Geocaching New Mexico: Hunting Hobgoblins in the Jemez Mountains

I was recently visiting friends in New Mexico over the Thanksgiving holiday and we were trying to find a good outdoor alternative to the “Black Friday” consumer madness. We had 3 dogs among us, so canine fun and exercise was a priority, but we also wanted a scenic spot with something unique and unforgettable to offer.

How to find this perfect place?

Geocaching!

Specifically, the unofficial, word-of-mouth, crowd-sourced travel advice that is the geocaching social network.

This is how it works….

  • Get a general idea of a place you want to visit. Maybe it is a quaint town, a river corridor, or a line of hills that you saw from the car on your way into town.
  • Enter the name of the nearest town, zip code or coordinates (Lat/Long) in the search bar at the top of the Geocaching.com home page.Geocaching.com home page
  • and open the map on the lower right side of the geocache page.  The map becomes populated with all of the geocaches in the area and you can see them in relation to towns, roads, rivers, parkland, etc.  Click on any of the icons and its description will pop up.  Chances are, you will quickly find one that describes an adventure worth checking out.

goblin rock in scenic Jemez Mountains of New MexicoMy friend told me about an area that he had never visited, but had heard good things about from people who like the outdoors and climb rocks, and whatnot.  I plugged in the name of the nearest town and quickly spotted an intriguing spot called “Jemez Goblin Rocks.”  Turns out, It was only an hour from Albuquerque, but we had the area to ourselves on a beautiful November afternoon.

As we rattled up the dusty forest road, I noticed we were the only visitors to the area.  We would have driven right past it, except the compass needle on my smart phone app swung decisively at a spot where the shoulder was just wide enough to park a car.  The only signage visible from the road was an 8-inch “No Motorized Vehicle” on top of a small 5-foot high rise, bordering the road.hungry goblins - a hazard of geocaching

goblin rocks watching over geocache hiding spotWe made the short climb and — Whoa! — a fairyland vistas of volcanic towers and spires opened before our eyes!  My wife took dozens of great pictures with her new camera while the rest of us wandered among the rocks and debated whether they resembled trolls, hobgoblins or some other underworld race.  To my eye, they resembled the patient sky-watchers of Easter Island, all searching for the return of their alien masters, or maybe the throngs of tourists that such a spectacular geologic marvel should attract.

Did I find the geocache?  No, the geocache – which was a vintage 2002 model – was missing.  Hey, that happens from time to time when you play the game known as geocaching.  But did I find what I was looking for – an uncrowded, dog-friendly paradise for a group of old friends to spend an Indian Summery day exploring?  Most certainly did!

spectacular rock formations, Jemez Mountains

Farewell to Iko’s Rock

Today I said goodbye to my first geocache.

I placed it in June 2008, three months after I started geocaching.  Since that time, I have placed about 40 more, but this first one was special.

It was special because I chose a majestic rock outcrop, one of the best – if not the best – view in Evergreen.  It wasn’t just any scenic perch – it was my mountain biking destination weekly for about 5 years.  These were the years when my kids were babies.  I never had time on the weekend to hit a 10-mile loop in a nearby park.  Instead I would pedal from my house up Fern Gulch Road, a steep, eroded track winding through pines, aspens and abandoned cabins and head for the rock.

And I was never alone – my dog, Iko, loved to come with me every step of the way.  Iko could be off-leash, which made the trip more pleasurable for both of us.  It got so that if he saw me touch my bike, he would start barking like crazy until he was certain that he was coming with me.  And he was a good rock dog, smart, sure-footed and he cut a majestic, wolfish profile against the blue western sky.

We brought Iko home from the pound about one week before my first child was born.  Iko was a faithful friend and guardian for my two boys while they were growing up.  He went with us when we moved down the hill to Golden for 2 years.  But just a few days before we moved back to Evergreen, Iko was hit by a car on Lookout Mountain Road.

A couple years after we returned to Evergreen, we began geocaching.  Naturally, I placed my first cache at the rock where I had enjoyed so many Power Bar breaks with my brindled buddy.  Where I relaxed in the summer sun while Iko sniffed about the rocks.  Where I would gaze at Evergreen Lake and Mt. Evans before jumping on my bike and bouncing down the gloriously rough road to my home, trying to be back before my kids awoke from their naps.

The geocache lasted for 9 years.  It was remote enough that it only had 36 “official” visits during that time.  I would check on it about once every year or two, riding my bike to it on most of my visits.  It was always enjoyable reading the comments in the logbook, most of which filled a full page. The logbook also revealed another truth – an lot of stoners began finding, and writing in, the geocache logbook.  Though the notes were peppered with stoner slang, most writers seemed to love Iko’s Rock.  I appreciated that.  One even said “Iko sure had good taste.”

About 1 month ago, a visitor posted a note on the geocache’s webpage that the property was bought by someone who was bulldozing a driveway next to Iko’s Rock.  Sure enough, the day I went to check on it, I saw a port-a-potty parked where I used to park my bike.  The second-to-last person who logged the geocache mentioned meeting the owner right before hitting some golf balls off the rock.  The last log was the new owner – the guy signed it “Jimmy Chicago” and said “it was nice meeting you too.”

The construction crew had taken a substantial bite out of the west face of the rock to accommodate the building site below, making the rock more exposed and treacherous than before.  The geocache was lying out in the open, between the roots of a spruce tree.  The camo-tape I had wrapped around it was faded to light blue and the container smelled of tobacco (someone had made a cigarette offering).  I thought about Jimmy Chicago.  Even if he was cool with strangers visiting the site, he would probably be concerned about liability and start to get stressed about the geocache.  I couldn’t really blame him, but it used to be a lot easier when there were fewer houses on top of what was once called “Hippie Hill.”  So I climbed up away from Iko’s Rock, tossed the geocache in the back of my car and took off.

Power Up

The power trail is one of geocaching’s stranger concepts.  Power trails are usually a line (straight or otherwise) of geocaches, separated by a short distance, designed for geocachers to have a “big day.”  It is a numbers-driven device – if you are motivated primarily by trying to increase your total, you will sooner or later seek out a power trail.

I discovered power trails by accident, shortly after I discovered the on-line tally maintained by Geocaching Colorado (GCCO) called  Cacher Stats that ranks geocachers by the total number of geocaches found.  The current Colorado leader – Mondo (officially Mondou2) – currently has found over 125,000 individual geocaches.  This led me to look up Mondo’s stats on his Geocaching.com profile page and I saw that he found over 1,000 caches on a single day! (In comparison, my “record” is 15).  And, of course, that leads to the question, “How the heck…?”

ETHThe answer: he visited Nevada State Route 375 – The Extraterrestrial Highway (ET). The ET first became popular with UFO fans during the X-Files era, who came for the imagined thrill of spotting weird lights in the desert.  In recent years, however, it is geocachers who have been driving the tourism industry out on the lonely ribbon of asphalt.

There is a power trail along the highway with caches every 528 feet for 135 miles.  It has turned the area into a geocaching  Mecca.  The most dedicated geocachers team up with 3 others, develop a system, and do the entire series in one day.  Sounds dull at first, but I’ve read a few blogs written by folks – like this group from England – who had a blast doing it.

There is nothing like that in Colorado.  Most power trails are out on the plains, where there is room along the shoulders of rural highways for people to pull off safely and search for geocaches.  There is one on the Cherry Creek bike trail, which I tried two years ago with my wife, Angie, and a friend.  It was stressful, with Lycra-clad bikers and rollerbladers whizzing along at fairly high speeds, inches from where we were standing.  Then, at about the fifteenth geocache, we got a call from our sons saying they had been in an automobile accident, hit by another car when they were waiting for the light to change.  Needless to say, it was the abrupt end to our caching day (they were OK, but the car was totalled).

I had no real desire to try another.  Then, last year, Angie wanted to do something on a nice spring day and suggested a bike ride.  I found a promising route – the Old Buckley Road, a few miles from the Denver International Airport (DIA).  A 4-mile long strip of decaying asphalt that is now a hiking/biking/birdwatching route.  It runs straight and true with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge bordering it on one side.

Brought the dog too, maybe a mistake.  Old Buckley Road has an abundance of prairie dogs.  Twice, Loki made a break to chase the rodents, once coming face-to-face with a rattler who was probably a little pissed to have his hunt interrupted.  The snake scuttled backwards into a hole in the prairie and we went on our way.  After the rattlesnake encounter, we decided to call it a day after covering the southern half of the road.

Old Buckley Road functioned like an unofficial power trail, not placed by one person or group, but many different geocachers with various containers and themes.  About 2/3 of them can be found in less than a minute (not a lot of cover out here) making it ideal for maintaining forward progress.  The creativity employed by some CO’s to hide their caches out here was impressive and many of the cache descriptions provided detail about some of the birds you might see along the road.  If you go, it would be wise to bring binoculars to spot burrowing owls, who have their dens just out of naked-eye range.

This past Thursday. I found myself with an afternoon to kill out near DIA, after my workday was cancelled because the ground was too wet and soft to drill monitoring wells.  I parked at the northern end of Buckley and completed the trail on foot.  During the 3 hours I was out on the road, I saw only one other person.  I was serenaded almost constantly by the chirping of prairie dogs and songbirds and saw two whitetail deer and a golden eagle, at close range.  The immediate surroundings are otherwise quiet and peaceful, with only the distant sounds of jets taking off and landing at DIA, about 5 miles east.  While the walk itself was pleasant, the added fun of looking for a geocache every quarter of a mile or so provided the sense of purpose to keep going further.

I completed the Old Buckley Road “power trail” in two days, finding about 25 geocaches amidst plentiful sunshine and wildlife.  The variety of geocaches was greater than your typical series of 35mm film canisters.  There is also something meditative about hiking, or biking, a straight line with few distractions, and the views to the west – of the Front Range rising from the plains – that look much like they did for the first settlers, or the indigenous people who preceded them.

Next stop, Nevada?

The View Along Old Buckley Road

View from Old Buckley Road, Looking Northeast

 

 

 

The Winter of My Discontent

 

My enthusiasm for geocaching usually bottoms out in late winter or early spring.  Some of this is likely weather-related:  February and March are season of heavy snows that turn quickly to mud in the foothills of the Rockies.  Conditions that make most hikes unattractive, and most caches unavailable.

My favorite winter caching activity is geocaching while skiing (ski-o-caching).  But the same deep snows that bury caches in the foothills also contribute to the best and deepest powder skiing of the season.  The old saying goes:  there are no friends on a powder day.  For me, there are no cache-hunts either.

This year, my enthusiasm is also dimmed by the repeated butting of my head against the wall of Geocaching.com volunteer administrators.  I admire that they volunteer many hours to the endeavor of reviewing proposed geocaches and making sure they play within the rules.  Sometimes, I think, their interpretations go to extremes.  Or maybe a few of the rules can get a bit ridiculous.  You be the judge.

These examples relate to geocaches I tried to place far from my home.  Volunteer administrators discourage people from placing geocaches in places they do not regularly visit.  However, I explained that I was travelling regularly to these areas for family reasons, and that was not the reason they were rejected.

No No NoVa

I was visiting Northern Virginia, for instance, an average of once every other month for the last 3 years.  While visiting the area, I spent whatever time I could scouring the nearby parks (and plucking ticks off me).  While thus engaged, I had a Eureka! moment about a favorite old water-hole, where I whiled away many a lazy summer hour as a teenager, swimming, sunning and doing the things teenagers do.

My Eureka was a tricky geocache hiding place, one I thought worthy of at least a 4.5 terrain rating.  It was a cave under a waterfall that could only be accessed by wading through a second cave and then emerging into the thundering waters themselves, and pushing, pulling and heaving yourself through the hydraulic curtain to enter the relative calm, drippy sanctuary of the hiding place under the water.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  So I assembled a water-proof container and filled it with good swag, some of which I brought with me from Colorado.  In May of that year, on a visit with my two sons, we visited the spot – it is called Difficult Run.  We barreled through the high spring flow (it was a rainy period) and jammed it into a rock crevice in the wet cave, before plunging back into the crisp waters and floating downstream.

Pleased with myself, I submitted the geocache to Geocaching.com, with a 4.5/4.5 difficulty/terrain rating (I wanted it to be even more unusual than a 5/5 rating).  I was dismayed when I got the response:  the geocache was located within Great Falls National Park.  This was news to me.  My water hole was in a county park when I was in my teens and twenties.  Now it was gobbled up by a National Park.

difficult effects

Getting Busted at Difficult Run

So one year later, I retrieved it.  Yes, it was still there, it hadn’t been dislodged by high flow and drifted away to the Potomac River.  Is spite of it not being published, it was visited by at least one teenager, who left his Bowie (MD) High School ID card behind.

Upon climbing from the water, we were reprimanded by a park ranger (left), who was probably more interested in the activities of the twenty-somethings who were lying about.  So, we were breaking park rules, of course, by swimming in the stream.  The beautiful, cooling waters are now only there to be viewed – from a distance.

I attempted to find a new place for the recovered geocache.  I checked the map on the website to make sure it was at least 1/10th of a mile from other geocaches (another placement rule).  I found a really cool shack that was erected by somebody on the fringe of a county park.  It was dedicated to someone who had passed, honored with a poem painted on the side of the structure titled “Namaste.”  Perfect!  It was secluded, unusual and on public land (from what I could tell) and far enough from other geocaches.  It checked all the boxes.

The Rescued Geocache

The Rescued Geocache

 

Unfortunately, the volunteer reviewer notified me, it was within 1/10th of a mile of the final location of a puzzle cache.  The initial (usually fake) location of a puzzle cache is publically-viewable, while the final location, which can be as close as 100 feet, or as far as 10 miles or more, can only be seen by the volunteer reviewers.  Great, how am I supposed to know the final stage is close to my proposed placement?  “You have to solve the puzzle cache yourself,” was the reviewer’s reply.  So apparently it is the geocacher’s responsibility to do all of the puzzle or multi-caches within a ten-mile radius before he/she can be sure the location for a new geocache is clear.

No Yellow Brick Road

Down but not out, we travelled west to Kansas, where my ma-in-law lives.  We stayed in a downtown Topeka hotel.  While eating breakfast, we were approached by an elderly, decorated gent. He was Ted Mize, a veteran of two foreign wars, who had served in two different branches of the service. Ted wanted us know there was a military museum just a few feet away, on the first floor of the hotel.  We stopped by his 5-room museum and followed him as he gave us a personal tour.

Ted Mize

Ted Mize of the Holley Museum of Military History in Topeka, Kansas

I didn’t occur to us immediately.  But later, while talking about how passionate Ted was about his small, tucked-away attraction, we thought about how could he attract more visitors.  Ta-da!  We realized that geocaching was the answer.  We mentioned that idea of a geocache to Ted and he loved the idea, though he didn’t completely understand it.  He even said we could place the final geocache on his front porch.  We spent the rest of a drizzly day devising clues and codes for an elaborate puzzle cache that would introduce a wave of geocachers to his little museum.  The idea was that you would need to visit the free, publicly-accessible museum to get clues that would point you to a physical geocache located near the sidewalk outside.

Hold on!  The volunteer reviewer replied when I tried to publish it.  This geocache is commercial because it is located in a business.  Geocaching.com does not allow for geocaches that promote commercial businesses (sometimes interpreted very loosely to encompass most nonprofit enterprises as well).  “But,” I replied, “You can enter without paying a cent – it is free and open to the public, not just hotel guests.”

In the past, I have found that the reviewers’ objections were either that (1) a geocache is not allowed whenever there is an entrance fee, or a required financial transaction with either a profit or non-profit enterprise, or (2) a geocache may not promote an enterprise (again, either profit or nonprofit) by including its’ name in the cache title or description.  I assured the reviewer that this cache did not violate either, but to no avail – it was deemed commercial.

Too bad for Ted and his museum – truly a small-scale nonprofit enterprise if there ever was one.  Too bad for geocachers who like intriguing and unique puzzle caches.  I did keep the final location as a geocache – I renamed it from “History Hotel” to “Coulda Been a Great Puzzle” to note its lost promise as a much more interesting cache.

So that is my tale of woe.  Two attempts at excellent geocaches that would enrich the geocaching community (in my humble opinion) and two times rebuffed.  While I understand you cannot place geocaches in National Parks, I don’t agree that geocaches should be blocked by hidden (from the public) stages.  I also think the guidelines governing what is a “commercial” cache can be taken to a ridiculous extreme by some volunteer reviewers and are unevenly applied by different reviewers (I don’t know how many series I’ve seen that celebrate Wal-Marts or Home Depot locations:  such as: “I love Wal #25” or “HD #10” etc.).

I’d just to see less crap and more quality, that’s all.

OK, I’m done with my first annual crabby late-winter rant.  Thanks for listening!

Feedback Makes It Worthwhile

It’s always great to hear from someone who enjoyed one of your caches.  I recently got this from an enthusiastic finder of “America:  Why I Love Her.”  This is the geocache I featured on my July 9 post (Another Roadside Attraction):

Wow, crazy multi! I landed in Denver a little later than scheduled, and thought maybe I’d do the Earthcache as my first, but then I read the description of this one… wow, cool! I eagerly made my way up from baggage claim and looked around for the maps. Once I found them I realized how awesome this was about to become. Ha! Look at all these crazy places! [:P]

To my surprise, it took a while before I was able to locate each and every specific place from the list. I just kept going back and forth, to the amusement of others I’m sure. Once I had a complete list, I then pondered what to do. A quick glance at the hint gave me a helping hand, which soon followed by a successful result on the geochecker [:D].

Realizing how far the final was from the airport, I considered the possibility that perhaps I wouldn’t complete this one after all. That changed, however, when I attempted to fire up my GPS only for it to die right there in my hands. What?! I tried to resuscitate it for a good hour without any luck. Luckily, I located a REI downtown. I forgot about this cache and went to get myself a new GPS. After that, I was looking for caches around my location and realized this one was actually less than a mile away. What! [:)] Excitement grew, as I realized I could finish this one off after all, and so I drove down the road to begin my search shortly before it got dark.

Arriving at GZ, my coordinates had me at a very specific location. Given the difficulty rating, I thought for sure this would be a needle in the haystack type of hide. I poked and prodded for a bit until I realized that daylight would soon disappear, so I began to read the few logs that had been recorded on this relatively newer cache page. Seems there has been some discussion over accuracy here at the final, so I spread out roughly 50′ from where my GPS wanted me, to a completely different feature. A bit more surveillance later and I then had the cache in hand! Woohoo!   Thanks so much for showcasing such a cool feature inside the airport! Best of luck to the next, and TFTC! [8D[

The cache involved solving a puzzle in a busy airport, then travelling 30 miles to the geocache location, only to be confronted by bouncing coordinates and a very well camouflaged container.  The fact that the final location is almost as strange as the roadside attractions featured on :America:  Why I Love Her,” only adds to the whole experience.  Tough but rewarding.

I try to leave a long, personalized log whenever I’ve done a geocache that the CO put a lot of thought, a lot of craftsmanship, into the making of.  I know I sure appreciate it when the favor is returned.

Caching Not So Easy in the Big Easy

Just returned from an epic New Orleans wedding.  Usually I’m not big into weddings, but this one was particularly cool, with the major events held in grand, old decaying buildings in a grand, old decaying neighborhood (Marigny), in America’s best city to visit.  The hosts spared no expense in making the event true to the place:  a second-line parade from wedding to reception and trumpeter Shamarr Allen and his band as the evening’s entertainment.

We stayed in a VRBO rental – a loft in a converted garage across the street from the church where the wedding was held.  A fascinating neighborhood, with old architecture, neighborhood bars and restaurants, and numerous music venues along Frenchman Street.  I’d go back in a minute.

But, how was the geocaching?  I was able to check off another state on my map (my 18th).  I enjoyed the searches but came up empty more than once.  Like many urban settings, you’re looking for micros, with a scattering a small caches.  I was not able to make a find until my second-to-last day there.  Its’ easier to get around New Orleans by bike, so I highly recommend renting a bike to look for caches.

The cache hunt took me to one historic site – a plaque outside of a train station commemorating the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.  I vaguely remember the name from high school civics class.  It was a challenge to a local ordinance requiring blacks and “octaroons” to ride in separate rail cars.  Plessy (the plaintiff) had the support of a local mixed-race citizens’ committee and tried to board the train at the Press Street station, but was arrested.  The challenge failed, but this story ends with an interesting postscript.  The descendants of Plessy AND Ferguson have joined forces to start a foundation to promote the teaching of the history of civil rights in schools.

Biking around the Bywater neighborhood, I found myself looking for caches placed by KBravo, a local geocacher.  One took me to a vacant lot, neglected by the city that the neighbors have reclaimed and turned into a green space filled with native landscaping, local art, and a fire pit. We were consumed by the search (I really needed to find a cache large enough for a travel bug) for five or so minutes.  After making my first Louisiana find, I was able to sit back and take note of the scene – a fire in the fire pit, a couple volunteers raking leaves and talking quietly amongst themselves.  At the far end of the lot, a trumpeter played a slow, mournful solo.    Beautiful.

Steamboat House in the Rain

Steamboat House in the Rain

On the final day, a Sunday, I figured we had an hour or two for geocaching before having to head to the airport.  I had a route planned, pass by 3 or 4 points of interest, ending in the 9th Ward.  But the weather was typical New Orleans when we woke up on that last day – driving rain.  Still, we headed across the Industrial Canal to a cache called “Steamship Houses.”  Saw these beautiful old octagonal houses, designed by an old riverboat captain to look like the bridge of a steamship.  Fortunately it was a quick find in the steady rain and the two ladies doing yoga on the porch didn’t even notice me on the street nearby.

Overall, two finds in four tries may not sound impressive.   But I enjoy using the geocaches as a way of touring the city, getting off the beaten path and seeing the town through the eyes of the locals.  New Orleans:  the food, the music the spirit, and its’ still nine feet above sea level (in places).

Colorado Fourteener

Fourteeners, shorthand for peaks that are fourteen thousand feet above sea level.  Colorado has 53 of them.  The remaining Lower 48 states have fifteen.  Sure, climbing Mt. Whitney in California, or Mt. Rainier in Washington, is a tougher task, because you start near sea level.   Nonetheless, the sheer number of high points in Colorado makes climbing them a popular pastime.  A recent Internet piece, a map illustrating the most unique word or phrase in every state (The United Slang of America), chose “fourteener” as Colorado’s singular word.  Yes, America – Colorado is known for something more than legalized pot, the Broncos, and South Park.

Speaking of South Park, its’ elevated platform serves as a jumping-off point for a truly unusual experience – the DECALIBRON.  Stands for Mt. DEmocrat, Mt. CAmeron, Mt. LIncoln, and Mt. BROss.  The Decalibron is four 14ers in one day.  You get a boost by starting at an elevation of 12,000 feet.  But you are still spending a day ascending and descending steep slopes at taxing altitudes.

The Wulff pack recently made the Decalibron our end-of-summer outing.  Per our usual operating procedure, the Wulff pack arrived

Top of Mt. Lincoln (peak #2 of the tour)

Top of Mt. Lincoln (peak #2 of the tour)

late (7 PM) at the Kite Lake campground, nestled at bottom of a bowl ringed with 14,000-foot peaks.  Miraculously, we found a decent spot for two tents and a campfire (the campground is above tree-line so you must bring your own firewood).  Another small miracle: the skies were overcast, trapping the day’s heat, making almost-tropical conditions (mid-40’s) for sitting around the fire at night.

Top of Mt. Cameron (peak #3)

Top of Mt. Cameron (peak #3)

We hit the trail at 7 AM, which sounds early, but is about an hour off the commonly-recommended start time of 6 AM.  We did the trail counter-clockwise, starting with Bross instead of Democrat.  Thus, for the Wulff pack, it was a Brolicade rather than a Decalibron.  Sounds more like an escapade than an endurance test.  But it wasn’t any easier.

We enjoyed the views, snapped photos, and, of course logged geocaches on three of the four peaks.  We found the caches on Bross and Lincoln without much difficulty and logged the virtual on Cameron with a photo.  Then a steep descent to the saddle between Cameron and Democrat.  The skies looked threatening by the time we had to make a decision on whether to bail out, or summit Democrat and complete the tour.

We decided to summit, so we picked our way through a near-vertical rock garden, passing a few stragglers coming down.  “I’d get up there in a hurry, skies are getting dark,” one of them said.    Just a month earlier, a newlywed couple were struck and killed by lightning at 1030 AM on Mt. Yale, so with the clock ticking toward noon, we were understandably concerned.

Top of Mt. Democrat (peak #4)

Top of Mt. Democrat (peak #4)

Once we cleared a steep scree slope, we practically jogged the final ¼-mile across the tundra to the small knoll that is the actual summit.  There were not one but two geocaches on top of Democrat, but our searches were fleeting and distracted, with one eye to the sky.  After 5 minutes, we started back, unleashing Loki for the first time all day, so we could scramble down the scree and not have to worry about the dog causing a fall.  Of course, once we made it safely back to the saddle, the sun was out again.  Nonetheless, the episode taught me the importance of an early start.

As I arrived back at base camp, I thought, “Do I climb Democrat all over again next summer, just to get those two caches?”  After all, geocachers and 14er-hikers are similar in one important respect:  both groups are counters, whether they admit it or not.  Geocachers count how many caches they’ve done, egged on by the statistics kept on geocaching.com.  People who aim to do all the 14ers, check the mountains off their list as they count down to zero.   They rarely do the same one twice, at least until they do them all.  So another trip up the steep boulder-strewn face of Mt. Democrat is a tough sell.  A week or so later, I found I had a new reason for a do-over.

GeoWoodstockGeoWoodstock 14er

On August 8, the Wulff pack attended a planning session for next year’s big geocaching event – GeoWoodstock 14er (named, in part, because it will be the 14th annual GeoWoodstock).  It will be the first time it has been held in Colorado and the natives are psyched.  The event committee expects at least 3,000, and possibly as many as 5,000, geocachers from all over the country to attend.  It will be held at Chatfield Lake, southwest of Denver, on July 3rd, 2016.

During the week leading up to this Mega-event, groups and individuals will be hosting smaller events associated with it.  There will tours of breweries as well as events at Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, other Colorado landmarks.  Some are even talking about organizing a dispensary tour (we will be the first to put the “Woodstock” into GeoWoodstock).

So for my contribution, I plan to put the 14er in GeoWoodstock 14er.  And what better way to do that then host a Decalibron hike?  This time, I will do it clockwise and get an earlier start (6AM instead of 7AM).  I would be willing to bet some of our out-of-state guests (and maybe some native Coloradans) would love to bag a 14er.  I’ll provide an opportunity to bag four!  And I’ll finally get the two caches that eluded me this year (one is a 5/5).

Stay tuned.  I’ll post additional details on this site as we get closer to the event.

Roadside Attractions Update: A Tale of Two Attractions

If you’ve read my blog before, you already know I favor odd little places.  The true “roadside attraction” is disappearing faster than pay phones and drive-in theaters.  Today, I’m providing an update on two special places in the Front Range foothills.

Heritage Square

The lift is all that remains of Magic Mountain

The lift that serves the Alpine Slide (Magic Mountain in distance)

One of the oldest theme parks in the country.  Local businessman Walter Cobb conceived of Heritage Square and hired the “Master Builder of Disneyland,” C.V.Wood, to design and develop the park.  Wood replicated many of the elements that he first used at Disneyland’s “Main Street U.S.A.” in designing the core of Heritage Square.

It debuted in 1957 and lasted 2 years before going bankrupt.  The associated ski hill, dubbed Magic Mountain, only lasted one full season.  Magic Mountain was the very first ski resort west of the Mississippi to use artificial snowmaking.  It was fairly successful, but was dragged under by the failure of the park.  I placed a cache at Magic Mountain as part of my Lost Ski Area series, and you can find a more in-depth discussion at http://www.cacheology.net/lost-ski-areas-the-struggle-for-snow/magic-mountain-1956-to-1957/.

Heritage Square was resurrected in 1970 and today consists of the original two-block Victorian village, a kiddie amusement park, an older kids’ attraction (Miners’ Maze), an Alpine Slide, and until very recently, a dinner theater.  About 4 or 5 businesses have persevered on its’ main street, including Notz Landing (a 50’s-themed ice cream parlor) and a variety of gift shops.   The entire block north of the main street is eerily abandoned

I visited this place often when my kids were small.  It was cheap and uncrowded, making for an outing that was thrilling for the kids while relaxing for the parents.  By the time the kids got too old for the motorboat ride and merry-go-round, we started taking them to bigger parks like Elitches and Water World.

A Summer Day in the Victorian Village

A Summer Day in the Victorian Village

Heritage Square was purchased about 10 years ago by Lafarge, the company that owns the large aggregate quarry to the south. (The quarry has already consumed about half of the former Magic Mountain ski area.)  Lafarge bought it to serve as a buffer between their operation and the neighborhoods that have steadily been encroaching.  They claim they’ve consistently lost money and the repairs necessary to keep the Victorian village habitable are too costly.  They plan to terminate all of the leases at the end of 2015.  In all likelihood, the site will become an office park.

This is the last season you can visit this unique, underutilized attraction.  I returned recently on a summer weekday.  The parking lot was half-full and the stores had modest foot traffic.  The amusement park and Miners’ Maze looked like they were doing well.  In fact, it looked about as busy as I remember it to be.

The point of this post is not to blame Lafarge for its’ business decision.  It is to let you know this place is about to fade away.  If you ever visited, go back and take one last ride on the Alpine slide, or grab some ice cream at Notz Landing.  Browse the shops and pick up something unique for a Christmas present.  Do it now – your business will help ease the bittersweet end of an era for those merchants who have stuck it out this long.

And while you’re there, don’t forget to visit my cache!

Tiny Town

100 years and still going strong.  Tiny Town celebrated its’ 100th anniversary on July 4th (http://www.columbinecourier.com/content/tiny-town-marks-enormous-milestone-100-years).  Some of you may be familiar with Tiny Town, which is off Highway 285 in South Turkey Creek canyon.  Tiny Town was built in 1915 by a Denver businessman who had his workers build 1 inch to 1 foot-scale houses out of moving crates to amuse his children.

If anything, Tiny Town has had a more turbulent past than Heritage Square.  It has withstood three floods, a fire, and a long period of neglect in the 1980’s when it was closed.  It was during that time that I first visited, with a friend who grew up in Littleton and had visited many times as a child.  We jumped the fence (trespassing, I admit) and wandered amongst the chest-high buildings, surrounded by waist-high weeds.    It looked so lost and forlorn.

tiny town_2012_082

Giant Race Ransacks Tiny Town!

Flash forward a decade and Tiny Town was back – just in time for me to visit with my young children.  With its’ $2 admission, big-band music on the loudspeakers, ice cream, and train rides, it was a relaxing respite from the grind of raising little kids.  Probably my favorite place to take them.

Like Heritage Square, Tiny Town has a shelf-life.  About the time the kiddos start playing Little League and attending grade school, they lose interest in riding miniature trains and crawling in miniature houses.  My last visit was on the dark day the Hayman Fire blew up (June 9, 2002).  My wife was tutoring at a house nearby so I took the kids there.  It was more than a little unsettling, suddenly seeing a towering cloud of black smoke erupting from beyond the ridge.  The fire ran an astounding 17 miles to the northeast that day (towards us).  In reality, it was still 20 miles distant, but it seemed a whole lot closer.  We didn’t stay long.

Fortunately, the Hayman Fire didn’t get much closer and Tiny Town has thrived in the last decade or so (other than a train derailment in 2010 – not sure if the NTSB got involved).  It’s great to see this place doing so well.

Of course I placed a cache here:  http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC507W5_lilliputian-village?guid=d343ce43-f155-4746-ad10-a89468ea6874.  It is a pleasure reading the logs from people’s visits, some who reminisce about past visits (often decades earlier), some drawn here for the first time.  That is a big part of the reason I do this this blog:  to bring my fellow geocachers to the best places I know, for their enjoyment, and (hopefully) for the benefit of the folks who work so hard to keep these enterprises going.

Another Roadside Attraction

What if all roadside attractions disappeared?  Would anyone notice?  Would anyone care?

hereitis

Good question.  The answer is most people probably would not.  The “roadside attraction” is a fading remnant of an earlier America.  An America crisscrossed by two-lane roads.  Highways that forced you to slow down for town and read home-made signs touting the World’s Largest This, the Birthplace of That, or the Whatchamacallit Hall-of-Fame.

Hey, the world changes every day.  Nothing is permanent.  Like a good Boomer, I have one foot in the past and one planted on the endless treadmill that is progress.  I don’t remember a world without interstate highways, but I do remember when the highway network was incomplete and you might detour onto back roads, knocking you off-schedule and into a time warp of sorts.

We remember such scenes through a nostalgic glow, thinking of them as natural, home-grown ecosystems that sprung up alongside the asphalt ribbons.  Much preferable to the endless repetition of chain-store colonies that cluster around the off-ramps of today’s highways.

And thus, the once-tacky becomes quaint, and what may have been derided as a “tourist trap” in the 60s and 70s has become “Americana.”

I enjoy finding these oddities.  I own guidebooks such as “Roadside America” and “Weird Colorado.”  My family spent years travelling across Kansas, primarily on I-70, to see the in-laws.  Surely one of the most boring trips one can imagine.  Our family learned that taking the occasional byway was often worth the extra time.  We saw the Worlds’ Largest Ball of Twine, the Garden of Eden and of course – Mingo (the geocache).  These diversions made the trips more tolerable.

America:  Why I Love Hermurca

Inside one of the most modern air terminals in the world – Denver International Airport – is the ultimate shrine to this rapidly disappearing slice of America.  On the fifth level, between the baggage carrels and the grand tent-like main concourse, is an amazing art piece.  Two maps constructed of varnished wood and framed black-and-white Brownie camera photos.  It is called “America:  Why I Love Her” and it was made, not by a world-renowned artist, but by former Continental Airlines customer service agent Gary Sweeney.  Mr. Sweeney took a summer off, mid-career, and re-traced the trips he took with his family as a child.  He photographed roadside landmarks, then arranged them on handcrafted maps, preserving them for all to enjoy.

To find such a treasure tucked away in a major transportation hub is unexpected, but oddly appropriate.  Appropriate because if you leave the airport and turn east rather than west (like most visitors), you embark on a journey to the wild and wooly heartland of America’s roadside attractions.  The Great Plains, where there is little in the way of nature’s bounty or man’s architectural grandeur to compete with striking views of giant buffalo, giant prairie dogs, giant coffee pots, giant balls of twine.  Where prairie provocateurs, driven to madness by living in the (figurative) shadows of Minuteman missile silos, silenced their fiery, apocalyptic visions by building monuments to ordinary animals or objects, as if to deny the End Times forebodings droning from so many sod-bound churches.

In order to enshrine this shrine in our collective meta memories, I have created the tribute of tributes, an eponymous geocache.  It is a multi-stage cache designed to get some eyeballs on this wonderful piece of art.   First stage is virtual (because its in an airport), second stage is physical.  The second stage is some miles away, but still located in a place that visitors and locals may find convenient.  If this type of creative challenge appeals to you, please see my geocache page:  America:  Why I Love Her, GC5XXPA.

I’ve been to maybe ten or fifteen of the roadside attractions depicted on the piece.  They are all special in their own way.  I hope to visit many more.  But I want to share a story of one that is gone, but not forgotten:

The World’s Wonder View Tower (and lots of rocks for sale)

The Wonder Tower

The Wonder Tower “See Six States!” in Genoa, Colorado.  A rickety old tower with 22 adjoining rooms, packed floor-to-ceiling with bizarre clutter, including thousands of arrowheads and glass bottles, a stuffed two-headed calf, and deformed animal fetuses pickled in giant Mason jars.  The Tower’s cheerful owner, Jerry Chubbuck – a man descended directly from P.T. Barnum – would greet us at the door.  We’d pay our $1 per-person entry fee, then try to identify the 10 “curiosities” that Jerry presented to us, in order to get our entry fee refunded (we never came close).  Then we would tour the tower, climbing the semi-spiral stairway that narrowed to a vertical ladder for the last 10 feet.  Emerging onto the open-air platform with the much-heralded view, while the relentless prairie wind battered the tower, we would shake our heads and wonder how the hell Jerry was able to get the place insured.

Eventually I placed a geocache around back, with Jerry’s permission, of course.  I filled it with small items that I purchased at the Tower.  Over the years, it probably pulled an extra hundred or so visitors off the road and into Chubbuck’s emporium.  Every little bit helps, I figured, to keep this wonderfully-odd attraction afloat.

The first sign of trouble was, oh, around the summer of 2010 or 2011.  We pulled up on a summer weekday, the only car in the parking lot, as usual.  To our surprise, Jerry was not manning the cash register.  His wife, Esther, told us Jerry was in bed, not feeling well.  We started to peruse the contents of the “Rock Room,” when we heard a familiar voice.  In bounded Jerry!  He probably glimpsed our car from his bedroom window and couldn’t stand the thought of not personally greeting a visitor (or maybe missing a chance at a sale).

We talked to his daughter once, on a later visit, and she mentioned Jerry was verging on kidney failure.  Those last couple of visits were bittersweet, knowing each might be the last.  Jerry died in August 2013.

As we expected, his kids weren’t interested in taking over the place and the contents were auctioned one year later.  I heard about the auction during a casual conversation with a couple I met when I hiked to the top of Bergen Peak.  (I later found out it happened that very day.)  The auctioneer said there were at least 10,000 items up for auction.  I hope that translated into a nice windfall for his family.  I’d like to think that Jerry was able to leave a decent inheritance behind, for all his hard work and devotion.

The Wonder Tower is a reminder of the impermanence of the little things that dot the landscape we hold dear.  The last news I heard is that the family is looking to sell it to a nonprofit, as a potential museum site.  If so, I hope they can reclaim enough items to restore at least one room to its former glory.

The message behind my story, and the purpose of my geocache, is to remind people to seek out the remaining roadside attractions.  Make the time, drive a little out of the way, spend a little money (they are usually very cheap), but most of all, spend some time with the colorful people who create and maintain these amazing anachronisms.

coloFor more on Jerry Chubbuck and the Wonder Tower see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkdLlm41m2k

http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/39501

http://www.westword.com/arts/the-wonders-of-the-wonder-view-tower-are-on-the-block-going-going-gone-5777974

Golf, Anyone?

Specifically, Disc Golf.  color discs

What does this have to do with geocaching?  Both games get you outdoors, hiking, sometimes miles. Having so much fun, it hardly seems like work.

Until now, they were at best parallel activities.  Sure, some disc golf courses have geocaches planted along the way (such as at the excellent Beaver Ranch course in Conifer).  Many times, before playing a new course, I’ve jumped on geocaching.com just to see if there be low-hanging geo-fruit along the way.  Play 18 holes and find a cache or two along the way.  It’s a bonus, like getting a cookie with your ice cream.

But I’d rather have a Blizzard — an Oreo Blizzard.

So, boys and girls, the Cacheologist has now created the Oreo Blizzard of outdoor fun – the first-ever GeoDiscGolfCache (GDGC).  The first GDGC course is waiting for you behind the Wulf Rec Center in Evergreen, Colorado.

There is some backstory to this.  My two kids sometimes cache with me (we go by the name Wulff Pack when geocaching – no relation to the guy the rec center is named for).  They were both Boy Scouts for many years.  Elder Scout son managed to guide his Eagle project to completion and got his Eagle badge.  Younger Scout son really wanted his Eagle legacy to be a nine-hole disc golf course on the parkland behind the Evergreen (Wulf) Rec Center and would accept no substitute.  The Evergreen Park and Rec District recognized it was an ideal location for a disc golf course.  Unfortunately, all of the land behind the building is Denver’s and requires permission from the absentee landlords, the Denver Mountain Parks Department.

Flash forward a year.  No agreement between the parks departments.  No answer back on whether permission was forthcoming.  No communication from Denver and little from Evergreen.  And from my kid, no Plan B (OK, maybe he wasn’t really traditional Eagle material, at least not until they add “inflexible” as the 13th part of the Scout Law).

So guess what- Denver Mountain Parks?  You’re now getting a disc golf course.  Don’t worry, it’s not costing you a dime.  Nor does it involve a single piece of equipment or infrastructure that isn’t already present.  That’s because, in the spirit of disc golf’s origins, my younger son and I have used found objects as the holes.  Nearly all of the found objects are old signs (No Motorized Vehicles).  No trees or live objects will be harmed (at least intentionally) in the making or playing of the course.

That’s right, it’s sustainable and environmentally-friendly.  And it was really cheap to build.

So please come out a check out our mash-up of disc golf and geocaching.  Seven holes.  Will take you less than an hour.  Beautiful setting.  And you finish at a real live disc golf basket.  (The Rec District did eventually set one disc golf basket out in the park.)

Simply visit the web page on Geocaching.com (http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC5XAXW_evergreen-geodiscgolfcache?guid=28a153d0-59fa-4551-9dbf-b55f927b1694).  You will get a description of the course, the coordinates for the first tee, and the distance and orientation of the first hole.  Use a compass or your handheld GPS to aim your throw.  There is also a valuable hint on the webpage.  It will help you get through the following six holes

Toss. Toss. Cache.

What a Blast!  err…Blizzard.