DeAndre Levy has to face Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Aaron Rodgers a total of six times each year, but those tasks pale in comparison to the challenges with which Levy was confronted during the offseason.

Levy, a four-year starter at outside linebacker for the Detroit Lions, ventured to South Africa and Botswana last year and continued his offseason globetrotting this year when he spent several weeks roughing it in South America.

He hiked the Inca Trail leading up to Machu Pichu and camped out in the Amazon rainforest. As if this didn't sound like an episode of "Survivor" already, Levy told John Niyo of the Detroit News that some of his meals consisted of frogs and rats that he speared himself. He also slept with a machete at night, just to be safe.

If you think Levy sounds crazy, you're not alone.

"Most of [my teammates] think it's crazy," Levy told Niyo. "They found out I went skydiving and they thought that was crazy. They thought the Amazon was nuts, eating frogs and rats and piranha and stuff like that."

For Levy, getting to the Amazon was a lifelong dream.

"Ever since I was little I've wanted to go to the Amazon,” Levy said. "And the way I went about it — I didn’t want to go on a cruise or to a resort or anything like that -- I was just out there."

Now that he's accomplished that he can move on to bigger and better things, literally. He says Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya are his next destinations.

(H/T to For The Win)

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Remember driver's ed? The utter fear of failing your final test because you hit the brakes too hard, didn't signal that left turn, or hit a pedestrian (which wasn't on purpose and those charges were totally dropped)? Well, fear driving instruction no more, because adventure retreat Gateway Canyons Resort wants to teach you to drift, turn, and jump through crazy mountain terrain in a Pro-Baja truck. Get ready to strap in.

The package includes a choice of luxe accommodations at Gateway Canyon Resort & Spa in Western Colorado, which, amazingly, was established by the founder of the Discovery Channel. Get your rest and be sure to eat your comp breakfast in the morning, because what lies ahead...

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... is a FULL day of taking these Pro-Baja trucks off-road for crazy aerials and sick drifting maneuvers. You'll take expert instruction from professional Baja drivers, showing you how fast to hit a curve and how fast you can lose your comp breakfast.

Once fully acclimated, you'll take on this two-mile desert training facility for a solo off-road runabout.

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And if the idea of flying gloriously over a hill in not-so-slow motion doesn't get your heart pumping, this video showing exactly what you're in for should do the trick.

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The good people at Hatchet Caye Resort in Belize are fed up with the Lionfish -- the population is exploding, it's not even indigenous to their waters, they're eating up all the much prettier fish, and they're basically ruining EVERYTHING. So they're asking for your help to keep the species under control. Your mission: Jump on a plane down, grab a speargun and guide, scuba over to where those aquatic assholes are lurking, and pump a blade into their faces.

This is Hatchet Caye, the tropical, Richard Branson-esque private island where you'll greet your fellow hunters and sleep BEFORE you're with the fishes.

One more island shot, just so you realize how ridiculously gorgeous this joint is.

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Oceanfront cabanas will be your vacation dormitory, even though this will be thousands of miles from anything like Spring Break.

The mighty whale shark: just one of the many native species NOT DOING ITS JOB.

You also don't want to spear this local loggerhead turtle, partly because it's adorable but mostly because it's illegal.

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Here he is. Indigenous to the Pacific, this species has overrun the Atlantic due to voracious eating and rabbit-like mating habits. More than likely, it made its way over due to some irresponsible Floridian aquarium owner, which is speculation, but is also probably true because Florida is the worst.

Zapped. Now that you've hooked that poisonous peacock, keep him as far from your body as possible, considering their venomous spines have been known to cause paralysis of the limbs, heart failure, and even death.

Wait, and now you're eating him? Yes, you'll take that carpetbagger back to the aptly-named Lionfish Bar & Grill, where they will clean and prepare him before, once again, you take a blade to his face.

Here Are Some Other Things You Might Find Lurking Below The Waves

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If you've ever dreamed of following the Red Sox on a road trip, or seeing Auburn play in Tuscaloosa, or catching Maroon 5 live in London, well ... seriously, Maroon 5? Really? OK, that's cool. Either way, doing any of the above is now infinitely easier thanks to Travelatus, an all-in-one event-planning hub that helps you score tickets, hotels, and even flights -- everything you need to catch your favorite bands and sports teams around the globe.

You have three search options right out of the gate: 1) type in the team/band you want to see, 2) use the psychic algorithm to provide personal recommendations based on your FB profile, or 3) hit the random result-generating "Some Magic" button and find yourself at… a Bieber concert in Toronto!

Regardless of which option you picked, scroll through a picture-filled list of upcoming games/tours (sorted by date) before deciding that a Red Sox game at Dodger Stadium would, indeed, be pretty awesome. Add the tickets to your "Travel Pack".

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But where to stay in LA? Such a sprawling town. Oh look! The next tab provides details on hotels located at (or around) the event. That was easy. If you want to stay on the beach, in a 5-star hotel, or even where they filmed Encino Man, use the filters (distance from venue, budget, etc.) to re-sort the list. Add a hotel to your Travel Pack.

You see where we're going here, right? Tickets are done. Hotel is set. Now it's time to find a flight, train, or bus to get there, and while you're at it you can spy a handy Gmap with directions from the airport to the event venue.

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Finally, break out the credit card and head to the checkout (to make sure you don't get Marooned).

If You're Digging Travelatus, Then You'll Probably Also Like Fantrotter. Compare The Two here

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Perhaps you've never heard of the Barkley Marathon, but it is the most insane race ever, and here's why...

Taking place sometime every year (the date is never officially disclosed), somewhere in Warburg, Tenn., (the official location isn't revealed until the last minute, even to the racers), it's the brainchild of a local dude named Gary Cantrell. He was inspired when he found out that after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin, James Earl Ray, escaped from the now-abandoned Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, he only made it eight miles through the woods after running for nearly 55 hours. Cantrell figured he could do at least 100 miles through the same terrain in that time. Well, it turns out he totally couldn't. Undaunted, however, he's been orchestrating attempts for other people to mostly fail at the same task since 1986.

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Should you be able to figure out where to send your registration for Cantrell's more-or-less-totally-insane race (the only people who know are former racers), it only costs first-timers a personal essay, $1.60 cash, and a license plate from their home state, which is then displayed here. Only 35 (out of hundreds) of these lucky applicants will get in, and of the more than 1,000 people who've competed in The Barkley throughout its history, only 14 runners have ever finished (two of whom were DQd after messing up a single 200-yard portion).

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Among the reasons it's so hard? Beyond the fact that it's 100 freaking miles, including around 59,000 feet of climb and 59,000 feet of descent? Well, there's the fact that the trail uses clues deliberately meant to trick you, there are hecklers, no aid stations, a totally unmarked course, and about a dozen books placed at various intervals from which you must rip out the page that corresponds to your race number. Oh, and the whole thing is started by the lighting of a cigarette.

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Pity the poor head pro in northern New Mexico.

Despite nearly two decades of increasingly glowing national press for its courses, some ESPN face time for two PGA Club Pro Championships and the international allure of fancy Santa Fe, plenty of American golfers don't really have a clue about the region.

"We still get calls from golfers back East asking if we give discounts in the summer months," says an amused golf GM from Albuquerque. "That's our peak season. Summers are perfect here. They obviously assume we're like Phoenix."

And we'll just ignore those lost souls who call New Mexico's hotels -- we aren't making this up -- and ask if one needs a passport or if the drinking water is safe.

The Land of Enchantment could just as easily be the Land of Misconceptions.

Northern New Mexico is high desert -- roughly 5,000 to 7,000 feet high for golf purposes, four distinct fabulous seasons, ski resorts and hail-dented Toyota pickups. This is not Scottsdale. No saguaro cactus, no Saharan heat, barely any valet parking.

On the highest courses, say, Paa-Ko Ridge GC, east of Albuquerque in the Sandia Mountains (ranked No. 63 in Golfweek's top 100 modern), a cloudless blue summer morning might begin at 50 degrees and end at 75. On the back tees of No. 17 you might see parts of five different mountain ranges rising to 12,000 feet, and in good years, they'll have snow. (They're still in drought mode.) Down the mountain around mile-high Albuquerque and along the shallow Rio Grande, mid-afternoon summers can certainly stay in the 90s, but the wind is nearly constant, the shade is cool and the humidity may be lower than your handicap. You know the summer here is something blissful when all the folks walking around with Moonie grins are wilted Texans.

But the unArizona-ness goes further. While the neighbor state easily has more opulent courses that push $250 in the winter, northern New Mexico offers all you can ever play in a week, three that have been ranked in Golfweek's top 100 modern and an exceptional second-tier of affordable golf that would be the star in any flat buggy state. And New Mexico's best can all be played for about $35 to $70, with one resort splurge around $115. Alas, you might have to live without Scottsdale's country club frat boys sprinting to your car to darn your socks. New Mexico's best golf is public and unpretentious.

The Santa Fe Golf Trail, which includes eight courses spread from just outside the Albuquerque airport to the Santa Clara Pueblo some 90 miles north (and 24 miles past Santa Fe), works for the traveling foursome or family of various talents because they aren't cookie-cutter courses you can't remember an hour later, nor are they all uniformly monstrous in difficulty.

The backdrop of vast red-rock mesas and the languid Rio Grande is so enthralling that hundreds of movies and TV commercials have been shot here. And famously, with one exception (though not egregious), every course mentioned here is totally free of fairway homes, primarily because most are on tribal land.

Better still, when the golf is done you are surrounded by one of America's unique cultural attractions. The green chile-fueled New Mex-Mex restaurants are plentiful, and virtually every course has incendiary burritos and green chile cheeseburgers. (Remember, milk soothes your flaming tongue, not beer.) The 19 northern New Mexico Indian pueblos are known historically for their exquisite pottery, jewelry and art, which can be found at both pawn shops and stylish galleries, and notably at the Santa Fe Indian Market, normally held during the third weekend in August on the Santa Fe Plaza. It's free, very crowded and full of extraordinary artists, so don't assume there are bargains o' plenty. The pueblos also offer feast days and ceremonial dances throughout the summer and fall.

Of course, there are also tribal casinos, which have brought gambling addictions to the pueblos, but also major infrastructure improvements, senior citizen centers and at some pueblos education incentives such as free laptop computers for each family and guaranteed four-year college scholarships for qualified high school grads. Those garish casinos also generated the cash that made New Mexico's tribal-owned golf courses a reality. Farther south the state's Mescalero Apaches pioneered tribal golf at Inn of the Mountain Gods in 1975, and the state now boasts more tribal courses (nearly nine) than any other.

Santa Fe itself -- spacey, self-conscious and yet often irresistible -- is brimming with bookstores, galleries, outdoor cafes, plant nurseries and New Age charlatans. Love it or loathe it, Santa Fe is always worth a day of idle grazing. Curiously, there is no Santa Fe golf course that is a member of the Santa Fe Trail, but the local muny, Marty Sanchez GC, is excellent, and two very private Nicklaus courses are at the gated subdivision of Las Campanas. Tell them you're with golf-crazed actor Gene Hackman, a local, and they'll at least chuckle before they throw you out.

Here's your local knowledge: Expect bentgrass greens and Kentucky bluegrass fairways virtually everywhere. New Mexico is in its second year of extreme drought -- don't smoke on the courses. April to October is prime time, but spring and fall in the mountains can be volatile, so know the forecast. Sunscreen and lip protection are essential. Your ball flies about one percent farther than sea level for every 1,000 feet in elevation. At restaurants, when waitresses ask, "Red or green?" they're asking about your chile salsa preference.

The rates quoted below are forever changeable and are ranked from cheapest non-resident (usually weekday, walking, twilight) to most expensive (usually weekend with cart). This does not include any discounts for juniors, seniors, military. Always check for Internet deals and call the pro shop about weather, course repairs and such.

From south to north, here's your menu, with designers and opening dates noted. Restaurants at the bottom:

The University of New Mexico Championship Course (1967, Red Lawrence)

Are you desperate to play the moment your flight touches ground?

This beloved state-owned course is literally 90 seconds from your rental car parking lot. Talk about immediate gratification.

UNM (South) is hilly, lined with tall and scrubby pines and sits on a bluff overlooking the city. Thankfully the airport flight paths rarely buzz the fairways. It's a lovely, though potentially difficult, community course that has hosted dozens of major college tournaments – Tiger won his first here in 1994; Phil Mickelson won his last NCAA in 1992 -- including three NCAA men's championships (1976, '92 and '98), a pair of women's NCAA championships and numerous PGA Tour qualifiers.

"We've put in what I call the ‘Oh My God!' tees," says long-time director of golf, George Trujeque, who will retire soon. "They're 7,562 yards from the tips ... for the college kids mainly. But we have six sets of tees. Choosing the right ones is important." Though the UNM course has lost rounds to the spiffy tribal tracks over the years, it remains a tranquil vigorous walk, while many of the newer courses all but force you to rent a cart. Lovely cottonwoods, a restful pond and a view that takes in almost the whole city make the testing course a joy to find right off the plane.

Rates: $50 to $76. (505) 277-4546

Isleta Eagle GC (1996, 27 holes, Bill Phillips)

About seven miles south of the UNM course, just east of Interstate 25 -- you're thinking 36 on your first day aren't you? -- the Isleta tribal course lures you with 27 holes and 220 acres of wall-to-wall bluegrass. You'll find an enjoyable game here, whether it's from 7,500-yard tips or the forward tees, but the rough has always been lush so that inviting grip-and-rip mentality must be tempered a bit.

Truthfully, they could take out 80 acres of the dense turf and not impact any of the golf challenge on the three nines, but like all the native pueblos, the Isleta have virtually unlimited ancestral water rights and so there is little incentive to eliminate out-of-play turf to conserve water.

"Among all the pueblos," says one head pro (not at Isleta) who asked for anonymity, "there is the attitude that they must use all the water they can, so that the state or feds never think that they could easily get by with far less." In New Mexico, water rights are an amazingly contentious subject and the source of endless litigation. The native take on all that, understandably, is, How can white folk build all these shopping malls, gated subdivisions and freeways, and then begrudge Native Americans their ancestral water.

On a day when the high desert wind was howling, director of golf Mike Ciolek, who has been at Isleta all of its 17 years, guided me through a quietly scenic course that has matured nicely over the years. The beauty here is subtle but unmistakable. The arroyos, lakes and mountain vistas may not be quite as vast on the course itself as some others offer -- man-made mounding creates its only elevation changes -- but Isleta's use of elegant native grasses and the peaceful Rio Grande riparian forest, or bosque, gives the course a timeless natural solitude. The occasional passing train only adds to the lonesome Southwestern mystique.

Making the course more playable for women and seniors was a theme I encountered at several stops along the Santa Fe Trail.

"On several holes," says Ciolek, "we had desert-like transition areas that actually crossed the fairways, with trees, rocks, native grasses. And we learned that women and seniors didn't really like playing that nine, with those forced carries, so we cleaned them up and put in some finely crushed rock so you can run the ball through or play the ball out of there."

In tough economic times, New Mexico courses, like many across the country, have looked hard at their playability for all customers and decided that high-handicappers can be assisted without the scratch player ever thinking the challenge has been dumbed down. "When rounds are down," Ciolek remarked, "it just makes no sense whatsoever to give anyone a reason not to return."

The Isleta Hard Rock Casino and 200-room hotel are just across the road from the golf course.

Rates: $35 to $69. (877) 475-3827

Sandia GC (2005, Scott Miller)

Few courses in New Mexico announce their physical presence quite as dramatically as Sandia, which sits quite metaphorically between the foothills of 10,000-foot Sandia Peak, the ancient iconic mountain that gave birth to its namesake pueblo, and the 10-story hotel and faux-adobe gambling palace, largest in New Mexico, that keeps the pueblo alive today.

Designer Scott Miller, who produced the Coeur d'Alene Resort course and Scottsdale's exceptional We-Ko-Pa GC, produced a course that has quickly become a local favorite and which seems to always be in fine shape.

Hugging Albuquerque's busy northside intersection of I-25 and Tramway Blvd., this broad expansive course (7,772 yards from the tips) further enhances Miller's We-Ko-Pa success by masterfully pulling off what so many designers hope but fail to do. He has created a thoroughly inviting and playable resort course -- you'll hit driver all day long -- that knows its true customer base (the occasional golfer) wants to simply find his or her ball on every hole and plod delightfully on, whether they're headed for 100 or not.

If they play Sandia from the correct tees, Miller rewards them. He has 40 acres of wide desert transition areas with decomposed granite between the fairways and the truly inhospitable, snakey desert, which allow the wayward to at least recover and stay alive.

However, ironsmen like Sandia's director of golf, Matt Molloy, and the similarly gifted find that the precision required closer to the green always keeps them engaged. "I hear from locals all the time, 'I shot my best round of the year out here,'" says Molloy, a mellowed-out New Yorker. "It's not hard from the tees, but the greens are difficult, there are false fronts and deceptive dual-fairways, four par-fives that are true three-shot holes, and from 150 yards in, the better player has to pay attention."

In a region where seemingly every course has Nikonic grandeur, Sandia's 360-degree vistas are unsurpassed. You can watch coal-black mountain storms full of hail and lightning play themselves out 50 miles away over Chaco Mesa and feel that you're on a different, safer planet at Sandia.

Rates: $46 to $86. (505) 798-3990.

Santa Ana GC (1991, 27 holes, Ken Killian)

About 14 miles north of Albuquerque, west of I-25 next to the town of Bernalillo on the Santa Ana Pueblo, lies another 27-hole complex that physically resembles Isleta in many ways. Man-made mounding, eight lakes, rolling bluegrass fairways, essentially flat and very inviting golf.

But the restful banks of the Rio Grande create a backdrop here every bit as stunning as the fall of New England. In October, thousands of tall golden-leafed guardians of the middle Rio Grande make up the largest cottonwood forest in North America. Joined by willows, Russian olive and salt cedar, the river's bosque, in places as wide as three miles, is a beloved part of New Mexico culture that emerges in songs, poems and artwork. Sadly, for decades now the river has been so depleted by agriculture and suburban growth that it is usually just a shallow remnant of its once-Great self.

But I digress. Santa Ana is the older sister course to the Hyatt Tamaya's award-winning Twin Warriors GC, which is just a mile or so away (see below), beside the Tamaya resort. The café, pro shop and staff here have been consistently wonderful throughout the tenure of the pueblo's just-retired director of golf, Roger Martinez, whose business acumen and attention to customer satisfaction is known throughout the state. I'd be worried that this could continue under new management, but Martinez will be succeeded by Twin Warriors' former head pro, Derek Gutierrez, who mentored under Roger and will ensure both a smooth transition and a stunning breakfast burrito.

Rates: $35 to $59. (505) 867-9464

Twin Warriors GC (2001, Gary Panks)

Just up the hill from Santa Ana GC at the Hyatt Tamaya resort is the first of three must-play courses for your trip, and certainly the most logical place to stay for a week of golf.

I've played the course perhaps ten times over the last decade and have yet to find any single feature, much less an entire hole, that seems misplaced or clumsy. Twin hosted the 2003 and 2009 PGA Club Pro Championships (New Mexico's only nationally televised golf events) and won over a host of faraway golf travelers. The course climbs through a rugged high-desert landscape that seems to glow in reddish hues at sunset, weaving its way through more than 20 native cultural sites where meals and conversation were made among the ancient Keres-speaking people, or Anasazi, as far back as the 12th century. On the left of hole 13, you can also find some old track from the Santa Fe Railroad of the late 1800s.

As the back nine rises into a mesa overlooking the resort, which fortunately is understated and perfectly wedded with its landscape, every hole seems framed by mammoth Sandia Peak and the Rio Grande. "We always take guests and corporate groups out on the back nine," says Troy Wood, Hyatt's director of sales and marketing. "Then they're hooked. Groups that didn't even have golf on their program want to add it in. And we're more popular with corporate groups now because we're not Hawaii or Las Vegas, and profits from this resort go straight back into the Santa Ana Pueblo."

Twin's bentgrass greens are fast and wavy like a Stetson. There are some mild carries over cactus-lined arroyos and washes, but some of the tougher ones have been tamed a bit. Panks allows you to unleash your driver from some thrilling elevated tees, but prickly desert rough awaits the errant tourist.

Seemingly every resort in New Mexico is talking about sustainability and water conservation -- they are easy targets in a drought-stricken state -- and the Hyatt Tamaya is no exception. The beef served in the hotel's restaurants is grass-fed, hormone-free, and New Mexico-raised, near Socorro. They've got their own herb garden and a very successful horse rehabilitation program that has rescued some 60 abandoned mustangs and quarter horses from around the state. There are native bread-baking classes with Santa Ana women, mountain biking trails, wonderful kid programs and horseback riding that goes beyond the sleepy nose-to-butt resort trail experience.

There are both casual and fancy restaurants on site -- the swanky Corn Maiden has an attentive staff and creative chefs who go the extra mile -- but the town of Bernalillo is barely a mile away, and there you find two quality New Mex-Mex outfits, The Range Café and Abuelita's.

The Hyatt is well-removed from the sprawl of Albuquerque. You can literally hear coyotes at dusk, and the walks along the Rio Grande bosque are a delight, but ABQ's hip cafes, bars and UNM sports scene are just 20 minutes south. And Santa Fe is about 45 minutes north. More important, the resort offers two excellent golf courses, and Twin's awesome driving range, with instructor Sandy Lemon, is right next to the parking lot.

Rates: $79 to $109. (505) 771-6155.

Towa GC (2001, 27 holes, Bill Phillips and Hale Irwin)

Few courses in America have had more trouble with establishing themselves in an already-quirky golf economy than Towa GC, on the Pojoaque Pueblo, 12 miles north of Santa Fe. In its earliest years, the three nines were sometimes so bald and unkempt that Golfweek raters (ahem, me) were politely asked not to show up. Conditions have improved dramatically under new GM Linda Howell, but the lack of adequate water in its formative years is still apparent.

"This course never had enough water," says Howell. "We had to get by on about 450,000 gallons a day sometimes, when we needed over a million." The Butterfly nine, which would complete the planned 36-hole complex, was allowed to go dormant. In June, parts of the Boulder nine still had fairways that looked like a Calico cat, with patches of brown, orange and green competing with hard, bleached-out expanses beside the tee boxes and cart paths. The ballyhooed island green looked sad and plain, like a forgotten ferris wheel. That's the bad news.

The Pinon nine has jaw-dropping vistas, with some skinny Tour-width fairways and a gorgeous par-3 No. 8 that glistens beside the stark desert outcroppings. The Valley nine, designed by Irwin but since reshaped, is in fine shape and seems infinitely more coherent, playable and pleasing to the eye. "We've played here many times," said a middle-aged woman from Colorado, as she striped one down the middle of Valley's tough par-5 finishing hole to applause from her husband. "The carries aren't too bad," she added, with a wink. "I think it's fair."

Howell, who works for the Hilton management team selected by the pueblo, arrived in 2008 and brought in a hard-working superintendent, Jimmy Rodriquez, who happens to be a four handicap. I found him on hands and knees on the practice green one morning – "he sometimes works 16 hour days," says Howell – hand-plucking black pellets of algae with a table knife. Tall, athletic and full of energy, Howell tries to keep a sense of humor about a litany of underperforming water wells, severe winter freezes, problematic turf and a customer base that was once understandably dismayed.

"In the worst years," she says, grimacing, "customers would go out, play three holes and storm back into the pro shop and we would give them their money back before they could say anything. We could not justify the price. We've definitely had to manage people's expectations and not advertise that we are something we are not."
Howell's needs are many, but she gets admiring nods from her counterparts all along the Santa Fe Golf Trail. "If I had extra money," she says, "I'd take $250,000 to fix the bunkers. I'd drill an extra well. Jimmy has a staff of 12 while other courses have twice that ..." She smiles and remembers to only fret about those things she can actually change.

Towa does not yet have 27 holes of great golf -- only the Valley nine is the equal of its southern neighbors on the Trail -- but I would certainly not bet against Howell and Rodriquez changing all that by mid-summer.

Rates: $55 to $89. (505) 455-9000

Black Mesa GC (2003, Baxter Spann)

On the same road as Towa, about 30 minutes north of Santa Fe on the Santa Clara Pueblo, is the second of three must-play courses for your week of high-desert golf, Black Mesa GC, which has cracked the nation's top 100 in virtually every golf magazine and gets raves from some very fussy architecture critics.

But Black Mesa is controversial.

For every golf design maven on the Internet who rhapsodizes about Baxter Spann's oceanic bonanza of turf sprawling across the bleached desert like the collision of Ireland and Nevada, there are legions of locals and golf travelers who have played it once, nodded with respect, even awe, and not quite found the time to return. Sources on the Trail say Black Mesa has consistently lost money for years, is heavily subsidized by the pueblo's casino (as are nearly all) and that plans for a second 18 by Tom Doak may stay in the file cabinet.

The reason is that Black Mesa, while starkly beautiful, is unrelentingly difficult.

I'm not sure America has enough single-digit handicaps to keep these fairways bustling. The golfer's exam starts at the very first hole, where Spann, wisely choosing not to obliterate a craggy hill that bisects the front nine, has you blindly go over the side of it, while gazing at water, desert rough and evil lurking all about. The carry is not wildly difficult, but the penalty for a hacker's weak slice is a lost ball, almost before you're out of your car. A beautiful series of holes rewards you – that's never the issue; Spann respects the land and had a near-limitless canvass -- but there are crowned fairways, baffling tee shots and penal (though slightly tamed) bunkers that will make a 20-handicapper wail.

GM Tom Velarde, an unfailingly kind fellow who has heard all the praise and scorn without taking it personally, admits that there has been some recent tweaking.

"My wife is about a 34 who thinks she is a 17," he says, with a chuckle, "and she had trouble clearing some of the waste areas. We turned a handful of the most penal bunkers into grass bunkers. We just figured that people had hit a pretty bad shot to get into the bunkers. Let's not have them blast out of one, only to find another just like it."

No doubt the public agreed. "We would see these enormous elephant footprints in the bunkers," Velarde confesses. "The unraked bunkers were a sign that they were really mad with us."

But, hey, you don't live there, right? You're visiting, and you want to see the best golf New Mexico has to offer, and you're going to Santa Fe anyhow. The tin-roofed prairie clubhouse, windmill, hospitality and mesmerizing solitude of Black Mesa make it well worth the trip. Just take plenty of balls -- some used ones might not hurt -- choose the right tees and don't view your score as an affirmation of your life.

Then soothe your wounds with some tamales in nearby Espanola, home to some of the finest Latino low-rider vehicles in the land, made famous by National Geographic.

Rates: $35 to $87. (505) 747-8946.

Paa-Ko Ridge GC (2000 and 2005, 27 holes, Ken Dye)

This is New Mexico's best course. Don't leave without playing here.

Paa-Ko, which is not tribal-owned, is about 24 miles east of downtown Albuquerque on the backside of Sandia Peak in one of those second-home, blindingly white, Southwestern retirement communities. You can easily play it your first day or your last, but it's not really on the way to any other courses. (It is, however, on the Turquoise Trail. Look it up.)

At the end of my recent New Mexico trip, a conversation at Sandia's 19th hole among the director of golf, Matt Molloy, and two talented locals told me volumes about Paa-Ko's reputation. They uniformly praised Paa-Ko as a butt-kicking test of golf, but unlike Black Mesa, there were no qualifications, no cautionary tales. You could tell they loved everything about it and couldn't wait to return, even if, in Molloy's case, Paa-Ko was a competitor.

Ken Dye changed the nation's perception of New Mexico golf with Paa-Ko. After Golf Digest named it the best new course for 2000 and Golfweek ranked it No. 23 in its modern top 100 in its debut year, there was a rampage of word-of-mouth traffic. Rumor had it that some of the cognoscenti would fly in from San Francisco and New York just to play Paa-Ko, then leave.

What they found was really unlike anything in the state, except perhaps Dye's other New Mexico sensation, Pinon Hills GC, an incredible muny in deep northwest Farmington. It wasn't just Paa-Ko's wall-to-wall turf, the altitude (7,000 feet), the transcendent, 60-mile views from the tee boxes or the flawless bentgrass greens. Scenery and conditioning certainly count, but what Paa-Ko brought was an intelligent challenge that kept golfers buzzing about how they might play this or that hole differently tomorrow and how much better they'd score on their fifth round.

In its first years, I would interview well-traveled golfers in the clubhouse café after their rounds and several without hesitation compared Paa-Ko to Torrey Pines, the Olympic Club and the best of northern California. Best of all, the regulars began developing almost personal relationships with several holes, such as the par-5 12th or a benign, down-wind par-3, where it seemed that bunkers had been placed overnight by angry ex-wives and the mountain winds could be generated by one's own frustration. Paa-Ko soon became a Moby Dick for the tortured New Mexican golfer.

But after having played the original 18 perhaps a dozen times, and the new nine maybe twice, nothing yet seems even remotely unfair. I wish the original 18 were more walkable and that those trophy homes were more hidden by the pines, but that's far outweighed by their $59 summer twilight rate (after 2 pm). Go look for that at your friendly, local top 50 national course.

Rates: $59 to $114. (505)281-6000.

Albuquerque Restaurants

Cecilia's Cafe, (505) 243-7070, true family New Mex-Mex, with blue corn enchiladas and green chile chicken soup, among others.

Duran's Station, (505) 830-0007, some locals think to eat breakfast anywhere else would be a sacrilege.

El Modelo Mexican Foods, (505) 242-1843, generations of South Valley families swear by "the model" for New Mex-Mex.

Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza, (505) 266-7855, lusty artisanal pizza in the hip Nob Hill 'hood near UNM.
Frontier, (505) 266-0550, open until 1 a.m., where the underside of ABQ loves to dine.

Bernalillo Restaurants
(all within a mile of the Hyatt Tamaya Resort)

The Range Cafe, (505) 867-1700, a breakfast institution for artists, activists and turquoise ranchers. I've never had a mediocre meal here. Nice gift shop, too. Albuquerque also has two locations.

Abuelita's, (505) 867-9988, unassuming and tasty, the sopapillas are worth waiting for.

The Flying Star, (505) 404-2100, a quality casual chain with fancy Chinese stir-fry dishes, fabulous salads and (Homer Simpson drooling) one of the country's great cherry pies, with tart red cherries, cane sugar and a dash of lemon juice.

Prairie Star, (505) 867-3327, elegant dining right next to the Santa Ana Golf Course (beside the Hyatt Tamaya), open 5:30 to 9 p.m., Tuesday - Sunday.

Santa Fe Restaurants

Too many to mention, but you can't go wrong at ...

Shed's, (505) 982-9030, exceptional unpretentious New Mex-Mex.

La Choza, (505) 982-0909, very fresh, very local, and kinda expensive.

-- Bruce Selcraig is a former staff writer with Sports Illustrated who has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic and Harper's, among others. Click here to email him.

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Move over, Miami Heat. There's a new high-flying basketball team in South Florida.

The apparel company Hunter Skipper recently teamed up with Ironmon Watersports to create this extremely cool and unique trick shot video.

These guys pull off alley-oops, dunks and some impressive long range shots, all while on top of a flyboard.

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As if jumping off of a cliff wasn't exciting enough, a group of innovative daredevils pulled a trampoline to the edge of a creek in Arizona and went wild.

This group of friends pulled off all sorts of acrobatic moves on the trampoline, and thanks to one brave cameraman, we are able to witness most of them.

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Upon coming across a 50,000 pound whale shark on a routine fishing trip, most people would quickly turn around and go the other way.

Not Chris Kreis.

During a recent fishing trip off the coast of Captiva, Fla., Kreis came face-to-face with an enormous whale shark. But he wasn't satisfied with just catching a glimpse of the monstrosity. He wanted to go for a ride. So Kreis jumped in and grabbed onto the shark for a quick ride.

"When I started holding on I felt the whale shark it started moving itself, it felt the drag and it didn't really want me on there so I let go and that's it," the 19-year-old Kreis told Fort Myers' NBC 2 in a rather nonchalant tone for someone who had just ridden a shark.

The video of Kreis' ride quickly went viral. Check it out below:

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What Kreis did is not illegal, but marine biologist Bruce Neill told NBC 2 that it could be harmful for the animal.

Now that he knows he could hurt the shark by riding it, Kreis told NBC 2 that if he were to see the animal again, he would jump in but make sure to stay away.

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In 2008, Tiger Woods was playing an inspired performance in the U.S. Open with one knee barely able to walk, much less position itself for him to hit a golf club properly. It was before the messy divorce, the porn stars and the string of embarrassing anecdotes about the golf star, so fans around the world were watching with gripped knuckles as he battled it out with Rocco Mediate, a likable every man golfer. By the time the two made it to the 18th hole, Woods needed to sink a 15-foot putt to force a playoff.

A few hundred feet above, MetLife blimp pilot Charlie Smith, an affable Florida native who grew up playing soccer and a bit of baseball but turned into a big golf fan, and a cameraman, Bob Mikkelson, were watching. They were aboard Snoopy One, MetLife's blimp, which was feeding footage to NBC's golf coverage.

It was a foggy day so the blimp was flying lower than normal, making the camera shot crystal clear.

“I believe it was the second to last group coming up on Sunday and so all the attention was on him,” Smith remembered. “So we just wanted to get in the right position to stage the final shot when it went down and it just happened to go in.”

As the perfect replay captured by Snoopy One would show, Woods made it and raised his arms triumphantly and threw his head back in joy. Tommy Roy, a producer for the Golf Channel who was producing that broadcast, said he looked at the blimp replay immediately.

"The replay actually was perfect," he said, "because he was looking ... up to the heavens."

Whether Woods found God or not in that moment is debatable. But there is one thing that millions of people watching that day saw on the replay: He looked right into the blimp.


Since the first shot from a blimp used in a television program, which researchers believe, came in 1960 at the Orange Bowl (though evidence of a shot in 1959 has also been found), it's been used to provide a bit of gravitas and beauty shots to broadcasts on all of the major networks.

According to Dennis Deninger, a Professor in the Syracuse University Department of Sport Management and author of the book "Sports on Television: The How and Why Behind What You See," it was a longtime CBS director who had seen the blimps at a base on Watson Island near Miami. He got the idea of putting a camera on them, and since then they’ve become a mainstay at the games.

That view is the one that is used to bring viewers to commercial (a wide shot), or get shots that other cameras can’t on the field. For example, for events like golf tournaments, a blimp camera can zoom in on a golfer or in horse races, it can zoom out on the whole race much more easily than a cameraman on the ground can. And when the weather goes bad, a blimp acts as the “fail-safe” to other cameras on the ground that may be faring worse with the elements.

"It's hard to imagine a sporting event being filmed without a blimp because instead of being just a luxury camera, it’s turned into a necessity because it’s the one angle you can’t get anywhere else,” Smith said.

Over the years, different companies have sponsored blimps. For example, Smith's "Snoopy One” is sponsored by MetLife and another one in his company (the blimp is owned by Van Wagner) is the DirectTV blimp. Perhaps the best known for a long time was the Goodyear blimp (Smith notes there's a bit of a rivalry between the companies.)

Throughout the year, the blimp flies to sporting events where they will receive enough television exposure and fan time to make the cost of the crew of advanced setup and on-ground people, the pilot and the blimp itself worth heading over there. The station then has to do an agreed upon amount of plugs or shots of the blimp in exchange for free footage, in most situations.

“You have to get in what was referred to as a 'blimp pop' each hour or whatever was contracted,” said Deninger.

During broadcasts, the blimp is filled with pilots like Smith and an expert cameraman who uses a high-powered camera to capture the event. He’s seen everything from the baseball games in MetLife Stadium to Super Bowl games, from a vantage point few will ever get to see.

“Of course my favorite stadium is MetLife Stadium,” Smith said, pointing to his blimp’s sponsoring company. “I’m a big fan of Lambeau field because I think it's cool how the community owns the team and it’s hard to go wrong with the Cowboys -- the monstrosity they have, I don’t think there will be anything like that ever again.”

For some events like horse racing and NASCAR, the blimp often provides the best shots of the field and important moments in the event, said Deninger, who produced horse racing broadcasts for ESPN.

"During [Kentucky Derby] races at Churchill Downs, it was a terrific cameras for replays at certain times because the lenses that you equip these cameras with now zoom in and we were able to follow an entire race," he said. "If you're moving above this pack of horses, you can see the spacing, you can see the maneuvers, you can see a lot more from the air than you can with the cameras around the racetrack."

According to Roy, blimp technology improved about 10 years ago to make it possible to go from just the wide aerial shot, which is what blimps were previously used for, to follow each shot in golf coverage.

"The blimp is our protection because we can cut to that as we bounce around the golf course from shot to shot," he said. "The blimp cameraman is following where we're going and backing up that shot."

More than fail-safe camera shots and wide angles, Deninger believes, what the blimp really has added most to sporting events is the sense that what’s happening down on the field or in the stadium or on the golf course is a big deal -- a big enough deal to not only attract MetLife’s Snoopy One, or another blimp, but fill stadiums and line courses with fans.

"When NBC does the Super Bowl ... there's just something really special about a blimp shot in the daytime when you see the Rose Bowl filled with people, but there's something even more special when it's at night and you see an entire city lit up and a stadium lit up -- it's this fabulous glowing jewel in the night.

"Those are the great shots, those are the magical shots that make the viewer feel this is something special and say 'I want to devote all my time to this.'"

Click here for more pictures of and from the MetLife blimp

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