Hill Country Highways: Burn it, Durn it! Episode 2

I was thinking about this one part of our visit to Inks Lake that, in retrospect, was the best part.  The path to the Gneiss Oak cache turned into rock face at a certain point, and just followed along the lower edge of a hill.  On the way back, J went all the way up that rock hill, billy goat style.  Then, he gestured for me to join him.  I was a little nervous about my bum leg, but I followed him anyway.

Then we just stood still for a while and listened to the wind.  Watched the rocks.  J was scanning the area with his binoculars, looking for interesting things.  I was thinking about a Texas version of that cliche saying, “get lost, find yourself”.  I was wondering what part of me would I find in this quiet moment in nature.

Then we found a half-naked woman.

She was across the water from us, on a different trail.  We contemplated if she was hot.  Kinda.  That was our cue to get up.  It broke the spell.

As we were walking down, we saw a little cactus growing out of the side of the rock.  J marveled at this, and I told him about an article I read in Texas Highways on the way up here about a Bed and Breakfast near Big Bend that does paleontology tours, and the owner of the establishment marveled at very similar things.

“Life finds a way,” the owner had said.  And that seemed so profound on this morning hike.

And then we saw the half-naked chick coming up the trail.  We asked her how she got across the water, and she told us what trail to take.  And we realized she was probably like eighteen and so we felt a little dirty for checking her out.  But, in our defense, she was hiking in the hill country in practically a bikini.  I just have one word for that: Cacti!

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Snoqualmie Version

After our disheartening defeat at GCD, we drove across the highway and found the parking area for our next quest: to travel through the Snoqualmie Tunnel to the other side to get another grandfather cache, one called “IronHorse”.
Jason had already found this cache, but I had not. Both of us had been to this area before. Many, many geocachers have. This area was a mecca for geocaching, due to it being a common route to the last remaining APE cache in the US, which sadly was archived in the previous year due to it being muggled repeatedly by that geo-pirate I mentioned in the last post. Jason claimed a find on the APE cache in 2005 when he was sent to the Seattle area for business. I found the APE cache myself in 2008 when I was up in the area for a work interview, and was considering moving up this way (still would love to do that). Both of us had taken the other approach to that famed cache – going up the Lake Annette trail, which was beautiful.
There was a typical traditional hide now in the spot the APE cache formerly laid, but neither of us had our sights on that today. He wanted to share the experience of the tunnel with me, help me find IronHorse, and also we wanted to find a cache hidden inside the middle of the tunnel called “Bloody Fingers, Dirty Diapers”.
As we approached the entrance to the tunnel, we were joined along the path by an unlikely trio: a man leading a horse, and a dog following alongside. It soon became clear that the trip intended to walk through the tunnel with us. I found that kind of amazing, because I don’t know many horses that would willingly walk through this tunnel. I don’t even know that every person I know would be willing to go through the tunnel. It is kind of creepy! Basically, it is an old abandoned railroad tunnel that was converted to a hike and bike trail, with no embellishments. There is no light in the tunnel. It goes on for two miles. After you get about a half mile in, the light from the entrance behind you starts to dim, and it grows progressively darker, until it is pitch black. Eventually, you can make out a tiny speck of light ahead. If you walk towards that light, it grows a little bigger, eventually looking a bit like a church window in the distance. Eventually, that church window widens in your view until you realize it is the exit.

So here we are, walking with the man, the horse, and the dog, and kind of making casual conversation with the man, but also sort of paying attention to the little pockets in the wall that used to hold lighting or electronics or some abandoned train machinery or whatnot. According to possible clues on the “Bloody Fingers, Dirty Diapers” cache page, the cache is located within one of these, and I was kind of counting and looking along the way, which slowed us down deliberately to pull us a little away from our odd walking companions. I wanted us to have the tunnel experience on our own, a little bit.
Eventually, they drifted away from us, and the click clack of the horse’s hooves advanced ahead of us and disappeared. We were half-blindly looking about for this cache, in the middle of the tunnel where the light is all gone. We had our headlamps on, but it only allowed us to see a few feet ahead of us.
Suddenly, we heard a noise in the distance behind us. “What was that?”, I asked Jason nervously. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it”. To me, though, it sounded like a frightened animal. It sounded like a large, frightened animal wailing. And the sound happened again, and it was getting closer….
I was getting spooked. My mind was racing trying to figure out what it could be. I oriented myself towards the noise, looking for a light coming towards us, something to indicate that the noise was human.
Then, Jason decided we were done looking for the cache, and needed to move. He encouraged me to start walking and look later. Then he picked up the pace. He said he was not worried about the sound, but his pace indicated that he also felt the prick of danger. He actually began hiking so fast I was having trouble keeping up with him, and thought about asking him to slow down, but then I would hear the noise behind us again, growing closer maybe, and I could NOT get out of the tunnel fast enough.
The last mile seemed to last forever. As we got closer to the exit and that window of light grew larger, I could see shapes moving around in it. I was confused at first, but then realized it appeared to be the silhouette of the cowboy and his dog. Where was his horse, though? And why was he dancing around the exit like that?

As we got to the exit, finally, I realized my recognition was correct. The cowboy was standing there to greet us, anxiously smoking a cigarette and asking us, “Did you see him?

Whaaaat? See who? The Poltergiest of Snoqualmie? I was really confused. He explained that he was waiting for his friend, another man leading another horse. I told him about the sounds I heard, and he explained it was probably the horse. Jason told the man that I had been scared it was some kind of bear or cougar who had wandered in the tunnel. “Oh, that happens all the time,” the man said. Really? Man, I would totally pee myself if I was walking in that tunnel and came across a predator like that in there with me.
Apparently, the man leading the horse did not listen to this cowboy when he counseled this guy to bring a spare flashlight. The man had his flashlight die on him, and was leading this horse, who had never encountered this kind of adventure, through the tunnel in absolute darkness behind us. Those noises were the sound of a horse in terror, which I am both surprised and glad I had not heard before enough to recognize.
This other man finally showed us, the horse blowing and snorting, shaking and rolling its eyes. After a few minutes, the men mounted up and rode off to have a mountain trail ride, the dog trailing behind.
Jason and I found IronHorse, then had a picnic of dinner rolls and cheese, bought at the Pike Market yesterday, at a table surrounded by mountains, crisp air, and singing birds. It was totally awesome, and totally worth the terror.
The way back through the tunnel was so much less frightening. Children on bikes following their parents breezed through. We must have seen about 20 bikers, a few hikers, all kinds of people. And we found that cache we were looking for after all, about halfway through. I am really glad we went, although it did take up a bug chunk of our day and energy. What else would have been a better way to spend our day, besides having this crazy adventure surrounded by so much beauty?DSC_1706


Oswald West State Park

So this is one of the best places ever.

We never would have gone to this place, either, if it hadn’t have been for Facebook. Both of us “like” National Geographic on FB, and they post a Picture of the Day. One day, the photo captivated both of us, and we were like, we should go here! So I looked it up, and figured out how we could make that happen on this trip.
We tried to guess as to where the exact spot was where they took the photo but I am not sure we figured it out. Maybe this was it:

Or slightly south of this along the trail, I dunno. What I do know is that there ARE in fact bald eagles here, I saw one fly over my head while J was taking a photo of what we think was an immature one being harassed by a seagull. I was also watching for whales here, they say this is a good spot for that, although I think it may have been the wrong season.
We couldn’t decide what to do first. We started on one trail, but it seemed to be harder than we anticipated, so we went back to this spot here and tooled around for a while. Then, we drove up the road, and found a place to start on the same trail we originally started on, but from the other direction. This one went up Neahkahnie Mountain, and I was not in the mood for going all the way to the top. I thought we were going to turn around after the first cache in the series on the way up, but J kept pushing me to continue to the next, and then, turns out, I was the one who wanted to make it all the way to the summit (which was just right up there!) and he thought it was too dangerous, making us turn around right before the very last cache, after all that! And, we didn’t bother trying to look for the lost Spanish treasure up there, being too busy finding pieces of paper in decon containers to sign our names to.
Here is the view of the summit, the last 160 ft of it he didn’t think we should go up:

It’s a good thing, though, because what you can’t see from this image is that it was really rocky and kind of rough along the trail near the top, and that it was starting to get dark. It took us like an hour to get to the top, but it only took us thirty minutes to get down, or something like that. The sun was going down and it was getting dark just as we reached our parking spot. Here is the view going down the trail. This also could have been where the NG photo was taken:

And a view from halfway up the trail:

There are a lot of trails here worth hiking. After this, we tooled around as the sun went down, and then headed over to this Great Northern Garlic Company. It is fantastic. If you are ever in the area, you really should go there. It was after closing time, but the owner didn’t mind us huddling up around one of the table fires and ordering her last Dungeness crab, as well as two Crater Lake root beers and a plate of hummus and pita bread. It was so delicious, especially after that hike.
After this, we went back to our tent at the Nehalem Bay State Park (no camping in Oswald West), and went to to sleep with the faint sound of coyotes yipping and surf breaking along the beach that was further away than it sounded, but not too far for us to stroll down there at dawn and watch the Oregon coast greet the day. This whole area was the highlight of the trip, for sure.
Another view from the top of the trail, on the way down:


So, our fourth day in to our vacation, we were in the heart of Oregon, traveling north up I-5 towards Portland. Our goals this day were some of the oldest geocaches in the world, including the site of the Original Stash (the very first cache, placed in May of 2000).
I shouldn’t diminish the events that came first, though. The day before, after our rainy adventures along the Rogue Highway, we had gone just a little south after hitting Grants Pass, and then to the east along a long and winding mountain road to this place I had found for us to stay at called the Green Springs Inn. If you are ever in Ashland, or, I should say, outside of Ashland, you should stay there. It is 17 miles out of the way along this scary little road that eventually leads to Klamath Falls, where my boys and their dad are from (essentially). I picked this place to stay for a few reasons, one of them being this:
A handful of the rooms are outfitted with these private jacuzzis that are screened in and look out into a beautiful wilderness area. Beyond that are back roads and trails to hike, including parts of the Pacific Crest Trail.
One of the other reasons I picked this place was to be closer to dear Carlene, who drove an hour from her house to come pick up my boys to take them the following day to see their grandmother for a week, who lives out this way but a bit far from our path at this point. We had dinner with Carlene and her son in the Inn attached to the lodge, and then eventually went our seperate ways. Our way was to head out into those back roads and go exploring, and geocaching.
Anyways, we almost hated to leave the Green Springs Inn the next morning, and the people there were so darn friendly. We got complimentary coffees and best wishes for the road as we headed out, listening to Kerouac’s “On the Road” audio CD and dodging bikers on the way to Ashland proper for breakfast (and a few more caches) and then the open highway, taking us to places like Estacada, Sandy, and Molalla; places that are just south and east of Portland, in the Oregon country, near great swaths of christmas firs and dark green luscious forests interspered with green fields roped in white fencelines. The drive was great towards the end, but also slightly annoying, as the GPS was routing us in weird circles and out on some random road that we felt we weren’t supposed to be on but eventually led us there.
For GC16, there means a parking spot across a quiet road from an yellow fence. The fence marks the beginning of the trail. It wasn’t terribly long and difficult, but carrying our packs that were a little too heavy with camera equipment and travel bugs, and going up a pretty steep grade at the beginning, we were beginning to huff a little and ponder the wisdom of our decisions before the trail leveled off.
The hike was beautiful, though, and after the initial grade, we were really enjoying it. Or at least I was. This to me is what I love about geocaching! I felt exhilarated and joy filled me inside, although the previous resident was Taco Time, a rare pacific northwest treat, which grumbled about being asked to vacate the premises. I was trying to find a bathroom, but no dice at this little “Annie’s Cabin”, which is about halfway up the trail. I loved the hitching posts outside of it (which you can’t see in this picture..but we did take some photos that maybe I will post later of the hoofprints of horses leading up the trail to).

Once we got closer, we had to take a smaller trail off to the side of the main one, and then I think another smaller trail after that. The cache was a nice, big awesome find. I logged the cache while J took some photos. I left a travel bug I had brought in my bag with me, taking nothing else. Then we hiked back down, finding the cache across the road that was near our parking spot, and taking a picture of the river that roared by down here. There were not many people taking advantage of the beautiful wilderness out here, with shady little picnic spots tucked in off the road by the river, which was kind of surprising but I guess if you live by such beauty every day, you eventually become blind to it.

Big fun in the soft green Oregon mountain area. Now it was time to see if we could make it to GC12 and 17 before dark.
Delay in the stories = life keeps getting in the way. But I will try to keep them coming faster, there was a lot of cool places we saw in our break from the Texas heat!