Baytown Nature Center

bnc 1This past Saturday, we drove an hour or so southeast to visit the Baytown Nature Center.  Our geocaching friends were having a brief flash mob down there, hosted by “Baytown Bert”, and we were curious about the two hour wilderness survival course hosted by the park (free with the $3 entry fee) afterwards.

Despite the unpredictable nature of the weather the past month, it ended up being a beautiful morning to spend outside.  I had been to this center once before, but Jason hadn’t, and we enjoyed exploring it with the kids.  The center boasts 450 acres of wetlands, hiking and biking trails, and is an official site on the Gulf Coast Birding Trail.  Some 200-300 species of birds visit the park during the year.  It is surrounded by three different bays, and within site of refineries and a well-known memorial of Texas Independence (see below pic).  Can you guess what memorial that is?bnc 4


After greeting our friends, my youngest went off to play on the playground, which was surprisingly appealing in its nature theme.  After this, he became engrossed in the survival class, led by Chrissie (spelling?), an employee of the park.  She engaged the class in exploring different uses for common items found in hiking packs.  After going through safety advice and suggestions at how to use these items in her pack, she broke the class up into small groups and presented them with an imaginary scenario in which they had to figure out how to survive with a specific list of items.  She had Kaleb in her group, and he was coming up with some good answers to her questions.  I thought it was so cute how into this class my eight year old was, but the older guys in our group were cold and ready to move on with our day, so I had to pull the youngest away from Chrissie and move him along to the next activity.

bnc 3After this, we stopped to find a handful of geocaches on the way out.  On the way to the first one, we saw a beautiful Osprey perched out on a pole along the bay.  He was particularly striking, with a splashy white and black face.  At the next cache stop, near the butterfly garden, we saw him again flying majestically through the air above us, searching for prey.  At another stop, as we looked out over the wetlands from a gazebo up on a hill, we heard him crying out, and then spotted him perched in a tree near the water.

We also watched a Royal Tern dive into the water in the bay in a search for food that fascinated us for a while.  I saw a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing by the water’s edge, its breast the solid white (no spots) that characterizes the winter plumage of this species.  Brown Pelicans flew above the water, and cormorants shared pier posts with Laughing Gulls.  We also observed brown headed cowbirds, common grackle, a Loggerhead Shrike, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, an d heard Red Winged Blackbirds.

We ended up with six cache finds in the park on our way out, with several left on the map unfound for a future return trip.  Lunch time hunger drove us out of the park, and we ended up stopping for greek food on the way home in downtown.  All of us really enjoyed the park (although the teenager spent most of the time listening to his music on his earbuds and just tuning us all out, which is so typical of these years).

This park fascinated me with its juxtaposition of the natural beauty up against the backdrop of oil refineries in the distance.  It reminded me a bit of how I used to think Houston was an ugly city, but I have actually learned to find the beauty in its natural places, and have gained appreciation of how both can exist over time.  Like Houston itself, Baytown Nature Center is a place worth a deeper look.

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Geocaching: Year in Review

I was looking at a post on the Houston Geocaching Society’s forum regarding last year’s New Year’s resolutions, caching style.  These were my goals from last year that I posted:

IMG_20140718_1217341) Work on finding the caches near my house.  Specifically, I would like to see the first page of unfound caches be further than 3 miles from home.  Right now, we have ten pages of unfound caches within 3 miles.  Slackers!  Many of those in my area are puzzles, so I started actually solving some in September.  I haven’t gone looking for a lot of them, but I have loaded the final coords on the GPS.  Solving more each week.

 Update:  we are down to 8 pages of unfound caches within 3 miles of our house, and I did solve and find about 8 puzzles, most of which were nearby.  Progress, but not as much as I would have liked to have seen.

2) Catch up to my brother and cook cachers.  There was a summer we were all neck and neck in cache finds, but then they got way ahead of me.  We haven’t cached that much this year compared to previous years, but I want to change that this year.  More caching!

 Update:  Last time I saw cook cachers, she was telling me she had just reached 4000 finds, and I was terribly envious because that had been my goal for the  year, but I am still short (at 3664 finds as _DSC0719of today).  My NEW goal is to reach 4K finds by the end of 2015, and I still want to catch up to her, but I am not sure how reasonable that is, considering Sandi seems to have more time to cache than I do, and I am having a baby in a few months, which is probably going to slow me down a little.  My brother is currently 291 finds ahead of me, and Sandi is 377 ahead of me.  I only found 358 caches this year, so again that makes the odds of my catching up to Sandi seem low, but possibly I could catch up to my brother (if he slows down a little).

3) Clear out the parks in the Houston area.   I have a list of ones I want to work on this year, and dates I plan to go to them – I am going to host events at them when I do, I think, so we can have a chance to work on that in a group.  I really enjoy the friendships I made through geocaching, and events are one way to build on those.

 IMG_20140717_112608Update:  still have a ways to go on this.  I did host six events this year, three of which were at parks that I was trying to clear out (find all the caches in).  Jason is a little burned out on going to Spring to go caching, so I don’t know if I will continue my goal of trying to host an event at each of the parks along the Spring Creek Greenway, or if I will turn my attention to local parks (very intrigued by Arthur Storey and Bishop Fiorenza parks, and the Willow Waterhole Greenway area).  These goals will have to compete with a desire to go birding, hiking, biking, and nesting for new baby, though, so we will see what happens with those this year.

4) Bring back the Golden Ammo can to SouthEast Texas by leading our team to a victory this year!  I think we can do this!  I know we have the best team – now we need to bring that team out with a strategy that capitalizes on our strengths.

 We didn’t win the Gold, and I want to blame that on North Texas’s blatant cheating and the scoring inconsistencies this year. TX Challenge 2014 However, I did have a chance to re-score our team’s scorecards, and our overall score was still a little less than their reported overall score.  I am very pleased that our team won the Silver Ammo Can, though, and beat my brother’s team.  I think my strategy that I carefully thought out was very effective, and I do think I want the chance to lead our team again someday.  We are actually not going to participate in this in 2015 (for me, the first one I have missed since 2007, and for Jason, the second one he missed since like 2004 – that is a good ten years of history there).  Here is our t-shirt design for this year, in case you missed it/were curious:

2014 TC shirt mockup front and back5) Go back to Utah and claim a find on Potters Pond, the grandfather cache that Jason held us back from due to safety precautions.  More grandfather caches and western road trip adventures.

Camels Prairie Stash
Camels Prairie Stash

We did score a find on Potters Pond this year!  We found a total of ten of the one hundred oldest active geocaches, which puts me at 24 finds on the list.  This list is my geocaching “bucket list”, but it might take my lifetime to complete it, and saving money for travel.  Several of the caches on the list are in New Zealand, Alaska, Australia, Ireland, and Kenya.  It might be a while, but I do want to find them all before I die.

Other notable facts about this year – we attended two Mega events, two CITOs, and 22 regular events.  Fourteen of my finds were virtuals.  I found caches in 13 states this year, a few of which were new states.  Still have a goal to turn the whole US red on my “found in states” map, but missing the midwest and parts of the east.  IMG_20140710_084543We found four earthcaches (and I think I am almost done with the requirements to log drew8’s earthcache challenge, although I might be missing one type of earthcache, the closest of which is in Tennessee so might be a while before I get to it).  Only one month/year combo away from being able to complete the Jasmer Challenge (finding a cache hidden in every date/year combo since geocaching began).  Where is the closest January 2001 hide?  Argh!  

That sums up our year and our future goals in this shared pastime of ours.  Here are some fun photos from this year in caching:

IMG_20140723_105850 IMG_20140718_191650 IMG_20140717_114517 IMG_20140711_141728 IMG_20140712_102840 IMG_20140712_210100 IMG_20140713_134751 Diamond searching _DSC1123


Hunt Falls

Priest Lake, Idaho
July 18, 2014

In the morning after camping in the Indian Creek section of Priest Lake, we decided on one more diversion before leaving the area. There was another geocache I had cherry-picked in the area called the Hunt Falls Cache.  The reason this one was special was because of the hide date: 6/25/2001.  I’ve been working on the Jasmer Challenge, which involves finding a cache hidden in every month/year combination, and I was missing a few, including this combination.  Now I am only missing January of 2001 hides, so if you know of any, please let me know.  I haven’t been able to locate any of these closer than Tennessee, and who knows when we will be traveling there!

Another reason this one is special is because it, like the Camels Prairie Stash, was hidden by Moun10Bike, a famous cacher. One of Moun10Bike’s claims to fame is that he created the very first geocoin. Also, though, he is an actual “lackey” working at the “lily pad”: he actually works for Groundspeak, the company that brings us He is also a Charter Member of, as I mentioned in the last post, and has been a member since Sept 2000, right at the beginning of this game. All of these give him revered status in the community.
Also, this cache has 15 favorite points, and leads to a beautiful hidden waterfall. Some logs state that this is exactly what geocaching is supposed to be about, and we love those kind of hides.
The reasons why this cache is one of my favorites now includes all of those things above, plus the experience we had with it. It turns out that logging road #23 was the road we were first on the night before, so the initial drive up, we had actually done before. Instead of continuing up the hill, though, we turned to the left and looped around, parking the car near where a walking path opened up along the creek. The banks along this path were covered with several different kinds of moss and ferns, as you can see in one of the above pictures, and this is an aspect of nature that thrills me to no end. I wished I could harvest some of this moss to make terrariums out of, but I didn’t think there was a way I could get it back to Texas alive. We were completely alone out here; no one else was traveling these roads or paths. We even split up from each other a little. Jason stopped to take pictures and I continued on the little footpath that lead off to the right of the waterfall, once we got there, to go find the ammo can that was well hidden under piles of moss. We were still very much in the wilderness that we were in last night, with the thrill of running into bear or moose at any moment adding the edge of excitement to the hunt.

On the way back, I was by myself for bit, and stopped in a clearing just off the trail. As I looked around, taking it all in, something whizzed past me and then stopped, hovering, and stared right at me. It was a hummingbird, and he was either extremely curious about me, or wanted me gone. I had never been stared down by a bird before, and I took notice of his coloring before he flew off. I looked up which species this was after, and it had to be the Rufous Hummingbird. Apparently these little guys are quite territorial and don’t mind trying to even scare humans off of their areas. That was a special birding treat for me, since as far as I know, I have never seen one of these before or since.
This stop was worth the half hour to an hour side trip, but then it was time to actually start making our way to Montana. We made our way south to Highway 2, then headed east. The road curved up at Sandpoint north to Bonners Ferry, then crossed into Montana. Neither of us remember if we had breakfast before we left the campground – if so, it was probably a bar or these dried breakfast pouches I had brought – so about mid-morning after we crossed the Montana border, I made us some ham and cheese croissant sandwiches that we ate as we walked to a cache maintained in memory of a fallen cacher. Our goal was to make it to the eastern edge of Glacier National Park by lunchtime, but there were slowdowns. Road construction, some kind of delays, a little bit of rain, frustration, and stopping for supplies in Kalispell lay in between. Next post, though: Going-to-the-Sun Road, and our first day in the park.

Our Eggcellent Adventure

IMG_20140717_113216Thursday, July 17.
We almost didn’t want to leave the comfort of the Konkoville Motel, but we were on a mission. After a cozy hotel breakfast of the most delicious muffins, possibly some fruit and cereal, coffee and milk, we finally pulled out and headed out to the Idaho wilderness.
We were searching one of the oldest active geocaches (of course), Eggcellent, hidden June 21, 2000. This was literally within a month of the game’s inception, and just a few weeks after the oldest cache hide. This one is REALLY off the beaten path…so much that it has only been found 47 times before us in the fourteen years that it has been sitting out here. I’ve been eyeballing it on the map for a while, though, and I thought, what is the next time we are going to be in Idaho…we should go for it while we were here. Plus, it was kind of a double shot kind of deal, because along the way, we could pick up a find on another grandfather cache, Two Roads. This one has been out the same amount of time, with almost three times as many finds. I guess that is the difference between a difficulty 3, terrain one/short walk versus a difficulty four/terrain four, the other difference being about two or three hours in the approach.
We had some discussion about the best way to approach Eggcellent. I had studied the maps and made a plan, but as usual, Jason looked at my plan really late in the game and decided to change it all. He didn’t think the route I picked would actually get us there, and so after some back and forth, he suggested we contact the cache owner, who was nice enough to write us back with some very specific directions. This was mostly helpful…although, when we got towards the end, things got a little hairy. In case you ever find yourself in the center of western Idaho, very close to the Washington border (nearest cities include Moscow, Lewiston, and Coeur D’Alene, although none of those are THAT close by), and you are wanting to find this cache, here are the directions the CO gave us. Be forewarned, though…you will need a vehicle that is capable of off-road, all wheel terrain and towards the end, you are going to have to trust your gut and use your spidey-senses to find the way to the cache. I am not even sure the last “road” is even a road? It is more like…tire tracks along a stretch of grass next to a wild, dark forest.
Hi. Here are some waypoints that will help with getting to Eggcellent: Turn off Hwy 8 onto NF1963 at: N46 45.837 W116 14.831. Turn on NF1445 at: N46 44.633 W116 15.974 Go Right at: N46 44.031 W116 14.330. Turn left on Rd at N46 42.518 W116 13.190. Right on Rd at N46 42.434 W116 12.957 Turn Left at N46 41.920 W116 12.694 (This road goes to ground zero. Stay on it till you get there. You will get real close and then seem to get further away but the road goes out and then comes right back to ground zero. As you drive to GZ, the cache was on our right. We actually stood on it several times while searching.)
There may be some gates closed and if there are, you will need to park and walk but the last cachers didn’t have any problem.

The initial entry into the forest made us really happy. The views were great and the road wasn’t too bad. We didn’t see anyone in the hours we were out here. We had smiles on our faces and were enjoying the flowers and the dark coolness of the woods. Each turn took us to a road that was a little smaller and a little rougher. When we reached the last turn, down the last road, we started to doubt whether or not this was actually the way. We ended up backing up and taking another right, which led us to an area that had been burnt out by logging operations. We turned right here by these flowers and parked the Subbie by the burn out spots, and then started walking down the road.
Now we come to the part of our adventure that we are still “arguing” about to this day. So, there was an animal in the woods just to the left of those flowers. A very, very big animal. I wanted to take a look at it. I am fairly certain that the creature making all the noise in the woods was exactly this here (NOT a picture we took. This one has been floating around the internet for some years):
Anyways, Jason wouldn’t let me go look and see. Instead, he grabbed two small logs, and began banging them together rhythmically, talking loudly, even singing a bit of a loud chant/song. The thing in the woods grew silent, and maybe disappeared, and with it went my chance to see a really awesome wild animal. It had to either be a moose or a bear, and all I wanted to do was look…maybe get a picture from a distance. I still feel a little bit cheated, but he says we are better safe than sorry.
After this, we walked down the road about a third of a mile, going around a corner and then finding the cache in the woods to our right, almost directly across the road from where the giant animal was walking. The whole walk, I kept expecting it to walk out in front of us, and it made me feel vulnerable and excited at the same time. It turns out we could have driven right up to the cache, and perhaps maybe even the road we were originally on would have gotten there from the opposite direction. Found it, though, and made it back to the parking area. Then, despite Jason’s caution about the wild animal, he had me stand right there by the flowers where we had first heard it moving around, by myself, and take videos of him driving the Subbie down the burned out hillside that we parked at. Hilarious.
We took lots of videos on the way out, and when I find them, I will upload them. This is something that we did a lot of in our 2010 road trip and haven’t done much of since, and it was fun to revisit this. For now, a lasting picture of the road out: