The Old Meeker Ranch

We’ve geocached in 40 states. The only areas we haven’t explored are New England and the Pacific Northwest. But out of all that, our favorite geocaching destination is the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills have it all – scenery, open spaces, mines, ghost towns, trails and more places to explore than you can do in one trip. And there are geocaches everywhere. You could geocache and explore there for the rest of your life and never get bored. They have everything from drive ups to day long quests. One of those quests took us to an abandoned homestead nestled deep in the hills. Locals call it the Old Meeker Ranch.

First look on the road in

First look

You can drive to within a mile on a forest service road with a locked gate. Then you walk in. This is the first view you get when you come over the rise. The pictures simply don’t do it justice. It is a breathtaking scene.

Natasha with the cache

Natasha with the ammo can find. The geocache was called “The Old Meeker Ranch”, GC1CTMH. Unbeknownst to us, the owner had deactivated it the day we found it. It might still be there, but we’ve got the last entry in the cache log.

The 278 acre ranch area was homesteaded in 1882 by Frank Meeker, who was a rider for the Pony Express in his younger days. He named his spread Willow Creek and that is still the name of the year round stream that flows through the middle of it.

The front door and barn

The front door and the barn. The barn is relatively new, built by the last owners in the 1950’s.

** HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE – The Pony Express carried mail to/from St. Joseph, MO and Sacramento,CA. Letters cost $10 an ounce. The 120 riders covered the 1,900 mi (3,100 km) route in 10 days. Most of the riders were teenagers, some as young as 14. They rode legs of 75-100 miles, going at breakneck speed day and night. Switching horses at way stations that were about 10 miles apart, the riders kept to the timetable despite weather, terrain, outlaws, hostile Indians and numbing fatigue. Although successful, the Pony Express was only in operation from April 1860 to October 1861. It was replaced by the transcontinental telegraph. We don’t know what Frank Meeker did in the 21 years between the Pony Express and the Willow Creek homestead, but he must have been one tough hombre.**

These are original buildings from the late 1880’s. Although preserved and open to the public, the ranch has been bedeviled by vandalism in recent years. So far, it’s been broken windows and torn exterior clapboard, which have been fixed by workers. In fact, the day we were there, a BLM crew came out to inspect the place and do any needed repairs.

The ranch changed hands numerous times, ending up with the Davis family in 1952. They built the new barn and worked the spread until 1974. After they left, the ranch spent 30 years in limbo and disrepair before becoming part of the Black Hills National Forest in 2004.

The dilapidated kitchen

We’re explorers. Locked doors and “No Entry” signs drive us nuts. One of the great things about the ranch is that you can go inside the buildings, including the house. When the last family moved on, they left behind a treasure trove of artifacts – cans, jars, newspapers and more – on shelves and in closets. These aren’t props put there by someone. They’re the real deal. Use caution, of course. The upper floors aren’t safe. Watch out for weak spots in the structures and be alert for an occasional rattlesnake. Also keep in mind that this is wild country with black bears and mountain lions. If you have pets or small children, keep them close.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took over in 2004 and scheduled the property for demolition in 2006. A grass roots effort led by local artist Jon Crane and the Black Hills Historic Preservation Trust saved the ranch. They also raised funds for preservation work, an effort that is ongoing as we write this. A dedicated corps of volunteers working alongside the BLM and spearheaded by Historicorps keeps the ranch in a state of “arrested decay” for the public to visit.

Going out the way we came in

Looking at the way back. If you’re a photographer, this place should be on your bucket list. Here are some great photos taken on the Old Meeker Ranch.

For your GPS. N43.8042º W109.5554º. These coordinates will put you right at the center of the ranch. Click on them for a Google map.

The Old Meeker Ranch is a unique historical treasure. It is one of the few ranch homesteads in the country that is maintained, open to the public and freely accessible. Concerned citizens, historians, artists, archaeologists, businesses, trusts and government agencies work hard to keep it that way. Please enjoy it responsibly and safely.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Fall colors in the Teton Pass

Hi again,

One of the great things about geocaching and its kin is that it gets you out into places that you would never go to otherwise. We often come across great scenery in our travels. Particularly out west, there’s a Kodak moment around every bend. Every once in a while though, we happen upon a vista which is there and gone in a moment. Clouds, sky, animals, fall colors, mountains, mist, shadows, snow and sunlight often combine to offer a breathtaking view which is gone in a matter of seconds. Our camera has caught a number of them. This is one of our favorites.

Teton Pass, WY in the fall.

This is the Teton Pass overlooking Jackson Hole, WY in mid-September. Altitude 8,631 feet. We were up here making our way along the spine of the ridge and looking for geocaches (of course). For the most part, it was a dreary day, cold and windy. As we returned to the trail head, the clouds parted and out came the sun. The fall colors exploded and the far mountains came into view. We have gone to places a number of times to catch the leaves at their peak and always seem to be a bit early or too late. On this day, we blundered right into the height of the fall colors. Ten minutes later, we were chased down the mountain by snow flurries and an abundance of caution. The restrictive photo size in the blog doesn’t do justice to the view. Click this link for a full sized version.

Just off to the left of the photo is Highway 22. Called the Teton Pass Highway, it runs from Jackson Hole to Victor, ID through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The road is steep and winding. Unlike most American mountain ranges, the Tetons do not have foothills or some sort of transition region. They jut straight up from the flat lands of the Snake River Valley.

Every July, Hungry Jack’s General Store in Wilson, WY sponsors the Teton Pass Hill Climb from the store to the pass. Each rider throws in 20 bucks and winner takes all. Although only 5 1/2 miles long, it gains a half mile in elevation with an average grade of 6.7% and a max of 14%. We’ll stick to Rails-to-Trails.

The photo was taken near coordinates N43.4973° W110.956°. Click on the coordinates for an interactive Google Map.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Featured

Welcome to our blog…

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

My most recent posts are on the sidebar. One of the challenges of running a blog is how to quickly show or access older posts. I’ve done it the MENU function. There’s a menu bar on top. The titles are self-explanatory. Each one has a drop down list of related topics, which are also self-explanatory. You can surf the entire blog by mousing over the titles. How cool is that? We have a lot more stuff to add.

Also on the bar, you’ll see a link called “The Teacher Files”. It also has a drop down menu with links to topics related to my teaching career. I taught for 15 years after 20 years in the Marines. Teaching was one of my true passions in life. I started out with a separate blog, but when I found out how to create menus, I brought it all over here. It’s good stuff – too good to leave laying around in boxes. I’ll add things as fast as I can get them in HTML/CSS format.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

Hi and welcome to our newly updated blog. Designed as a companion to our website – Exploring Off the Beaten Path. We use it for shorter pages than we typically put on the site plus any other material we find interesting.

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 More Exploring Off The Beaten Path is a family friendly blog that promotes interest in outdoor activities, curiosity about the world around us and lifelong learning. One of our main vehicles 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 8 and 6) 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 website will show you things and take you places you would have never known about otherwise.  Our adventures have taken us to ghost towns, caves, mountain tops, waterfalls and more out of the way places than we can recall. We’ve operated in all kinds of terrain and weather and dodged a few critters along the way. 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 2018 (or thereabouts).

You never know what you might find here. We love forts, battlefields, ghost towns,old cemeteries, abandoned mines, 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. 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, educators, vagabonds and anybody else who might share our passions.  There’s no arm chair traveling here and we don’t cut and paste Wikipedia.  We’ve been to all the places and/or done all the things we blog about. The writing is mine. So are most of the pictures.

We hope you find something interesting here. Feedback – good or bad – is always welcome. All comments are moderated and public, so please keep it civil.

See you in the blogosphere. …Boris and Natasha

HDR photo #3 – Sabino Canyon, Tucson, AZ

Hi again,

There’s not many places in the Sonoran desert where you can capture an image of flowing water, green trees and Saguaro cactus covered mountains all in the same shot.  I found one in Sabino Canyon in the Catalina Mountains just northeast of Tucson.

Sabino Canyon

The green tree is a Mexican blue oak, which stays bright green all year. They only grow near the water. It’s called a blue oak because its roots leach a dark color into the water, giving Sabino Creek a deep tea color. Sabino Creek is one of the few Sonoran waterways that runs free year round. Even though the water was moving, I was able to freeze it with shutter speed. The mirror reflection in the water was an unexpected bonus.

Here’s a link to the full sized image.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

My 2nd HDR Photo – Arizona Sundown

Hi again,

I’ve traveled all over the world but desert sunsets in the American southwest are like no other. This was taken from our back patio. We’re forced to look at this every night – sundown in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Arizona Sunset

Once again, Photomatix HDR software has taken an average picture and made it better. The colors and the contrast really stand out but the glare from the sun has been eliminated. I used a lot less tonal mapping on this one. Just enough to bring out the colors and contrast that the human eye can see. Compare this image with the one in my Arizona Sunset post. They were taken the same night. Click the link to see the full-size version of the photo.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

My First HDR Photo

Hi again,

Well I’ve been saying for a year I’m going to try my hand at HDR photography. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It can bring out almost an infinite variety of colors and effects on an image. Some people love it. Some hate it. It is definitely much more artistic than regular photography, but it takes time to set up. It is not a shoot on the fly technique.

The subject of this photo is a California Incense Cedar tree on Palomar Mountain in southern California. They are all around CalTech’s Palomar Observatory. It’s no accident that one of the world’s great observatories is here. This entire area is about as far off the beaten path as you can get. The drive up here is steep and narrow. Along the way, you’ll go from high desert to alpine meadows, where giant cedar and sequoia trees are found.

HDR photo of a cedar tree on Palomar Mountain, California

This particular cedar is just outside the visitor’s center and right next to the path to the 200 inch Hale telescope. I was immediately reminded of the talking apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. Natasha saw the Ents of the Fanghorn Forest from Lord of the Rings. With a little imagination, you can create a face out of the textured trunk. The texture, the colors and the mix of shadow and sunlight made it a great photo. HDR made it spectacular. I shot three bracketed raw images with a +/- 1 EV. After processing them with Photomatix, I played with the tone mapping until I got what I wanted. I’m not big into the surreal or grunge looks in HDR. The effect I’m looking for is one that will have people wondering if it’s a photo or a painting. I think this one does the trick. Click the following link if you’d like to see the full-size version.

Getting into the HDR mode is simple, although I tried my best to make it difficult. First, you need a camera that does auto brackets. My Nikon D3100 doesn’t do it (it only took me several months to figure that out), so I bought a D5100. A tripod and a remote shutter release are a must to eliminate any camera movement. Then you have to become real familiar with the functions and menus of the camera. Manual vs auto, fine vs raw, ISO vs aperture vs shutter speed, bracketing intervals and more. You’ll also need HDR software. The most popular is Photomatix.

The real fun begins after the raw images are loaded into Photomatix. After merging them, you can manipulate the new image to get just about any effect you want. It really is amazing. Anyway, I’m learning a lot and having a great time playing around with it. Expect to see some more real soon.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Random Shots – Parker Homestead, Three Forks, Montana

This is one of our favorite places and one of my favorite photos. Sitting in the middle of the Jefferson River Valley, it is literally in the middle of nowhere.

The Parker homestead, Three Forks, MT

This is the “back yard” of the old Parker homestead near Three Forks, Montana. First occupied in 1901, hardy settlers lived and farmed here until 1953, living in the log and sod hut which is just off the picture. The jack-leg fence, the old farm implements and the mountains in the distance give this an authentic “off-the-beaten-path-wild-west” look. You can see a branch of Jefferson River in the middle of the photo just above the fence. This year round water source made homesteading here possible.

I took this picture with my old Sony DSC-170, then used Picasa to sharpen the image a bit and boost the colors. This homestead used to be a 1.7 acre Montana State Park but didn’t survive the budget cuts of the recession. Its current condition and status are unknown. That’s a real shame. The Montana plains were once covered with thousands of these. Now, it’s one of the last of its kind.

If you’re interested, the GPS coordinates are N45.845741, W111.676770. Click on the coordinates to bring up a Google map in a separate window.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha

Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon NP

Yavapai Point

The view from Yavapai Point on a winter’s day. We came here for a virtual geocache and left with some great photos. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon 10 times or more over the last 30 years and it never ceases to amaze me. Since I’ve taken up photography, it has been a never ending source of material. Sunlight, shadows, color, clouds and terrain make the canyon landscape a natural kaleidoscope. Take a shot, wait five minutes and another great shot will appear. In case you were wondering, this photo was taken at GPS coordinates N36.06599, W112.11670.

Munzee – Geocaching with QR Codes

The evolution of the geolocation stashing game continues as technology advances. First, there was letterboxing. Created in Scotland in the 1850’s, it involved hiding a box somewhere then providing written clues on how/where to find it. It was 150 years before the next generation appeared – geocaching in 2000 – enabled by the Internet and GPS. Both of these activities involved finding a container and signing something in it. Now even that simple task has been rendered obsolete by techology.

Say “hello” to Munzee. It’s the latest entry into the geo-game realm.

In letterboxing, you need a compass. In geocaching, you need a GPS device. In Munzee, you need a smart phone with the Munzee app.

A Munzee

This is a Munzee. It’s a registered QR code on a sticker, a magnet or a tag. When you find it, you scan the code with your smart phone Munzee app, digitally signing and recording the find. How cool is that? You can make your own Munzees to put out there through the web site or you can buy them from Munzee, all ready to go. We ordered 50 stickers. It cost $17.50. No sign or guardrail is safe now.

The word Munzee comes from the German word “mûnze” (moon’-za) which means coin. Originally conceived using coins for game pieces, it evolved away from that but the name stuck.

Munzee has only been around since 2011. It’s the brain child of a group of hobby geeks in Dallas, TX. They originally thought of the idea in 2008 but QR technology wasn’t ready for prime time yet. Now apparently, it is.

Munzee on a sign

Munzee sticker on the back of a sign. You’ll also find them hanging from things or as magnets on metal. Whatever form it takes, the QR code will always look like this.

In many respects, Munzee is like geocaching (although none of the developers had ever geocached before). It uses GPS to place and track down the munzees. The entire gaming environment is run by a central web entity – munzee (dot) com. It does, however, have its own language. Munzees aren’t hidden – they’re deployed. Munzees aren’t found – they’re captured. People who play the game are called munzers. People who don’t hunt munzees are muggles. Munzers find deployed pieces on the Munzee web site, then track them down with the Munzee app on their smart phone. The capture is done through the app, which opens the QR reader for you.

Munzee capture

Natasha captures a munzee.

Although the parallels are obvious, so are the differences. Munzees can be hidden anywhere. A word of advice – Be careful and selective about your munzee hunting locations. People have deployed munzees helter skelter everywhere including very public locations and private property. The world being what it is today, people get understandably nervous when they see someone snooping around with a cell phone and taking pictures. It can be very suspicious looking. We had an encounter several years back with the manager of a Cousins sub shop who wanted to know what the f— we were doing in “his” parking lot. If you stick to parks, ball fields and outlying areas, you’ll be fine. Rest areas on the interstate highways are hotbeds of munzees. We haven’t been to one yet that didn’t have some. It’s a great way to stretch your legs.

Also be aware that munzees have a high casualty rate. They get scraped off, painted over, bleached out by the sun and various other fates. If you go for one and it’s not there, don’t take it personally. There’s lots more where that came from.

Munzee in a geocache

Some geocaches have munzees in them – a twofer.

The entire Munzee environment was designed with an eye towards competition and rewards. Munzers rack up points. Families, teams and corporations have had Munzee competitions. Businesses have seized on Munzees as a way to market themselves. Unlike a geocache, a Munzee can easily be put inside a business, which will bring munzers inside. Restaurants put them on menus. Boutiques put them on shelves. Some businesses offer discounts or deals for getting Munzee points at their establishment. Munzee has opened up a whole new world of possibilities previously unheard of in geo-games. Or, you can just go out and have a good time with it, which is what we do.

Consistent Internet connectivity is crucial to munzers. The game is played in real time. That’s why you won’t find any back country munzees – yet.

Munzee on a fence.

Coming soon to a fence post near you?

One other thing – Munzee is free, initially. You don’t pay anything for membership or the app. So if you are content to walk around and scan the occasional QR code for five points each, it’s free.

However, some people take this real seriously. There are different kinds of Munzees and different ways to capture or deploy them if you are so inclined. They all have one thing in common – they cost money. If you get serious about points or set up teams or get involved in contests, you can spend all the money you want.

So that’s Munzee in a nutshell. We just stumbled on to it five years ago. As soon as we tried it, we were hooked. It’s a natural extension of geocaching with some new twists. Now we do both. When we visit with our grandkids, the first thing they ask is “Can we go munzee hunting”? They get to run all around and use a smartphone. How can you resist?

Munz on … Boris and Natasha

Winter Comes to the Desert

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 SLR. 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