We had caught the geocaching bug out in Colorado, when we were working at Chalk Creek Campground. Our co-workers Joe and Sandi we very involved in the activity, and we thought we would like to try it. Once we found our first few caches, and found the awesome, out-of-the-way spots some of the caches were hidden in, we were hooked as well.
I've been asked many times by people what geocaching is, how it works, and what gps device we use. Well, first Sandi had me sign up at the official geocaching site, creating an account and setting up my geocache name (we are "moseycat", so if you see that in a log book, we've been there!). You can click on the "learn" tab, and go to "geocaching 101" and learn all about this hobby. Basically, it's like a scavenger hunt where you have gps co-ordinates to guide you to "ground zero (gz)", where you find a cache, log your find in the logbook and online, and possibly trade for some "swag" (small items left in the cache by others, that you trade for with something of your own. Swag can be anything, I like to find small keychains and magnets from places we've visited to leave behind. There are also items called "travel bugs",(otherwise known as trackables) that are numerically coded items that are moved from cache to cache and tracked online by their id number. Some travelbugs have specific missions, set by their creator, to travel to a specific area. Others just want to be moved around anywhere. These are the very basics of caching, and you can get the complete discussion back on the website.
Oh, and we don't use any fancy gps device, we just use the Geocaching app for the iphone. I usually use the maps online to pick out caches in the area we're going to, then create a list in the app and download the co-ordinates for the selected caches. If I haven't thought that far ahead :-), you can also use the "find nearby geocaches" function in the app, and so long as you have cell service, it will show you all the caches within a certain radius of your current location. We have found that it uses a lot of battery power, so we do have an extra battery case that we carry with us when we're caching.
Last summer I had been chatting with Sandi and she was telling me about a GeoTour that she was working on. GeoTours are series of caches with a common theme, quite often showcasing a particular area, history, or scenery. Sandi was working on completing the Colorado South Park GeoTour, as she was working at Chalk Creek again that summer. It sounded interesting, so I looked it up to see if there was one close to us in Bar Harbor Maine. There is one called the State Parks of Maine, but the caches were spread all over the entire state, and as anyone who's been to Maine, you know its a pretty big state :-). So I looked and saw there is one in Florida, called Taking Flight, and was located in the Bradenton area. Cool! I thought it would be fun to do, and decided to take a few days during the winter, set up camp and go caching. Luckily I found a site in Manatee Lake State Park that was open for a few days, and I pounced on it...anyone trying to get winter reservations in a Florida State Park knows you have to pounce!
So, last Wednesday we packed up some food, clothes and the dogs, and headed down to Bradenton. Of course, being us :-), nothing goes that easily! the weather was not great, and storms were rolling in for the afternoon. We had hoped to get a jump on them, and headed out just after lunch to pick up the coach from the storage facility (we have nowhere on our property to store the coach for the winter months, so it's in a storage lot just about five minutes from the house). It just started to sprinkle as we arrived, punched our code into the access gate, the gate started to open, and then came to a grinding halt. Apparently, the chain had jumped the tracks and the gate was stuck closed. And it started to rain heavily. All I could do was shake my head. The manager did everything he could to get it going (in the deluge) but eventually had to give up and wait for the gate company to come and repair it. It took about an hour and a half before we could get in, but I do believe things happen for a reason, and during that time it stormed quite heavily and then passed inland. It actually saved us from driving through such bad weather, and we managed to get down to Lake Manatee, checked in and set up in our site, before the storms moved into the area. So all's well that ends well!
Lake Manatee State Park is really nice. The sites are quite spacious, with plenty of native vegetation providing a good amount of privacy. It was a bit tight getting into our site, with some low hanging branches on the driver side, and those lovely palmettos on the passenger side, but with some zigging and zagging he slipped it right in. Utilities are 30amp electric and water, with a dump station in between the two 30 site loops.
As I had written above, I downloaded the caches for the Taking Flight GeoTour into our iphone. There are 15 caches, and to claim the "reward" you need to find 12 out of the 15 caches. One cache we wouldn't be able to find, as it's only accessible via kayak, and we have the dogs with us for this event. Another one is in a preserve that is only open on Saturdays, so we wouldn't be able to get that one either. So that leaves us with 13 possible finds over the two days.
The Taking Flight GeoTour was created by Manatee County Natural Parks and Natural Resources Department, and highlights Manatee County's natural spaces and bird life. The 15 caches are all in preserves or county property such as boat landings. You have to download a "passport" from the County website, and there's a specific task to be done or questions to be answered at each cache, and logged onto the passport. Once 12 of the 15 caches are completed on the passport, you can have it validated at the offices in bradenton to receive your reward.
After a hearty breakfast Thursday morning, we packed our lunch bags and headed out. It was cloudy, but not too cool and not raining! Our first stop was to be at the Robinson Preserve. We could see as we entered the parking area that it was a popular area, with many cars and people in the area. We would have never realized this spot was here, either, if we hadn't had gps co-ordinates to get us there :-).
We headed off on one of the trails towards ground zero. There are several miles of trails in the preserve, as well as 5 miles of kayaking, bicycle trails, wildlife viewing, and a small tent camping area.
The vegetation along the trail was beautiful.
The co-ordinates led us to the observation tower, where we had our first task: on the passport we had to log the date and time of our visit, and use the tide charts to determine what level the tide was and whether it was incoming or outgoing.
After climbing the tower and seeing the awesome boardwalks heading further into the preserve, we decided to circumnavigate the preserve, even though we had already found the cache :-).
This fellow was posing very nicely for a picture. Someone said he was a night heron, but I don't know??
The preserve is a salt marsh, as well as mangrove forests and coastal uplands habitats.
We made it to the beach area
Sherry, here's a big tree for you to hug!
Calm kayaking areas
I also saw these guys, but don't know what they are either. I'm hopeless with bird identification.
I think this little guy peeking at us is a juvenile great blue heron.
The sun started to peek out at us here.
Honey was enjoying her walk immensely. We're so pleased that she is fitting right into the family.
At this point it had started to sprinkle again, after we had enjoyed our lunch at the screened gazebo in the preserve. We continued on searching for caches. There was a second one here at Robinson Preserve, then we moved down the road to a different preserve, Riverview Point Preserve. This is where I took the picture of Honey. This cache involved two different set of co-ordinates, where we found clues for the second cache site at the first site. This cache was about the prescribed burns that are done down here in Florida, and how it revitalizes growth in the habitat. A side bar here, in this same area is DeSoto National Memorial. I did not know about this park, and did not have my National Parks Passport book with me to collect a stamp; so, we will have to return one day :-)!
The next two stops were in preserves that are currently being restored, so you can't actually go into the preserves. The caches are hidden outside by the entrance however, and it was nice to see active evidence of the county working so hard to preserve it's natural areas.
The next cache on the list was on Anna Maria Island. It was getting pretty cool and drizzly at this point, but we persevered on with our quest. If you've never been over to Anna Maria Island, be warned of lots of traffic and little tiny streets! It was one of those areas that was making my head spin in all directions, just like our drive through Pigeon Forge Tennessee did :-). Lots of touristy souvenir shops, beachy restaurants, beach motels and tons of beach house rentals. It was SO touristy it was cute, if you know what I mean. We didn't stop anywhere except to collect the cache, as there simply wasn't anywhere we COULD stop with the dually!
Once we successfully traversed the island and its incredible traffic, we headed for our last catch of the day before heading back to the campground. This was sadly an unsuccessful find for us, as we couldn't find the catch anywhere. This left us with no margin of error for the second day of caching; we would have to find all six of the remaining caches in order to claim our reward. And as this post is a bit long at this point, I'll leave the second day of our Taking Flight Geotour for another day!