Saturday, June 16, 2018

Road Trip Planning

I've used a lot of different tools for RV trip planning including MS Streets and Trips which is no longer available and some on-line resources like Good Sam's trip planner, but I keep coming back to my default AAA paper maps for the big picture, Google Maps for calculating miles, and a trusty spreadsheet to keep track of daily details.

I started out using the same tools for geocache trip planning, but quickly realized it was unwieldy.

I was introduced to the Geocaching Swiss Army Knife application (Windows only) a couple years ago, and it has become a key tool for me. It has a relatively steep learning curve, but has huge benefits, including a large and growing macro library that add specific functionality as needed.

The Google_Map_V3.gsk macro is very helpful. It takes all of the caches in the current database and places them (temporarily) onto Google maps. (Click on any picture to get a larger version.)

Here's an example of a zoomed in section of the caches in my "Found" database. There's a cluster of caches around Boulder City and another cluster of earth caches around Valley of Fire State Park. The map is also displaying the outline of each of the Arizona DeLorme Gazetteer pages.

I'll often create a database of "maybe" caches in an area, view them on the map, and then pick out caches that have easy access for the RV for further consideration.

A couple other key GASK macros work with the Garmin Nuvi that we use when we're traveling.
The Nuvi_GPX_v2.Gsk macro puts all the caches in the selected database on the Nuvi as Points of Interest with appropriate icons to indicate the type of cache. In this picture, there are three traditional caches, one nearly hidden under the helicopter that represents our rig.

In the upper left, the Nuvi is indicating that Route Point 3 (I haven't found a way to change "Route Point" terminology) is on the left, 11 miles further. The waypoints are created using the CacheRoute3.gsk macro.

All of that helps with trip planning and navigating to the area, but it wasn't doing anything for my desire for a printed list of caches. If I'm out for the day, I carry a small notebook to note anything special about the various caches, but that doesn't provide enough structure when I'm doing a road trip that could involve dozens to hundreds of potential caches.

Enter Cachetur! I heard about Cachetur on a Facebook group associated with Project-GC (another very helpful online tool.) Cachetur is a free, user supported, online trip planning tool for geocaching that originates in Norway.

I've been using Cachetur for a bit over a month now, and have planned several trips with it. I'm impressed enough that I decided to donate some support for the project, but I'm by no means an expert! It clearly expects to be able to replace the functionality of the CacheRoute3.gsk macro but seems to have some of the same limitations - the underlying Google Maps routing function chokes if you try to sent too extensive a list and they sometime come up with 'interesting' routes so I still sequence my caches by hand before creating the route.

What I LOVE about Cachetur is the incredible trip plan printouts that are created. The listing can be printed out in a number of different formats. The 'detailed - left aligned - default' style includes all sorts of info including the find history, the size, how often the cache is found, what county it is in, and the distance (both as the crow flies and road distance) to the next cache in the list.

I used this style for my southern Arizona, New Mexico loop and appreciated everything but the number of pages it took!

For my California/Nevada/Utah trip, I used the Simple List with Icons & Coordinates style because it also included the county names and I was still trying to complete a handful of neighboring counties. This more compact version worked well for me and had enough room for notes (I was going to use a copy of the actual list from the trip but it apparently got tossed after I logged the caches) BUT I found I really missed not having the info about the distance to the next cache.

The Simple List with Attributes format didn't give the cache size or difficulty info, but does include the distance to the next cache.

The report summary seems to be the same for all of the various report styles. This is the one from my Arizona / New Mexico loop, printed after I finished the trip and logged the caches. The summary includes total driving distance, estimated driving time, and estimated time including stops for the various caches. These are estimates and vary from my reality, but in most cases they've been acceptably close. For example, on this trip I elected to ignore some of the 'extra' caches, made one stop for a fast food meal, and ended up taking about 90 minutes more than they estimated - much of which was due to the search for a multi in Pinal county that took much longer than they estimated.

So far, I haven't found a way to build a custom report style but I'm still looking. Meanwhile, Cachetur has become an important tool in the arsenal for geocache oriented road trips, and I'll keep learning about its capabilities.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Chasing Counties

The second day was going to be long. The intent was to log caches in 11 counties, - 7 of which would be new to me, at least as a geocacher.

By the time the sun was coming up, I'd logged two caches near my boondocking spot in Pima county, three in Santa Cruz county, and was approaching Cochise county.

I picked up my first couple Cochise county caches in Fort Huachuca (still an important Army post) and continued east to Tombstone.

While the object of the day was to concentrate on counties, I wasn't going to bypass virtuals or multi's if I had the time. Tombstone seemed a bit strange with totally empty sidewalks at 7 a.m.

I noticed the Marshall doesn't ride a horse anymore.

The most fun in Tombstone was to figure out how to access the old railroad grade

leading to an old trestle

and a virtual cache that highlighted a large stone covered with petroglyphs.

Eventually I made it out of Cochise county to New Mexico where there are three counties within 75 miles of the Arizona border.

Visited an interesting cemetery in Hidalgo county along with an abandoned truck stop.

The only cache in Grant county along the freeway was at the Continental Divide Trading Post, but it was an easy find.

A rest area in Luna county featured two caches and some invisible snakes and was the place I turned around and headed for home.

It was a long stretch back to Clifton, Arizona in Greenlee County, but it was worth the effort

for yet another virtual cache. I picked up a few traditionals in Graham County, and a few more in Gila County

before touring an old tunnel in Pinal County and tripping into the final of a multi.

The last cache of the day was in Maricopa County just a few miles from home, before the sun set on the Superstitions. Eleven counties, 30 caches, about 550 miles, and a really fun day.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Virtually caching


I had plans to concentrate on some non-traditional geocaches during our travels this summer. With the travel plans on hold, I started looking for non-traditional caches closer to home. Tucson has a plethora so when time and weather aligned, I headed out on an overnight trip. I concentrated on multi-caches that highlighted classic lighted signs,

and virtual caches that highlighted various public art

of various sizes

and shapes, as well as

a world famous Spanish Mission with history that dated back to the early 1690's. The current church at San Xavier del Bac was built between 1783 and 1797. By the time I got here, sun was setting and I knew I was going to miss out on one of the other places I'd hoped to visit.

The church was closed by the time I got there which was too bad because as I recall, the inside is also pretty special.

Since the doors were closed, I noticed a detail I didn't recall from before. Not the most inviting door hardware!

The other one that I missed was at the Pima Air & Space Museum. I used to take my classes there, but haven't been there in nearly 25 years. With the gate closed, I couldn't get the info I needed for this virtual cache.

I finished up the day with a few more multi's that were conveniently located along a dirt road

that became my home for the night. I got my hotel parked just as the last light was disappearing in the west.

Home for the night was BJ's Subaru Outback. Just long enough for me to sleep stretched out.
Could have stayed at a hotel, but parking within 25 feet of the cache that I wanted to start with at 4:30 a.m. was much more logical.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

All Hat, No Cattle

Sometimes I 'need' something that isn't so easily accessible, so I end up getting creative. I suppose I could have 'phoned a friend' but I decided to build my own. I started out with some small pieces of wood, wrapped in plastic and topped with some crude sheet steel butterflies.

In retrospect, I maybe should have used mortar instead of concrete. If there's a next time...

I didn't get quite the effect I was looking for, but I didn't have a cow or enough time to build them naturally.

Once the concrete set, the forms were pulled out, leaving space for a preform container.

Preforms are what one liter soda bottles look like before they're heated and blown into their final form. They make great containers for geocaching logs. In this case, I wanted to add a magnet to them to hold them in the homemade cow pies.

The E6000 glue works wonderfully, but sets just slow enough that the magnets wanted to slide off the tubes when they were on top. After about 10 minutes of babysitting and slowly turning the tubes to keep the magnet on top, I got smart. Since I was doing this on my steel table saw, it was MUCH easier to roll the tube over, putting the magnet on the bottom.

Three containers ready.

The container was intended to go into place with the magnet facing the top of the cavity, but the rare earth magnet is strong enough it can hold the container in place even when the magnet is 45 degrees to either side thanks to the wings of the 'butterfly.'

It won't fool a cowboy but it doesn't stick out from a distance. It might slow down a few city slickers while keeping the cache safe.

Of course, AFTER I made these and placed them, I found a organic source about 50 miles from home. I'm still trying to decide if I need to upgrade...