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Taking an adventure with the county recreation department

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By Kirsten Laskey

As they climbed, crawled and hiked through the dark and rocky chambers of Buckman Cave, participants of the Los Alamos Adventure Edge program became very acquainted with the c-word.No, the word isn’t crazy; it’s courage. Even in pitch-blackness, young adults faced and defeated their fears. The Buckman Cave adventure wrapped up a series of caving activities. Each trip increased in difficulty. A beginning caving activity took participants to Junction Cave in El Malpais Jan. 21. Afterwards, an intermediate caving program was held Feb. 15-18. Young spelunkers toured Alabaster Cave in Zia Pueblo before advancing on to Buckman Cave near Santa Fe.  The cave activities were a part of the Los Alamos Recreation Department’s Adventure Edge Program. On the final trip to Buckman Cave, eight participants, whose ages ranged from 12-23, filled up the recreation van, hiked down a sandy trail and trekked up boulders to test their physical and mental capabilities.  Tony Hinojosa, Adventure Edge recreation leader, said Buckman Cave was selected because of its location and difficulty. A lot of caves, he explained, are not open to the public, but Buckman Cave is one of the few that are accessible to people. Additionally, to venture into the cave requires experience, training and the right gear, Hinojosa said. So when young people accomplish the challenges the cave presents them, “it gives them a real good sense of accomplishment,” he said. Caving, Hinojosa added, is a team sport so it helps adolescents’ social skills. “It allows kids to face their fears in a group setting,” he said. Buckman Cave offers a lot of challenges for young people to test their strengths. Craggy ledges, tunnels and passages require people to exert their strength and use their brains. “This is a physical cave,” Garry Wolfe, lead instructor said. “You earn your way through this cave … by taking on challenges you might not think you can do.“It answers the question, can you do it?”It appeared at the beginning of the trip, many participants were ready to answer that question with a yes. After experiencing Alabaster Cave, sixth-grader Alexander Kirkland said, “I’m less scared of tight places. I know more of what to do in tight spaces.” He added he was eager to explore Buckman cave because “it just looks cool.” Emily Turner, a 23-year-old librarian at Northern New Mexico College, said she wanted to participate in the program because “I just thought it would be fun.” She added after doing a lot of crawling in Alabaster Cave, she was ready to do some climbing and bouldering. If anyone began to doubt his or her abilities to complete the course through the cave, another spelunker would lend a hand, offer advice or work as a spotter. “I thought this group did great,” Shauna Kapel, recreation leader, said. She added the group modeled teamwork and had “lots of cooperation.” The trip not only introduced participants their own courage and abilities, it showed them the great outdoors. “A real important reason (for the program),” Hinojosa said, “is to get kids out into nature. It’s amazing how many don’t get outside anymore.” Buckman Cave definitely would open their eyes. The cave is found in an iron-gray field of boulders and among golden-colored cliffs. Its rusty red walls glowed in pearly sunlight at the southern entrance.Even though signs of human presence, through graffiti and etchings, are visible throughout the cave, it still seemed the group was journeying into uncharted territory. Perhaps that is half of the enjoyment. “It’s a lot of fun,” sophomore Chris Armstrong said at one point. The outdoor adventure does not stopped here. A Spring Break Adventure Camp is scheduled for March 31-April 4. The camp includes a ropes course, another trip to Alabaster cave, a rappelling field trip at the Sandia Mountain Foothills, a climbing excursion in the Jemez Mountains and Tyrolean Traverse and barbecue in Jemez Falls. The program is for anyone age 12 and older who has no previous adventure experience. The cost of the camp is $125. Register for the camp by 5 p.m. March 21 at the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center.