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

Hot Springs – Big Bend National Park

Hot Springs - Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is full of surprises and this is one of them. In the far southeast corner of the park, a geothermal spring bubbles up from the bottom of the Rio Grande River. A relic of the area’s ancient volcanic past, it is crystal clear, laden with healthy minerals and is a constant 105 degrees – about the same temp as a hot tub. In 1909, an entrepeneur named J.O. Langford built a bathhouse to corral the springs and opened a health resort. Besides the bath house, it had a store, a cafe, a post office and cabins that rented for $1.25 a night. People came from all over the world to soak in its healing waters and there are all kinds of stories of people being made well from just about everything. In 1916, Langford had to abandon his operation because of the Pancho Villa raids. After 10 years of border violence, Langford returned in 1927 and started over, making things bigger and better. He sold the operation to the state of Texas in 1942, which donated it to the National Park Service. The NPS ran the resort as a concession until 1952, when it was abandoned for good. However, the springs and the foundation of the bath house are still open to the public. You can soak in it all you want (although you can’t do it naked like the old days). If you get hot, you can hop into the Rio Grande to cool off, then climb back in. It is the most popular destination in the park. In addition to the springs, you can explore the ruins of the old resort facilities. There’s also a geocache there, so how could we resist? The yellow arrow points to the spring. The water in the enclosure is all spring water. It flows into the river over the outside wall.

Santa Elena Canyon at Big Bend National Park

Santa Elena Canyon at Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is just amazing. This enormous crevice is Santa Elena Canyon. The orange dot in the foreground is the lovely Natasha getting us credit for the virtual geocache located here. The canyon is contained in an escarpment that rises 1500 feet and was once the bottom of a primordial inland sea. The Rio Grande River carved out this channel millions of years later. Texas is on the right; Mexico on the left. Santa Elena Canyon runs to the northwest about eight miles. You wouldn’t know it to look at it now, but this section of the Rio Grande, which is flowing towards you, wasn’t navigated successfully until 1885, when the Texas Rangers pulled it off. All that showed up from previous attempts were planks and splinters. You can hike about 3/4 of a mile into the canyon. At the end of that, the walls go completely vertical right out of the water and the canyon is only 30 feet wide. We made the hike and were not disappointed. And much to our surprise, we had the place to ourselves.

Vintage Vanilla, Albany, TX

Vintage Vanilla, Albany, TX

We found a cool little town named Albany about 30 miles north of Abilene, TX. Had a bite to eat at this 1907 drug store and soda fountain that’s still going strong. Very cool place and very nice people working there. It’s right on Main St. You can’t miss it. There are a dozen geocaches in town and lots more in the surrounding area. Once again, geocaching took us to a place we never would have seen otherwise.

Top 10 Geocaches – #6

Map of the Trolls Cache
A Google Earth shot of the area around the Trolls Cache, which is at the green arrow. You can also see the town of Livingston.

Hi again,

We continue to count down our Top 10. 

So far, we’ve shown you the following:

#10 – Easy to Overlook Cache, Tucson, AZ

#9 –  Nuke on a Mountain Cache, Sundance, WY

#8 – The Caves of the Door Bluff Headlands Cache,  Door County, WI

#7 – Spooky Tunnel Cache,  Kuhntown, PA

This one is from my pre-Natasha days – my single Spartan divorced middle-aged male phase.  From June of 2006, the Trolls Cache.

In June of 2006, my son Ben and I headed out for our annual summer road trip.  He was 13 at the time and we had just discovered geocaching the previous year.  We were both hooked. This would be the first of many big geocaching expeditions. After Yellowstone and white water rafting on the Gallatin River, we headed to Bozeman, Montana for some back country geocaching.

In those days, smart phone apps and geocaching on-the-fly weren’t around yet.  There was a lot more planning involved and a lot less flexibility.

The GPS we had were Magellan SporTrak Map models.  They were first generation hand helds but they got the job done.  We sometimes had to stick them out the window to get good GPS fixes.

Navigation was done by laptop using Delorme Street Atlas.  So we had to do a search in an area, pick out the caches we wanted to do, print off the cache sheet then enter it as a destination in Street Atlas.  It was primitive by today’s standards but pretty much state-of-the-art then. 

We didn’t have Internet in the car, so we did our searching and prep at the hotel, then loaded up the laptop, Street Atlas and the Magellans with everything we’d need. The laptop had external USB GPS and a power converter for the car, so we could run it whenever we needed.  We even had a small USB Canon printer that we could run in the back of the car if needed. Ben became quite adept at doing all that and navigating in the car with a laptop.

In one of our searches, we came up with a geocache called the Trolls Cache.  It was halfway between Bozeman and Livingston way back in the Gallatin National Forest.  It hadn’t been found in almost two years.  We decided to take a crack at it.

We headed for it in early afternoon.  It seemed like we drove forever on a series of dirt roads that got progressively worse and worse.  Our navigation  finally got us to a point that had ground zero about 1/4 of a mile to our right  – across a stream and up a steep mountain. Off we went.  We walked and walked and walked. Most of it was uphill.  The area had been lumbered out years before, so there was thick new growth and lots of ankle-breaking flotsam and jetsam on the ground.  It was hot, slow going.  Like idiots, we didn’t take any water because we figured it would be a short jaunt.  We also found out later that this is prime grizzly habitat and we had nothing for bear defense.

At some point I turned around and realized that I couldn’t see the car anymore and the sun was below the ridgeline.  Shadows were getting deep and dark fast.  We were about 50 yards away from Ground Zero when I told him we had to back off.  It wasn’t safe.  We made our way back down the mountain thinking now we know why no one has found it in two years.  The car was barely visible when we came out of the forest and it was pitch black when we drove out.

Making the Find
I was still surveying the top of the hill on our second attempt when Ben made a beeline for this geo-beacon. The camera just happened to be at the right place at the right time to record the find.

Back at the hotel, we were bummed out.  We decided to take another shot at it.  We fired up Google Earth and got out the Delorme Montana Gazetteer.  We found what looked like an old road, maybe a lumber trail, that might lead up to the cache.  It would be a walk along the ridgeline instead of going up the mountain.  The next day, we were off in early morning with a map, GatorAde, lunch and bear spray.

GZ at Trolls Cache
Ben opens the prize at Ground Zero.

The rental car company would have had a cow if they had seen the roads, rocks and stream crossings we negotiated with their AWD Murano.  But we found the trail and parked about 1/2 mile from the cache.  Twenty minutes later, we were on top of the mountain and Ben made the find in short order.  It was an ammo box in great condition.

After high fives and some trash talking, we celebrated by sitting on a stump, drinking GatorAde, eating lunch and soaking up the gorgeous and rugged panorama that was present at Ground Zero.

View from GZ
The view from Ground Zero. We took it in while eating lunch. The haze in the background is smoke from a distant forest fire.

We learned some hard lessons on this one.  For me, the biggest one was I’m not a Marine anymore.  I don’t have to get hurt or killed to find a cache.  Ben, who was 13 at the time, was tough and had his game face on the whole time.  I asked him how many of his buddies had found an ammo box in the Montana wilderness lately.  He got a confidence builder and a crash course in real world decision making which he never forgot. Over six years later, the kid is grown up and off to college,  but we still laugh and shake our heads over the Trolls Cache.

Cheers …. Boris

Keweenaw Rocket Range

Area map of the NASA rocket range

An area map showing the Keweenaw (keé-wa-naw) Peninsula, Canadian border and the NASA site.

The greatest thing about geocaching and other similar actvities is that they take you places you would otherwise never know about or go to. Our recent trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan took us to some wild and wooley territory.  It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to find an abandoned NASA rocket launch facility, but there is one – and of course, somebody put a geocache there.  We went to check it out.

In 1962 the University of Michigan proposed a launch site near the center of the North American continent. This would fill in a gap in the US Army’s Meteorological Rocket Network. Following a survey of available sites a location on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior was selected. The site was in use from 1964-1971.

The site was to be mainly used in the winter, in order not to endanger shipping on the lake. The first launches were made from a portable telescoping tower of ARCAS sounding rockets in August of 1964. In 1970-1971 NASA launched two Nike-Apache sounding rockets from the site and was preparing to launch surplus Redstone rockets (the same ones that launched the Mercury astronauts).  The Canadian government protested these much larger rockets being fired so close to their border.  The site was abandoned and never used again.  It definitely qualifies as off the beaten path.

I started wondering about the who what when where of the site.  When did they do this?  Who was it?  What did they launch? What happened to it?  Nobody seemed to know much about the place, so I went looking.  I found a bunch of stuff and learned a few things in the process, not all of them rocket related.

This is a photo post with background info in the captions.  Most of the rocket talk came from the Encyclopedia Astronautica.  Enjoy.

NASA launch site

This grainy newspaper photo gives a good overhead view of the site. There was nothing permanent here except concrete slabs. The telemetry vans near the top of the photo were dragged in by bulldozer for each launch. The missile storage building is down near the water’s edge. At the bottom of the photo is the shoreline of Lake Superior/Keweenaw Point.

Rockets

This schematic shows the types of rockets that were fired from the site. All were sounding rockets used for research. A sounding rocket is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The rockets are used to carry instruments from 10 to 130 miles above the surface of the Earth, the altitude generally between weather balloons and satellites. The Nike missiles were a version of the same ones that provided air defense against Russian bombers coming over the polar ice cap during the Cold War from 1953 to 1978.

ARCAS launch

A photo of an ARCAS launch, date unknown. ARCAS stands for All-Purpose Rocket for Collecting Atmospheric Soundings. The ARCAS was a pop gun compared to the Nike but was used extensively from 1960 to 1990. It could also be launched from buoys in the water. The single-stage rocket could lift a 12 pound payload 10 miles up.

Nike Apache Launch

A Nike-Apache launch in 1970. The Nike Apache was a two-stage sounding rocket used to carry a variety of payloads for a wide variety of subjects including radio astronomy, meteorology, aeronomy, atmospheric conditions, plasma physics, and solar physics. The maximum payload weight was 80 lbs and the maximum altitude about 125 miles. A total of 636 of them were launched worldwide between 1961 and 1978. Two of those were launched at Keweenaw Point in 1970 and 1971. Those were the site’s last launches.

Ground Zero for the Keweenaw geocache

This pad is where the launch in the previous picture occurred and is Ground Zero for the cache. This particular cache is a virtual geocache, meaning you have to get somewhere and find out about something that is already there. There’s no box to find. The lake shore is just beyond the trees.

Mission accomplished. We had to get a picture of the marker with our GPS in sight. The drive out here was long and treacherous. The last two miles is an ATV trail which we deftly negotiated with our Saturn Vue. The metal band behind the marker was part of the Nike launch assembly.

Keweenaw Point

Keweenaw Point. This is as far as you can go on the Upper Peninsula. Off in the distance is Manitou Island. It has a lighthouse on the far right hand side. This is one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the Great Lakes. When a ship transits Lake Superior, it has to make five major course corrections. Keweenaw Point is one of them. The rocks and shoals here have claimed many ships over the years. In fact, the rocks in the lower left hand corner of this photo are a wreck site. The steamship “Scotia” met its doom at this very spot on October 24, 1884, driven into the rocks by a storm. The crew survived. The waves broke the ship apart. The bow section hung here for two years. The stern sank in ten feet of water. A salvage company cut her up for scrap, leaving only a skeleton. Parts of it lie 150 feet offshore. It is a popular dive site since you can do a shore dive. There are two other steamship wrecks that can be dove on from here – the City of Bangor and the Altadoc.

Propeller from the Scotia

Here’s one last bit of maritime trivia. This is one of two propellers from the aforementioned “Scotia”. Salvaged off the lake bottom in the 1960’s, it now sits on display on the grounds of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse. The ship had two props. Presumably, one of them is still out there.

That’s it until next time. Hope you liked it and/or learned something.  We sure did.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Lewis and Clark Caverns

View inside the caverns

A view deep inside the caverns. As part of the tour, shortly after this picture was taken, the guide got us in a small group and turned out the lights. The blackness was unbelievable. The eyes don’t adjust because there is zero light. In the days of Morrison and the Civilian Conservation Corps, men sometimes found themselves stranded in the caves with no light. Under those circumstances, there was no way out. They simply had to wait until someone found them.

Fifty miles west of Bozeman, Montana, near the town of Whitehall, the Lewis and Clark Caverns are some of the largest, most spectacular and well developed limestone cavern complexes in the western hemisphere. Now part of the Montana State Park system, it was named for the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which passed nearby twice but never saw the caves.

In winter, the 50 degree cave air mixing with the cold air outside creates an effect that looks like smoke coming out of the ground. 

The local Native Americans knew of the caves for centuries but there’s no indication that they ever went there.  It was considered a holy and forbidden place. If they ever explored it, they left absolutely no trace.  It was completely unknown to whites until its discovery by hunters in 1895, who were drawn to explore the mysterious ground smoke.

Subsequent to that, a miner and entrepreneur named Dan Morrison staked a claim to the land and began to explore the inside of the cavern. Working by the faint light of carbide headlamps and candle lanterns, he rigged 2,000 wooden steps and began leading eight hour tours through the caverns around the turn of the century. Some of the remnants of those steps and ladders can be seen in today’s tours.

The Northern Pacific Railroad sued over his stake, claiming the land belonged to them.  They won, but Morrison kept fighting them and leading tours up to his death in 1932 at age 80.

The railroad gave the land to the federal government and in 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps went to work. Working under many of the same conditions as Morrison had, they turned the caverns into what they are today. They widened passages and blasted the tunnel through which tours now exit. They also built steps or chiseled them into limestone to replace Morrison’s rickety wooden ones.  For safety, they laid an electrical grid to power lights and communications.  They also explored all chambers and hauled away tons of bat guano.

Steps inside the cavern

Steps built by the CCC showing you’re one mile high inside a mountain.

Today the caverns are part of a 3000 acre park of the same name.  There are campsites, hiking and biking trails, a visitor’s center, a store and  a cafe (summer only). Cavern tours are available from May 1 to September 30.

The tours are two hours long and can be strenuous. The altitude here is 5300 feet.  There is a long uphill walk to the entrance of the cavern, where you meet your guide. During the tour, you will ascend or descend 600 steps, slide through narrow tunnels between chambers and work your way around close passageways.  It covers about two linear miles and ends 200 feet below where you started. The temperature is 50 degrees year round.  Wear a sweater and good rubber soled shoes.  Also bring some water. If you are out of shape, extremely overweight or claustrophobic, you might want to skip this tour.  We’ve been on many cave/cavern tours and this one was probably the toughest one we’ve seen that’s open to the general public.

I would also take a flashlight or two. (Remember-Two is one and one is none.) The cave is wired with lights and communications systems.  The guide has radio contact with the Visitor Center at all times and checks in with them regularly.  But after being in that darkness for two minutes, I’d have my own backup with me.

A view of the park

Natasha in the Visitor Center parking lot. Check out the scenery. The caverns are inside the barren mountain on the right. The GPS coordinates for the parking lot are N45.838624, W111.866831. The hyperlinked numbers will take you to a Google map.

The rest of the park is breath taking (sometimes literally) and is an outdoorsman’s paradise.  There are no geocaches in the park, but there are a half dozen within a short drive and they are on the upper end of the difficulty scale.  If you’re looking for adventure caching, Montana is the place to be. More information and details about this cool place can be found on Montana’s state park website.

If you can’t get there in person, here’s a link to a great virtual tour inside the caves.

Rock on … Boris and Natasha

Our Top 10 Geocaches – #7

After a brief hiatus to get acquainted with our new granddaughter, the countdown continues.  This is a Pennsylvania cache from July 2005 called The Spooky Tunnel.

When people think of my native Pennsylvania, they usually think Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – urban areas.  In fact, most of Pennsylvania is heavily wooded and mountainous.  The Allegheny Mountains run northeast to southwest through the center half of the state.  Part of these mountains run through Somerset and Westmoreland counties and are called the Laurel Highlands.  This is the area where I grew up and it looks much as it did 200 years ago – trackless woods as far as the eye can see.

Through the middle of all this, the state built a four lane highway that would eventually run east-west from border to border – the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Modeled after the German Autobahn, it was the first high speed highway in the U.S.  Construction started in October 1938.  The first 160 mile section from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg opened for business on October 1, 1940.  Construction and expansion have been ongoing ever since.

The original design envisioned speeds of up to 100 mph. The road was designed to maximize straightaways and minimize curves and hills.  To do this, they built a series of tunnels through the mountains instead of going over them.  One of these was the Laurel Hill Tunnel.  Its story is told in the pictures that follow.

Laurel Hill Tunnel in the 1940's
A view of the Laurel Hill Tunnel in the 1940’s. It was originally designed and excavated as a railroad tunnel at the turn of the century but the railroad never got here. It was incorporated into the Pennsylvania Turnpike which opened in 1940 as the nation’s First Superhighway.

This rugged woodland is a geocachers dream.  It has everything from one star drive ups to five star expeditions.  Overlooking the long abandoned Laurel Hill Tunnel is the three star Spooky Tunnel geocache.  My son and I tackled it in July of 2005.  It was our first summer of geocaching.

The abandoned Laurel Hill Tunnel
The problem with the Laurel Hill Tunnel is that it only had two lanes and the turnpike had four. It became a two-ended bottleneck. Even in the 1940’s and 50’s, traffic jammed up at both ends. As cars and trucks became bigger and faster, the traffic got worse and the tunnel got more dangerous. There were horrific crashes in and around the tunnel during its years of use. By the early 1960’s, something had to be done. That something was to forget about 100 mph straightaways and build a six lane road over the steep mountain, bypassing the tunnel completely. The Laurel Hill Bypass opened in 1964. The now abandoned tunnel lay dormant for years. This a view from the early 1980’s.

The hardest part of the cache is figuring out which back country road goes to the parking pullout.  Once parked, it’s about 1/2 mile of bushwhacking to get to the cache.  There’s no trail and the summertime brush, the bugs and old barbed wire fences can be challenging. The cache itself is well hidden (at least it was) and the heavy overhead canopy can make the GPS go crazy.

Laurel Hill Tunnel
The abandoned tunnel served a variety of ad hoc purposes for 30 years after it was abandoned. It was used as a garage for maintenance vehicles, storage for road sand and salt and a police firing range. Up until the early 80’s, you could walk or bike through it. Around 2000, the tunnel became the scene of intense activity. No Trespassing signs were posted and the State Police patrolled it heavily. Structures resembling airlocks or decon stations went up along with barriers and satellite antennae. The whole thing was sealed off with no outward evidence of activity or occupation. People began to speculate about all the things that might be going on there. Department of Defense? Homeland Security? Nuclear waste?  Archaeological dig? Alien spacecraft?

You can’t miss the tunnel.  Just keep walking downhill and you’ll run right into it. The view of the tunnel from the cache site is awesome.  It’s completely out of place in this remote area but there it is, satellite antennae and all.

Spooky Tunnel
After years of speculation, the answer finally got out, thanks to the Internet. An engineering company that develops NASCAR racing technology bought the tunnel and turned it into a giant wind tunnel. They wanted to keep it quiet but you know how that goes. Now, they have a website that tells all. It’s pretty interesting. The place is strictly off limits but a geocache was placed above it in 2003. It’s still there. This is a geocacher’s view of the (Not So) Spooky Tunnel.

Anyway, we had a good time getting it and bagged several more in the same area that day.  As I’ve said before, some of my best days as a Dad were out geocaching with the kids and this was one of them.

BTW, if you’re interested in who is using the tunnel and what they’re doing, here’s the tell all website.

Cheers … The Cachemanian Devils

Our Top 10 Geocaches – #8

Picking out the 10 best is proving to be a challenge. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

#10 – Easy to Overlook, Tucson, AZ

#9 – Nuke on a Mountain, Sundance, WY

Tonight, we continue our Top 10 geocache countdown. The #8 slot is a find from July 2008 (during our honeymoon) called “The Caves of the Door Bluff Headlands.”

One of our favorite places to explore is the Door County peninsula in Wisconsin.  Located on the state’s eastern shore, it juts out into the lake like a little finger sticking out of a mitten.  The peninsula has Lake Michigan on the eastern side and Green Bay on the western side.  They meet at the top of the peninsula, where there are a number of islands.  The largest of these is Washington Island, a fishing community and resort town.  The strait that runs between the peninsula and Washington Island was called Death’s Door by the Potawatomi and Winnebago Indians and later by the Europeans. The winds, waves, currents and rocks of these waters have claimed everything from birch bark canoes to iron hulled steam ships along with the people in them.   This is where the county got its name – the shortened form of Death’s Door.  It’s famous for two things – shipwrecks and cherry orchards.  It has plenty of both.

The tip of the peninsula is called the Headlands.  It is heavily forested and weather beaten.  The dominant terrain feature of the area is the steep cliffs, about 40 feet high, which go right down to the water.  These bluffs are actually the exposed edge of the Niagara Escarpment, an elevated plateau that runs from upstate New York to Chicago.  Four hundred twenty miles to the southeast of this picture,  the Niagara River roars over the edge of this same escarpment, creating Niagara Falls.  There’s nothing like that here, but geologically, they’re the same.

The shore of the Door county headlands.
The Headlands, at the very tip of the Door county peninsula. This is the route to the cache, taken near the driftwood teepee as you come out of the forest. The GPS will have you at about a half mile away, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. You’ll be hiking all the way around the far point and beyond. Actually, hiking isn’t a good term. Picking your way along is a better description. The rocks can be treacherous. The day we were there, the sun was brutal. Wear a hat and soak it in the ice cold lake water to cool off. Drinking the water is not a good idea. Be sure to bring your sense of humor.

Rock fracturing and erosion have carved out caves in the bluffs.  They aren’t very far in and you don’t have to be a spelunker to retrieve the cache. The trick is finding the right one and getting to it.   So now you know why this cache is called The Caves of the Door Bluff Headlands.

This cache is a significant undertaking.  First, you have to find your way through the forest down to the shore.  There’s one trail that will get you there and lots of dead ends. There is no trail on the shore itself.  The entire walk to the cache is along the shore picking your way through talus rocks with shaky footing. There’s not one square foot of soft stable ground and it’s a slow grind. Make sure you wear stout shoes. Flip-flops not recommended!  Then you have to find the right cave and get to it,  which means climbing and entering.  The final phase is potentially the toughest – getting back.  The shoreline all looks the same so finding the one place where the trail leads back up into the forest can be tricky.  Fortunately, previous explorers have marked the spot with a huge driftwood teepee and others have added rock cairns.  The driftwood teepee is a key marker and we made our own stack of rocks to make double sure we knew where to head inland.  Take a good look around you when you break out on to the shore and stay oriented.  You’ll be fine.

A cave on the Door county bluffs.
The cache cave on the Door county bluffs. You have to come up from below.  Footing and handholds are critical when making your approach. Trees have very shallow roots and rocks give way easily. There are two very important rules in bouldering – keep three points of contact on the rocks at all times and don’t cross your feet. Move slow. Keep your center of gravity close to the slope. Test your hand and foot holds. No flip flops here either. Don’t let all this intimidate you. We were in our late 50’s when we did this one.

Give yourself several hours for this one and make sure you take water and sunscreen. A flashlight might be helpful too.  If you have some energy left, there are numerous other caches in the immediate vicinity.  They are much simpler.  This is the only one that requires you to negotiate the bluffs of the Door county headlands.

This link will open a Google Map of the area.

This link will open the cache description page on geocaching (dot) com.

Enjoy …. The Cachemanian Devils



National Park Service Passport Stamps

In 1986, the National Park Service rolled out a new program to increase interest in the parks.  Called NPS Passport, it succeeded beyond all expectations and is now in its 26th year with over 1.3 million passport books in circulation.  The program is actually administered by Eastern National, a non-profit organization chartered to provide educational materials and services to national parks.  Since their start up in 1948, they have contributed over $100 million dollars to our national parks and trusts.

Stamping the passport

Here’s a typical passport cancellation station. Stamp it on scratch paper first. Not all the stamps are out like this. Be prepared to ask for it or even explain what you’re looking for. Believe it or not, there are some people working the counter who don’t know about this. Also ask if there are any other stamps behind the counter. Sometimes those wily Rangers will stash one or two as part of “the game.”

Passport materials come in a variety of formats – small, large, children’s and more.  They cost money but it goes to the parks.   Every park has a free cancellation stamp that you put in your book like a visa.  Many of the parks have several.  Yellowstone alone has 23 scattered all over the park.  Overall, there are almost 400 parks with over 2,000 stamps spread out over their respective grounds.

The passport program is a great way to see the parks and satisfy your collecting obsession in a healthy way.  Throw in some virtual geocaches and earth caches (no traditional caches allowed in the parks) and you’ll have a full schedule. You’ll certainly see and learn things the average visitor will miss.  Again, Yellowstone is a great example of this.  In addition to the 23 passport stamps, it has over 50 geocaches that will take you just about everywhere in the park.  We’ve been there several times and still have lots to do.

In addition to the cancellation stamps, there are collectibles. Each year the National Parks Passport Program releases a set of ten full-color collector stamps. One of the stamps is a national stamp and the other nine highlight one park from each of the nine NPS districts.  They are sold in sets that change every calendar year and cost about 10 bucks.  This article has all the stamps listed from 1986 to 2013.

This program has really grown up and has a lot of different venues.  One of the things you’ll definitely need is a master list of the cancellation stations.  These can be downloaded off the web or there are now phone apps (of course) that can keep you up to date.  The i-Phone has a dedicated NPS Passport app.  Droid has a couple of options.  I use one called Chimani. Here is a link to a PDF file with a complete list of passport cancellation stations.

A page of an NPS passport

Here’s your prize – pages full of cancellations and stamps. This is out of the smaller edition of the passport. It fills up quickly. If you get into this like we did, you’ll start small and go to the big one with the zippered case. The ink for the stamps is supposed to be in different colors depending on the region it’s in. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out that way.

There are lots of websites and blogs with NPS Passport information. Just Google it.  For sure, you’ll want to bookmark parkstamps.org.  They’ve got master lists, master maps, NPS webcams and a whole lot more.

So get your passport, don your pith helmet and start exploring.

Your papers, please …. The Cachemanian Devils