Owens Valley, Panamint Valley, and Death Valley Geocaching

Dan let me know that he and some friends were headed to Death Valley for some geocaching. I decided to join them, but spend some extra time in the area. I headed south and spent the first night with Mom in Shafter. The next morning I was off to Mojave where I made a brief stop at the Spaceport. As I looked at the sign I remembered many science fiction novels I read while in elementary school and how I dreamed of spaceflight.

I dreamed of spaceflight when I was that age too.

I could not find the two caches I was interested in (I did find another couple nearby), but the displays of aircraft and the replica Spaceship One were interesting.

Space Ship One replica

Heading north out of Mojave, I passed Red Rock Canyon and continued on to the Little Lake area for three volcanic related earth caches. Red Hill is the very visible cinder cone that sits right next to the 395 highway. Then I drove up on an older lava flow to the steep edge that overlooks Little Lake and the south end of the Owen’s Valley.

Little Lake and Red Hill

Next I stopped at Fossil Falls and hiked out to the upper edge of the falls. It’s hard to imagine a river running through here, but the lava has clearly been sculpted by water. It’s impressive as it is, but with water flowing it must have been spectacular. I also did a little route finding and hiked down to the bottom of the falls which gives a very different perspective.

Canyon below Fossil Falls

In the late afternoon I drove in to Manzanar to search for a couple of caches. I’ve been to Manzanar before, but this time I drove out to the remains of the water storage reservoir and checked out the interesting signatures and inscriptions the builders left in the wet cement. This location is also very close to where Ansel Adams took his famous photograph of Mt. Williamson.

Manzanar memorial at the cemetery

I spent the night in Lone Pine and in the morning headed east toward Death Valley. Got a few photos of the snow-capped Sierras on the way, and then checked out a couple of cache locations around Keeler, including the Keeler cemetery.

Sierra crest (including Mt. Whitney) from Lone Pine

I was heading to Darwin, but first I visited a cache located at the remains of the Joshua Tree that was on the cover of U2’s famous album. There is a small marker and a whole bunch of other stuff that is deteriorating into trash. I did not spend much time in Darwin itself, but checked out a few locations in the surrounding area. I went west from Darwin to a nice overlook on a seldom used track, and the east down into the canyon to get to China Springs. Wish I could have spotted a wild burro—their hoof prints and droppings were everywhere.

China Springs

I headed back south to Ridgecrest through the Panamint Valley, with a stop at Ballarat (ghost town). Since this is so close to the China Lake Naval Test Station, every now and then I was treated to a high-speed, high-g turn from an F-18. I spent the night in Ridgecrest. Dan and his friend were supposed to arrive that evening, but they got a late start and didn’t arrive until after midnight.

In the morning, we all headed north through the Panamint Valley and into Death Valley. We stopped at Stove Pipe Wells briefly and noticed how crowded it was. The super bloom had attracted lots of people. We made a stop at Mosaic Canyon and then headed north to Ubehebe Crater. That’s a big hole. Easy enough to get down but slogging back up and out on the loose cinders was tough.

Ubehebe Crater

After climbing out of the crater we went to the Racetrack over a road that is described as very rough with sharp rocks. That is not an understatement. I drove too fast and blew out a rear strut. Patience is a virtue I apparently don’t have. However, the Racetrack Playa was worth it—so very interesting to see the tracks of the sliding rocks.

Sliding rock tracks at the Racetrack in Death Valley

On the way back we made a brief stop at Teakettle Junction and just happened to be there when a couple arrived to hang a freshly decorated kettle on the sign.

I spent the night in Pahrump, where I thought I had a room reservation. I guess the on-line reservation form bamboozled me. I did not have a reservation, and all the motels were sold out. Dan was gracious to give me his bed while he slept (or attempted to sleep) on the floor using extra pillows as a mattress.

In the morning we headed back into Death Valley and started at the south end to check out Split Crater, a cinder cone bisected by a fault that has moved the crater apart. I also went to the nearby Ashford Mill Ruins, decked out in yellow flowers from the super bloom.

On the way back to Furnace Creek we stopped at Bad Water, Natural Bridge, Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Pallette, and a few other locations. There were lots of flowers, and lots of people admiring the flowers. At the end of the day I drove to Las Vegas (actually Boulder City) to spend the night. I ate dinner at P.F. Chang’s where I had the choice of waiting 40 minutes for a table or immediate seating at the bar. I chose the bar.

The next morning I drove south to Searchlight and then west on Joshua Tree Highway to Walking Box Ranch Road. I took this dirt road out toward the Hart Mine so I could find the California DeLorme Challenge (Southern & Central). I don’t qualify for this cache yet, but wanted to hunt it down while I was fairly close.

Near the So. Cal. DeLorme Challenge cache.

I also checked out the ruins at the mining town of Hart before driving back to Shafter for an overnight stay at Mom’s.

Photo gallery for Death Valley 2016

Carmel, Big Sur, Lucia

We spent a couple of days in the Carmel area, hiking in Pt. Lobos State Park and taking a long geocaching drive down south on highway 1 past Lucia.

We arrived around noon on Friday and ate our lunch on the sand at a beach near San Jose Creek just south of the Carmel River.

Beach scene just south of Carmel

Then we found a parking space along the highway and walked into Point Lobos State Park and hiked along the bluffs. This tree is always fascinating, but hard to get a get a good photo in the harsh afternoon light.

A very determined tree

There were a few flowers and lots of poison oak putting out its shiny leaves. Here’s an artsy, HDR photo of cones, spanish moss, and leaves.

Watch out for the poison oak

As we walked along the bluffs, I just happened to look on my iPhone for any geocaches and noticed an earth cache nearby that highlighted some fossilized tracks in the sandstone. I found this very interesting. They were probably made by some sort of ancient bivalve mollusk.


We stayed at the Sandpiper Inn in Carmel and had dinner at Passionfish in Pacific Grove.

Saturday morning we walked along the coastline in Carmel before heading south on highway 1 to find some caches on a couple of DeLorme map pages. Our first stop was at Garapata Ranch State Park. It was impossible to find a parking spot close the trailhead I wanted, so we parked farther down the road at a less popular trailhead and hiked. This turned out to be a pretty hike and I found two caches that were on page 30 of the Southern and Central California DeLorme map.

A little further south we stopped at the Bixby Bridge. It was also a zoo and the sun was in the wrong position for photos. We looked for a cache a quarter mile up The Old Coast Road (dirt) and didn’t find it.

Heading south again, our next stop was supposed to be at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but again, I couldn’t find a convenient parking spot. I drove on south to Lucia, not realizing that I really did need the caches to complete a page in the California DeLorme map.

Our final stop was at Mill Creek Picnic area where I found two caches that were on page 43 of the Southern and Central California DeLorme map.

Interesting boat storage and launch beach

Heading back towards Monterey there were parking spots at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but we were tired and I didn’t think it was necessary. I realized as I was logging the caches after getting home that those were the caches I needed on page 100 of the California DeLorme map. One of the caches was an earth cache about a landslide. Since I remember seeing the landslide area as I drove by and I could find all the answers from Google Earth satellite photos and web research I logged it without actually going to the specified coordinates. Interestingly, this was a monster of a debris flow during an El Niño year and it closed highway 1 for a year.

Back in Monterey at dinner time, we ate at PF Changs. I thought it was good and it was gluten free.

Total distance for the trip was 320 miles.

Photo gallery for Carmel/Big Sur 2016

Three day DeLorme Challenge geocaching trip

I’ve just returned from a three-day trip down the Central Valley where I completed 11 DeLorme map pages and found caches in Ventura county (I’ve now found caches in every California county). I also visited with my Mom.

I headed south on highway 99 to pick up three Southern California DeLorme map pages. The first was page 22 where highway 99 just clips a corner of the page at Madera. Page 23 was the Fresno area, and page 24 was from Selma to Kingsburg. Now, I had estimated that I could find the six caches that I wanted to find on these three pages in an hour and then drive to McKittrick and be there by 2pm. Boy was I wrong. I couldn’t find some of the caches and basically could only do these pages and then get to Mom’s around 4pm. This was good information. I’m planning a multi-day trip to the Mojave and now I realize that I have tried to cram too much into each day. I need to revise my plans to reflect a slower find rate. Nevertheless, on this first day I completed three DeLorme pages.

Early the next morning I headed out to McKittrick, Taft, and the Cuyama Valley. Just west of McKittrick I stopped at some natural oil seeps. Thick oil, like warm tar, was bubbling up and flowing on the surface. Since it was cold, the stuff on the surface was like solid tar, but the stuff in the pool was viscous, and bubbling so very slowly.

Bubbling black gold

Bubbling black gold

I also hiked out to an old oil mine, a vertical shaft about 5’x6′ and lined with timbers. Before oil wells an oil miner with a bucket (and no clothes) would descend for a 20 minute stint loading buckets with oil/tar. That was a sticky, messy job. This completed my finds for page 61 in the Southern California DeLorme map challenge.

I worked my way over to Taft, stopping to find a couple of geocaches on old remnants of early oil wells. Then I went west to New Cuyama and found a couple of caches in the area. This completed page 75 of the Southern California DeLorme map challenge.

Cuyama Valley

Cuyama Valley

After finding these caches, I drove south on highway 33 along the Cuyama River to Lockwood Valley Rd. I found a few caches on the way that were in page 76 of the Southern California Delorme challenge. There are well over 100 caches in a series along this road (it’s not a power trail, though). I stopped to find several of them. I thought the caches were at end of life—almost all the plastic containers were cracked, broken, or missing lids and some logs were sopping wet. I finally joined up with Interstate 5 north of Gorman. Along the way, I found caches in page 77 and in Ventura county, the last county in which I did not have a cache find.
Lockwood Valley Road

Lockwood Valley Road

Since I still had some time before sundown, I continued east on highway 138 and found three caches on page 78 of the Southern California DeLorme challenge. One of them was an earth cache related to the San Andreas fault that ran right through the area. This was called a locked portion of the fault and it is estimated to be under significant strain. The road cut revealed a layer of clay produced by the two sides of the fault grinding rock into the fine powder that produces clay.IMG_3171

The next day I drove back to Taft, intending to find some more of the old oil field relic caches, as well as some of the large number of challenge caches in the area. Unfortunately, at one of the first relic caches I stopped at, I attracted the attention of an oil company supervisor. He was adamant that I not be out of my vehicle around oil field equipment. While he acknowledged that since it was BLM land I could drive on the roads he was clearly not comfortable with me being there. I just turned around and left, although in retrospect the challenge caches are away from the oil fields.

I headed out to go to the Carrizo Plains area, but first stopped for an earth cache at the Lakeview Gusher. This, I was surprised to learn, was the largest accidental oil spill in US history, spewing 9 million barrels of oil over 18 months. They were only able to recover 4 million barrels out of the containment basins they constructed. At least they managed to keep the oil from flowing downhill into Buena Vista Lake, 8 miles away.

Ground zero of the Lakeview gusher that spewed an estimated 9 million barrels of oil

Ground zero of the Lakeview gusher that spewed an estimated 9 million barrels of oil

I decided to head out into the Carrizo plain and chose a point on Soda Lake Road to navigate to. Unfortunately, I misread the map and chose a point on Simmler Soda Lake Road and took a route on Elkhorn Grade road. After a few miles the road became narrower and rougher than I expected but it was easily doable. I finally hit a straight section that I thought was Soda Lake road, but I didn’t come to any landmarks I expected. Finally I realized I was on the wrong road and needed to go west to pick up Soda Lake Road. After a bit I found a road headed in the right direction. It was an OK road, but pretty steep. I was unsure of a couple of sections, mainly because I felt very isolated—I hadn’t seen anyone since I turned off the main highway. Finally got on Soda Lake road and back to the highway.

I followed highway 166 to Santa Maria and found a couple of caches near Guadalupe that finished up page 73 of the Southern California DeLorme challenge (and one page of the Golden State DeLorme Challenge).

And then, it was time to head for home. Total distance for the trip was 960 miles.

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South on the San Andreas fault, then back home through the Central Valley

Today I made a long day-trip to fill in some map pages for the DeLorme challenges I’m working on. I picked up highway 25 in Hollister and followed it south along the San Andreas fault to highway 198. On this section I found caches on page 20 and 33 of the Southern and Central DeLorme maps.

From there I followed highway 198 east to Hanford, picking up caches on page 35 and 38 in the Southern and Central Delorme maps and pages 91 and 94 in the Golden State DeLorme maps. At this point I was out of time and headed home on the quickest route—back to I5.

Total distance covered was 406 miles.

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Day trip to Point Arena

Today we headed north up Highway 1 to find caches on DeLorme map pages and another geocaching challenge called the Bay Area Quadrangle Challenge.

We crossed the Richmond bridge and then went south on 101 to Marin City where we found a cache near the docks of a whole community of houseboats. That satisfied the Point Bonita quadrangle.

Then we went north on 101 to Lucas Valley road and stopped for a cache near Nicasio that satisfied the San Geronimo quad. From there we drove to Point Reyes Station where I searched for a couple of caches while Karen browsed in the Cowgirl Creamery. I didn’t find those, but we did find one just on the outskirts of town and another near the shore of Tomales Bay. This satisfied the Inverness quad and page 70 of the Golden State DeLorme Challenge.

Farther north we did a short hike in Salt Point state park and found a couple of caches to satisfy page 61 of the Golden State DeLorme Challenge.

Though it was getting late in the afternoon, we pushed on to Point Arena. I didn’t find the ones I was looking for, so could not complete page 54 of the Golden State DeLorme Challenge. This was frustrating, but we were out of daylight and it was time to head for home. I took Mountain View Road east to Boonville—not the best road to drive at night. Narrow and twisty, it bothered me on a few tight corners with visibility problems.

Total mileage for the trip was 375 miles.

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Geocaching goal

I recently purchased some DeLorme maps for California (and Arizona, Nevada, Oregon) and got the wild idea to find at least one geocache on each page of the California maps. Now the California map used to be divided into two different atlases; a Northern California section and a Southern California section. I have already completed the challenge of finding a cache on each page of the Northern California maps. Now I will try to find a cache on each page of the full California map and the Southern California section. The Southern California section is out of print, but I managed to buy a used copy. Obviously this will require quite a bit of traveling. I plan to document the trips in blog posts here.

Golden State DeLorme Challenge
California DeLorme Challenge (Southern & Central)
California DeLorme Challenge (Northern)

Tam McArthur Rim hike

On Friday (Oct 2), we did a short hike (less than 5 miles) part way up Tam McArthur Rim. This has been a favorite hike of mine, but given that we were both a little down on energy we decided not to go to the high point on the rim. I like to go at least a mile farther to an overlook that gives a beautiful view of the Sisters.

North Sister from part way up Tam McArthur Rim

Tam McArthur Rim photo gallery

Linton Lake hike

The day after our 8 mile hike along the Metolius River we did a bike ride out of Sisters and along one of our favorite riding roads. There was not much traffic, and in a couple of places the views of the peaks of the Sisters is spectacular. Afterwards, we visited Jim at his condo in Eagle Crest.

On the next day we drove over MacKenzie Pass (on highway 242) to a short-cut trailhead (there is only room for 1 car to park) to Linton Lake. This was a short hike—only a little over 3 miles—and the lake, especially this year, was nothing special. But the fall colors (mostly the brilliant reds of the vine maple) were spectacular. The lake was very low, but Linton Creek was still flowing. We have never made the bushwhacking hike up Linton Creek to Linton Falls, but we have always heard the noise from the falls and the rapids. A lot of noise from the rapids means it’s a pretty steep climb to the falls.

Vine maple on the way to Linton Lake

Vine Maple

Linton Lake photo gallery

Sisters, Oregon, Fall 2015

Very early in the year I had made reservations for ten days in Sequim, WA followed by ten days in Sisters, OR. Then came the prostate cancer diagnosis and uncertainty if my recovery would be good enough to allow for a three-week trip in September and October, so I canceled all the reservations. By the beginning of September, I was confident I could manage days of hiking in the central Oregon Cascades, so I booked one of our favorite rentals in Sisters for nine days.

It turned out that Karen’s brother was spending a week in Eagle Crest so we invited them along on our first days hike along the Metolius River. Now central Oregon was in drought conditions, just like we are in California. There was very little snow on the peaks, and the rivers and creeks were low. The Metolius, however, is pretty much a constant flow year round. It was a beautiful day, and walking along the river-bank was beautiful. The fall colors, especially the vine maple, were abundant.

Metolius River decked out in fall colors

Vine maple

This was an 8 mile round-trip hike. Our GPS track on a topo map is in the photo gallery below.

Metolius River, Sept 2015 photo gallery

Short trip to the Eastern Sierras in June 2015

Having the prostate biopsy results and surgery still a month away, I felt the need for a change of scene. Some hiking in the Sierras seemed appropriate to relieve some of the anxiety. We headquartered in Bishop and did a couple of our favorite hikes. I don’t think I took my DSLR—all the photos are from my iPhone.

We hiked up to Blue Lake from the Lake Sabrina trailhead on our first full day. We were so unused to hiking that this hike was taxing. But, it is a beautiful area.

Blue Lake

The next day we hiked into Little Lakes Basin along Rock Creek. We kept this hike shorter than usual, but we explored some new areas in the basin.

Little Lakes Basin

To drive home I decided to go over Sonora Pass, which I haven’t done in some time. It was a nice, but not long enough, break from worries.

Short trip, Eastern Sierras, photo gallery