Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year!

Your next adventure is already waiting for you, out there, somewhere.

Here's to an exciting 2014!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Model Trains at the RBG

Yesterday we headed to the Royal Botannical Gardens to meet some photographers we've met online.

While there we checked out an amazing model train display. Many of the trains were set up to weave through the plants.

I took some pics, here they are.  Enjoy (or not, really enjoyment is subjective, so all I can do is suggest you at least look at 'em and  let you make up your own mind.)

Oh... and there were plants there too...

Friday, December 27, 2013

[Insert Sappy Title Here]

[Comment on spending time with family during the holidays]

[Joke about the turkey]

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Caching In A Winter Wonderland

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a good ol' Canadian boy, born and raised. Snow was a big part of my upbringing for 33 years.

Now that I live in North Carolina I seldom get the chance to experience snow.

Fortunately a few days ago I was lucky enough to get the chance to get my boots into some snow again.  I jumped at the chance to go geocaching, and hiking, in the snow.

Geocaching in snow is different. Anything near the ground becomes hard to find.  My Find/DNF ratio went crazy - DNFing as many caches as I found, but I got to hike in the snow, so it was all good in the end. (In my defense, half the caches I DNFd were previously DNFd by others).

Here are some more photos of my adventure in the snow, starting with this picture of one of the trails I was hiking.
Clearly we're going to have to wait a little longer before playing hockey on this creek.
 When it snows, it helps to have signs to point the way.
Ahhh... a snowy Canadian is a happy Canadian. It is amazingly therapeutic to get snow on my boots again.

Have A Merry Happy Holiday

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Almaden Quicksilver Mine

The New Almaden Quicksilver Mine is nestled in the large hills to the southwest of San Jose California.

In the 1800s this mine was the most productive mercury (aka quicksilver) mine in the world.  Its strategic importance was so great than during the Civil War the Union army stationed forces nearby to ensure the mine did not fall under control of those sympathetic to the Confederacy.

The mine also produced the majority of the mercury used to process gold during the gold rush era.

The mine closed for good in the 1970s, however the land is currently a county park, and many of the old mining equipment, and mine shafts, are still there, waiting to be explored.

I did just that (the exploring part) last Sunday.  I was fortunate to have two local geocaching companions, SaSiCo and silverbeetle join me on this adventure.

There are many geocaches in the park, including a complex 3 stage earth cache called Mercury Rising (GC3NGTT), that was the main goal of our hike.

We started out our day at the mine museum to gather some information for the earth cache.  As soon as we entered the old house that houses the museum we were immediately identified as geocachers by a park ranger named Heidi.  She proceeded to talk for an hour about the history of the mine.  She seemed eager to inform, and she was amazingly interesting, so we were happy for the education.

Eventually we gathered the information we needed and headed a couple miles down the road to the trailhead.  We then had a 2 mile hike to the first waypoint for the earth cache, along trails that looked like this:
As you can see it was a perfect day for a hike - moderate temperatures, clear skies, slight breeze... tres fabulous.

After a couple short miles we arrived at one of the waypoints for the earth cache: the furnace used to process the ore and separate out the mercury. This particular furnace was built to increase mercury production for use in munitions during WWII.
After gathering the required information from the furnace site, we headed off to the final.  Along the way we were treated to alternating extremes of amazing views, like this one:
And closed in tree tunnels like this one:
Eventually we arrived at the final for the earth cache, the San Cristobal mine entrance.  This entrance (also pictured as the first photo above) extends 200ft into the side of a hill before its blocked by a gate - one presumes for "safety".   The following shot was taken of the mineshaft beyond the "safety" gate - it looks rather tight in there - not built for big guys like Yours Truly.

As it turns out we ran into a different park ranger at the mine entrance, and he gave us some more fascinating and useful information about the mine.

So with all of the information required for the earth cache in our possession, we headed off down the trails in search of further adventure, caches, and interesting things.  As it turns out we got all three.  As we were getting close to the end of the trail we noticed smoke coming from the hills "over yonder".  At first we thought it was just chimney smoke as there are residences around there, but we soon realized that the smoke was getting a) denser, and b) darker.  SaSiCo called the park office to report the smoke, and after a while they called her back to let us know that it was a truck that had caught fire.
We continued the hike, and grabbed a couple caches. 30ish minutes later, as we approached the parking lots, we saw fire trucks go by along the road.

That crisis averted, SaSiCo and I drove up to Bald Mountain to check out the views.  It was a 20 minute drive further into the mountains, and another significant(-ish) hike, but it it was well worth it.
If you're thinking what I am thinking (and really, since your reading this, you can just pretend you are), I could have taken this view all day.  But alas, daylight was coming to an end and it was time to return to civilization.

We drove off the mountain as the sun was setting.  We hit up the 7/11 for some celebratory slushies before going our separate ways.

This ends my adventures in California for this trip, but alas, I will be back, and I'll be bringing my GPSr with me.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Trip Around The Bay

One of the most striking geological features of Silicon Valley in California is San Francisco Bay.  I have been to silicon valley many times, but I have never driven around the bay.  On Saturday I changed that.

It is December, so the days are short.  To maximize my daylight I left at 7AM, when the sun first peaked above the horizon.  I started in Mountain View, and started heading south and then circled east.

The first two caches were right by the hotel, and were puzzle caches.  This was part of an attempt to grab a challenge cache of finding 3 puzzles in a day, one of which being 25 miles from the others.

I then drove to the south east corner of the bay in a town called Fremont.  There I did 9 caches by a caching team called Tattletales. All 9 of these caches ranked among the most creative caches I have ever done, and if you ever get a chance to do a Tattletales cache run, don't walk, to GZ. You will not regret it. I won't leave spoilers for the caches, but I will say that on top of great containers and interesting field puzzles, you get led to fantastic locations like this:
I then worked my way south to Suisan Bay, where there exists a ship boneyard.  That is a place where they store old ships that they may want to reuse some day.  Visiting this place has been on my bucket list for a while, so it was nice to grab a cache nearby to mark the occasion. It is always satisfying to cross off a bucket list entry.
I was on a role.  At this stage it was right around lunch time, and I had found 20 or so caches (my record for a day of non-power-trail caching is 27), so I was doing well.  Unfortunately I ran into a big o'rolling roadblock, namely this:

This train crossed my path - the only road out of the parking lot I was in - and stopped.  I waited 30 minutes before it moved forward a few cars.  Then stopped again.  A few minutes later it moved.... backwards (queue Charlie Brown: aaaaarrrrrrgh!).
(It wasn't a total loss since I used part of that time to find a cache, and part of the time to organize tomorrows grand adventure (stay tuned!)). Eventually it moved on, and I continued on only slightly demoralized.

My next major stop was Benicia State Park, where I found my third puzzle of the day, making it a two-log cache (one for the puzzle, one for the challenge).  As a bonus I got to go on a 3 mile hike in the park in grasslands like this:
Oh, and the puzzle cache was my 28th cache for the day - so new record. Spiffy!

I was behind schedule, so I decided to skip some planned caches and simply drive around the northern end of the bay. 

I crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge  and headed into San Francisco to check out the local scenery there.

My goal was a cache near an oceanic musical instrument.  It is a wave organ, which is a series of pipes that capture the sound of the sea and pipe them up, well, pipes, so one can listen to em whilst on dry land.  Kinda cool.

The wave organ is located on a fairly long jetty, that also features a lighthouse type device:
Since I was close to sundown I decided to hang out on the jetty and watch the sun go down over the Golden Gate Bridge.  I sacrificed a few possible finds, but with a view like this (not pictured, sounds of the waves crashing upon the shore, dogs running around, and hipsters hipstering), who really cares :)  Caching is about destinations, and this my friends is one heck of a destination.
I was on a deadline tho, so eventually I moved on.  The deadline was a party for work held in deYoung Museum (in Golden Gate Park, which is oddly not by Golden Gate Bridge).  

So I spent the next few hours of art, sushi, dancers, rum'n'cokes, pretzels, and shaking hands with SVPs, I found myself outside signing a log book.
(really, this is my natural place anyway - and in my defense I was there with one of the planners of the shindig).  Afterwards I headed back to the hotel, completing a 360 one day whirl-wind tour of the bay.

Oh, and my final find count was 31 caches (we won't mention the DNF).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Walk The Plank

Last week I was in Mountain View California on a business trip.  While I was there, during my free time and thanks mainly to a co-worker/geocacher named SaSiCo, I had a metric crapton of adventures.  They kept me so busy that I did not have time to blog them as they happened so now I am playing catch-up.

This is one of those adventures.

Near the office is a nature reserve called the slough.  I mentioned it on the blog a few times. This reserve consists mainly of large ponds surrounded by miles of berms with paths on them. These berms extend out into the northern parts of San Francisco Bay. This area is home to a huge number of birds.  As you may expect, it is also host to many geocaches.

We arrived at work right at sunrise, so we could maximize our time before hitting the office for our day jobs.  We grabbed some gBikes (don't worry, we're allowed) and biked off down the trails.

One of our goals was to grab a muti-cache called "Walk The Plank".  It involves walking out on these rather narrow networks of catwalks placed so the power companies can gain access to the overhead power lines without having to slog through the ponds.  The first stage of the cache involved walking out on one of these gangplanks.

The temperature was just below freezing and there was a frost layer covering the planks.  Anyone familiar with such conditions will know that wooden walkways are quite slippery, so I walked gingerly out to GZ, grabbed the coords, and carefully walked back without incident.

Along the way to the final we took a detour and biked out to the farthest point into the bay that these berms allow.  Along the way we grabbed a couple more caches.
On the way to the final we had to cross a long wooden walkway.  It was below freezing, and there was a layer of frost on the planks.  Anyone familiar with such situations will know that frosty wood is really slippery, so we gingerly crossed, but managed to make it to the other side without any major incidents.
Once on the other side it was a quick ride to the final, and another trip out over the frosty catwalks to ground zero.  I soon raised my hands in victory.
With my signature on the log, we headed back to work to get some well deserved breakfast.  This was a great way to spend a morning of geocaching with a co-worker.

Note:  You may notice that this post contains many more pictures of Yours Truly than is normal.  This is thanks to SaSiCo, my partner in crime on this adventure.  My thanks and ginormous geo-grins to her for documenting this adventure in photos for me.

As you may have guessed, I had a few more adventures waiting to be documented.  Stay tuned to this space for updates coming soon.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt: 2013 Autumn Edition

The following are my submissions for the Autumn 2013 edition of the +Chrysta Rae's Photography Scavenger Hunt:

The hunt works like this, We are given 10 categories, and 2 months to shoot them in.  At the end everyones photos are revealed, and the winners announced.  500 of the finest photographers compete in the hunt so competition is fierce.

You can see my previous hunts here.

Category: Trick (all submissions)

The typical trick performed by every magician... just don't ask where Indiana Jones got the stormtrooper helmet from.

Category: Creepy (all submissions)

Seems legit...
Category: Gold (all submissions)

Whats a scavenger hunt without a good heist?
Category: Mummy (all submissions)

Little known fact, but Stormtroopers are notorious pranksters.
Category: Portrait (all submissions)
This category could be anything, except it had to have one of the subjects sitting.  This happy couple seemed satisfied with the results.

Category: Pumpkin (all submissions)

Life in the jack-o-lantern mines.
Category: SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera (all submissions)

This category could be anything, except that no processing could be done.  The pixels that get submitted are the same pixels that came straight from the camera.  The one exception was we were allowed to crop.

I had a camera that died due to moisture exposure (read about it here: Downpour!) so I decided to modify that camera to get a shot that is both figurative and literal.
Category: Stuffed (all submissions)

Thanks to XKCD for the idea.
Category: Thankful (all submissions)

I am thankful someone is cleaning up this mess!
Category: Trick (all submissions)

There is an age old saying: "never meddle in the affairs of Indy, for his is subtle, and quick to anger".

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Night Caching In San Jose

On Wednesday evening I did some night caches in San Jose with some local Californian geocachers SaSiCo and silverbeetle.

Night caches are always fun as the combination of dark and reflectors means the opportunities to hide caches in unique ways is dramatically increased.

This is the first time I've done a night cache in an urban (well, suburban) area.  Usually they are deep in the woods, and involve following reflective tacks along a path.  This cache was more like a multi-cache where each stage provided either a container with the coordinates, or a puzzle to obtain the coordinates.  6 stages of fun.

It also had a unique aspect that I have not previously encountered, which was the use of UV lights to hide interesting numbers, like these ones (most significant bits obscured to avoid spoilers):

The one downside of night caches is the lack of light when you need to see the details on things.  Some geocachers use headlamps, but I just prefer to get good at juggling flashlights.
 The final was a fantastic field puzzle that would be worth a fav point all on its own.  With some teamwork silverbeetle and I made short work of it.

We had so much fun doing this cache that we headed off to do another one nearby. This second cache involved following tacks along a path, but the path was beside a mall, so it still had an urban feel to it.

Night caches are fantastic good fun, and if you ever get a chance to do any, I highly recommend giving it a go.