With the new year beginning, it was time to start getting back into shape - to get out there on the trail and start hiking again. It had been a very long time since our last day hike (which was back in November 2009), and we were going to pay dearly for our laziness.
In the tradition of New Year's weekends past, John and I chose to hike the Pine Creek Loop, a three-mile loop hike that begins at the Ballentine Trailhead, on SR 87. The Pine Creek Loop is one of those great day-hikes for days when we just can't give up a whole day for hiking - and that is usually our story during the New Year's weekend. With John being a payroll manager, New Year's usually means running end-of-year payroll, diagnosing problems, dealing with major payroll system conversions, and so on. And this year was no different: John worked during the entire New Year's weekend.
In need of a break from the meetings and tests, John announced that we should go for a hike on Saturday. When I mentioned that Mary already had plans to spend the night at Zoey's house on Friday, he said, "Well, let's invite Zoey to go with us!"
And that was when he came up with a great idea: we could let Zoey hide a new geocache! She had always wanted to hide a geocache, ever since we first took her geocaching with us; this was the perfect opportunity. Appropriately, "Mary's Cache" - our first geocache - is hidden on the same trail. Moreover, I had given John a new GPS - a Garmin Oregon 300 - for Christmas, and this would be our first geocaching mission with the new device.
On Saturday morning, we got off to a slow start. John stayed up late, working, the night before; and the girls didn't get to bed until 11:00 p.m. The result: we were all a bit lethargic in the morning. We had asked the girls to be at our house at 8:00 a.m.; they didn't arrive until 8:15. When they finally made it, it was another half an hour before we could tear John away from the Wii: he had become addicted to Lego Star Wars. If the girls weren't so hell-bent on going hiking, we probably would have stayed there all day, watching him play. But eventually, we tore him away from the gaming console to leave for the trailhead.
We left the house at 8:45 a.m. and arrived at the Ballentine Trailhead around 9:30. Since we were getting such a late start to our day, we arrived to find that there were already several cars parked there, and the morning chill was just starting to burn off - it was going to be a warm and beautiful day. We did not, however, start hiking right away, because John had realized that he forgot to load the GPS coordinates for all of the geocaches - mainly the ones that we had already found - on the Pine Creek Loop. He sat down, next to the 4Runner and manually input them from his iPhone Geocaching application into the Oregon 300. Then, once he had them all in the GPS, it was time to go.
We started hiking around 9:45 a.m., and right away - within the first quarter of a mile - we started searching for our first geocache; we quickly aborted that search, though, when we discovered that the cache was on the other side of the fence, next to the highway. (If we had time, we would look for it after the hike.)
Halfway between that cache and the location of Mary's Cache - about four-tenths of a mile between both - John began to look for an appropriate place to hide Zoey's Cache. He found just the right place, about fifty feet off of the trail, next to a boulder that overlooked Camp Creek. Hiding the ammo canister took some work, though; it was too big and bulky to hide in the rocks on the side of the boulder that faced the trail, so he hid it on the other side. Then, to make sure that no one "muggled" the container, he used small rocks to completely conceal it. Finally, he marked the location on the GPS, so that he could later publish the coordinates to Geocaching.com.
With Zoey's Cache hidden, it was time to move along to our next objective: maintaining Mary's Cache, which was four-tenths of a mile away. Since I had never seen Mary's Cache (I wasn't with them when they hid it, in March 2007), John handed me the GPS and told me that I needed to find it. According to a recent log on Geocaching.com, the last person to find Mary's Cache reported that it was no longer concealed well...and as we approached the site, I was able to locate it right away. It wasn't hidden very well after all.
To maintain Mary's Cache, we removed the cache container - a cylindrical cookie tin - from the tree in which it was hidden then opened it up to check its contents. We made sure that there were plenty of sheets left in the log, that there wasn't any trash inside of it, and that everything was dry. Despite a little bit of rust around the edge, the cache appeared to be in great shape, even though it had been out there for nearly three years. We then dropped one of our new travel bugs into it and placed it back into its hiding place, making sure to cover it up completely.
From Mary's Cache, it was another half-mile hike to the junction with the Ballentine Trail; ten years earlier - on New Year's Day 2000 - John and I had hiked the Ballentine Trail during a cold winter storm. It wasn't snowing on us - not like that one Easter Sunday in 1999! - but it certainly was cold enough that day for snow! How nice it was now, to be hiking during the same holiday weekend, under a bright, sunny sky, with temperatures in the 70's!
After we passed the trail junction, John set the GPS to look for two more geocaches, which had been hidden along the Pine Creek Loop Trail since his last outing there. One of the two caches was located next to a rather large saguaro cactus, about fifty feet off of the trail. The other cache was on the other side of the high point along the trail, again about fifty feet off of the trail. John found both of these caches without our help.
There was one more geocache to be found along the Pine Creek Loop; this one was about a half of a mile from the trailhead. For some reason, this one was marked as "not found" on the Geocaching application on John's iPhone; but as we approached the site, John knew right away that he had already found that one and logged it.
"This is a good one," he told me, handing me the GPS. "You need to find it."
Indeed, this one was a clever hide. The idea behind the cache was to inform cachers about nurse trees. As I looked for the cache, I asked Mary and Zoey if they knew what a nurse tree was. When they said no, I explained to them that, when saguaros begin to grow, they need the protection of a nurse tree - typically a palo verde tree - to help keep them safe until they are tall enough to thrive on their own. At that time, the saguaro will actually kill off the nurse tree, by absorbing all of the nutrients from the surrounding soil and leaving the nurse tree with none. Sure enough, I located the cache between the young saguaro, which was about seven feet tall, and the palo verde tree that was its nurse tree.
And the girls got a science lesson and they didn't even know it!
At 12:30 p.m., we finally finished our three-mile hike on the Pine Creek Loop. By that time, we were very hungry; we had not planned to be out on the trail that long, so we didn't pack a lunch - only snacks. John suggested that we stop at the Applebee's in Scottsdale on the way home, to treat the girls for hiking so well that morning. Then, afterwards, we took Zoey home.
Later that night, Zoey's Cache was successfully posted to Geocaching.com! With that, John explained to her, came the great responsibility of maintaining that cache, which meant that she would have to come with us the next time we hiked the Pine Creek Loop. I think she was happy to hear that!
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