Last summer on our road trip vacation, we had some specific high-value targets in mind: “grandfather caches”, which is a term cachers use for oldest active caches.  Specifically, ones hidden in the first year of geocaching, 2000.

The first morning we were in Colorado, we were in pursuit of one of these: Paul Barclay, the 36th oldest active cache in the world.  I was very excited about the prospect, because this particular one looked like it was just southeast of where I used to live when I lived in Colorado back in the late nineties.  We reached an access area to the Bear Creek Nature Area, I think it was called.  The roads began to get a little more windy and scenic as we made our way up Gold Camp Rd, and we stopped for a couple of cursory caches before continuing on.

We actually missed the turn off to High Drive, which is where we needed to get to in order to access the closest parking spot to Paul Barclay, the first time around.  We ended up at Helen Hunt Falls, which was spectacular in itself, but not something we had time to get out to explore further, because we were on a mission and trying to figure out where we went wrong.  We ended up coming out of the park, getting gas, and then trying again, retracing our “steps” until we found the sharp right turn we missed the first time around.

Now it was time to make the hike up.  It doesn’t really seem that far, as the crow flies – it is only 0.19 from parking ;-), but when you start at around 5000 ft and go up to 8299 ft, that 0.19 really is tough!  Also, since it is a mountain cache, you aren’t really going directly up – there are a hiker’s least favorite word to contend with – switchbacks!

During this time period in my life, I had been exercising regularly, so the tax on my cardiac and lung function was not unbearable, but J wanted to stop towards the top of the climb about every 100 ft or so to catch our breath, and I didn’t mind.  We finally made it to the top…what a view!

We didn’t immediately find the cache, which I think it is because the coords may be slightly off – in 2000, gps units didn’t have the kind of chip that a lot of them have now that makes them more accurate.  It didn’t take us very long to find it, though, when we started using our caching senses.  Then we took lots of pictures. Here are some below of the view at the top, and around the cache site:

Signing the Log

After this began our long descent.  We took a different way down that took us further away from the truck at first, but was a slightly easier path in terms of elevation changes and steepness of trail.

We hadn’t brought water with us on this hike, which was foolish of us, so when we came down, we were a bit dehydrated.  In high elevation areas like this, you get more dehydrated than at lower levels, mostly from what I understand because your seat evaporates before you notice you are losing water, so you don’t think to replace it sooner like we do in the salty south.  I knew that back when I lived in Colorado before but I had forgotten.

We had to race back to our hotel to check out at this point, because we were behind checkout schedule.  In fact, the maid had already cleaned our room, throwing away the only thing we left behind, but what was a critical element of our trip: the dog food bowls.  After getting them back, we headed for a delicious lunch at Meadow Muffins, and some well-needed ice tea.

This was the end of our trip to Colorado Springs this time around, but we’ll be back.  There are still some grandfather caches close enough for us to make this home base for a drive or two later on, and we have a lot of exploring left to do in this area.  For this day, though, it was time to get on the road and head to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here are some more photos from our drive into, through, around the Bear Creek Nature Park area and Paul Barclay:

W.G Jones Forest: “An Urban Wilderness”

Today we went hiking at W.G. Jones Forest Recreation Area.  This park is located off 1488, just east of I-45, north of the The Woodlands, Texas.  It offers 1722 acres of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

Today we were on foot, with our GPS in hand, looking for geocaches.  In the past year, about fifty new caches have been hidden out this way, mostly in this series of caches hidden by LogDawgs named for presidents.  We found five of these today, and a couple of others in the park that were not part of the series, one of which has been on my “radar” for a long time.

This last one I mention, “Woodpeckers Retreat”, was a tough one to get to, but not a tough one to find.  It required about 350 ft of “bushwacking” – the term for going off the trail and having to force your own way through to an area past overgrowth.  On our way back to the trail after finding this cache, J was a little ahead of me and I was trying to keep an eye on his moving figure in the woods ahead of me when something large and brown flew past me.  I watched it briefly, then caught up with him, where he was standing with his binoculars out, trying to get a good look.  We didn’t get a picture, and it is hard to say for sure because we never got a good look at its face, but I think at this point (after wasting an hour or more googling owls tonight) that it was an Eastern Screech Owl.

This weekend, the weather in Texas finally turned from the scorching hot drought conditions to something akin to fall, with cooler temps and a nice good wind, brought in from Tropical Storm Lee.  Unfortunately, when you combine the drought conditions with a strong wind, you get wildfires.  And Texas has gone wildfire-crazy this weekend.  We are ON FIRE down here!  The eastern side of the state has been hit hard.  The past two days, firefighters have been battling blazes in Bastrop, where a 16 mile long fire is sweeping in a southernly direction from the state parks down.  Little fires have been cropping up in Magnolia, just east of where we were today, and there was a controlled burn going on north of us, in the Lake Conroe area.  This forest we were in today, in fact, had several controlled burns recently.  We saw the evidence of that.  Mostly, though, we felt the evidence of all these fires, past and current.  The air was warm and a little hard to breathe in, feeling heavy in our chests.

Today we were getting our “nature therapy”. I’ve been reading this book, Last Child in the Woods, about the importance of nature in the lives of children, and in all of humanity, really.  I spent a little time discussing that book today, and the restorative effects of a walk in the woods.  I am preaching to the choir, though; my partner here is the one who states on his Facebook page that “Nature is my Church”.  I thought about that a little, today, too; how when I go to church, I feel like my soul is wiped clean, but when I spend time in nature, it is like my mind is wiped clean.  Maybe that is what he means – that feeling – or maybe it is the feeling of awe at the complexity of God’s creations.

Today, the wind was spectacular.  It was whipping the tops of the trees around, creating this glorious, relaxing music that needs no musical accompaniment or vocal melody.  When I was looking at our mystery bird through the binoculars, I was watching it whip this big tree around in the background, green leaves flying in a complicated dance.  I never can record it to share it with others, but here is a picture of the scenery, so imagine for yourself the sound, feel, and sight of the wind making these trees dance.

Yay for the smell and feel of fall in the air.  Boo for wildfires and drought.  The pond at the front of the park, where I usually see people fishing, is all dried up and cracked.  But the weather is turning crisper, and hopefully we will see some rain down here soon, and camping season is coming right around the corner, and I am very excited for the chance to go on long hikes, bike rides, caching adventures, and camp out weekends with my wonderful partner and young sons.