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