves.
Working with a consultant from the east coast, McDonald and Stoelinga had 7 tons of pink Himalayan salt shipped to La Grange to form Primal Oceans' 487-square-foot salt cave, its main feature, which took 900 hours for workers to construct.
Visitors must slip out of their shoes and into plastic blue booties before entering the cave, also leaving behind any items in their pockets in the locker area to preserve the natural properties of the salt, which is said to supply all 84 minerals that are essential for the body. A set of wooden doors with handles open outward – like at a theatre – revealing the orange and pink-lit cave with its floor of salt and large chunks of salt crystals on the walls.
After reclining in one of the cave's 10 anti-gravity chairs, the doors shut and a recording of soothing music begins to play. A gaze upward reveals the ceiling's black sky-like appearance and twinkling white lights.
The whole setup is intended for maximum relaxation, allowing visitors to breathe in and absorb the minerals of the 150-million-year-old salt, which is infused into the air by a generator.
"I think our whole idea is to be able to provide this little tranquil escape from the real world,” Stoelinga said.
Aside from the salt cave, Primal Oceans also offers a detox footbath, where a warm bath of water is charged with rays emitted from a small device inside the bath. McDonald and Stoelinga say the rays emit negative ions that open acupuncture points, with the water changing colors depending on the body's reactions.
The room next door features the Aquascape, a water bed that offers a dry floating experience. After lying down on a board and getting covered by thick plastic sheets, the person is lowered into the water and floats in what McDonald and Stoelinga call a “water cocoon.” A series of colored lights appear on the periphery to help induce a tranquil state – ideally, a person will experience Theta brainwaves, which make up the first wave of sleep.
Like the Aquascape, customers can experience Primal Oceans' Aquamassage without having to take off their clothes. Customers control all aspects of the massage and can hold the cycling jets of water at a certain location to focus on a specific area.
Primal Oceans' offerings are a mix of McDonald and Stoelinga's tastes, they say. Stoelinga, not a fan of hand massages, likes being able to use the Aquamassage or Aquascape to get no-hands treatment. McDonald particularly enjoys taking in the scents and tranquility of the salt cave.
It took the two women, who both own their own practice management consulting businesses and work with dentists, less than a year to realize their idea.
"It was just such a seamless thing for us that it was meant to be, I guess,” said Stoelinga, who lives in Aurora.
McDonald lives near Ottawa, Ill., and makes the hour or so drive each day. The co-owners picked La Grange because of its proximity to I-294, I-55 and the La Grange Road Metra station. They say they've been amazed by the number of people who walk up and down La Grange Road, many of whom pop in to say hello, or ask about their business.
“The people in the community are just awesome people,” McDonald said.
McDonald and Stoelinga say the village of La Grange “welcomed us with open arms” and that they've been received warmly by other business owners as well.
Scattered throughout Primal Oceans are framed photographs of Sedona's rock formations, taken by McDonald and Stoelinga. Not pictured in the store but found in their homes are photos of cairns, man-made piles of rocks or stones that often serve as guides.
"The idea of those is not only markers for travelers but also the idea of building on another person's strengths to give them more strengths,” Stoelinga said. “We saw this beautiful scene with cairns in the background and were moved by it, and I think that's how we built on each other's strengths to build this place."
Primal Oceans Salt Cave is open from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday. A 45-minute salt cave session costs $45, but an introductory price of $35 will run until about late May. Thirty-minute Aquamassage or Aquascape sessions are $30, and a 30-minute detox footbath is $35.