Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Checking Boxes in Utah

I love wandering the back roads of Utah in the early morning. Spotted lots of rabbits and four deer as I approached this abandoned house. It used to be home to the farmers who also took in boarders working some of the nearby mines.

The next series of caches were some that I've known about, but only recently met the requirements of the various challenges. The road was in great shape for much of the way, but did have some deep ruts in spots and was clearly a road to be avoided when wet. I'm glad I wasn't dragging the Scamp!

The caches themselves were very uninspiring. Typically pill bottles, but they represented culmination of geocaching milestones. Besides, who could resist caching on the outskirts of a town like New Harmony?

Along the way, I hit a personal milestone. I hadn't been paying any attention until I started planning this trip and realized the planets might come close to aligning. I signed the Four Kay challenge cache for my 4,000th find.

With the challenges out of the way, I started visiting the occasional historical marker virtual cache,

some creative traditional caches,

and some earth caches as I worked my way through several Utah counties.

Along the way, BJ and I tested the 'location sharing' functionality of Google Maps. The theory is that she can see on the map where I'm located. When I got home she asked if I'd bought gas at the same station we'd stopped at once before. I was a bit perplexed until I realized that we had in fact purchased gas at a unique station just across the road from where I stopped for a quick cache.

I loved the look and feel of the small towns I wandered through. In this town, a host for a cache I wanted to log was covered by a quilt which seemed a bit strange to me, but a muggle walking by took time to tell me all about their quilt celebration happening that weekend.

You can't go anywhere in southern Utah without passing by (or through) National Parks and red cliffs,

sometimes complete with VRBO cabins. (Just kidding...)

There was a brand new series of three letterbox caches that were supposed to be located on or near abandoned equipment. Unfortunately, in two cases, the 'abandoned' equipment drove away before the caches could be found! This one, on the other hand, isn't going anywhere easily.

By the time I approached Hite, I was ready for another stop. The viewpoint overlooking the upper end of Lake Powell was picturesque and confirmed that the lake is pretty nonexistent at this end. I did spot a couple rafts drifting down to the take-out after completing the multi-day trip through Cataract Canyon.

After crossing the Colorado River at Hite, I headed back up onto Cedar Mesa for once last cache.

My plan had been to boondock at the top of the Moki Dugway, but the bugs were active. Thinking I may settle for a motel room in Mexican Hat, I headed down the hill. Just as I reached the bottom, I found a bug free spot as the sun set that was a decent spot to spend the night.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A California / Nevada day

It was early when I left the house in BJ's car for yet another geoquest.

This time, I was headed first to San Bernadino County, California. Since it is home to the Mohave Desert, my intent was to try to get there before it got too hot, since it wasn't my final destination for the day.

The sun was trying to rise behind me before I got to the Vicksburg exit from the freeway on my way to Parker, Arizona.

First cache of the day celebrated Wyatt Earp and his time mining around the Vidal, California area. I did a handful of caches at the beginning of the Heart of the Mohave Desert power trail before continuing on my way with lots of miles to cover before the sun set.

One of my favorite caches of the morning was called Moving Day Gone Bad. I wasn't sure what I would find, but since my youth was spent in the moving business, it seemed an appropriate stop. It was a simple cache, but an interesting wreckage of a 1950s round nosed trailer that had rolled. There were bedsprings and the frame of an old kitchen chair, as well as the landing gear of the trailer that were still recognizable.

Amazingly, I'd never cached in San Bernadino County. It's the largest county (excluding Alaska boroughs) by land mass in the United States. The county is criss-crossed by little used gravel roads which lead to all sorts of fun, but I was northbound, sticking to Highway 95.

Geocachers have taken advantage of that space and minimal traffic to create a couple large 'power trails'. The Highway to Hell series includes over 3000 caches, but I wasn't here for numbers, at least not massive cache numbers. I was here to tick off three counties that were stopping me from submitting a specific cache for publication. I did pick up 3 H2H caches that were along Highway 95, just to say I did.

Las Vegas is home to a number of virtual caches, but only one was convenient to my efficient route through town. As long as I was snagging the cache, I also picked up a package from the gift shop for my understanding wife who was home doing more of her PT appointments.

North of Las Vegas on Highway 93, things slowed down for a bit for road construction. One lane for traffic, and the shoulder for bottom-drop trucks hauling asphalt. My next goal was Lincoln County, Nevada.

Lincoln County has a little section of it that abuts Arizona, but it's greater(??) claim to fame is as an access point to Area 51 and associated aliens.

Crystal Springs leverages the only claim to fame they have, but yes, I did stop and buy a tee shirt.

They're also home to the beginning of the E.T. Highway. E.T. Highway is a world famous power trail with a couple thousand caches that starts here and wanders west to Nye County where there are many other power trails.

I signed the logs in the caches in "downtown" Crystal Springs and then continued north and east. The plan was to boondock for the night near Panaca Summit on Highway 319 before departing Nevada for Utah, but there was still time before sundown, so I kept going to Modena, Utah and beyond.

Home for the night was an area at the top of the pass east of Newcastle, Utah with a nice view of Silver Peak. This spot was especially nice because of the trees that shielded it from view of the highway and the good AT&T connectivity that gave me a chance to log the day's 48 caches.

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.