…are very difficult to figure out. I haven’t been able to find any tutorials on the basics of modeling with NURBS. Is the Blender manual the only place to find info on NURBS?

Well, if you can’t find better/newer, here’s some very old:

you could also check this site

alos don’t forget that Nurbs are being re design for 2.5 and will get a lot more tools
very soone hoepfully before end of year for 2.5

so that will be even more fun to work with Nurbs