It's time to shine the bright light of reality on our obsession with outdoor adventure accessories: sports utility vehicles, all-terrain tennis shoes, 30-zipper Gore-Tex jackets and anything featured hanging off the side of a mountain in a Patagonia catalog. Very few people have any real use for this equipment, and today you can see whether you might be one of them. At the Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge Adventure Tour, interactive check points will test your strength, balance, reaction time and climbing ability. A mountain-bike simulator, complete with helmet-cam race footage, will let you feel the bumps and turns a real athlete experienced in last October's Moroccan Expedition Race. But before you sign up for the next trip, talk to Sara Ballantyne. As part of Team Vail, she was first to finish last year's 300-mile course of deserts to trek, canyon walls to rappel, oceans to kayak, mountains to bike, camels to ride and cliffs to "coasteer" (meaning, basically, "carefully jump off"). 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Also, Saturday, March 6, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, March 7, from noon to 6 p.m. First Colony Mall, 16535 Southwest Frwy., (281)565-6255. Free.
The beautiful pink and red blooms of Houston's azalea shrubs won't last for long, so you might as well make a concentrated effort to see the best of them all in one day. And at the 64th Annual River Oaks Garden Club Azalea Trail you can get up close to the plants, and the swanky River Oaks homes they surround, without the usual hassles of gates, guard dogs, alarms and trespassing charges. The trailhead is the Garden Club's Forum of Civics Building and Gardens at 2503 Westheimer; other public stops include the Bayou Bend Gardens at One Westcott and Rienzi, a former private home opening here for the first time as a part of the Museum of Fine Arts, at 1406 Kirby Drive. You'll find the private homes on the Azalea Trail at these addresses: 3334 Chevy Chase, 3511 Del Monte, 3645 Del Monte, 3203 Sackett and 5924 Deerwood. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 6-7 and 13-14. Call (713)523-2483 for more information. Tickets are $15 ($12 before March 6) for the entire tour and $3 for individual locations.
If you've ever spent a lonely late night watching sleazy made-for-USA Network movies about partying prison women or nurses who play doctor, you know you've got a friend in Rhonda "Up All Night" Shear. The buxom, big-haired blonde (who, by the way, has nudie pictures all over the Internet) is now expanding her slutty commercial breaks to full-length touring comedy sets. Her PR agent likens her stage persona to a tongue-in-cheek combination of Lucille Ball, Gracie Allen, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. We just hope she still says the word "up" in that squeaky, sex-kitten voice. 8 p.m. Also, Thursday, March 4, at 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, March 5 and 6, at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Bobby's Comedy Corner, 11380 Westheimer, (281)491-1990. $6, Thursday and Sunday; $10, Friday and Saturday.
There are big films (important topics, foreign locales, name actors and Oscar nominations) and then there are what the Museum of Natural Science calls "reel" big films: six-story IMAX films that raked in museum box-office sales. In celebration of the Wortham IMAX Theatre's recent renovations and tenth anniversary, the "Reel" Big Film Festival is bringing back oldies but goodies such as Africa: The Serengeti, Alaska: Spirit of the Wild, Grand Canyon and Everest. Also making recycled appearances are the oil well Fires of Kuwait, the extreme sports of To the Limit, the volcanoes from Ring of Fire and the Space Shuttle footage in Blue Planet. New additions that are "soon to be favorites" include Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun and, drumroll please, Beavers. The remodeled theater includes new seats (with 30 inches of leg room), closed captioning, improved sound and a dry-cleaned screen. But though the films are bound to be big, in many senses of the word, we have no such guarantees for the new color scheme: barolo (we think this is a shade of red) and bali (most likely green). The festival opens today and runs through Wednesday, March 31. Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Dr., Hermann Park. Call (713)639-4629 for information and showtimes. $6; $4, children and seniors; $45, ten-film package.