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Riches in the Arabian Desert

March 08, 1998|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Sipchen is a writer for the Times' Life & Style section

THE ROAD TO UBAR --Searching for the Atlantis of the Sands by Nicholas Clapp (Houghton Mifflin, $24, hardback).

Sometimes work drains the joy from travel; sometimes it adds focus and injects a trip with joyful purpose. Documentary filmmaker Nicholas Clapp already had a career that made travel purposeful. This book joyfully describes what happens when work and travel fuse into a bona fide mission: in this case, finding the lost, maybe mythical, Arabian city of Ubar.

Clapp's quest starts with ancient texts and maps, then rockets him to NASA, where he talks a couple of scientists into using the space shuttle Challenger to shoot radar images of the desert. Then he rounds up archeologists, adventurers and others and heads for the forbidden sands.

There's no wondering how Clapp pulled all this off. His contagious enthusiasm blazes through his prose.

He's also a masterful storyteller, able to maintain dramatic tension through business that might easily bog down in esoterica and complexities. But, then, this tale's roots are in the oral poetic traditions of the dunes.

*

ROCK & ROLL TRAVELER: Great Britain and Ireland by Ed Glinert and Tim Perry (Fodor's Travel Publications, $19 paper).

I can see it now: a grandpa, a mother and her 14-year-old daughter squabble over this book outside a London Tube station.

Gramps: "Come oooooon! I wanna go to Acton County Grammar School" (where in 1958, this book says, the soon-to-be Who's Pete Townshend and John Entwistle formed a jazz band called the Confederates).

Mom: "No! We're going to the 100 Club" (where in 1976 the Sex Pistols played to a crowd of 50).

Kid: "Grow up already! Let's check out Stratford-Upon-Avon" (where, among other culturally noteworthy events, Alanis Morissette, Foo Fighters, Terror-vision and the Chemical Brothers played at the 1996 Phoenix festival).

Yes, rock 'n' roll now spans several generations, and yes, these authors are sufficiently obsessive that their guide rivals a Joycean's addiction to annotated geographical minutiae. Cover a fraction of the turf this book explores, and you'll feel as if you've spent a week in a Clash mosh pit.

Quick trips:

SNOWSHOEING: A Trailside Guide by Larry Olmstead (W.W. Norton and Co. $17.95, paper). Color pictures. Good tips. Cool gear. Plastic cover. If you got two copies you could strap 'em to your feet and have everything you need for a spirited tromp through the white stuff.

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE NATIONAL PARK LODGES by David L. Scott and Kay W. Scott (The Globe Pequot Press, $16.95 paper). National Park aficionados probably know the Grand Canyon's El Tovar, Death Valley's Furnace Creek Inn and Yosemite's Ahwahnee. Here are details on those and dozens of others.

A WALK ACROSS ENGLAND by Richard Long (Thames and Hudson, $29.95 paper). Artist Richard Long walked across the south of England. A few words and 130 color photographs show what Long saw. He saw a lot.

Sipchen is a writer for the Times' Life & Style section. Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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