Outdoor Adaptive Sports Programs: Where To Find The Nation’s Best

Like most of us, I didn’t fully realize the extent of the daily hassles and challenges faced by those who use a wheelchair, prosthetic, or other mobility aid until it became somewhat personal. I’m fortunate to have two people in my life who’ve been an enormous source of both education and inspiration, and I’m writing this piece because of them. A little bit of background is in order:

When I moved to Vail in 1995 to attend culinary school, I became friends with Darol Kubacz, a young Forest Service employee. Darol had broken his back in a motorcycle accident about 18 months prior; at the time of his injury, he was in the Army, working in Special Ops. He was already an experienced outdoorsman who enjoyed scuba diving, climbing, and hiking. Despite the physical challenges and fairly recent onset of his paralysis, he made a huge impression on me with his positive, non-defeatist attitude.

Darol’s job with the Forest Service entailed trail assessment for the handicapped, while in his personal life he’d already undertaken a number of adaptive sports, including the aforementioned activities he’d enjoyed prior to his injury. He’d also started alpine skiing (he broke his neck in a skiing accident in 2000, but fortunately sustained no additional physical or neurological damage).

Darol became my workout buddy, and he was the first friend I’d ever had who was in a chair. Through him, I learned a lot about what it means to live with a limitation. Mainly, he impressed upon me that, to a certain extent, it’s possible for humans to overcome physical limitations. I’m surprised he doesn’t have, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” carved into his chest.Today, Darol works as a part-time adaptive hiking guide in Phoenix (he and his clients use off-road arm bikes),and is working on launching an adaptive paragliding program. He’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro –twice, summiting once– entirely under his own power, to raise awareness for his foundation, Freedom for Life. Following his ski accident, he has, he says, “Learned to embrace a more intimate experience with nature, that’s less about speed and adrenalin, and more about being in the moment.” Hence his passion for off-road bikes.

I met my friend Tony 12 years, ago, when I was living in Berkeley and working as a farmers market vendor. A loyal customer, Tony is also a documentary filmmaker and graphic designer. He’s quadriplegic, the result of a teenage diving accident. Tony has partial use of his arms, and until his accident, was a competitive surfer. Until a few years ago, however, he’d never been able to get back on a board due to some medical issues he was dealing with.

Today, a freakishly youthful 48, Tony is an avid surfer and skier (that’s him at Alpine Meadows, in the photo at the beginning of this story), thanks to several amazing adaptive sport programs. He says he’s in the best shape of his life, and his jones for salt water and snow matches that of any able-bodied enthusiast.

Living in the outdoor adventure mecca of Boulder as I do, I’m also in an epicenter of outdoor adaptive recreation programs. With my locale and both of these inspiring and incredible guys in mind, I wanted to provide a round-up of top adaptive sport centers across the country.

Adaptive Adventures
Based in Boulder, this is Darol’s preferred ski and summer program; he also co-produces a summer Moab Mania event for them. They offer alpine skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, wake-boarding, kayaking, rafting, and cycling. Offers civilian, veterans, and kids programs.

Telluride Adaptive Sports Program
Darol and I both recommend this program (me, from living in Telluride and knowing some of the staff). TASP is very well-regarded, and offers summer and winter programs. This time of year there’s alpine, nordic, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-climbing, Helitrax skiing, and snowmobiling. In summer, there’s horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, climbing, paddling, and camping.

Challenge Aspen
This prestigious adaptive ski and snowboard program based in Snowmass is for civilians with physical or cognitive disabilities. Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (C.A.M.O.) is for injured military; a new camp this year has been developed to help adaptive skiers learn more about competitive Paralympic training programs and interface with Paralymic coaches.

High Fives Foundation
Tony is a huge fan of this Truckee, California, based non-profit founded by paralyzed former competitive skier Roy Tuscany. It’s dedicated to raising awareness and funding for “injured athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.” High Fives also serves as a resource center for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and pilates, gyms, and adaptive sports and equipment.

WORLD T.E.A.M. Sports
Chartered in North Carolina and based in New York, Darol recommends this athletic organization that offers adaptive and able-bodied events in mountain biking, rafting, cycling, and more. They also offer teen challenges.

They Will Surf Again
Tony has hit the waves with this Los Angeles-based program offered by the non-profit, Life Rolls On (LRO). Founded by quadriplegic, former competitive surfer Jesse Billauer, LRO raises awareness and funds for spinal cord injury (SCI) research, and offers bi-coastal adaptive surfing, skate, and snowboarding programs.

AccesSurf Hawaii
Honolulu-based adaptive surfing and other recreational water sport programs.

Wheels 2 Water
Tony recommends this adaptive surf and scuba diving non-profit in his hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

Wheels Up Pilots
This research and instructional paragliding program in Santa Barbara is highly recommended by Darol, who is about to become one of the first two U.S.-certified adaptive paragliding pilots. Open to civilians and veterans.

Freedom for Life Off-road Arm Biking
For guided hikes in the Phoenix area, contact Darol Kubacz, darol@fflfoundation.org.

[Photo credits: adaptive skier, Tony Schmiesing; all others, Adaptive Adventures]

Steins, New Mexico: The Ultimate American Ghost Town

It concerns me that the gas station attendant has never heard of Steins. We are one stop away from Steins on New Mexico’s Interstate 10. It’s basically this gas station, flat desert, some yucca plants, then Steins. I could walk to my destination from here. Granted, I might get sunstroke and also scary close to the vultures on the fences, but the point is we’re that close. “Sorry ma’am,” he shakes his head. “I don’t know that town.”

I keep calm, knowing Steins doesn’t fit everyone’s definition of a town. Not since the mid-1940s has Steins had much street traffic. That was when the Southern Pacific Railroad switched from steam to diesel, shutting down this depot town virtually overnight. It’s the classic ghost town tale – a settlement of transients and dreamers who fled as abruptly as they came – except that Steins was never completely abandoned.

There was always someone hanging on: first, the bordello madams, and later, a lone man who got his pick of the cluttered homes. For over 40 years, the adobes slouched and the barns blanched to gray, but Steins, unlike so many of the old boomtowns that dot the map of New Mexico, was never left to the elements, and never looted.

It’s no small relief to see a woman on the porch of the old town store, under the chipped white letters, STEINS MERCANTILE. There’s a cattle grate to bump over, and just past it, an outburst of prickly pear cacti, holding their pert needles up to the desert sun. It’s just after 9 a.m. and already, the desert’s cooking.

The woman stands and watches me pull up – apparently, I’m today’s first guest. Steins, after a full year of closure, just reopened in May. I scoured the web for an official site to confirm its new hours, but all the search results led me instead to the story of Larry Link.

%Gallery-161412%A rattlesnake farmer, Larry Link got to dreaming about the abandoned train town deep in the southwest corner of New Mexico, and persuaded his wife that they should buy it. This was in 1988, when Steins wasn’t even listed in some regional ghost town guides. From the highway, it looked like a junkyard; up close, like a trove of Wild West artifacts. Larry’s vision was simple: it didn’t involve historical reenactments or tour guides in period garb. He just wanted to clear a path through Steins and to invite the public in.

“He didn’t want to entertain people,” says Melissa Lamoree, Link’s granddaughter, who just took over the family operation. A year prior, Larry Link walked out late one night to investigate a noise on his property. He was shot and killed. The murder, which remains unsolved, devastated the Link family. As for the ghost town, it looked as though history was about to repeat itself, with another sudden folding, until 30-year-old Melissa stepped in. It bristled her to think her grandfather’s death might overshadow the place he’d spent years reviving. By the end of his life, Link had cleared paths in all but a few buildings. “He just wanted the history of this place to speak for itself.”

Melissa stands off to the side as I duck through the low doorway of a pink brick house, into a room so thick with dust it has the murky feel of pond water. In a long slice of window light, I see what a commotion our entrance causes. A dust storm rises and settles. My first concern is knocking something over. My second concern is where to look.

Imagine an attic where your parents and their parents, and about four more generations of parents, have stacked lamps and novels and cowboy boots and old license plates. Imagine that no one, in this long line of hoarders, believes in spring cleaning. No dusters in the family, either. Imagine spider webs as thick as gauze. A few you mistake for cocoons.

My gaze settles first on a boxy wooden suitcase, cracked open to reveal the record player within, its needle resting partway across a grimy album. Next, I make out a pair of silver roller skates, sitting like a pair of toy cars on the counter. That’s a horseshoe, I think; that’s a tin for tobacco. I lift the cover of a children’s book and what sounds like a pinch of sand hits the floor.

I turn around and cringe at Melissa, not because I’ve broken something, but because I haven’t heard a word she’s said since coming inside. “Could you start over?” I have to ask, hoping Melissa believes my reason. “I’m overwhelmed.”

She smiles – I must not be the first dumbstruck guest – and rewinds. “Thirteen hundred people used to live here … ” In the early 1880s, Steins was a workstation for the railroad company aiming to connect California and the Gulf of Mexico. When a stone quarry was built nearby, 1,000 Chinese laborers arrived to lay gravel bed. “Only one Chinese man was allowed to live right here in town,” Melissa tells me. “The cook.” On the wall behind her, a half-corroded company sign warns townspeople “to avoid being struck ... by trains or cars.” The railroad gave life to this town, and just over a half a century later, took it away.

“When things shut down, people were offered a ride on the train,” Melissa pauses by an upright piano that looks straight out of a saloon.The piano’s roof, like most surfaces in this 16-room maze, doubles as a display – in this case, for clocks, peacock feathers, a tarnished watering can. “They were told to take whatever they could carry.” There was a lot the people of Steins could not carry – hence the attic-feel.

If Steins is haunted, it’s by what was left behind – things too heavy or impractical to carry forward, pieces of this town’s life that were never the starting ingredients for someplace else. The pie safe is crowded with still-full spice jars. A typewriter sits heavily on a table, spider webs bridging its blank-faced keys. Overhead, a cowboy hat hangs on a pair of elk horns, lanced right in its dimple. The handle of a dresser dangles off one hook, like it was yanked hard and quick.

It’s the arrangement of things, more than the condition they’re in, that makes the interior rooms of Steins so astonishing. You get the sense, creeping across the swollen floorboards and into the silent bedrooms, that these lanterns and suspenders and saddles are right where someone left them. That was why Melissa, when she was a little girl, trailing after her grandfather on summer visits, refused to go into the bathhouse. Everything by that cobwebbed, claw-foot tub looked left by someone.

Preserving that trace of the town’s last settlers was the work of Larry Link. He wasn’t precious about keeping the antiques in mint condition (the only relic I inspect through glass is the delicate skeleton of a horny toad), but seemed to believe that the way we leave things – however messy or unruly or vulnerable – tells a story.

Take the mason jars of Steins. Everywhere you look in this ghost town, there are long families of glass jars, their shoulders uniformly dusted. I see mason jars over doorways, across the piano, bloating cupboards. From the look of it, the people of Steins were America’s first diehard recyclers. “The sheriff warned people not to throw away glass,” Melissa tells me. “Because the Apaches might use the shards to make arrow heads.”

I’d planned to weave through other old mining towns on my long ride home from Steins, but anywhere else is bound to feel like a Disney ride set after a place this heavy with history. At a nearby ghost town, reenacted saloon fights remind visitors of the lawlessness of the Old West. At Steins, that hint is in the bottles, every shade of sea glass, glowing in the corners of dim rooms.

“Every time I come through here,” says Melissa, “I notice something new.” I know she’s not exaggerating; later, when I study my photos, I see all I missed. Completely different things pop: not the chipped white bed post, but the hanging silver scissors, their legs kicked open, gleaming in the backdrop. Not the broken china plate, but the sewing machine off to the side, looking somehow poised.

One thing, though, is impossible to look past in real time: the stuffed warthog.

“That’s a javalena,” Melissa corrects me. She sounds excited to introduce us: New Yorker and giant rodent of the desert. Her grandfather hung the javalena for precisely this occasion: so outsiders could learn about the desert habitat. Though I doubt it’s the cactus-eating beast that’s exciting Melissa. She brightens every time her grandfather comes up. I’ve heard about Larry Link in just about every chamber of this ghost town. Steins starts to feel like a layering of dreams and losses, all of them raw, but none more than the Link family’s.

A train passes, its whistle like a pipe organ – all keys pressed down, let go. It’s gone by the time we step outside, into the brightness. I follow Melissa through a yard where rusty barrels and wash pans look as organic as the barrel cacti. Steins has a fence but no real perimeter; it spreads and mingles with the desert scrub, as far as I can squint. This place refuses to let you get your bearings. It tugs at and teases your gaze, onward and deeper, into the next rusty puzzle. Off in the distance, a splotchy red truck that probably drove through the Great Depression rests with its hood popped open.

“Antique people sometimes come and tell me our most valuable things are out here, baking in the sun,” Melissa says, sounding amused, not worried.

I squint over her shoulder, wondering what the high-ticket treasures are. The disintegrating wheelbarrow? The drooping stagecoach?

I give up, realizing it doesn’t matter. Melissa may one day have to dismantle the dusty chaos of Steins, but for the moment, she’s sticking to the vision of the rattlesnake farmer who put Steins back on the map. She’s keeping a path clear, and stepping aside.

Tombstone, Arizona: The Toughest Town Of The Wild West

Of all the Wild West towns in America, Tombstone, Arizona, stands out as legendary.

Tombstone got its name from a mining claim filed in 1877. Prospector Ed Schieffelin had been told by local soldiers that the southern Arizona hills were crawling with Apaches, scorpions and rattlesnakes and that he’d only find his tombstone there, so he thumbed his nose at their pessimism by naming his claim Tombstone. Schieffelin discovered the area was rich in silver and the dusty hillside soon became a boom town. Within two years Tombstone had a population approaching 1000.

One early resident, Clara Spalding Brown, wrote that Tombstone was, “. . .an embryo city of canvas, frame and adobe, scattered over a slope. . .The only attractive places visible are the liquor and gambling saloons, which are everywhere present and are carpeted and comfortably furnished. . .The camp is one of the dirtiest places in the world. . .The sod lies loose upon the surface, and is whirled into the air every day by a wind which almost amounts to a gale; it makes the eyes smart like the cinders from an engine; it penetrates into the houses, and covers everything with dust. . .The mercury gallivants around in the nineties, with altogether too high-minded ideas. . .we cannot obtain desirable food for hot weather; fresh vegetables are scarce, and the few fruits in the markets require a very large purse. . .The camp is considered a remarkably quiet one – only one murder since my arrival.”

That low murder rate was about to go up. Scattered in nearby ranches and villages was a loose-knit group of cattle rustlers dubbed “the Cowboys.” They’d cross the border into Mexico, steal cattle, and sell them cheaply in Tombstone. In most of the West, “cowboy” simply meant a drover from Texas. Now in Southern Arizona the name took on a pejorative meaning, distinct from the respectable “rangemen” or “cattlemen.”

%Gallery-159476%The cowboys engaged in worse crimes too, including stagecoach robberies. They numbered perhaps 200 but were never a rigid organization. They only came into Tombstone to sell their stolen beef and whoop it up in the saloons. The locals generally tolerated them. Their stolen cattle lowered the price of beef and they spent lots of money.

Into this Wild West town strode the Earp brothers. Virgil was appointed U.S. Deputy Marshal. Wyatt rode shotgun for Wells Fargo stagecoaches and moonlighted as a gambler. Morgan was also a shotgun messenger and sometimes a special deputy. One-armed Jim tended bar. A fifth brother, Warren, drifted in and out of town.

The Earps were not impressed with the Cowboys. Virgil said, “As soon as they are in funds they ride into town, drink, gamble, and fight. They spend their money as free as water in saloons, dancehouses, or faro banks, and this is one reason they have so many friends in town. All that large class of degraded characters who gather the crumbs of such carouses stand ready to assist them out of any trouble or into any paying rascality.”

The battle lines were soon drawn, with complex political machinations further dividing the boomtown. It all came to a head on October 26, 1881, with the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp, joined by Wyatt’s friend Doc Holliday, faced off against five Cowboys, killing three.

This only worsened the feud. Cowboys shot and crippled Virgil, and soon killed Morgan. Wyatt Earp launched into what’s known as his Vendetta Ride, hunting down and killing Cowboys. Eventually he left Arizona, but his legend remained.

Today Tombstone is a huge tourist draw and an easy day trip from Tucson. The famous gunfight, which actually happened just outside the corral, is reenacted every day, as you can see in this video. There’s also a cheesy animatronic recreation.

Much of the town’s historic buildings have been restored and you can see the Bird Cage Theatre and its 120+ bullet holes left by rowdy patrons, the Boothill graveyard, and many other fun sights. You need a whole day to see it all. Check out the gallery for some glimpses of a place where the West really was wild.

Photo Of The Day: Horseshoe Bend

The very best travel photos should trigger two desires. First, they should inspire the viewer to want to travel to the place that is the subject of the image. And, second, they should instill in the viewer a curiosity about the art and craft of photography.

Today’s photo of the day satisfies both of these criteria. Oilfighter used his Canon 5D Mark II DSLR to photograph sunset at Horseshoe Bend, the famous spot within the Grand Canyon where the Colorado River bends. In his description of the photo, Oilfighter tells us a brief story of why he decided to photograph Horseshoe Bend on that day. Additionally, he provides info on the lens and filter he used, thereby giving a welcome photography lesson to accompany this marvelous shot.

Share your best travel images with us by adding them to the Gadling Flickr photo pool for a future Photo of the Day.

Photo Of The Day: Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, in Arizona, is a much photographed bit of the American landscape – a place so distinctive and photogenic that it’s been featured in many a portrait of the American West. Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land in Page, Arizona, close to the Arizona-Utah state line.

This particular image was snapped by Flickr user oilfighter, who has lots of other striking images of the American West in his personal Flickr archive.

Upload your favorite photos of the American West to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr, and make sure to enable downloading. We choose our favorites from the pool to be Photos of the Day.