I am a proud

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Natural Bridge Earthcaches on Tennessee's northern Cumberland Plateau

sumajhuarmi at the Natural Arch, Pickett State Park, TN
sumajhuarmi and Zeph4 from the arch
While up on the plateau we took advantage of several earthcaches. After a week in Livingston, Tennessee we moved over to the town of Jamestown, Tennessee. We stayed in a cabin about eight miles out of town. That put us in close enough proximity to Pickett State Park. Our first morning at the cabin began with a great breakfast and an invitation to watch a movie. Let's see, movie or geocaching? That one wasn't too hard. It wasn't raining, the sun was shining, and a state park unknown to us waited up the road sporting two earthcaches within a mile of each other.

Sumajhuarmi and I took off with our new geocaching friends, Nutz4Brasil and Zeph4. It only took about fifteen minutes to reach the state park in our minivan. We parked right along the road in a paved pull off. From the van to the trail and we were in the woods. There it was! Hwy 154 Natural Bridge Earthcache (GC151QR) is fascinating. We walked across the bridge, taking pictures below and then followed a trail down to the valley floor. The arch backs up against a cliff. If you walk through the arch on the valley floor you can go back in a widemouthed cave that extends maybe 40 feet under the cliff. So the cave runs up under the cliff and the parking area above. You can stand at the edge of the parking area by a safety fence and look down on the natural arch. We took some great pictures and gathered the necessary information in order to claim credit for the earthcache. This meant taking pictures from up on the arch and from below on the valley floor. We wondered what animals must have roamed these woods and walked through this arch or even across
it in the past. This place is incredibly old! I think Bigfoot might have been here. At least I think that Nutz4Brasil resembles that creature a little.

The Natural Bridge
We loaded back in the car to drive less than .5 miles. We passed the ranger station and gift shop, driving back into the cabin area to park. From there we walked a few hundred feet through the woods to where we intercepted a trail leading down to a dried up riverbed. There before us stood and even larger natural bridge. Clearly water had been involved in the erosion process that made this bridge. Through the arch that forms the bridge we could see a pool of standing water and some kind of floodgate that was closed. I suppose the water flow is controlled here. Later when I looked at on-line photos of the Natural Bridge I saw lots of pictures of the bridge with high water completely covering the valley floor beneath the arch. We
The far side of the natural bridge
were fortunate to be able to walk up under it today. We gathered the required information in order to log Picketts Lake Natural Bridge Earthcache (GC151RK) and then took lots of pictures. Once again geocaching had brought us to a place that we'd never have known about otherwise.

After hiking back to the minivan we loaded so we could drive up to the park gift shop where we took advantage of a good sale on walking sticks and park badges, etc. We asked the rangers there if traditional geocaches were allowed in the park. They told us that its up to each park and that at Pickett State Park in Tennessee traditional cachers were not allowed. We did our best to encourage them to allow traditional caches in the future as a drawing card for more tourist. I hope they will consider what we said. Nonetheless, allow me to recommend a visit to this park and the two earthcaches when you get the opportunity. You'll be impressed!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The home of WWI Medal of Honor recipient Sgt Alvin C. York.... and geocaching

The Sgt. Alvin C. York home
During our recent visit to the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee we had some free time to visit about. One of the places on my "must visit" list was the home of Tennessee's most famous WWI hero, Sgt. Alvin C. York. The home sits beside the main highway that runs north-south through Pall Mall, Tennessee. The home is now a museum. As you walk up to the side door you pass by a small monument commemorating his service in the Argonne Forest of France. The quick story is that this peaceful man had originally signed conscientious objection papers at the beginning of his service. Later he became the hero of the battle on 8 October 1918. The citation for the Medal of Honor reads,

The 82nd Infantry Division, later to sport the
Airborne patch above it
"After his platoon suffered heavy casualties and 3 other non commissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machine gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machine gun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns."

Because of his heroism the country and his state were proud and thankful of his service. He was rewarded with this nice home and the opportunity to become a celebrity. While Alvin York did go on some speaking tours he turned down the opportunity to become a wealthy man for the chance to serve his community of Pall Mall, Tennessee. He dedicated much of his life to improving education for rural children and operating a small Bible School in that community.

As we entered the side door to the museum I was eager for two things. First, I wanted to find the geocache. The cache page tells you to walk in and that someone will help you. When we walked in there was no one at the little desk. According to the page the regular
Along with friends we posed for this picture with Ranger
Andrew Jackson York, son of the WWI hero
size cache was there. I looked down and there sat an ammo can by the base of the desk. Just a few second later in came the park ranger. I asked if I might look in the ammo can. With a smile he encouraged me to log the geocache. I picked up Sgt. Alvin C. York // Hero // Statesman (GCV02Y), signed the log along with my new found geocaching friends, and replaced it and the cache where they were. As I looked more closely at the name tag on his jacket I noticed it said "York". It turns out that one of Sgt. York's younger sons, Andrew Jackson York, is a park ranger. We were told that today was his last day before retirement. Andy York accompanied us through the downstairs portion of the house. He would always refer to his father as "Daddy" when telling some little story from his childhood. The house is outfitted with most of the original furnishings and is set mostly in the 1940's. Across the street sits the general store that the family operate. It has a small
theatre with a great introductory video about the life of Alvin York.

York General Store
In and around Pall Mall there are many other geocaches worth visiting. One of my favorite stopping places along the same highway and further north was the Forbes General Store. We stopped in on a rainy day to enjoy the old store. It still serves the community. You can go back in the back and find the farmers and hunters sitting around the wood stove swapping stories, get the lady to fix you a breakfast sandwich to go, buy fudge and just walk around looking at all the old stuff inside. On the front porch you'll enjoy the chainsaw-carved wooden statutes of animals and people. Someone's a pretty good artist. Nearby you can grab cache The General Store (GC1CBZC). We had a great time and know that you will too if you cache in the Valley of the Three Forks around Pall Mall and further north towards the Kentucky line.
Forbes General Store

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Goin Nuts! -- one really frustrating four star cache

SPOILER ALERT for Piedmont North Carolina ---
sumajhuarmi asked me to drop her off at church to work in a yard sale benefit Saturday morning early. I
The Guilford Woods
decided that would be a good opportunity to go caching in the area near the church. I hit all the typically muggle-intense geocaches in the nearby shopping center before the crowds started their rounds. Most were easy; many being LPCs (Lamp Post Caches). One took me behind one small shopping center. It was a pretty easy cache. I parked in front of the State Farm store and made my way back to the back of shopping center. Fortunately there was a gate leading right back to the area of interest. I crossed the small  paved area and was glad to see that this one was going to take me into the woods and not present me with another lamp post. Just as soon as I got into the woods a van pulled up and out jumped two muggle workers. I don't know what store they worked in but they seemed to have been assigned the task of delivering something. Instead of getting
Goin' Nuts was in a small LnL container, guess where?
about their business, they started walking around the parking lot and talking on their cell phones loudly. I knew that if I moved around in the woods they'd hear me so I decided to wait them out. Minutes turned to many minutes and it didn't look like I was going to be able to get to this cache (or anywhere for that matter) with out arousing some suspicion. Finally a truck with no muffler pulled into the parking lot to drop off some trash. I'm sure he wasn't supposed to do this but I was grateful. I took advantage of his noise to move deeper into the woods and get to the cache location. I found it quickly and then found an alternate route out of the woods and to my car. I guess this is part of the adventure that is geocaching.

The culprit: Nut Case
I picked up a few more caches and then went for the big challenge of the day. Goin' Nuts! (GC2GHBJ) by Sketcher1, a local geocacher rapidly gaining some notoriety for his evil caches, was waiting for me about a ten minute hike into the Guilford College woods. These woods are owned by Guilford College but have some nice unimproved walking trails. College students and neighbors frequently run or walk the trails. I tracked to where my GPSr led me and soon found myself just off the trail and across a small creek. I was within sight of the trail anyone who might come down it. The cache page stated that this micro size find was a four-star-difficulty cache. It also had me thinking, due to the title of the cache, that it must be one of those micro/nano containers implanted in a hickory nut or something. The cache page asked cachers not
Success after acquiring the knowledge
to do a ground clearing as it would possibly ruin the hide. I found myself in the woods with all the ground cover (winter leaves, twigs, roots, several small fallen trees looking for some kind of micro. There were no sign of nut bearing trees nor nuts littering the ground. I first looked to see if there were any geo-trails or signs of geocachers looking around. The last time this cache had been found was a month ago. There wasn't a lot of disturbance on the ground but some sign that some leaves had been swept aside near a couple of the fallen trees. Where could this micro be? What could this micro be? I noticed a small fallen evergreen about 15 feet from my ground zero but nothing unusual really. I spent about ten minutes looking around but really had no clues to go on. I went back to the fall evergreen to see a small opening in the exposed roots. I checked it out and came out with a small tupperware container. Sure enough, I had the cache. Inside the container I found a
bulky object wrapped in bubble wrap. What could it be? I unbound the object to find something I'd never seen before. I knew right away that it was some kind of a puzzle toy designed to test both wit and patience. I found a nice soft place on the ground with my back to the fallen evergreen and began to examine the object. A picture better explains it so see  the picture. As you can see it looks like two bolts attached together with two nuts on the bolts. There's no way to get the nuts off the bolts. There were holes in either bolt head and I could see the small nano cache log container inside. At first I tried getting the log container to line up with the hole. I used my tweezers. That didn't work. The log container was too big for the hole. As I examined further I saw that there was some movement, some play along the shaft of the bolt. This convinced me that there was a certain position that I had to put the two nuts in so that it would open for me. The two bolt heads were firmly attached, then only play was in the bolt shaft which was hollow inside and spliced together. The two nuts were inscribed with the words "nut" on one, and "case" on the other. For the next 45 minutes I tried every combination I could think of. Nothing worked. I knew that I was missing something. I began to think how much I hated these kinds of caches where once you find it you can't get at the log sheet. I even though that I'd just take the cache container home with me and find a way to open it. I have some tools in the garage and if I had it there I could get into this thing. That was all frustration speaking and not reason. So I did the right think and I flung the cache as deep into the woods as I could through it....well, no I didn't. I was that frustrated but I controlled my frustration, returned the cache to the small tupperware container, placed it back in its hiding place and began my trek to the next cache down the line.

When I got home with sumajhuarmi I started logging my finds. I got to this one but wasn't going to log a DNF. No way, "I'm getting into this one and I'm going back", I said. My son-in-law came by. I asked Check it out. That was it. Instructions to opening this contraption.
sumajhuarmi put it back together again
him if he had ever heard of such as thing as the nut case. He had not. I then googled it. Can you do that on a Bing search engine? Maybe I "binged" it. The first think that binged was a youtube video.

Come Wednesday night we left for church early. I planned about 15 minutes to make the find. I cut it a little tight as opening the nut case took a little longer than I thought. I was about to give up and take the nut with me to have more time to play with it when it suddenly opened up for me. We signed the log. Then sumajhuarmi fiddled with it to get it back together. That was almost as much a chore as opening was. We got it done, crossed the creek and made it to prayer meeting on time. I'm glad to have this one on my "found" list.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some more unique caching containers

You've been mugged
Over the last few months I've come across some interesting geocache containers. Some are interesting because of their camo, their unique construction and others just because a theme or a play on a word. Geocachers are a creative lot. I hope you'll enjoy looking at a few caches I've admired along the way. Maybe one of them will inspire you in your next cache creation. Check out "You've been mugged", a cache I found somewhere (location not listed so as to not spoil the fun for someone else). This one was nothing more than a plastic coffee mug with a lid that looked like coffee. Open it up for the log sheet. Then there is "cache-go-round", a case where a simple 35 mm film container was hidden in an abandon piece of equipment. Now the tree has grown around part of it so that it is embedded in the tree. It looks like it might have been a clothes drying rack or something. I really don't know.
Baseball anyone?
I also liked one I found in the bushes at the home run fence at a baseball field. The cache page said lean in, as in lean into the holly bushes in order to see the cache. There it was, a bison embedded within a baseball and hanging from a branch.  Another cache that I enjoyed involved nothing more than drilling a small hole into a wooden light post and inserting a small plastic cache container such as we often see inside of bison tubes and then taping a small metal cover on it to make it look official.
In plain sight for all to see
Then there was my favorite patriotic cache found in plain sight along a busy highway. This was a box where you can dispose of used or damaged American flags. The owner will burn them for you. Open the lid and you'll also find a large tupperware container with all the caching goodness you want.

Strange gas station
The last one eluded me. I never could find the cache. I hope to go back and look for it again soon. I've never seen an old gas station shaped like a sea shell. It sits in an older residential area of a nearby town. I thought you'd like the photo.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Several Earthcaches on Tennessee's northern Cumberland Plateau

We spent nine days on the Cumberland Plateau recently. I've passed through the area along Interstate 40 several times but have never lingered in the area. Because my mom is from the Tennessee Valley, specifically Loudon and Monroe Counties, I'm most familiar with the valley, not the plateau. We were part of a team of missionary guest speakers visiting the Riverside Baptist Association centered around Livingston and Jamestown, Tennessee. We traveled over from North Carolina but took advantage of the trip to visit an aunt and uncle in Athens, Tennessee before going up to the plateau. We departed Athens, crossed the Tennessee River at Watts Barr and climbed up from Spring City onto the Cumberland Plateau. When we reached the plateau we were impressed with how flat it was. It didn't stay that way long. Around Crossville we were on flat land and could see a long distance. I was interested in the many buildings made with crab orchard stone there. Just prior to climbing up to Crossville we came through Grassy Cove, Tennessee. At first glance it appeared to be a lovely little valley nestled among hills with a small creek running through it. In fact Grassy Cove Sink (GC14TWB) is anything but a normal valley. It is the largest sinkhole on our continent! As we traveled into the cove we crossed over a stream bed that runs north. The source of the water is rain, not springs. It runs north into a cave, goes underground where it doubles back and comes out again on the other side of the mountain to the south at the Devil's Sink Hole. If it weren't for the cave this area would be a large lake. We stopped for pictures and to fulfill the requirements for logging this cache. What a site!
Beautiful view looking south in the cove

sumajman at Grassy Cove
We continued our scenic trip until we were within a half hour of the Kentucky border. We settled in with our host in Livingston, Tennessee and began our conference. Most days we had some free time so we hit the trails to find caches.  We made friends with another missionary couple speaking at the conference. They seemed interested in our little sport so off we went one afternoon to try a few varied types of caches. This included going just a few miles northeast of Livingston to find 111 Rock House (GC14JTC). We pulled off the highway at the indicated spot and then pulled up a dirt road. My GPSr indicated that we'd need to cut into the woods a little to find the earthcache. We tracked to within a few feet of ground zero when we realized that we were on top of the Rock House. I'm sure glad that the roof was strong. We descended to the dirt road again, then we walked up the highway to the opening of the Rock House. I agreed with the cache owner and did not venture into the cave. What an amazing structure! We completed the required measurements in order to log the cache and got the customary photos in front of it. I suppose we missed this fascinating site because we were too attuned to our technology while in the car. There it was for all to see from the main highway! The day was still young so we headed on down the road to the north to find a few additional caches for the day.
sumajman and sumajhuarmi at the Rock House
We wanted our friends and newly registered geocachers to experience a broad selection of geocache finds. Well, maybe there was one we intentionally avoided. They can find LPCs on their own!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

South Georgia caching around Douglas!!!!

Willacoochee Choo Choo
As we traveled around Coffee County, Georgia, often leaving Douglas, Georgia on bearings that would look like spokes on a wheel if observed from the air, I found lots of interesting places, all with geocaches. Willacoochee Choo Choo (GC1EMT1) was in the town of the same name. I spoke to the members of the First Baptist Church of Willacoochee during the morning. On the way back out of town I convinced the driver of our car to stop and let me take a picture of the red caboose. While photographing this interesting site I also grabbed a micro hidden nearby.

Mayday Mayday!!

The Flying Cowboy Restaurant
Remembering WWII pilots who trained here

 Later in the week I walked across the street from the hotel where we are staying. sumajhuarmi came with me to find another cache. It was Mayday Mayday!!! (GC316QE), a staged crashed plane beside the Flying Cowboy Restaurant on the south side of Douglas. The crash was so well done. They had run a water pipe up beside the engine of the side away from the road. Water spray was come out in a mist that made it look like the engine was still smoking from the crash landing. Your job is to find the cache.

Douglas is also one of the locations where approximately 6000 aviation cadets were trained for World War II. They were given their primary training at this base. We toured the old barracks and a museum dedicated to these men. I called up my wife's uncle to ask if he did his training here before the war. He had gone to Valdosta, Georgia for his training. I'm glad that I made this call when I did but I regret not making a trip to see Uncle Rufus. Just a few days later he suffered a severe stroke and passed away at the age of 88 years. We will miss this American hero.

At the municipal airport we found a nice cache placed by the Boy Scouts. It took you to a memorial to the four cadets who died in training accidents and to the many from the 6000 trained here who died in combat over Europe and the Pacific.
Cool airport buildings

I hope you'll find your way to south Georgia. There are some great caches there. Maybe you'll want to take on the State Park challenge and GeoTour all the parks of Georgia. They have the caches to make it worth your while!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rattlesnake Lodge: hiking, history and a cache

On the trail
Switchbacks along the trail

Historical information at the site of the lodge
sumajhuarmi and I were traveling back home to High Point, NC from middle Tennessee. We made the decision to leave out at night with the goal of making it to Ridgecrest, NC for the night. We made good time, arriving at Ridgecrest to spend the night at about 2 a.m. The next morning we looked at each other and decided that the place was so full of spring and so inviting that we'd stay an additional night. That gave us time to do some more exploring.  At first we wanted to get up to Mount Mitchell, highest
Rattlesnake Lodge Ruins
peak east of the Mississippi River. Parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway were still closed so we couldn't get that far. Quickly I looked on to see where some nice caches were along the parkway. We settled on Rattlesnake Lodge. We left Ridgecrest on Interstate 40 going west towards Asheville. Just before entering Asheville we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north. My car GPSr told me that our destination was only about ten minutes further. It was right on the money. We parked in at a trail head on Ox Creek Rd., geared up for our hike and set off. The trail started out with about seven switchbacks as we worked our way up the first part of the mountain. There are three geocaches hidden in the general vicinity of the old Lodge. I was tracking to one of them but with all the switchbacks for the longest time we weren't shaving off the miles very fast. Finally the trail began to work its way around the mountain to the north, exposing a beautiful valley off to our right. We began to meet other hikers either coming down from the lodge or hiking through along the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. From where we parked up to the lodge the Rattlesnake Trail and the Mountain-to-Sea Trail are one and the same. We continued a gradual climb along a beautiful and well prepared trail.  Soon we were approaching the ruins of the lodge. The first thing we saw were the ruins to the barn followed by the ruins of the old swimming pool. Then we stopped to read the historical marker. Built in 1903/4 as a summer home for Dr. Chase P. Ambler and family, it served as a family getaway until 1920. One note said that the lodge got its name because of the high number of Rattlesnakes that were killed on the property during its construction. Additionally, the doctor took an interest in rattlesnakes and apparently paid a bounty on rattlesnake skins. The lodge was sold and in 1926 caught fire and burned.

There are two hiking trails that get you to the lodge. The one we took is the gradual 1.4 mile hike. There is one that comes directly from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is just under half a mile but is steep. As we hiked up I wondered if the Ambler family had to make a similar hike every time they visited. Later I read that there was a small road that their automobiles and wagons could travel to get into the secluded mountain getaway.

Now for the geocaches. The first one we went for was downhill from the site of the main lodge building. We found a small creek and followed it down. After a search on the wrong side of the small creek I forded the creek to find Ambler's Ramble (GCE0B6), placed in 2003 and with only 87 finds before us. It had been about four months since it was last found. As I reached into the
Ambler's Ramble cache
rock crevasse to retrieve the cache I couldn't help thinking about those 40 some rattlesnakes killed constructing the lodge. Fortunately my walking stick revealed a safe hole and I was able to retrieve the cache, sign the log and replace it. Be sure to check out the images on the cache page. This is a neat place! Next we climbed back up to the trail and begin to track towards another cache entitled, Near Rattlesnake Lodge (GC1MPZA). This is a more recent cache placement with a date of 2009. We climbed up to the GZ and began our search. Soon we had the cache in hand. Now for the last cache near the lodge. This one was called, Atypical #50 (GC1ZCC7). A local geocacher named OzGuff is famous for his Atypical series of caches. You always know you'll be looking for a strange container when it is one of the Atypical series. We began the climb back down below the lodge to a small creek with lots of downed timber. As we descended to the cache I wondered if I was looking for Tim the Toolman's good neighbor Wilson or if I was looking for Tom Hank's companion from his shipwrecked days. I'll let you find out for yourself. The cache was easy to find as I examined the most obvious places. The name fits the cache well.

I didn't have a map but reckoned that our best bet was to go back down the main trail and then when the trail dipped lower angle off in a straight line to the last cache on the mountain. This would take us up on the ridge line. My reasoning was that this would likely be easier than climbing up to the cache from the main trail. Our first hundred feet were steep. Once on the ridge line there wasn't much climbing though we had a little bit of up and down. We were amazed by the large amount of timber that had been blown over. Up on the ridge line the winds must get pretty strong. We were constantly climbing over downed trees. Although we walked on a carpet of grass and weeds, the ground seemed to swarm with small black bugs. We didn't know what they were. There had been none near the trail. By now sumajhuarmi was lamenting out loud my decision to take this "easier" route to the cache. We were on a deer trail part of the time. At the end of the .15 mile trek from the trail we found ourselves descending a steep cleared area down to Mickey's Cache (GC113JD).   It took some searching but after about 20 minutes we came up with the cache. Dirty and sweaty, we headed down to the trail. "Surely all our effort must have been worth it", I thought. But no, the cache had been within about 300 feet of the trail on a steep climb. I had turned a 3/3 cache into a 3/5 cache by my decision to go along the ridge line. It would have been 10 times easier to have stuck with the trail. A lesson learned, I think. The hike back to the car only took about ten minutes. What a great experience, even with the less-than-efficient detour! I recommend the Rattlesnake Trail hike and the caches near this historic site.