Winter Travel Guide 1996
Bet You Never Thought Of...
By Laura Billings
For nearly 50 years the only civilians to set eyes on the shipwrecks off the Bikini atoll--site of atomic bomb tests between 1946 and 1954--were local schools of tuna and some very large sharks. But all that is about to change: This winter Mad Dog Expeditions is offering 12 experienced divers the chance to be among the very first of their species to explore this pristine site in
the South Pacific. Intact anti-aircraft guns and unspent ammunition can be seen scattered across the mother of all shipwrecks, the U.S.S. Saratoga--an aircraft carrier the size of three football fields--where nine of 12 scheduled dives will take place. All this against a backdrop of unspoiled coral reefs and the kind of big fish--tuna, marlin, sailfish--rarely seen at other wreck
Bragging Rights: Early word from the diving world says the clear water (visibility as high as 150 feet) and challenging depths (between 70 and 180 feet) of Bikini atoll make Truk Lagoon look like a murky kiddie pool.
Cost/Accommodations: $4,350 includes airfare from Honolulu, all meals, diving tanks, gas fills, and lodging in a Department of Energy field station.
Dates: November 5-12
SEA OF CORTEZ
Whale-hugging types need not apply for this intensive week-long exploration in the Sea of Cortez. Though 12-hour days spent floating on fiberglass outboards give participants plenty of time to bump up against bottlenose dolphins, finback whales, and the occasional humpback or orca, the true focus of this trip, led by the marine biologists of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study, is to
learn more about the ecology of the largest animal that ever lived--the blue whale. It's tricky work, considering that these baleen behemoths--who can be longer than 100 feet and heavier than 150 tons--spend just five percent of their lives near the ocean surface. You'll make the most of these moments by taking photos of the whales, and keeping track of feeding times, migration
patterns, and behavior of cow-calf pairs.
Bragging Rights: Spout off about the swim you took with a 40-foot-long whale calf.
Cost/Accommodations: $1,285 includes meals, plus seven nights' lodgings in nearby Loreto, Mexico. Airfare not included.
Dates: February 20-March 22
The moment the moon aligns with the sun and the earth on March 9, 1997, the best place in the world to view this total solar eclipse will be on a Mongolian hillside outside Ulan Bator--precisely the place that you and 14 other eclipse-chasers could be standing. While that rarely seen solar corona will be the high point, this 11-day trip run by Outer Edge
Expeditions offers plenty of distractions: horseback riding in a nomadic herdsman's horse camp, plus visits to monasteries and China's Great Wall. Miss this and it'll be another 22 years before a total eclipse is visible in North America.
Bragging Rights: For the first time in over a century, the Hale-Bopp comet will be visible during totality.
Cost/Accommodations: $3,073 includes all meals and lodging, but not airfare.
Dates: March 2-12