TRAVEL WILD FLINGS!

Even sedentary types are discovering the joyous rigors of the adventure vacation. Here’s a primer on high-action getaways-and how to get there.

The evening before we took the big plunge, the camp was unusually quiet. We’d gone over some pretty dramatic falls. Crystal for one, but according to the oarsmen, Lava was the most awesome of all. Early the next morning, we rolled up our sleeping bags and stowed them in the big rubber raft. While we ate breakfast, we watched the Colorado run like glass past our sand bank at the bottom of one of the great cliffs, of the Grand Canyon.

Then it was time. With a few feeble jokes, we clambered aboard and pushed off. The current grabbed us and within minutes we heard a distant rumble that rapidly increased to a roar. Directly ahead the water bulged upward, flowing smoothly over a submerged boulder. Then it disappeared, dropped off into emptiness. And so did we.

Later I took movies of the rafts that followed us. They approach the falls, roll over the crest, |and vanish in the boiling rapids. Seconds later they reappear, lumbering heavily out of the base of the falls like a punch-drink heavyweight. That’s the way most of us felt.

For those who wish to broaden more than their waistlines on vacation, who are willing to risk more than eyestrain from a fat romance novel, literally thousands of companies offer a wide variety of outdoor recreation, ranging from the relatively un-taxing pleasures of partyboat fishing off the Florida Keys to the challenging programs of Outward Bound. What follows is a selection of adventures, of fairly easy access, scattered throughout the United States and beyond. One of them is certain to revive an ancient urge or sound a distant bell. When it does.



MEXICO

For an idea of Copper Canyon, picture the Grand Canyon and multiply by five. Then imagine hiking over a maze of unmarked Indian trails that lace the valleys and often wind over seemingly unscalable cliffs. This is what awaits you in the Sierra Madre Mountains, not far south of the U. S. border-not to mention thousand-foot waterfalls, breakfasts of homemade tortillas, long soaks in natural hot springs, and visits to towns that stepped right out of the wild West.

Suzanne and Skip McWilliams own the Copper Canyon Lodge and lead trips into the Canyon, one lasting nine days and costing $885. They can be reached in Michigan at 800-543-4180 or 313-6894180. Similar treks are offered by Toucan Adventure Tours of California, 213-546-1196.

An outfit that covers much the same area, but does so by train, is Sanborn Tours Inc. Don’t get the idea that it’s only for sissies. The track runs through eighty-three tunnels, and across thirty-seven bridges, and delays are not uncommon as you traverse tropical wilderness, jungle rivers, and canyon rims with fantastic views. It’s perhaps the most spectacular train ride in the world. Contact them at 800-531-5440 in Texas. For amateur biologists, the Foundation for Field Research (619-445-9264) wil] put you on a team that collects flowering plants in the subtropical canyon bottom.

THE CARIBBEAN

Have you ever wished that you could join the Cousteau Society on their undersea explorations of the marine environment? Or wanted to be a member of an archaeological dig that’s searching for missing cultures? Well, the good news is you can. The bad news is that they don’t pay you for your services. In fact, you pay them.

Nevertheless, you not only get an interesting and unusual vacation, you contribute something to our knowledge of the earth. In Granada, for example, you can join an anthropologist studying the social habits of Mona monkeys. You can assist a team of marine archaeologists searching for an underwater fort, or dig for thousand-year-old remains of the Arawak Indians. In the Virgin Islands, join search and rescue moonlight beach patrols to save the leatherback turtle, or locate tropical flowering plants in St. John’s national park.

If hands-on, scientific research expeditions are your cup of tea, these are the people to contact: The Cousteau Society, 804-627-1144; or Earthwatch, 617-926-8200.



CALIFORNIA

At several locations on California’s coast it’s possible to rent a snug-fitting kayak in which to explore rocky islets and coves and paddle among otters and seals. Experience isn’t necessary, but lessons are-tipping over is easy, getting back up is not-so classes are part of the rental package. The lessons are a moderately paced preparation for the wet and exhilarating skimming across the ocean waves that is to follow.

You can get fitted for a kayak by Sea Trek, 415-332-4457. The three-hour package costs $39. Another rental company, which offers an all-day $30 tour of the San Francisco waterfront, is Bluewater Ocean Kayak Tours, 415-457-9983 or 456-8956. Guided tours along the rugged Mendocino coast to secluded beaches and hidden caves are offered by Force Ten Ocean White Water Tours, 707-877-3505. The price is $25 per hour.

Down the Baja Peninsula is the Sea of Cortez, a sheltered feeding ground for bird, sea, and animal life, and more recently, a destination for curious humans. With a little assistance from a qualified guide and a suitable conveyance, you can scratch a gray whale’s back, photograph a chuckwalla lizard, watch the lumbering antics of elephant seals, and identify a variety of gulls and falcons and their fuzzy offspring. Call Baja Adventures at 800-543-2252; Foundation for Field Research, 619-445-9264; or Special Expeditions Inc., 800-762-0003, 212-765-7740 in New York. Prices, depending on length and luxury, vary from a little ($260) to a lot ($4, 790).



THE WEST

You dig your pan deep into the river bed, working your way to the bottom layer of gravel. You tug it out and swish the contents, removing the larger stones by hand, gradually allowing the rest to spill over the edge, looking for telltale signs of black sand. When only a tablespoon remains, you spread it out and search for the bright yellow sparkle of pay dirt.

The rush may have slowed to a crawl, but there’s still gold in them thar hills, and lots of fun in the finding. The rewards are no longer monetary-a good haul is a few dollars’ worth of flakes-but the pleasure is of fresh air, hikes into remote wilderness areas, and the company of laid-back individuals like yourself. Vic Renzoni of the Arizona Hiking Shack in Phoenix takes students placer mining, as gold-panning is called, into the high mountains an hour and a half north for $25 a day. Call them at 602-943-2722. From Tucson, the Sheraton El Conquistador Hotel (602-742-7000) offers free trips accompanied by a naturalist. When digging in Denver, try the Mountain Men, 303-750-5200.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park sit side by side in the northern Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, but one is a world of geysers and waterfalls while the other is brooks and meadows set against a backdrop of spectacular peaks. A company based in Jackson, with the dubious name of Off the Deep End Travels, leads one- to seven-day trips ($45 to $595) through the parks, some of which include plunging through rapids in a rubber raft, soaking in thermal springs, pedaling bicycles along the rim of the Grand Canyon, and dining at a twilight steak cook-out. If you’re lucky, you may see and be seen by herds of elk, moose, and buffalo while cycling through acres of untouched wilderness. For information, call 800-223-6833.



FLORIDA

Biscayne National Park is one of the great secrets of Southern Florida, overshadowed as it is by the fame of the Everglades. Few know that it borders Key Largo, 181, 500 acres of wetlands, and the largest stretch of undisturbed mangrove shoreline in Florida, as well as forty totally unspoiled islands. Biscayne National Park Tour Boats and Canoe Rentals, located forty-five minutes from the Miami airport, has canoes on some of these formerly inaccessible island groups; they take you there and drop you off for a day or as long as you want to play Robinson Crusoe. Besides canoeing, snorkeling and bird-watching are the main attractions. Call Biscayne National Park Headquarters, 305-247-2400.



MISSOURI

In the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, one hour south of St. Louis, is a vast man-made cavern where men once dug for lead, copper, and zinc. In 1962, the mine was closed, the pumps that kept it dry were turned off, and the space slowly filled with water. Now, the Bonne Terre Mine has been transformed into a unique underwater experience,

Following guides down an old mule trail, divers launch themselves into a billion-gallon lake with a year-round temperature of 58 degrees and illuminated by 200, 000 watts of lighting. Twelve dive trails descend to sixty feet, snaking through mammoth archways, around gargantuan man-carved pillars, over thirty-five miles of railroad track. It’s like diving into a bit of American history.

The cost of a dive, including tank and air, is $40. Wet suits rent for $15 and weights for $5. Cameras are also available.

After taking the plunge, you can sleep in the mansion where the president of the mine once entertained his guests. A true country inn with huge fireplaces, it is offered as part of a dive package that ranges from $94. 10 per person for two persons, some meals, and no dives, to $247. 45 for five dives. For information and reservations, contact West End Diving, 11215 Natural Bridge Road, Bridgeton, MO 63044 (314-731-5003).

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