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Welcome to our blog

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NOTE TO READERS: Here’s a few items to guide you on our blog.

This page is our permanent first page, called a sticky page. It was updated on October 1 and will remain on top permanently. Our most recent post is directly under this one and then they roll in date sequence from most recent to earliest.

Be sure to check out our new tag word cloud search functions in the sidebar.  We’ve also added a Geocaching Storefront to the sidebar with links to our favorite geocaching products.

Also in the page bar at the top of the blog are five pages of background and instruction on geocaching.  The titles are self-explanatory. These short pages are more than enough to get you started.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

Hi and welcome to our newly updated blog. Designed as a companion to our website, we use it for shorter pages than we typically put on the site.

We affectionately refer to each other as Boris and Natasha (usually with “dahlink” at the end) – retirees, snowbirds, explorers, geocachers, munzee and benchmark hunters, history lovers, sometime photographers, freelance writers and lifelong learners who can show up almost anywhere.

KidsRN in action

Natasha is relentless in her quest for geocaches. Here, she gives it her all in the Black Hills. Mt. Rushmore is in the upper left hand corner.

Our vision for Off The Beaten Path is a family friendly blog that promotes interest in outdoor activities, curiosity about the world around us and lifelong learning. Our vehicle for that is geocaching and related activities, plus all that goes with them.

You would be hard-pressed to find another activity which is more fun, positive, educational and family friendly than geocaching and its siblings. My 88 year old mother has been out with us. Our grandkids (now 6 and 4) went out with us in their strollers. They really love hunting munzees and can both handle a smart phone like you wouldn’t believe. Some of the best times I ever had as a Dad were with my youngest son hunting down geocaches in the wilds of Montana and Wyoming. When I was teaching school, I used it in my math classes to teach all kinds of things.

One thing you can be sure of – the pages of this blog and our other related sites will develop skills and take you places you would have never known about otherwise.  The only adverse effect we’ve encountered is G.A.S. – Geocaching Addiction Syndrome.  Once it gets in your blood, it’s hard to walk away.

Our adventures have taken us to ghost towns, caves, mountain tops, waterfalls and more out of the way places than we can recall.  It’s been a hoot.  We’ve geocached in 38 states and have a plan in place to finish all 50 by the end of 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 (or thereabouts).

You never know what you might find here. We love forts, battlefields, ghost towns, one of a kind diners, cheeseburgers, skin-on French fries, anything to do with National Parks and anything else that’s off the beaten path. The tougher, longer, higher, creepier or more calorie-laden it is, the better we like it. Of course, we do normal stuff, too. We’ll mix things up to keep it interesting.

KidsRN at Mt. Rushmore cache site.

Mission accomplished safe and sound. No humans were injured in the production of this blog.

This is an open blog for families, adventurers, explorers, vagabonds and anybody else who might share our passions.  There’s no arm chair traveling here.  We’ve been to all the places we blog about and most of the pictures are ours.

See you in the blogosphere. …Boris and Natasha

To Our Loyal Readers – We’re Back

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

I’m back from my self-imposed 92 day exile.  We spent the winter in Tucson, Arizona, which is going to be Snowbird Central from now on. We saw and did a lot of great stuff and I’ve got a lot in the writing queue. To be honest, I just ran out of gas and put the writing aside.  It was time for a break.

The San Francisco Peaks 

Arizona has many faces, which is one of the reasons we go there. Mountains, desert, alpine forests, even the ocean if you’re willing to go 50 miles into Mexico from Yuma. These are the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. The highest peak has an elevation of 12,600 feet and you can walk right up to it weather permitting. There’s also a big ski resort up there – Snow Bowl. All the peaks used to be one giant peak that reached up to 16,000 feet. It was blown apart in a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. This area north of Flagstaff in the NE corner of Arizona is an active volcanic region called the San Francisco Volcano Field. Although quiet now, it is still active. The last major eruption was about 800 years ago. It formed the huge cinder cone which is now Sunset Crater National Monument. This photo was taken at the park entrance.

But I think the writing mojo is back, especially with the all the Civil War stuff going on this year. I like to write about smaller and/or lesser known battles on their anniversaries or present some new background on others. I wrote about the Alamo and the Doolittle Raid earlier this year. I missed the Little Bighorn and Gettysburg. Missed one yesterday too – the Union Civil War attack on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts. This was the first black regiment in the Union Army. The attack was the climactic scene in the movie “Glory”. 

Desert Winter

Yes, it snows in the desert and when it does, it’s beautiful – although Arizona drivers can be hazardous. This photo was taken in Catalina State Park in Oro Valley, AZ after an overnight snowstorm of wet, heavy snow. The snowline got down to under 2,500 feet, which is the altitude here. The snow on the low ground was gone shortly after sunup but in the mountains, it lasted for several days. The peaks in the back are the Santa Catalinas. They reach up to about 6,000 feet here and eventually climb to over 9,000 feet at Mt. Lemmon, which has a ski resort overlooking Tucson. Catalina Park has one of the largest concentrations of saguaro (swor’oh) cactus in the world. The 50 square mile park has over 5,000 of them.

So welcome back and enjoy what’s coming down the pipeline.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

Random Shots – Palm Trees at Sundown

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Palm trees at sundown

I was sitting on the balcony of our snowbird condo in Tucson a couple of days back, enjoying the evening breezes. As I watched the shadows start creeping up the nearby palm trees, it almost looked like a painting. So I fetched the trusty Nikon 3100D and snapped away. It’s simple and uncluttered. The contrasts, colors, shadows, shapes and light all make this an interesting shot.

Winter Comes to the Desert

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It snowed in Tucson today. We didn’t get much on the valley floor, which is around 2,500 feet in altitude. Above 3,000 feet though was a different story. They got hammered. I expect we’ll wake up in the morning to snow capped hills all around.

tucsonwinter1

I love shooting landscapes. A snow covered desert has to be one of the best subjects for a photo. So being from Minnesota, snow or not, I was out looking for a shot with my trusty Nikon D3100. The challenge of shooting the desert winter is that it doesn’t last very long. You’ve got to shoot on the fly, with not much time for setup. I got some. An hour later, they were gone.

Here’s another one. Ya gotta love the snow in the palm trees. The picture is a little fuzzy because of the ice fog rolling in.

Desert winter

This would be a great shot for a Corona beer commercial – or not.

About a mile away in the background of the pictures are the Santa Catalina Mountains. They jut up from the desert floor to an altitude of up to 9,000 feet on Mt. Lemmon. Today, they are completely socked in by the storm. It’s supposed to stay cold tonight and be sunny tomorrow. Could be some great shots in the early morning.

Tomorrow it will warm up and the snow will be gone. Even the higher elevations will be gone in a week. All that moisture will make the desert explode in color in a few weeks. More work for the Nikon.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

KD’s Bar-B-Q, Midland, TX

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NOTE TO READERS: This is my first post done completely with a custom external CSS page. I like it. I did the whole post in the code page – no “point’n’click” or “drag’n’drop” in the WordPress interface. It’s a $30 upgrade but well worth it. I put it off for as long as I could, but finally got tired of WordPress doing strange things. Posting is much slicker and you can completely customize the look of the page. If you’d like to see what it looks like, I’ve posted the CSS sheet and the HTML code I used for this post in the public folder of my Dropbox account. It’s a file called blogcode.txt. Here’s the direct link. It will open the file in your browser in a new window. From there, you can copy and paste it into Notepad.

During our travels and adventures, we are always on the lookout for some good eating. We try to stay away from chains (with the exception of In-n-Out Burger) in favor of local diners, dives and cafes. We struck culinary gold while driving across Texas on I-20. Just off Exit 138 in Midland, TX is KD’s Bar-B-Q. You can see it from the highway and we headed straight for it. The place was full of families, truckers and oil workers and with good reason. It was some of the best BBQ eating we’ve ever had – maybe even the best. Check out the pictures. This was our kind of place.

Front of KD's BBQ

Years ago, KD’s was a feed store. It still has that ambiance.

They’ve added a few modern conveniences, like ceiling fans. In the adjoining saloon, there are three big screen TV’s with NASCAR and Fox News. You won’t see MSNBC, Wimbledon or The View here. I reckon you might catch a Cowboys game in season.

Inside KD's BBQ

Here’s that feed store ambiance. Wood floors, metal tables, tin ceiling, exposed pipes and duct work. Everybody was super friendly, as they always are in rural Texas. The free fixins bar is in the center. It features plenty of the usual meat and potato add ons, along with hot sauce with names like Nuclear Waste. Be careful what you wish for.

Now to the important stuff – how to get the food. You enter through the smokehouse door, grab a tray and put a big piece of wax paper on it. Step up to the pit and tell ’em what you want. They slap it on the tray. Next, over to the line for sides, drinks and desserts. Pay at the end of the line then top off at the fixins bar. Staff cruise the floor constantly, picking up trays and cleaning tables. If it’s crowded, just sit down with some strangers.

Food at KD's

Now we’re talkin’. Brisket, ham, turkey, chicken, sausages, pulled pork and more. Then it’s off to the counter for your sides and then to the fixins bar.

The only downside of KD’s is that it’s a bit pricey. Plan on about $20 a person. Everything on the grill is priced at $14 a pound with an $8 minimum. No use taking just a little. Sides are priced individually. One other problem we ran into was that we were so full when we walked out, we skipped looking for a couple of geocaches that were close by, including one in the parking lot.

Trust me – that doesn’t happen very often.

Bon appetit … Boris and Natasha

Back in the Saddle Again

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Hi again,

As you’ve no doubt noticed, I haven’t posted in a while.  I got to a point at the beginning of the summer where I was burned out with all this web and blog stuff.  I was trying to post too much too quickly about too many things. It wasn’t fun any more, so I walked away.  I really wasn’t sure if I’d be back.

We did a lot of cool stuff this summer. In addition to welcoming our new grand daughter, we cruised the back roads of my native Pennsylvania and just got back from exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (where the yoopers live).  And of course, we criss-crossed Minnesota and Wisconsin in our never ending quest for geocaches, out-of-the-way places and non-chain restaurants.  I took lots of pictures with my new Nikon D3100 and constantly thought “This would be a great blog entry” but I never got around to it.

Sideling Hill Turnpike Tunnel

Here’s one of our excursions from the summer of 2012. This is the eastern end of the Sideling Hill Tunnel on an abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I grew up not far from here and remember driving on this stretch of road.  It finally got too congested and they bypassed it in the late 60’s.  The 22 mile track has two tunnels. The other one is Ray’s Hill about five miles west. The entire stretch is open for biking although it is not a formal bike trail. This was the longest tunnel built on the turnpike – 6,017 feet long. That’s why you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. You need to have flamethrower headlights to negotiate this one. There were geocaches in, around and above the tunnels. We got some but not all.  They were tough and it was really hot.  The tunnel is nice and cool inside and a cool wind blows out of it constantly, much to Natasha’s delight.

I got the bug again a few weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve been busy getting my web house in order.   The main improvement here is a better sidebar.  After experimenting with widgets for a while, I came up with a combination I like.  It puts a lot more information at the reader’s fingertips and has clear, self-explanatory titles and buttons.  You can mouse over a link to get even more information about the content. 

Be sure to checkout the new Geocaching Storefront widget, where you can find most of the stuff we talk about in our instructional posts. BTW, I don’t get paid for anything. If you see something listed anywhere in this blog, it’s because we use it and like it.

You’ll also find a new keyword search widget based on the tag cloud.  It’s got a little introduction above it.  It resolves the dilemma I had about new material rapidly getting buried and good stuff essentially disappearing.  I think I’ve fixed that.  I’ve tested it and it works like a charm.

The blog content will be shorter, less involved stuff – instructions, reviews, pictures, etc.  No more long rambling posts .  I’ve got some catching up to do.  There are a couple of series I started like Top 10 Geocaches and Intro to Geocaching that I never completed.  They go to the head of the list.  I’ve also got a lot of new stuff from our summer travels.  Among our best finds – abandoned Civil War trenches in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania, a NASA rocket launch base at the  very tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw (Upper) Peninsula and a great tavern in Prescott, WI called The Brickyard.  We’ll let you in on all of it.

Outer stockade at Fort Ligonier

Another one of our excursions this summer – the fully restored Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, PA. A British fort during the French and Indian War, it guarded the Forbes Road to Pittsburgh and Fort Pitt. It was attacked twice but held both times. As you can see, it is a formidable position. What you don’t see is the inner walls, moat and redoubts behind the outer stockade. It also bristled with cannons, mortars and swivel guns. The Loyalhanna River ran right along the base of the rocks back then but was re-routed when Route 30 (the Lincoln Highway) was built almost 100 years ago.

Our companion website has a new URL – exploreoffthebeatenpath.com.  It will have the longer, more involved stuff.  My current project is the 1862 Dakota War here in Minnesota.  What?  You thought  Minnesota was settled by Micheal Landon and Melissa Gilbert during Little House on the Prairie? You didn’t know the largest Indian war in U.S. history was fought here? That’s alright.  Nobody else does either.  I’ll let you know when it’s published.

I’ll be moving up previous posts from the series I started and cross linking them so they don’t get lost. The four or five instructional posts on Introduction to Geocaching will be permanent pages linked at the top of the home screen.  That way, they’re always available and easy to find.    This housekeeping may take a few days, so bear with me.

Thanks to all who have commented, followed and liked.  There’s lots more to come.

Best ….. Dan

Our new blog

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Sgt. Blogger

My student teacher – Sgt. Blogger. Here he makes a point during a “teachable moment.” You’ll see him around the new blog “Teaching Kids Math and Other Stuff.”

Hi again,

I’ve had three real passions in my life – my family, the outdoors and teaching.

My family continues to evolve as my kids have grown up, I got re-married and now we have grandkids.  You’ll see them in some of our posts and pictures.

I grew up in the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania running around with the guns and the dawgs.  Then the Marine Corps gave me my outdoor fix for 20 years.  Now, adventures in retirement get me outside.  That’s all covered by this “Off the Beaten Path” blog.

I’ve always felt that my real calling was teaching.  My mom was a teacher and I guess I inherited the gene. She always said that good teachers are born, not made.  I discovered early on that I was good at it and liked it. 

The Count

Count Cachula, a regular guest lecturer.  That’s one blog post. Ah ah ah

The Boy Scouts, martial arts and the Marine Corps gave me plenty of practice on how to teach and no shortage of subjects .  When I retired from the Corps, I never really considered anything else but teaching as a second career.   I taught middle school math for five years, freelanced as a Microsoft Certified Trainer for another five years then went back to a different middle school for five more years.  During most of that time, I was also an adjunct instructor at a local community college teaching computers and general education subjects.  In 2008, I got re-married.  Pam and I both retired and became geocaching fanatics.

Teaching was the hardest I ever worked.  At times it was more stressful than combat.  I had a lot of success in the classroom and was nominated for the Who’s Who of American Teachers three times.  Teaching is first and foremost a leadership challenge.  Running a classroom is a lot like commanding a military unit.  You have to lead by example, establish routines, make your standards known and enforce them firmly but fairly.  When a classroom is firing on all cylinders, there’s nothing quite like it.  I found it to be very rewarding and satisfying.

I always thought the biggest part of my job was to model successful and responsible adult male behavior since students see so little of it.   In TV, movies, video games etc, men are routinely portrayed as losers and idiots.  I was determined to change that perception. On the back of my car, I had Marine Corps and recon stickers and my NRA life member sticker.  I had a dad come up to me at parent conferences one night and say “We’ve never met, but I could tell from the stickers on your car that you’re the kind of guy I want teaching my kids.”   I live for high praise.

Johnny Bravo

Another adoring parent. He also appears on the guest lecturer circuit.

Like most teachers, I was a pack rat and never threw anything away.  In addition to this “geostuff”, which I used in the classroom a lot, I’ve got a ton of material unique to the teaching side of things.   This includes years  of accumulated ideas, opinions, forms, sheets, letters, exercises and evaluations.  Some of it is on paper, some is on my hard drive and some is in my head.    It seemed like a shame to toss it or forget about it, so I decided to give it a new lease on life and blog it. 

Introducing “Teaching Kids Math and OtherStuff.”   The title is self-explanatory.  Most, if not all, of the content in my teaching blog will be useful to parents, coaches, youth leaders and even grandparents (whose ranks I have now entered.) If it gives one good idea or one chuckle to one person, it will have been worth it.

You’ll  find some opinions and reflections on this site which you may or may not agree with.   You may find my sense of humor a bit wacky but it goes with the territory I’ve been in for five decades.  There are several issues in particular that I wrestled with for years without a good resolution. You’ll be seeing a series called “Classroom Capers”  where I free write about anything that comes to mind.  I hope you find something of interest or value somewhere on the site.

I’ll keep adding stuff until I run out, which will probably never happen.  Where appropriate, I’ll cross-link things.  I welcome your feedback and ideas.

Click this link  Teaching Kids Math and Other Stuff to get started.

Thanks …. Dan

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