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Intrepid Touring

Today's Travelers are Facing Rigor, Danger and Dread--and Loving It
Kevin F. McMurray
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

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These caves are not accessible by elevator, nor lit, nor--as you may have guessed--crowded. Climbing dark is not for the out-of-shape or claustrophobic. Two popular cave systems in the BLM-managed area that will test your aerobic conditioning and fearlessness are Parks Ranch Cave and Endless Cave. Both cave systems offer a wealth of challenging crawls and climbs, as well as a dark world of strange and beautiful geological formations that few venture down to see.   Parks Ranch Cave is a 3.7-mile serpentine system that was carved out of the gypsum karst by running water.

In this area, called the Chosa Draw, the land is pocked with sinkholes, and the caves are, in effect, nature's storm drains. About 50 feet underground the cave has a unique eco-system that caters to the likes of small spiders and crickets with low eye function and pale pigment, and scuds and other fish that have never seen the light of day. Parks Ranch is a good initiation into caving, or spelunking, as the academics refer to it. While there are no difficult climbs or precipitous drops, some tight squeezes will have you sucking in your gut.  

Endless Cave is much more difficult. You will need a permit from the BLM office in Carlsbad, which limits incursions due to the cave's fragile rock formations that defy description. Deeper than Parks Ranch, Endless is your classic limestone cave system complete with stalactites (hanging calcium deposits) and stalagmites (standing deposits). There are several vertical climbs and narrow holes to negotiate.  

Descriptive names of the rooms such as Mud Crack, Gypsum, Easy Chair, Green Lake, Grand Canyon, War Club and the Express-way are a good indication of what you will find 80 feet below the earth's surface.   Caving in Carlsbad is a year-round endeavor because the temperature is always between 57 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit underground. As well as a pair of hiking boots and some durable clothing that you won't mind getting wet and muddy, purchase a helmet with a good primary light and two backup lights.  

In Carlsbad Caverns National Park, guided hikes through the less trafficked cave systems are available by reservation. In the field office area you can pick up maps and obtain permits for the 16 caves on the protected list at its office in the city of Carlsbad. Then you are on your own. Make a point of stopping at the Guadalupe Mountain Outfitters at 216 South Canal in Carlsbad (505-885-9492) for caving gear and advice.   For more information contact: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM 88220. Phone: 505-785-2232. On the Web: www.nps.gov/cave. or the BLM-Carlsbad Field Office, 620 East Green Street, Carlsbad, NM 88220. Phone: 505-887-6544.    

CAMEL TREKKING IN THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK  

It is hard to imagine that an adventure as exotic as mounting a camel and plodding across the Australian Outback for five days is a vacation option. But believe it, because you can do it.   Just three miles southeast of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory is the Frontier Camel Farm, located in the midst of the picturesque Simpson Desert near the center of the continent. Camels were introduced to this area more than 100 years ago and today more than 200,000 roam wild in this no man's land of red sand dunes and the imposing Ayers Rock. These dromedaries are particularly suited to the hostile environment, where you can see such native species as kangaroo, desert oak, ghost gums and the garishly colored rock ridges that rise high above the open plains.  

Clients are provided with their own camel. Pack camels carry all camping gear and food for the Monday to Friday trek. Starting in Maryvale, the guided trek strikes out along the ancient Charlotte Range and the Hugh River to Chambers Pillar, a sentinel of stone that rises 150 feet from the desert floor. The experience of sleeping outdoors for four nights in a swag (sleeping bag) under the brilliantly bejeweled southern skies, will dazzle you.  

You will need to be in good shape to withstand the physically demanding regimen of five days on a camel's back. The $900-a-person tariff covers all transfers, camels, meals, camping equipment, skilled guides and accommodations at the Maryvale Cattle Station. The camel treks are offered during April, May, August and September. For more information contact Frontier Camel Tours at 011 (08) 8953-0444. Fax: 001 (08) 8955-5015. On the Web: www.ozemail.com.au/~camelfro or www.cameltours.com.au.    

RACING SCHOOL  

Stateside racing schools get a lot of ink these days and seem to be top choices for Michael Andretti and Jeff Gordon wannabes. But if you are really serious about learning the skills that will take you around a professional race course at top speeds, the place you should head for is the Circuit Paul Ricard located on the French Riviera. As they say, "location, location, location!"  

John Peterson, a former professional racer, handles all American bookings for the prestigious Winfield School. Peterson says the big difference between Winfield and its American counterparts is that the Winfield School does not overload you with information. It is a very European approach to instruction in which students are taught more about "how you do it" rather than "why you do it." That translates into more track time.  

Another difference is the cars. At Winfield the school is intent on training drivers for the Formula One Circuit. That means you will be behind the wheel of a modern racing car that was built after 1996. Cars have new two-liter, 135-horsepower engines, monocoque chassis and wings. By the end of the three-day course you will have your engines revving and find yourself screaming around this home of the French Grand Prix.  

Winfield is more a grueling school than a holiday camp, as well as being extremely competitive. The reason? The best-performing students are awarded certificates of merit by the instructors, who are also talent scouts for professional racing in Europe. With a certificate of merit you are invited to take the next step and enroll in an advanced driving course. If you show that you're a born talent for high-combustion, rubber-burning, balls-out racing, Winfield will point the way to joining the ranks of such former students as Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jean Alesi.  

The three-day course runs $3,295, and is offered once a month from February through October. The price includes all meals and accommodations for five days in the Mediterranean resort town of Nîmes, which puts it in the price range of most American schools. Contact Franam Racing at 612-541-9461. Fax: 612-541-1380.    

SOARING SCHOOL  

Who among us has never dreamed of piloting their own aircraft?   The reason most people don't realize the dream is the time commitment and the expense of obtaining a pilot's license. And let's not forget the cost of owning and operating one's own plane. There is an alternative plan of action. It's less time-consuming, considerably cheaper--and foremost--a purer pursuit for those who want to experience the thrill of flying. Some call it gliding, others sky sailing, but at the Schweizer School it is called soaring.  

Located in the "Soaring Capital of America," the lush Southern Finger Lake District of Elmira, New York, the Schweizer Soaring School has history and location on its side. A former manufacturer of gliders, Schweizer has operated the school since 1946. The airport is ringed by ridges and mountains, which provide the updrafts that lift these delicate-looking aircraft high into the clouds.  

If you are not quite sure that this is the adventure for you, Schweizer suggests taking two test flights with an instructor which can be arranged at a soaring center near you. That's all it takes to get most people hooked. Sign up for the one-week course that will have you soaring in as many as five flights a day that last 15 to 20 minutes. If you show an aptitude you could be soloing by the last day. Want a license to fly solo? Ante up for the extra week and you, too, can earn the coveted wings of a Federal Aviation Administration private glider.  

The basic course costs $1,150; the two-week course that gets you a license costs $2,200. Contact the Schweizer Soaring School at 607-739-3821, fax: 607-739-4516. Sail planes can be had for as little as $7,000, fuel not included--or necessary. And you thought you could never afford to be a proud owner of an aircraft.  

Oh, yes. Still considering a death-defying climb of Everest? If so, contact Mountain Madness at 800-328-5925, fax: 206-937-1772, or on the Web: www.mountainmadness.com. A spot on the next expedition may be opening. Remember, you only live once.  

Kevin F. McMurray is a freelance writer specializing in outdoor adventure. He lives in Brewster, New York


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