Home

Welcome to our blog

4 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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

The Alamo

1 Comment

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 this link.

Today is the 177th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo – a battle which epitomizes much that is good about America. In honor of that, here are some little known facts about the battle along with a few pictures from our visits there.

Sunday, March 6, 1836. 5:00 AM. The storming of the Alamo by the 5,000 man army of Santa Anna begins. After waiting since February 23 for reinforcements that never arrived, the 185 defenders have to fight alone. They have less than 90 minutes to live.  Many Mexican soldiers have less than that. The Texans exact a fearsome toll on their attackers – estimates range from a few hundred to over a thousand. We’ll never know.

Painting of the Alamo

“For God and Texas” by Richard Luce

Davy Crockett and his Tennesseans at the Alamo. The artist has captured an accurate snapshot of the early part of the battle. It’s still dark. Unlike the movies, the chapel is in the correct place. Crockett’s men are shown behind a low, makeshift palisade which was the weakest part of perimeter. Smoke fills the air. Men are frantically loading weapons. You can almost feel the chaos and intensity.

● The structure dates back to 1724 when it was called Misión San Antonio de Valero. It housed Christian missionaries and their converts. The source of the name Alamo has two theories. Some say it comes from the Spanish word for cottonwood tree – El Alamo. Others say it was named by Spanish troops who garrisoned the post in earlier days. They were from a town called Alamo.

● The crown that figures prominently across the front of the chapel wasn’t there during the battle. It was constructed in 1847.

● It was bitter cold that morning and much of the fighting was in darkness. It was all over by 6:30 AM.

● The defenders were taken by surprise. Santa Anna had shelled the Alamo non-stop for days. It stopped at 10:00 PM the night before and the defenders collapsed into an exhausted sleep. They had little if any time to ready for the actual assault. They rushed to their positions in the dark and the fight was on.

Alamo View

The front of the chapel from across the plaza where the perimeter would have been. This peaceful scene was the middle of the battle area. Fighting swirled in every direction from here. The chapel was in the defenders’ left rear. Davy Crockett and his men would have been on the right side of the photo where the trees now stand.

● Contrary to most movie and artist accounts, the chapel wasn’t at the front of the action. It was actually in the defenders’ left rear of the post, making up the southeast corner of the perimeter. Troops and cannon fought from the roof. A large perimeter, some of it makeshift, was manned by the defenders. This perimeter extended across present day Alamo Plaza and the stores beyond. Since there weren’t enough defenders to man the whole perimeter, they fought from strongpoints along the wall.

● The attack came from every direction, although the main effort was directed at the north wall. Defenders fought back two assault waves but were overwhelmed by the third. Once the perimeter was breached, the courtyard became a caldron. They did a fighting retreat across the courtyard into the chapel and barracks for their last stand.

● The defenders used artillery with deadly effectiveness. They loaded their cannons with nails, door hinges, horse shoes and anything else they could find, turning the cannon into giant shotguns that ripped huge gaps in the attacking ranks. However, they got pushed off their guns so fast, they didn’t spike them. The attackers turned the guns around and used them to blast away inside the compound.

Alamo Courtyard

The courtyard as it looks today. The chapel is behind you. By 6:00 AM, there was ferocious fighting here, much of it hand-to-hand with swords, bayonets, tomahawks and knives. The defenders fortified and barricaded every room inside the compound and exacted a fearsome price from the attackers, who had to fight for every square inch. Notice the office building in the top right of the picture.

● The defenders fortified and barricaded almost every square inch of the buildings with the exception of the chapel. Fighting positions were dug in the floors of the rooms. Obstacles were placed in doorways and windows. Holes were chopped between rooms to allow movement inside. With the walls breached, room to room fighting commenced. At first, the attackers paid dearly in the dark, close quarters fighting. It didn’t take long for the captured cannons to be brought to bear. Santa Anna’s soldiers wheeled them down to the rooms and blasted away at point blank range before entering and clearing.

● Davy Crockett and his Tennessee volunteers defended the weakest point of the perimeter – a low wooden palisade just in front and to the left of the chapel on the south wall. They felled trees with the branches towards the enemy as an obstacle to the attackers. They were the last ones to be pushed off the perimeter.

● The fate of the Alamo’s most famous defender is a mystery. Some reports have Crockett killed on the north wall, indicating he had moved there to reinforce the crumbling defenses against the main attack. Other reports from Mexican soldiers say he survived and was executed afterwards.

● Colonel Travis died early in the battle. He was shot in the head while leaning over the north wall to fire his shotgun down on the attackers.

● Jim Bowie was bedridden from illness and killed where he lay.

● The women and children hid in the center of the chapel and survived. Santa Anna spared them.

● Other mysteries surround the Alamo. Did any defenders escape or survive? Some say they did. Witnesses after the battle report seeing several defenders being brought before Santa Anna and summarily executed. One of them may have been Davy Crockett.

● The bodies of the defenders were burned in a mass funeral pyre. A year later, ashes from that pyre were gathered and interred at the San Fernando Chapel in San Antonio. These ashes represent the symbolic remains of Crockett, Bowie and Travis. They remain there still.

The Alamo is highlight of a visit to San Antonio. There are both guided and self-guided tours available. The structures you see are the original ones that have survived. Many have not. A modern urban environment surrounds the Alamo and encroaches into the actual battle area. Remember that when you are standing in the plaza in front of the Alamo, you are in the middle of where the fighting took place. This is hallowed ground, much like Gettysburg. If you go, no pictures inside the chapel. It is also customary for men to remove their hats in respect.

Six weeks later and 200 miles east, on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna’s army was decisively defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto, which lasted 18 minutes. Fought in the bayous of what is now the Houston Ship Channel, they were slaughtered by the hundreds. Another 1,000 were captured, including Santa Anna himself. Sam Houston’s force had nine killed.

San_Jacinto_Monument

The monument at the San Jacinto Battlefield near La Porte, TX. At 567 feet, it is the tallest memorial column in the world – 12 feet higher than the Washington Monument.

The price of freedom for Santa Anna was to leave Texas and give up all attempts to put down the rebellion. The delay at the Alamo had cost him dearly and gave Sam Houston the time he needed to get ready. Texas won its independence in no small part to the sacrifice at the Alamo.

Remember the Alamo … Boris and Natasha

1862 Dakota War

Leave a comment

The 1862 Dakota War is often called Minnesota’s Other Civil War. Most people have never heard of it and that includes a lot of Minnesotans.  Fought in the same time period as the Civil War battles of Second Manassas and Antietam in that horrific late summer of 1862, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Union and Abraham Lincoln.  They tried to stay out of it but couldn’t.  It was too big and too damaging.

It was the largest Indian war in American history.  The main battleground was the entire Minnesota River Valley in southern and central Minnesota – 20% of the state’s total land area. The uprising spread into the Dakota Territories and sent panic into Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The defenders of New Ulm counterattack.

An artist’s realistic portrayal of the decisive action of the Second Battle of New Ulm. As the Dakota were closing in for the kill, the defenders leaped over their own barricades and counterattacked. After pushing the Indians back, the defenders set fire to 40 buildings to deny their use to the enemy. Those two desperate actions saved the people of New Ulm but destroyed much of the town.

In Minnesota, Indians did mass attacks on a fort and an entire town – both twice.  Contrary to what folklore and Hollywood tell us, this was almost unheard of in any of the Indian campaigns.

When the fighting ended, 500 settlers and 100 soldiers were dead.  Over 200 people were killed the first morning – as many as Custer lost at the Little Bighorn. To this day, that number of civilians killed on American soil as a result of hostile action is exceeded only by the attacks on 9/11.

Disease and battle wounds killed unknown numbers after the battlefields were silent. Refugees numbered in the thousands. The war de-populated and ravaged a large part of the state, which took years to recover.

The number of Indians slain in battle has never been confirmed but we do know that hundreds died in the retribution that followed.  That number includes 38 in the gallows – at the same time. It’s the largest mass execution in U.S. history.  As further retaliation, the Dakota (Sioux) way of life was intentionally destroyed forever.

The fighting was close and ferocious.  In both battles at New Ulm, outnumbered farmers, settlers and shop keepers fought house to house, launched desperate counterattacks and burned down much of their own town to hold off the Dakota braves assaulting them from every direction.

John Erd's dry goods store in New Ulm.

The Frank Erd dry goods store was one of only three brick buildings in the New Ulm defensive perimeter. Many women and children took cover here during the fighting. The women decided that if the town fell, they were not going to be taken and face a hideous death at the hands of the Indians. They had a barrel of gunpowder rolled into their basement shelter. If the Dakota came, the last act of the defenders of New Ulm would be to blow up themselves and as many Indians as possible. Fortunately, it never came to that.

This was one of the few engagements throughout all the Indian Wars of the 19th century where artillery could be brought to bear and used effectively.  It was used extensively against the Dakota and saved the day in several actions.  At Fort Ridgely, the Dakota attackers ran into a storm of fire and lead the likes of which they had never seen.

The war never really ended.  It just moved west and metastasized into a 30 year conflict that included Red Cloud’s War (1866),  the Little Bighorn (1876) and, finally, Wounded Knee (1890).

For over 100 years, the people of Minnesota celebrated the Dakota War as a victory of pure good over pure evil, i.e., the settlers defeating the treacherous blood thirsty savages.  It was called the Sioux Massacre. That view has changed in recent years,  especially with the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the conflict in 2012.  As it turns out, there was enough blame and blood to go around for everyone.

Regardless of what one thinks about the Indians and the whites, there’s no denying that what happened in New Ulm, Minnesota on August 19 – 23, 1862 was extraordinary. Regular people banded together, fortified their town and fought tooth and nail against an implacable enemy – and won despite being outnumbered and outgunned.  I can find no other instance in U.S. history of a similar event.  There are many instances of people hunkering down in forts, but none like this. The Battles of New Ulm stand as singular events in American history.

And before I forget…there’s lots of geocaches in New Ulm and throughout the Minnesota River Valley.  History, geocaches, German food – what more could you want?

Here’s your link to our web site which has a full history of the Dakota War.

That’s all for now … Boris and Natasha

Intro to Geocaching – Getting Started

4 Comments

I’ve gotten some questions and feedback on how to get started in geocaching, so I’m putting together a short series of four posts to point you  in the right direction.  This is the first one.  The second one will be on hardware.  The third one will be on software.  The fourth one will be on other equipment recommendations.  I can always add to the series so if you’ve got questions, comments or ideas, send them along.

Geocaching originated in Beavercreek, OR and has been around since May 3, 2000.  On that day, a computer engineer named Dave Ulmer hid a bucket in the woods and posted the latitude and longitude online in a GPS users’ group.  He called his new activity “The Great American Stashing Hunt.”  He did it to give his fellow GPS users a target to test the accuracy of their devices and had no idea what it would turn into.

A day later, fellow GPS enthusiast Mike Teague found it and posted his story on the group page.  Geocaching was born, although it didn’t get called that until several weeks later.

Today there are an estimated 5 million geocachers hunting 1.8 million geocaches in every country in the world, including Afghanistan and Antarctica.

Here’s a link to a geocaching dot com’s  history page.

Here’s a link to a good explanation and summary of geocaching on Wikipedia, including all the different kinds of caches and different organizations that list them.

Original geocache plaque

Dave Ulmer’s original stash is long gone, destroyed by a road crew. In its place, some geo-fanatics put this plaque with a geocache nearby in 2003. If you’re ever in the Beavercreek, OR area and want to stop at this holy shrine, the geocache is called “Original Stash Tribute Plaque”  on geocaching dot com.

Mainstream geocaching is the province of geocaching dot com, by far the biggest and most expansive geocaching site.  Starting out as a hobby site in 2000, it grew by leaps and bounds and is now run by a corporate entity called Groundspeak.  If you want to geocache, this is where you start.

To access full cache details, you have to register for a membership.  There are free memberships and premium (paid) memberships.  They cost $30 a year per account.  Here’s a link to a summary of the differences between them.  You can also register at that link.  If you just want to grab a few caches when you’re out doing something else or just try it out, a free membership should work just fine.  If you eventually migrate into caching at different places and need to to do searches remotely or along a route, you’ll want to go with the premium. You can also mix and match.  When I was geocaching with my kids, I had a premium account and they had free ones.

A geocaching membership also gives you access to waymarking dot com.   This useful tool has all kinds of destinations along with geocaches and benchmarks that are nearby.  It’s great for traveling and caching on the fly.  

There are other sites that list geocaches, such as Navicaching, Terracaching and Opencaching.  They require separate memberships but they’re free.  I’m signed on to them and a couple more but they simply don’t have the extensive cache lists and features that Groundspeak does.

Now you need something to geocache with.  If you have a smart phone, that may be all you need.

Geocaching technology has changed a lot in the last several years and smart phones have led the way.  Gone are the days of printing out cache sheets and sticking the serial GPS device out the window to get a signal.  Paperless caching is now the norm and smart phones enable geocaching on the fly, which was unheard of five years ago.

Smart phone geocaching apps can search, locate, map, list and log geocaches anywhere you have Internet connectivity.  They continue to proliferate and improve but they are only as good as the phone they are installed on – and not all phones are created equal.  Smart phone manufacturers have to make compromises in design, components and function to fit everything together.  Sometimes, the GPS function is a low priority. The GPS chip and/or the firmware may be slow and inaccurate.  It may be good on the Interstate highway but lousy on a back road.  The only way to know is to try it out and/or do some research.

The best way to get some background on geocaching phones is to do a Google search on “geocaching with (your phone model).”  There’s lots out there.

We’ve been through the wringer with phones.  Our Blackberry Storms were excellent.  Their GPS was fast and accurate. We geocached all over the country with them and used them until they literally wore out.  Next we got the Samsung Galaxy.  It was horrible.  We took them back and got the HTC Thunderbolt, which was the state of the art phone then.  It was horrible too.

That’s when I went on Google and ran down some information about phones.  Motorola phones use high grade GPS chips.  We traded in the HTC for the DroidX2 and have been very happy with them.

Luckenbach, TX

Our smart phone found the three geocaches in Luckenbach, TX but not Waylon, Willie and the boys. There’s more caches here than people – except on weekends.

I understand the i-phone is also quite good.

If you’ve got your phone, then it’s time to load a killer geocaching app.  If you have a Droid, the three best apps are CacheSense, Neongeo and c:geo.   The features of all three are pretty much the same – touch screens with color, searching, navigating, logging.  I give the edge to Cachesense for two reasons. 1)  It loads much faster than the other two  2) It has a feature that lets you create template messages for your logs.  All you have to do is click on found and the templated message is called up.  If you like it, send it.  No more typing on a tiny keyboard.   A lifetime license for CacheSense is $10.

Neongeo is very similar but without the message templates.  It is Android only and costs five bucks.  It’s developer is very active and responsive to the community.  He turns out new features on a regular basis, often in response to geocacher input.  Over the last year, Neongeo has taken the Droid geocaching world by storm.  It’s an excellent app.

C:geo is also very good and has been around the longest.  It was the first app to deliver live, real-time geocaching on the fly.  It’s an open source app that works on Android only. Its interfaces and features aren’t quite as rich as the other two but  only hard core cachers would notice the difference.  The fully functional version is free.  C:geo has two potential downsides.  It doesn’t work on iphones and they don’t get along with Groundspeak.   Rather than use Groundspeak’s programming API, they “web scrape” the data they need.   Groundspeak considers them a rogue element, but that’s a developer problem and doesn’t seem to affect the end user experience.  Before CacheSense and Neongeo came out, we used c:geo all the time.  It was way better than Groundspeak’s own app.  But there’s always the possibility that Groundspeak will run them out of town.  C:geo has a cult following of sorts. The continuing conflict between the two is kind of a geocaching soap opera.  Here’s a C:geo FAQ link with some good information about the whole thing.

You really can’t go wrong with any of these three.  There are lots of others out there.  App stores have dozens listed  and I’ve tried several of them. These are the only ones I would recommend.

The iphone has its own apps and there’s quite a list.  You’ll have to do some homework and testing but from a hardware standpoint, the iphone itself is a solid platform for geocaching.

Here’s a link to Groundspeak’s phone apps page.

One final note – if you have a free Groundspeak membership, they limit your smart phone downloads to three geocaches a day.  Premium membership is unlimited.

If you don’t have a smart phone or if the one you have is useless or if you plan to geocache in the wild, then you’ll need a dedicated handheld GPS device.  We’ll discuss those in our next post.

Good hunting …. The Cachemanian Devils

%d bloggers like this: