Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Adventures 2011 - Geocaching

I keep trying to explain geocaching to friends, and I keep getting the same response - mostly a bunch of smiles and nods and "uh-huhs." You know, the raised eyebrows that resonate with "Yeah, that sounds like fun. Not."

So let me try it again, this time with pictures of my personal favorite caches from the past couple of weeks.

Geocaching is a sort of "treasure hunt". There are caches placed all over the world. A cache can be anything from a film canister with a log in it to a big rubbermaid container. The larger ones are generally filled with "treasure", items not usually of much value, toys, keychains, other trinkets. You're welcome to take any item you find in a cache, so long as you replace it with something of your own that is of similar value. If you look at geocaching.com and map your area, you'll see what I mean. They're everywhere.

Our favorite caches are the ones that take us on incredible hikes and drives to places we never would have gone otherwise, places we didn't know existed. Like this:

A 130-year old narrow gauge railroad bed through the Red Mountain mining district in the San Juan mountains.

It's such an interesting way of exploring your world, and in cases like this, of exploring history. We could look at pictures, like this one of a train on this exact same railroad:
And we will look at those pictures, but what better way to really understand the magnitude of this accomplishment than to walk along it, see it for ourselves?

We hiked a little over a mile on the way to the cache, which was placed near this turntable:
The only one of it's kind in the Rocky Mountains, tucked away amidst the ghost towns of the Red Mountain mining district.

The "treasure" of this hike wasn't the cache. It was the experience of walking the path of miners over a century before us, imagining the life they lived, the work they did, admiring their determination to send a train through country that was hardly accessible by horseback, all for the desperate desire to strike it rich on gold or silver. It was seeing firsthand how much the earth can change in 130 years, how she can "bounce back" after being exploited, trees and undergrowth once again taking over their rightful ground.

I realize not everyone can come to Colorado and follow this particular trail, learn these particular lessons. But everywhere, there are little "secrets" like these, secrets that can be known to anyone who cares to find out. I encourage everyone to give it a shot. Not every cache is as interesting and as exciting as this, and you don't even always find them, but each is fun in it's own right.


Here are some other photos from interesting places where we've found caches recently.

A faucet piped into a hot springs near Chattanooga, an abandoned mining town outside of Silverton, right off the Red Mountain Pass. Who would've thought you'd ever find bathtubs on the side of the Million Dollar Highway with naturally warm water pumped in? We figure it was put there in the 60's... and the faucet still turns on and off! Too cool. Unfortunately, the "hot" springs are only lukewarm now. But still neat to see.

This cache was near the top of Cottonwood Pass, outside of Taylor Canyon near Almont, CO. The view up here was amazing. I mean, we see some pretty incredible views doing the kinds of things we do, but this one was just awesome. There aren't words to describe it. 12,000 feet at the top of a mountain, and then further up for the cache, looking out over the Collegiate Peaks with Taylor reservoir in the distance, mountains and valleys on all sides. Breathtaking.
This picture was taken after we drove through a lake to find a cache.
I'm all about gorgeous, pristine lakes at 11,000 foot altitudes. Can't say I'm crazy about driving through them, but you know... there was a cache on the other side. Happily, it was shallow and all went well.
In this one we're hiking up over an avalanche, north out of Crested Butte. You read about avalaches, how dangerous they are. But you don't quite understand the reality of that until you walk along and look at the hills above you, trees snapped off at ground level or uprooted entirely, a solid bank of snow who-knows-how-many feet deep when it settles. The whole side of the mountain was basically cleared of vegetation. We never did find this cache - after traversing the avalanche we discovered we'd have to cross a raging, icy river. Not a good plan at the height of spring run-off, so we gave up.

These are just a few of the caches we've found in the past couple of weeks, along with all kinds of other adventures in the Colorado mountains. I think we found something like 40 caches altogether between both recent camping trips. Each one took us to somewhere worth seeing - a creek inlet, a beaver pond, lots of very old cemeteries, the tops of mountains and down along creek beds, ghost towns and thriving mountain towns.

You'll find your own treasure in it - some folks love to dig through the caches and see what others have left. Others love the hunt once they get to the point where they should be looking. Some crazy ones love the whole concept of 'micros', searching for minuscule capsules hidden in very public places, often impossible to find (I hate micros.) Our treasure is the discovery that happens while we're getting to the cache. All it takes is a GPS (or a downloadable app on your SmartPhone) and you'll be off and running. Do give it a shot. And let me know how it goes!

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