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We like the roominess and secure feeling we get from our four-wheel-drive SUV, but we're pretty much in the dark about all it can do. And with California's unpredictable road conditions--potential blockings from floods, debris, even earthquakes--we'd like to be prepared.

Happily, we've found a fun way to learn how to helm our four-wheel drive through hell and high water: Badlands Off-Road Adventures. This Redondo Beach-based driving school offers a monthly one-day session ($225)--the next one is May 19--that teaches beginners the basics of 4WD construction, peace-of-mind kits, maintenance and the art of getting unstuck.

There are a few hours of classroom instruction, but the best part of the day is the four hours of driving in the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area. Fifty miles north of Los Angeles, this park is full of steep dirt trails, uneven terrain and rocky surfaces that initially seem daunting. But with calm, knowledgeable advice from course instructor and wilderness first responder Tom Severin--and by watching the moves of a handful of other student vehicles--the drive is not only navigable but exhilarating.

Badlands Off-Road Adventures; 310-374-8047 or

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