Monday, June 29, 2009

Side canyon trails

A couple of weeks ago, I took a short hike with chaosmanor to find a geocache. That statement really shouldn't surprise anyone, because that's what geocaching started out to be, hiking to find something hidden in the woods. It's evolved over time and many caches today don't involve any kind of hiking whatsoever. The terms "Cache and Dash" and "Park and Grab" have bludgeoned their way into the geocaching lexicon.

This hike, I think, took us both back to the roots of geocaching. The cache spot was located along a trail off of Little Tujunga Canyon. As I look on the map, I can see it used to be an old Los Angeles City Road. That would explain the old foundation we found tucked back in there and the old rusted out car that was mostly buried near the foundation. Looking at the map explains the "How in the heck did that get back here" moment we both had. I'm planning on devoting a column to that in the near future.

But back to the hike. It was neither long or strenuous. For a middle aged man such as myself, sometimes that's a good thing. This one could have been strenuous and it wouldn't have been bad, because there was quite a bit of tree cover along the trail. Sometimes, tree cover becomes a rarity in Southern California. We are, after all, mostly a desert clime with occasional trees, but this particular trail followed a stream bed, that still had plenty of water flowing in it, so the environment was different that you'd expect to find in many areas of Southern California.

The typical landscape is called chaparral. Grassy hills, with an occasional black oak tree would be what you could expect. The grass would be dry and yellow with the exception of the months following the rainy season when it would be green and flowing. Also following the rainy season there is a profusion of wildflowers.

In this little side canyon along the stream, we found a lot of different fauna. One of the first things we tend to look for when we hike along streams is poison oak. The "leaves of three, let it be" plant can be found quite readily near stream beds. This particular hike proved to be no exception. In fact, the poison oak seemed to overwhelm everything else. I've been extremely lucky in that I've only gotten poison oak once. I've very careful around it. This particular hike tested my carefulness. The plant was everywhere, growing right up to the trail, on the trail, and in some cases, over the trail giving us a canopy to walk through.

Surprisingly, once we got to the cache site, the poison oak disappeared. Not entirely, but enough that we didn't have to expend all of our energy making sure we weren't probing into the wrong kind of plant while we were looking for the cache. Looking for the cache was tougher since we had a lot of tree cover. The oak tree canopy was thicker than what you'd find in open chaparral and that's due to the proximity of the water flowing in the stream. It made the hunt more challenging.

We eventually found the cache, signed the log and re-hid it. Then it was time to retrace our steps. Most times, I usually enjoy the return trip on a trail more. I'm familiar with the route, I know where the pitfalls are, so I can enjoy the scenery a little bit more. This trail proved to be no exception to that. We spotted some nice tiger lily flowers growing up on a
hillside on our way back.
We'd been so engrossed in watching for poison oak, that we'd missed them coming in. My picture isn't the best, because the tiger
lilies had decided to grow up within a large patch of poison oak.
I had no where to go to get any

The nice thing about this area, is there are side canyons like this all over the place. There is a park just a couple of miles behind my house that I have explored in depth. That park is pretty familiar to me and I've found all of the caches that are hidden there. Geocaching has gotten me to get out and check out other areas. This was the first time I'd ever explored the Little Tujunga Canyon. It probably won't be the last. Once again, geocaching got me out of my comfort zone and got me to explore a different part of my own back yard.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocache:
Who is Ed Lewis? - by SHot70

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lure of the Desert

Living as close to the desert as I do, I end up spending a lot of time out in it. This wasn't always the case. Growing up in Orange County, we were about an hour and a half, perhaps two hours drive from the desert. My father is more of a mountain man, and so we very rarely went to the desert. I can remember on spring spent at Death Valley and another spring when we camped near the Salton Sea. But for the most part, I think it was a two fold reason why we didn't go there on the weekends.

One, our friends owned a cabin near Big Bear Lake up in the mountains and we pretty much had carte blanche access to that place. Long weekends were spent up there enjoying the mountain air. The second reason was my dad usually liked to put a full day's drive in whenever we would go camping and thus the desert always got bypassed in favor of more mountainous climes, like Sequoia or Yosemite. Now, I wouldn't trade those camping trips at all and I really didn't know what I was missing, having not visited the desert a lot, but the first place I took my daughter to when she was old enough to camp for a long period of time was Joshua Tree National Monument in the desert. Having a kangaroo rat dancing around your feet while sitting around a campfire is something that everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.

There are all sorts of things about the desert that are intriguing in my opinion. Because it's so dry, many things are in a state of arrested decay. Things don't fall apart readily, so once something is placed out in the desert, it tends to stay there for a long time. When was the last time you remember seeing glass insulators atop telephone polls? Most of the insulators I see usually are found in antique stores, sold as collector's items, yet it was just this past March that I saw several on top of a telephone pole out in the desert near a cache site.

Desert rats, that stock of people who enjoy living out in the harsh climes, away from most civilization, are another breed of people as well. The "make do" attitude of people who live out in the desert is still amazing to me. Having been born and raised a city boy, I can't conceive of living in a spot where there isn't a paved road right up to my front door. Yet, out in the desert you can always find homes that most people would describe as out in the middle of no where, without a paved road for miles.

Back in March, I visited a cache where people had literally dug into the hillside and created their houses in the side of a cliff. Today, this would be described as "going green" and the homeowner would be lauded for saving energy costs by using the landscape to help cool their house. And yet people have been doing this for centuries. It's now become a trendy thing to do. I'm not sure I could build a house underground. The lack of a great amount of windows would probably do me in. I like to be able to look out.

No doubt about it, the desert is a harsh landscape. The plants are few and far between, the flowers small and very seasonal. But when evening comes, it gets quiet. There is not a lot of bustle from nearby freeways. In fact, it's much easier to get away from it all in the desert than it is in the city. Out in the desert, you can see the Milky Way on a regular basis. That's becoming hard to do in our mountainous playgrounds because of all the lights we tend to bring to make our lives more comfortable when we're staying there. People out in the desert still tend to use minimal lighting. That's a good thing. We need places like this, to reconnect with the past, to look into the heavens and see the stars at night and to perhaps enjoy that kangaroo rat's dance.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
5150 Desert Cache #1 - by SirSneakalot
The Shortline That Is No More - by Lake Tecopa Yacht Club
4960 - by Mr. and Mrs. Wisearse
Dublins Tin Can Alley - by mtngirls

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Monday, June 22, 2009

History and waymarks

This past Saturday, I took the Tadpole out to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. We cached a little bit before heading over there around 10:30 in the morning. One of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta was on display there and when we got there, we both realized that the day we were there, would be the last day for that particular exhibit, so needless to say, the library was probably more crowded than usual.

After paying the admission price, we walked in and toured the first half of the library. The first part of the library is dedicated to the early years of Ronald Reagan, up to his becoming governor of the state of California. There were displays about his loyal following of Franklin Roosevelt during the depression ear. His governor's desk was on display as well as many other pieces of memorabilia from his movie and governorship days.

We then got a little waylaid by a movie about Air Force One. After watching the movie, we were directed out of the library an into a three story building where we were confronted by Air Force One. Not just the fuselage, but the entire plane from wing tip to wing tip in all its shining glory. This plane, which serviced Presidents Nixon to Bush 2 was a Boeing 707. During the Reagan administration, the current 747 was ordered and it was delivered during Bush 2's term in office. The entire plane was disassembled, shipped out to California, then reassembled back inside the building. We were able to tour the inside of the plane and see how the President traveled. Unfortunately, they wouldn't allow photography of the inside of the plane, so I can't show any of those details. Suffice to say, it's not your ordinary plane. After getting home, I ended up "visiting" a current waymark in the Static Aircraft Displays category.

We decided to eat lunch under Air Force One right next to Marine One, the helicopter that ends up taking the President from the White House lawn to the nearby airport where he'll board Air Force One. Marine One wasn't open for any kind of tour, but I've actually been on Marine One at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda. The helicopter at the Nixon Library is open for tours and although not nearly as impressive as Air Force One, it still was very interesting.

After lunch, we toured the rest of the library, learning about Reagan's career as President and after leaving office. We then got in line for the Magna Carta. We spent about an hour in line queueing through the hall of Presidents and then into a small gallery, where the history of the Magna Carta was presented. At the end of this gallery was a document, probably not much larger than the Declaration of Independence, inside a glass climate controlled case. This particular copy usually resides at the Lincoln Cathedral in London, but is also designated the "traveling" copy. It's been in the United States before, most notably in late 1939. That stay lasted a little longer than anticipated due to the outbreak of World War II. The US government kept it for the duration of the war, storing in at Fort Knox next to the original Constitution.

There were several things that struck me as I looked upon this document. I noted to my son that we were looking at a document that was close to 800 years old. The writing, written with quill pen looked to be about 8 or 9 point font size maximum. It was incredibly tiny, yet there were no smears from the ink, so whoever had written and copied it down (in Latin) did a very good job. However, what I found the most intriguing about this noble document, was that sometime in the last 800 years, someone had taken this particular document and folded it up as if they had intended on putting it in their shirt pocket. Perhaps someone did do this way back when, but it was amazing to see this documents with crease folds throughout it. Unbelievable. I can't imagine anyone ever doing that to the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but yet it had been done to an old copy of the Magna Carta.

After viewing the Magna Carta, we went out on to the back lawn of the library. The back lawn is a full scale replica of the south lawn of the White House. At the edge of the lawn is a full segment of the Berlin Wall that was presented to President Reagan by the Berlin Wall Commemorative Group in 1990. We took pictures there and then headed over to the east side of the lawn to pay our respects to the President at his grave site. After getting home, I also "visited" the waymark for his grave in the Grave of a Famous Person category.

When searching through the waymarking database, I was surprised to find that these were the only two waymarks at the library. I thought for sure that some other waymarker or geocacher would have already created a waymark for the segment of the Berlin Wall. It was not the case, so I decided to create one for the wall segment. I did have one problem in that I hadn't gotten coordinates for the wall when I was there. Fortunately, I was able to use the USGS map locator to pinpoint the coordinates for the Berlin Wall segment. Using the satellite view, I zoomed in on the wall at the library. By putting the cursor over any point on the map, the map locator gives a coordinate reading for that point. By zooming in to its closest point, I was able to get very accurate coordinates and now have an approved waymark in the Preserved Architectural Remnants and Ruins waymarking category. Next time you're in the Simi Valley area, stop in at the Reagan Library and visit my waymark.

Our visit complete, I asked the Tadpole whether there was anything he wanted to look at again. His answer was negative, so we took our leave, found a cache down the road from the library, and then headed home. Researching this blog, I discovered that the largest American Flag flag built out of Lego bricks is now on display at the Nixon Library. Guess where the Tadpole wants to go next?

Pictures were taken near the following geocache:

Friday, June 19, 2009


This week, I was grounded from doing much of anything. Well, not really, but it felt that way since I was on call for jury duty with the county of Los Angeles. Here, we have a one day, one trial system for jury duty. You're on call for a week. So Sunday evening, I called in and the automated system told me that I didn't need to report on Monday, but to call Monday night for Tuesday. I continued to do this and discovered I had to report for jury duty on Thursday of this week.

Because my youngest also had three doctor's appointments this week for various things, none of which were earth shattering or scary, I ended up using the first three days of this week shuttling him to his appointments. He got a clean bill of health for his appendectomy, so he was really happy about that, so happy, he ended up finding a cache on top of the parking structure at the hospital where we were. "Oh, so that's why we parked way up on the top of the structure today!"

Thursday, I ended up sitting around in the jury assembly room for most of the day. At 3:20 in the afternoon, they called about three quarters of the group to head down to the court room and ten minutes later, they let the rest of us go. My jury service having been completed, I'm free for at least a year now. I decided to go out and celebrate a little by finding a couple of caches. Well, actually, I found one cache. The other caches I had in my GPSr at the time were all in direct line of sight with muggles, so I decided to pass on them. The cache I found was also my first cache find on a Thursday since last December. That streak is over too.

I'd chosen this area of Diamond Bar because of another challenge that I'm starting to work toward getting in the future. The Los Angeles County Quadrangle Challenge requires you to find at least one cache in each of the USGS quadrangle maps for all of Los Angeles County. There are 81 quads covering Los Angeles County. The cache was created in December 2006 and one of the requirements is you can't count caches that you found before December 2006. That little requirement has cost me about half a dozen quads. Not that it's bothering me because more than likely, I'd go back to those areas again in the future to find more caches, which is exactly what I did Thursday.

The Yorba Linda quad covers a small area of south Diamond Bar in the southeast corner of Los Angeles County. It's a small sliver and there aren't many caches to be found in this little area. I'd found a couple of caches in the quad prior to December 2006, but those didn't count so I needed to find a cache for that quad for credit on the challenge. It made sense to try on Thursday since the area is only 7 miles from the courthouse where I was serving jury duty. If I got out early, I might be able to find a cache or two and also get home before traffic got heavy.

During my "grounding" this week, I've been going over my cache finds for the past couple of years to see what quads I already had. The geocaching maps work well for this because you can scan the map and see the smiley faces. The USGS website has a nifty little site that allows you to see the boundaries of quad maps using the same Google map interface that geocaching does. All I had to do was zoom in on one of my smileys and then check the corresponding map at USGS to see what quadrants I already had. I found out I had 42 quads already covered out of the 81. I'm now up to 43 with the Yorba Linda Quad.

Saturday, the Tadpole and I are going to be visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. We'll be taking a roundabout way to get to the library, taking the coastal route along the Pacific Ocean. The quad grid I've posted I grabbed from the Los Angeles County Quadrangle Challenge cache page. I'm coloring it for myself so I have a visual record of the quads I have and the ones I need. The greens ones have been done, the white ones need to be done. The light blue ones are ones we'll be attempting to complete this Saturday on our trip to the Reagan Library. Hopefully, some of those blue ones will be painted green after Saturday.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Lamp Post Flora

Sometimes, I end up finding lamp post caches. It doesn't happen that often and usually I don't have a lot to say about them, since they seem to be so pervasive in an urban area and usually pretty routine. One lamp post cache find did catch my eye, not because it was different, but because of the experience. Last Saturday was my first full day of vacation, so I figured what better way to spend it than to go out caching with my good friend Chaosmanor.

We met over near a park and ride off of the 118 Simi Valley Freeway, otherwise known as the Ronald Reagan Freeway. We've utilized this particular park and ride in the past and we both commented that it was surprising there wasn't a cache hidden in it since it's a large area, with several landscaped areas that could hold a small cache (not a micro as I don't hide micros). I even came up with a clever name for it should we decide to come here again as a base camp.

This particular park and ride is literally under a transition road for the freeway and so the geocache map would be interesting, making it look like the cache could be in the middle of the freeway, depending upon placement. It's probably because of the proximity to the freeway that there hasn't been a cache placed there. It is pretty noisy and not the most scenic spot in the world, but then again, there are quite a few caches that fit that description.

Which leads me to this lamp post cache we found after we'd dropped off Chaosmanor's car at the park and ride. This was our second cache of the day. We weren't sure what the cache was going to be when we first got there. That's often the case when you run a circle PQ for an area. You go out and you find caches. Some are interesting and some are...well, let's just say they're not as interesting as others.

As we pulled into the parking lot both our GPSrs were pointing at this particular lamp post, so I slowly approached it in the car, looking around to see where the concentration of muggles were, in order to position my car in a good spot to use it as a shield if need be. Once I had parked the car, we were out and had the cache in hand very quickly and then it got interesting. Chaosmanor was about to put the cache back when I warned him of a muggle that had just pulled up behind him in a car. So now we had to go into stealth mode, or actually diversionary mode. I've written about how I've used my camera quite often to distract muggles into thinking that I was only there to take pictures, as opposed to that more nefarious activity geocaching.

I'm not sure this time it worked very well, because the muggle just seemed to be interested in me and Chaosmanor for the longest time as she sat in her car. Perhaps she was wondering what two middle aged men were doing walking around in the planter looking at various weeds and other plants, but eventually she got tired of it and got out of her car and went inside the store. However, there were other muggles about as well, so we had to wait them out. I think this was the first time where I had more trouble replacing the cache than in retrieving the cache because of muggles.

We eventually got the cache replaced when I spied some clover growing near another lamp post further down. This particular clover was immense. The bud was at least quarter in diameter if not bigger. Most of the clover I've seen in lawns in this area are usually small white balls of little flowers. This purple bunch really took me by surprise. Couple that with the other pictures I took of the iris and the dandelion and I actually got some really nice photos at this rather average lamp post cache.

I guess I really need to thank the muggles though. Had they not been there in force, we'd probably have been in and out very quickly and we would have missed these little highlights. Eh. It's a weed some people might say. Yeah, it's a weed, but it made for an interesting picture, so I'll take that weed any day of the week. I still don't particularly like to find a lot of lamp post caches, but I'm pretty sure that I'll look at them slightly differently in the future because of this experience I had with them on Saturday. And that's what it's all about really, enjoying the experience.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocache:
Greens - by shirconn

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A walk in the park

The day before appendicitis took down the Tadpole, we drove down into Orange County for GeoVexilla and some caching. The positions of the different flags, which were actually spread out between Orange and Los Angeles Counties were such that I didn't want to pick out specific caches, so I went with a virtual PQ, to see what virtual caches were close to any of the virtual flags. The Tadpole enjoys virtuals, so we decided to make it a totally virtual day.

The first flag was found easily, in between two houses, then we drove over to Aliso Creek County Park to hike down to a virtual cache. From the parking lot, the cache was only 1.37 miles away, so it looked like it was going to be an easy walk since the trail was a paved trail designed for biking, so we didn't think it would be too strenuous. There were many wildflowers in bloom, including staghorn cholla cactus. For perspective, the blooms in the picture are about the size of a quarter.

Every now and then, I fail to look at maps that closely. I assume that most caches are placed close to roads and/or trails, so I didn't really think that much about this one, but it just seemed as we walked that we weren't getting a whole lot closer to the cache. After a mile of walking, we were only about a third of a mile closer to the cache and walking parallel to the cache. Both of us could see the ridge that we thought the cache was on, but even that looked too close, which meant we probably had to find a way to get on the other side of the ridge.

On top of that, if we chose to bushwhack, the hillside was filled with foxtails. Anyone who is a regular here, knows that foxtails are the bane of my existence. I will venture into fields of foxtails only as a last resort. Upon further inspection, it wouldn't have worked anyway, since there were fences that we would have had to cross in order to get to where we were going. In other words, we needed to stay on the trail.

Our time was limited, because we had planned other virtual flag grabs, but I figured if we were having a good time, we could continue on. Whenever I go with the Tadpole, I like to leave it up to him, giving him some ownership into the decision making process we do with this hobby of ours. It's probably something that I learned when caching with his older brother. I wasn't quite as willing to let him make those decisions and it's probably one of the reasons why he's not enamored with the hobby in general.

With that in mind, I laid out our options to him, telling him that we'd have to go around the ridge to get to the cache. He opted to cut the hike short and make our way back to the car because he wanted to go after the other flags. In the end, we didn't get any caches that day, mainly because I had only place virtual caches in the GPSr. We actually ended up walking right by an ammo can hide along the trail as we walked toward and then away from the virtual cache we were seeking. Our walk in the park was enjoyable even if we didn't find any caches. And after looking at the geocaching maps, there looks to be about three or four caches along this nice little trail, which means we can always go back in the fall when it cools down and walk that trail again.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
You are cleared to land - by Quietman33
Dripping Cache - by dr.bob

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Monday, June 8, 2009

My caching partner

The Tadpole, my regular caching partner is a little under the weather today. Early Sunday morning, he was ill, throwing up and just not feeling very well. This is not the first time he's been sick, but it seemed to be the first time where he just wasn't feeling well and complaining a lot about his overall condition. He stayed home from church and was lying on the couch when we got back from church. He was complaining about being in pain, so I asked him generally where it hurt. After he showed me, I decided to probe a little bit and discovered what I needed to know.

I told him to get dressed and we were on the way to Urgent Care to get him looked over by a doctor. Blood work followed and we were then sent over to the Emergency ward to be checked in. Once over there, he was prodded by other doctors, including several surgeons. Eventually, at 8:15 he was wheeled into surgery. An hour later he was in recovery and another hour later he was in his hospital room.

Today, he is resting comfortably, sans appendix. He's already watched all three of the Back to the Future DVDs and I'm sure tomorrow will probably be dedicated to either Jurassic Park or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since his surgery was done laparoscopically, he'll have a much shorter recovery time and will be enjoying his summer vacation and hopefully will be up for some geocaching adventures in the near future.

As a parent, you're never prepared to see your own child in pain, but I have to say, he held up tremendously well. He kept his sense of humor throughout and was giving us thumbs up only 45 minutes after he was wheeled into the recovery room. His comment to the nurse when told he had to give them a decent assessment of his pain level was, "What pain?" Needless to say, he had apparently been in a lot of pain earlier in the day.

I'll get this blog back to its usual geocaching drivel with my next post.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
Cheeseheads on Dirt Mulholland - Dad, Jen, & Beth (Mostly Beth)
Mary E. J. Colter built it - by Yrium and Whistlestick

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Thursday, June 4, 2009


Well, it's Thursday again. That's the day of the week, when I don't go caching. I'm not sure why this has happened this year, but for whatever reason, it's becoming more of a joke to me than anything else. The last time I've been caching on a Thursday and actually found a cache was December 11th, 2008, almost 6 months ago. I don't know what it is about Thursday, since it's usually an easy day for me to get away from work and look for a quick cache and dash if the need arises. I've also had four weeks of vacation time during those past 6 months where I could have found caches on a Thursday yet didn't. Next Thursday, is June 11, the last day of school, a minimum day and exactly 6 months from my last Thursday cache find. I think I'll go caching after work that day.

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