Thursday, March 10, 2005

Geocaching Field Report

Here's the first in (hopefully) a series of first person accounts of geocaching from my brother, John:

I finally received my GPS unit last thursday, so I was able to go
caching this past weekend.  My friend Mike and I first decided where we
wanted to hike that day, and then I checked the web site for nearby
caches.  Our original destination was Lake Jennings Regional Park,
about seventeen miles east of my house; but there were no caches in the
park so we decided on Mt. Stelzer Regional Park, a mile or two north of
Lake Jennings.

The park is a small one, just north of the San Diego River, and the
hike to the cache was a relatively easy 1.5 miles (and 500 feet
vertically) to the top of Mt. Stelzer.  The park itself is a jewel--
very small, but bisected by a seasonal stream, and containing a really
nice, new public playground and facilities.  Above the stream is a
steep meadow and Mt. Stelzer, which is basically a low ridge with
boulders piled on top of it.

This is one of the things I like about geocaching so far-- we never
would have discovered that little gem of a park if we hadn't been
looking for caches.

It was a beautiful day, sunny with fluffy clouds and not hot at all.  
The meadow was in full bloom from the recent rains-- I even found
golden poppies, which I have not seen growing wild in years.  The hike
was slightly squelchy but pretty mild-- first along the creek through
California live oaks, burnt but not completely killed by the fires two
years ago, then up switchbacks through the meadow to a fire road along
the ridge.  The last 500 feet on the fire road was the most grueling,
with a 35 degree slope.  The GPS never showed us more than about .2
miles away from the summit as the raven flies.  But the ravens-- a
mated pair-- were more interested in showing off to us groundbound
monkeys than in finding hidden treasure.

We really didn't need a GPS at all to find the cache.  The coordinates
were for the summit, easily reached by a trail, which was a flat area
surrounded by jumbled rocks.  From there I read the printout from the
web site, which consisted of pirate-map style directions:  'face this
compass heading from the center of the summit, go sixteen paces.  You
are standing on a big rock with a a crack running through it.  Straddle
the crack and face the visitor's center below.  The cache is under the
rock below you that is covered in black lichen.'

Lots of the rocks below had black lichen, but after a bit of searching
I eventually noticed a couple of unnaturally stacked rocks.  
Fortunately I also noticed the poison oak encroaching on the site, and
was careful pulling out the OD ammo box.

This cache had been around for a while.  The log had entries from 2001.
  It was interesting to read the little scraps of other peoples' lives
and experiences.  Someone had left a pirate haiku.  The cache also
contained happy meal toys, a mini american flag, a dollar bill being
tracked by, rubber frogs, and other trinkets.  I
had forgotten to bring something to leave, so I simply signed the log
book.  Mike had brought a paperback that he was tracking through, for which there was just barely enough room.  He
took (or rather I gave him) an ugly little Country Bears toy, and wrote
his own pirate haiku for the log book:  "Such a hike it be / But the
reward be worth it / Bear doll and a view."

We admired the view from Mt. Stelzer for a while (not bad for a
semi-urban area), and took a side hike along the fire road to a
neighboring summit beneath some power lines.  We saw a red-tailed hawk
riding thermals over the slope below us, and a hummingbird cursed us
out on the way back down.  I watched the ravens for a long time-- they
were circling the ridge during most of our descent, gliding and
tumbling and generally enjoying each other's company.  There were
hardly any other people-- we only passed three small groups the entire
time, and we were completely alone on the summit for the whole time we
were there.

So.  As I expected, the geocache was a facilitator.  Hunting and
finding the cache was fun, but finding the larger place in which the
cache was hidden (in this case, the park) was the best result.  It
gives you the feeling that you have discovered a secret place... you
haven't, really; it's a public park after all... but you would not have
discovered it otherwise.  It's an antidote for the feeling of wanting
to go somewhere and do something, but not knowing where or what.

When you've lived somewhere for as long as I have, you wear grooves in
the geography, and you tend to stay in those grooves-- home to work,
work to nearby restaurants, home to zoo, home to friends' homes, etc.  
You don't tend to jump the grooves, because your brain tells you
there's no reason to go there, even though it is interesting and
exciting to find something new in the midst of all that is familiar.  I
started going on weekend hikes partly because I needed the exercise,
and I needed to get out of the house, but it was also an excuse to find
new places in the area.  Geocaching gives me another one.

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