Friday, May 8, 2009

Spring Break 2009 in Michigan!!

Although the snow had gone and the water it left behind has been soaked up and returned to the clouds here in NE Ohio, as my boys and I headed north to my hometown for Hunter's Spring Break Friday, April 10, we knew that the cold white stuff, which Hunter calls the S word, was still clinging to the ground in many places. I hoped Hunter and I would be able to get away and do some geocaching and I was very happy in the end with how many times we were able to do so, with more people than just us and our dog.

The first time we got out was Saturday morning with my mother in law. Linda wrote an article in my hometown's local paper about this high-tech hobby and was looking forward to going with Hunter and I. My sister Tiffany joined us as well. She surprised me with her arrival not long after I stretched my legs from the long drive. To read more about that, please see On Top of Mt. Laundry.
The first one I entered into Richard was at a local park and down a wooded path I didn't even knew existed there. Even though I grew up in this town, participated in 4-H events and played school softball in that same park, I never noticed the unmarked path behind the rectangular building at the back of the parking lot. After having been on this path now, I'm not sure I want it marked! It was an enjoyable walk with beautiful scenery...I don't think I want to share it with the tourists that travel here like lost bears to sweet honey.
Here are three members of the family I love. Tiffany is on the left, Hunter happy in the middle, and Linda on the right. We also brought our dog Kit and Linda's English Setter, Cody.

Behind us is the fenced area for the live stock and horse shows held during the annual Antrim County Fair held in August every year. I haven't attended that in such a long time....
To the left of that fence is the building I mentioned and behind that, the beginning of the walking path that just melts into the woods, barely noticable.

I remember the day was a bit chilly, but the sun warm on our faces. We started down the path with Hunter in charge of the GPS, but he soon handed it off to me, saying he wanted to enjoy the walk (really, he wanted to stim with his comfort toy). That was OK with me, at least he was outside getting some fresh air and vitamin D. I offered my handheld to my MIL, holding it with care like it was a slippery bar of soap even though it was hanging around my neck on a secure lanyard (it it breaks, I'll go nuts!). She turned me down because she wouldn't be able to see the small symbols and icons. My sister had her own handheld, so together we led our small party while the dogs zoomed ahead, behind and all around.

The woods we walked through weren't really all that thick. The sun was often seen above us, but it was still shaded enough along our way to allow the snow to hang on here a little bit longer. I did take pictures of the informational signs that were placed at the edges of the path, but I always take way too many pictures and I don't have enough room to include them here. I suppose I could write more....

I remember one spoke of the different kinds of trees in these woods and another told us of the deer and their struggles to find food in the winter. Hunter read them all out loud to us as we paused for each one.

I don't remember how long it took us to meander our way across the snow. I do remember Hunter was in the lead, way ahead at one point, and walked onto another path that we had to call him back on because the GPS was telling us to go another way.

The walk was a peacful one with the occasional hollar of my MIL to bring her dog around. Kit rarely strays far away from us. The small tinkling of the tags hanging on her collar told us she was close even when we couldn't see her 10 pound mostly white body only inches above the ground. With her short hair and much lighter weight, she seemed fresh from the groomers compared to Cody, who's beautiful long coat was hightlighed in mud and his back was even wet from his rolling fun in the snow.

We eventually arrived at a little creek that curved away from the path with a relaxing splashing and bubbling sound. Positioned perfectly was a weathered bench where Hunter rested his legs and Kit joined him after dipping her tongue in the cold creek.

We knew the cache was here somewhere. Our GPS's were telling us we were very close, but as we looked and wandered, we weren't finding it. I looked up the hint in my unit and, altough I don't recall it completely now, I remember it was about a stump. We looked around and saw many stumps, but the fun thing about geocaching is, that if you do it right, something that is unnatural will stick out like a black sheep among all the white if you know what you're looking for. Sometimes it's a small pile of rocks. Mother Nature doesn't often put a rock directly on top of another. She doesn't usually make a small teepee shape out of broken branches, and she definatley doesn't stick a pine bough into the top of a tree stump!

Hunter has a serious case of tunnel vision. He was right on top of it many times without seeing what was unnatural in the environment. His aunt and I had to play the hot and cold game to get him close. Then he saw it and was all smiles when he pulled from the shallow depths a camoflauged box.

We had missed it the first time because there were a lot of stumps to hide that size of a container. The stump it was in was right on the water line. We walked by it many times and Tiffany said this hide was the first one that her GPS didn't lead her exactly to. My GPS was off by about five feet or so. The margin of error can be up to 30 feet, depending on the weather and tree coverage.

As usual, there wasn't anything inside to get too excited about, except in Hunter's opinion. Any small item he can grab is great for him. Whatever amount we took out, we put back in from our purple velvet bag of geogoodies (we recycled the bag from my hubby's Crown whiskey)! Hunter closed the container and locked it back up. I double checked it to make sure it was water tight and watched Hunter as he tucked it back into the stump.

The return walk was just as enjoyable as the one there. We took our time with even Hunter leading in a more leisurly way. I could hear him laughing at the antics of Kit and Cody as they disappeared and returned in a large circle around us. Eventually though we had to reel them in as we got closer to the parking lot. If there had been other people on the path, our canine friends would have been on a leash. When no one is around though, let them run free. Both dogs know commands and even if my Miss Priss doesn't want to, she will obey. Once back to the vehicle, we entered into Richard the next coordinates, and we were off for one hunt more with Grandma and Aunt Tiffany!

The path we took this time was very well known to me. Pronounced differently by locals and strangers alike, Richardi Park was my hang out of choice while growing up. I would often ride my bike there in a swimming suit to jump into the dirty colored water. (When you're a kid, you don't question why it looks the way it does!) I should have taken a picture of the swimming hole with the old railroad bridge, converted into a paved walking path. in the distance. Even up against the naked trees and dead land between winter and spring, it's a pretty sight. That's not where the cache was, so I didn't take the shot.

The water of the swimming hole runs over to the side and down into the spillway. I fondly remember launching my inner tube among friends from the bank in the picture above. I'm not talking white water rapids here, but it was still a fun ride for laughing and shrieking girls. The river takes a bend and under the downtown bridge before another turn takes you under another bridge and past the marina my parents once owned. We never went that far because it was too long of a way to walk back!

My MIL and sister were talking together when I pause to take this picture. Hunter carried on in his own way. The path is open like this only near the spillway. Just beyond where Hunter walks is the woods, a smaller and not nearly as big area as where we had just come from that is only a good stones throw away from main street. From a bird's eye view, this patch of trees is just a small cirlce outlined by the river, the road and the park.

This path wasn't nearly as long as the other and there was much more zig zagging and bridge crossing going on. I remember crossing over one of these bridges with a girlfriend of mine when I was barely a teen and a boy had hidden underneath to scare us. I remember he was more annoying than scarey.

This cache was named after the small inn that backs up against the river in our small town. I remember Stone Waters Inn used to be a big house where a classmate lived, but many years ago it was remodeled to care for some of the many visitors our area gets in the warmer months. They also probably see their fair share of snowmobilers when it's cold.

Tiffany had actually found this cache during the Christmas holiday with her hubby. The terrain appeared different then and she was walking in front of me when I called a halt and said the cache was to the right. Just a few steps off the path we found a tree with a split down the middle; the perfect spot for a geocache!

Once again, Hunter wasn't paying attention to anything but his toys and whatever game or adventure was currently playing in his head. I called out to him to come check out this tree and he found the cache without delay.

I remember there weren't any TB's or coins in there and whatever else there was wasn't memorable. Hunter handed me the log and I signed our name, not surprised to see the name penned in before mine was tifranta, my sister! Many geocachers don't go out looking for a plastic box in snow that, in some parts, can be as deep as you are tall!

I know Hunter and I had a good time and I think the feeling was the same all around. My MIL was already looking forward to our return and doing this again, hoping that some of the finds we make are ones she puts out for her grandkids herself.


During a shopping trip to Travese City, my boys and I were joined by their Grandma M. If I'm remebering right, this hunt was her first of actually participating. We had tried another during the winter, but she stayed with the sleds and the smaller kids on the path while we had gone into the woods. Maybe if she had come with us, our luck would have been better that day! We'll be trying for that one again this summer. That's next month! Oh, my gosh!!
So, after we got done shopping, we headed to Kids Creek Preserve, which is hidden behind a Kohl's department store. Out of sight behind the store and in-between a service road and a parking lot is a nicely maintained stone path. After seeing this rocky way I decided not to pull out the stroller for Bryce. I no longer use my sling because he's gotten so big and wiggly. :(

The path soon turned from stones to a board walk with one bridge at each end taking us across a small trickling stream, Kids Creek. I wondered how many people even knew this was here? I only know now because I let my GPS lead me to places unknown, another great thing about geocaching! :) No one else was around so I let Kit and Bryce run free, keeping more of an eye on B than the dog! I really liked how the wood path had raised edges. It acted like a short containment wall that kept Bryce within its border, even when the boardwalk was level with the ground.

Devin also ran free, listening to the hollow thumping of his shoes on the wood. He saw me carrying Kit's leash and asked if he could walk her. I let Kit run free a little bit longer and then brought her in and clicked on the leash. Before starting off on the path we could see where the end came back around, so we were guessing it wasn't that long of a walk.

How many of you walk a toddler's pace? Try it some time. It made what would have been a ten minute walk for me one that was three times more enjoyable. Especially since I had my boys with me and got Kathy out there with us, too!

I remember the day being a beautiful one and am remembering now that I'm telling you of this hunt that I'm putting the two I did with Kathy and all three boys before the other ones we did. We traveled to T.C. the day before my boys and I headed back to Ohio. The end of our week long stay was much nicer than the beginning.
I had the GPS around my neck and watched that little arrow head point us along the path. The stone path at the beginning or our walk was the only part that would have been a struggle with the stroller. But Bryce did a great job keeping on the path and he probably would have been demanding to be let out of the stroller the first time we stopped anyway.

As we stepped closer and closer we all seemed to draw together...well, except Bryce! I said that the cache was around this area and Kathy started looking in the obvious place, under the boardwalk. She moved a little bit further down and announced the good news of another find for us, but her first! The boys ran to her and together they opened an ammo box. This box was the first container of its kind that I have found.

After signing the log and making the exchanges, Kath attempted to put it back where she found it, but I stopped her by emphatically whispering, Muggle! Those of us who could, assumed positions we thought looked normal for people just standing still in the middle of a walking path, until the woman on the cell phone passed by. Great work, guys!

On another hunt, here's Kathy, ready with the handheld to attempt one more find! The Grass River Natural Area has this sentence on its' homepage, Take it all in. Take a break, a class, a walk, a moment and visit.... That sums it up perfectly. I was going to go on a whole speel about rivers, streams and creeks, the trails, boardwalks and elavated observation platforms, the wildlife above, below and in front of you, the endangered and beautiful plant life, all together in a five and a half mile stretch of gorgeous earth, most of which is easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. Phew! Wonderful place.

Joining us on this jaunt were two of my three boys and Aunt Jennifer. Jennifer went with my sister, my dad and I on a previous hunt I've written about, back when I was up there over the Christmas holiday. She brought her little dog Romeo that day. Neither her dog or mine came along on this trip though. I couldn't remember if dogs were allowed, so we left them back at the house.

This day was also later in the week, so the sun was warm and the sky clear, just a perfect oppurtunity to spend it outdoors! Another reason to start geocaching! :p

The Grass River Natural Area is mostly under trees. It's a great place to be during the summer heat because there are more shaded areas then out in the sun. On the other hand, in the early spring, it's still mostly covered in snow! The parking lot and the beginning boardwalks were snow free, like in this picture, but as we walked deeper into the area, we felt like mountain goats, walking across a ledge on a mountain high above. Some piles of snow were at least as tall as Devn. Jennifer's left leg was gulped up once when she stepped off the path!

I think Grandma was really getting into this geocaching thing. She took charge of that GPS like an old pro! Walking the wooded boardwalk and finding exactly where to be was a bit hard. With the tree cover and the interacting paths, it took awhile for us to decide which path to choose and then where to start looking. We knew it would be under a boardwalk; we didn't want to take any steps off the path, possibly destroying plant life or loosing a shoe in the muck we could see among the trees. Can you see the cache in the picture above? That one was well camoflauged and in a nice container, but tucked underneath a bench in the shade made it hard to see.

The cache Dev is holding with his brother being his wonderful self behind him was one in the best shape I've seen. The box was a nice one that locked on all four sides and the camo tape was applied well. I don't know, but maybe the cache owner visits often to maintain it, but it was in great shape. I do remember this had a nature theme, or was supposed to anyway. There was nothing natural about the contents, but we left a couple of lizards behind.

This one on the left is typical of most caches, just a Tupperware container. Hidden under the boardwalk like the one we found in Kid's Creek, I don't recall anything I'd consider worthy inside, but when you're a kid and you see toys inside, it just makes your day! With their Grandma M. behind them, Hunter and Dev pose with their last find that day.

One last picture of Devin in front of the many creeks we crossed over in search for the elusive geocache. Clutched in his small hand is one of the treasures he traded for, in a box hidden in a nature center, only found thanks to a Global Positioning System!


A visit to my hometown wouldn't be complete without a stop at my sister Amanda's. She might disown me if I didn't bring myself and my boys her way. She stayed at the house with the smaller ones while I took Hunter, Rayne and Randi out. It was a beautiful day for it and I'm glad they were eager to go with us, even though they insisted on my GPS speaking in the Darth Vadar and C3PO voices.

Even though this isn't the first cache we did that day, it's the best picture of the three of them together. At first when we pulled into the roadside park on Lake Michigan, there was a car parked right where my handheld said we needed to be. Not just walking toward that area, but searching in that area.

So instead we put Kit on her leash and walked the other direction. It's not a very big park, a parking lot is more like it. It's not a state roadside park. Those in Northern Michigan are still closed. We had a cache in our sights in one of those parks, but the gates were locked. We walked on to the beach where I took the first picture and then slowly headed in the direction we needed to go. I was happy to see that by the time we came around to where the person or people in the car would see us, it was gone.

The GPS directed us to the shoreline where there was a long outcropping of rocks just off the water. While they searched among the rocks for a crevice to peer into, they played on the rocks and Rayne posed comically for my camera.

Randi was the one to call out the find and both Hunter and Rayne swarmed all over her. We took it away from the hiding place in case anyone saw us from the road. I signed the log and they sorted through the contents and eventually made a trade. Even though I said they didn't have to do it on each find, they insisted on taking something. This was the first cache I've seen hidden inside a tin of some kind. It wasn't rusty yet, but eventually it would become something ugly and hard to open. Keeping a cache maintained is why you should only hide them in your home area. I would love to hide one in my hometown, but I would have to depend on someone else to keep an eye on it for me. Not only do you need to keep it clean and dry, but hidden safely from Muggles who would steal or destroy it.

This next one was a huge disappointment. There were two no no's in this one. The biggest was that when we opened it, there were fruit snacks in there. Animals have great noses and a raccoon is stronger than you might think. I didn't trust those fruit snacks anyway, so they went directly into the trash bag I carry with me (Cache In, Trash Out, but also keeps suspicions off you!) The other no, no was it's location. It was a super easy find. The name of the cache was the name of the lake access point. If this hadn't been early April but in the heat of the summer, there was no way we could have tried for this one because it was five feet off the road, underneath the name of the sign for the public access point.

You can see the cache no problem. Not only because of the bright blue top, but because of the pile of wood that screams artificial. When a hiding spot is out in the open like that, you have to do a better job of camoflauging it.

Hunter did find a $5.00 Little Ceasars gift card inside. I'm not sure what became of it after that day though, so can't tell you if it was valid or not.

The one that gave us the most difficulty was a cache hidden far down a path off the same road as the roadside park we visited. Randi happily took Kit by her leash and Rayne set us on our course. She soon passed the GPS to me, however, as it jumped around a lot in those woods. The girls took my words about picking up garbage we found seriously. We hadn't been searching for ten minutes when my thin white plastic bag was bulging and heavy from many discarded and dirty cans and glass bottles they brought to me.

As I slowed down our pace and let Kit run free, we came to a wood plank set over just a small, short ravine. I thought this was it, but as we searched and searched, we didn't find anything. I switched screens on my GPS and watched the actual coordinates instead of the arrow icon. I was about to call it quites when I saw a pile of dead wood that caught my eye. GPS's aren't always exact, especially in the woods, and where we found the cache was probably 30 feet from where my GPS said it should be. Can you see the white lidded container among the wood in the picture on the left?

The last one I'm going to talk about was actually the first one we tried on that day, but our second attempt overall on this particular cache. We tried finding it back during Christmas break. I tend to repeat myself and I'll say it again, everything looks different buried under snow and this was the girls' first attempt at geocaching. It was also cold and windy off the lake like we were.
What we did find the first time however, was that large pile of bread. Do you remember? I looked in that spot when we first entered the woods this go around, but there wasn't any bread to be seen. We knew in what area to look and spread out. About ten minutes later, I heard Randi call out the find on my left. This cache was a memorial to a young girl who was murdered in the area back in the early 90's. The coordinates were way off, but we still should have found it the first try. This cache wasn't hidden at all, it was an actual memorial to this lost young girl, created with love and care. The plastic tub for the cache was placed behind the wooden cross. The kids turned somber as I read the dedication on the homemade stone; In God's Hands Heather E. Kleiber 12-10-1976 - 8/17/1990. There were handpainted wild flowers as well. When we opened up the cache, I was happy to find a dog themed geocoin. When I logged that I had picked it up, I included a picture of the coin with Kit. By doing so I fullfilled the goal the owner of the coin had stated; to collect pictures of canine geocachers.
Well, that was our Spring Break in Northern Michigan geocaching adventures. No, I'd rather not go to Florida. :P

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