Monday, April 24, 2017

A Night at the Museum (GeoTour continued)

The second half of our Smithsonian Adventure found us leaving bustling downtown DC and heading to the mountains of Maryland. The dashboard reads 76 degrees and the sun is shining into the car. Unlike home, everything here is lush and in bloom. I really wish I know what those purple flowering trees are -- they are all over the mountains and DC.


MARYLAND

By Sunday, we had completed five Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area Geotrail geocaches. That leaves eight to leisurely retrieve on Easter morning. We realized there was no rush as the Frederick Visitor Center is closed for the holiday (but later TaGeez pointed out we could pickup our coins in Antietam, too).  

First stop is the Point of Rocks Train Depot. "Built built in 1875 by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O)–the charming Victorian station is on the National Register of Historic Places." (National Parks). POR found itself in the middle of a battle during the Civil War.

Photographing into the sun

Luckily, the HCWHA puzzle was easy, and we had the smiley in hand. Also in this same parking lot were two traditionals (one is my 7500th find and the other was our first DNF).

Can't keep a good man down!

History, history everywhere on this trail...

Monocacy National Battlefield is much quieter these days
Confederate Graves at Mt Olivet Cemetery

Parents of Francis Scott Key - Mt Olivet Cemetery

The view from Historic Middleton

Much to our surprise we found a Michigan Historical Marker in a Maryland field!

Fox's Gap

Stepping away from the historic marker and a nearby memorial, we headed to the HCWHA - Fox's Gap GC6NP7M where we discovered....

HOLY SMOKES WE FOUND THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL!



This was a first for all three of us. Each of us had to pose with the sign and the white blaze.

I could walk the Appalachian Trail. 528 feet at a time!

This was the first of 3 instances our toes touched the magnificent trail, and Shelley met some Trail Hikers! She also explained "Trail Magic" -- random acts of kindness for through hikers so we kept granola bars on hand.


FINALLY!

Our second AT touch was at historic Dahlgren Chapel, located at the summit of Turner's Gap in western Maryland between Middletown and Boonsboro. The AT runs right next to it.

Dahlgren Chapel GCV4Q2

We wound our way down and completed the HCWHA in Antietam. After a delightful conversation with a ranger at our final cache at the Newcomer House, we headed to the visitor center to seek our rewards.

Antietam Battleground Visitor Center

Unlike many geotrails, you do have to pay for the commemorative geocoins, but we felt $10 each was minor for such an awesome souvenir! We paid for them in the gift shop as well as new hiker medallions for our walking sticks. If you go, don't forget to bring your National Park passport for stamping.

Front and back of the HCWHA geocoins plus commemorative path tag

AND WE'RE AT IT AGAIN

Funny thing happened here. We were pulling out of the Antietam Visitor Center and heading towards town when I pulled up the geocaching app - DOH! There was a cache INSIDE the Visitor Center! Shelley did a quick turnaround, and I headed in to the desk. 

What's this? Another code word?

HEY! Another geotrail! Twenty caches will earn another coin and path tag after completing the Washington County Geotrail. We have a day left of vacation... a full tank of gas... it's bright out. Let's go! The only down side - bummer - the caches are located in the same towns we've been driving through over the last day.

For future finders, if you are in town for one of these geotrails, try to do all three as they're in the same area: Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, Washington County Geotrail, and the Hagerstown City Parks geotrail. You can pick up your geocoins and path tags for all three at the Hagerstown Visitor Center.

The WCG, like the HCWHA, featured vineyards, general stores, potteries, historical centers, bridges, heritage museums and cemeteries. By now, historical markers were like dandelions -- they are so abundant you forget to notice them after awhile.

Devil's Backbone GC4EFW1

Look what we found again!

Okay. For all cache hiders, let's talk about terrain. Rule of thumb: if you expect finders to hike 800 feet up hill on the side of a mountain and then hike .2 down a mountain, locate & sign a cache while precariously balancing on an incline like a billy goat... that is not a 1.5 terrain.



Luckily the view from the Washington Monument in Washington Monument State Park was worth it!

Setting sun made it impossible for a great picture

Power down and go outdoors

That final night we went to dinner and grabbed some WVTim caches in Martinsburg. We had intended to hunt for more, but the taste of the geotrail had gripped us. 

The final day of our adventure dawned a gray, drizzly day. That didn't deter us. We headed up, up, up!



Vineyard down below



Our twentieth find was in Historic (are you getting tired of that word yet?) Rose Hill Cemetery. A good puzzle, another smiley, and lo! The rain finally stopped!

We completed another!
Scrapcat, TaGeez and ShelleyJean

The ladies at the Hagerstown Visitor Center were absolutely lovely. They left such a friendly final impression. We bought our coins, collected our complimentary path tags, and stocked up on candy for the ride home. 

Washington County GeoTrail geocoin and path tag

FLIGHT 93 MEMORIAL - SHANKSVILLE, PA

We had considered stopping at the Flight 93 9/11 Memorial on the way into DC, but then saved it for the last day. 

The rock in the middle of the field was the final crash sight

I've been to many memorials but never so moved. It was so personal because I remember where I was the first time Katie Couric interrupted the normal segment on the Today Show in a shocked, confused voice saying a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. To hear it broadcasted again in the Visitor Center rocked me.

Very moving exhibit in the Visitor Center

To re-live the crash investigation, the conspiracy theories. To see the makeshift memorials reconstructed from those first days and hearing about those amazingly brave people who stayed calm and stood up to tyranny.  



Every facet of this memorial was brilliantly thought out. As ShelleyJean said, it gives great comfort that there were so many people visiting today, not letting this be forgotten. We left the Visitor Center, passed the burgeoning orchard, and went down to the crash site. The debris field was enormous.

The wall of names on the left
Visitor Center up on the hill

I think God wanted to extract us from our solemn mood. Right before hitting the freeway towards home, we crossed paths (finally) with one of the Muffler Men! This one in Kittanning, PA! We swerved to take a picture for our good friend, SCOOK, back home.




INDIANA UNIV, PA

Final detour on our adventure led us to a webcam and a Virtual in Indiana, PA.  Fitting to the rest of the trip, the large rock before us in the picture was a memorial for 9/11. Directly behind it (out of frame) is a piece of the debris from the World Trade Center.



And after finding our Pooka in the town center, we turned to home. Another amazing memory in the books.

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Only official GeoTours are listed on Geocaching.com. If you are looking for Geotrails with Rewards there is now a Facebook group for that!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Day at the Museum (GeoTour)


Easter weekend found TaGeez, ShelleyJean and I on the road again. This time we headed to Washington DC to enjoy the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Geotour and all the wonders in between! This geotour features 9 geocaches ranging from puzzle caches in a Pennsylvania forest and a Virginia nature preserve to the Natural History Museum in downtown DC.


PENNSYLVANIA

First stop was the Carbaux Reservoir in the Michaux State forest in Pennsylvania. It's known for its mountain drive (altitude over 2100 feet), winding country roads through a tall forest, and rattlesnakes. Wish I had known that before I reached my hand under that hollowed tree; luckily, we didn't cross paths (knowingly) with the local inhabitants.

Scrapcat seeking in a Pennsylvania woods
(source: Thank you ShelleyJean)

After taking pictures and signing the log, we turned the car towards Washington DC. Much to my joy, we crossed paths with many historic towns including Gettysburg!

ShelleyJean on the covered bridge
We've been to Antietam, and I thought Gettysburg would be the same, but Gettysburg was much, much bigger (and crowded). Our limited time there didn't do it justice, but we did stop at this beautiful covered bridge, the Gettysburg Memorial, over Little Round Top and ended at the Pennsylvania Civil War Memorial.

At the base of Little Round Top

Pennsylvania Civil War Memorial

Gettysburg is worth a second visit. I would like to visit the National Cemetery next time. After leaving Gettysburg, we headed southeast to DC. Along the way, we made a number of stops along a second geotrail: the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area (HCWHA) geotrail. These thirteen stops were perfectly nestled within the boundaries of the NMNH tour and our final stop in Martinsburg, WV.

Union Mills Homestead

Stops included cemeteries, historic mills and residences, sites of historic battles, and old railroad depots, and everything included a marker.

ShelleyJean for the find

Shriver Homestead Vertical Sundial

WASHINGTON DC

Last stop for the night was our second Smithsonian find.. imagine our surprise when our headlights flashed upon this!



It’s the end of Day #1, and we’ve been on the road for 17 hours. It’s actually only an 8 hour drive from Detroit, but this is “geocaching physics”…. (Average Drive Time x the Number of State Border Crossings)/Number of Days Traveling = Number of Hours Caching…. You get the idea. We never get there in the time Google Maps estimates. After the Dino Park, it was dinner at G M Crab and then my favorite hotel, the Staybridge in McLean.



Day two found us bright and early at the Smithsonian National Museum for Natural History. 


TaGeez (with his broken leg) toddling along on with his jolly trolley

ShelleyJean and Scrapcat on Madison Drive

By the time the museum opened (get there early - trust me!), we had found four more NMNH puzzle finals and started two Earth caches.

Scrapcat and TaGeez's obligatory
Washington Monument picture

Look! We found a bigger head than ours!
Dum Dum Gum Gum

The line wraps around and back on itself. Luckily TaGeez and his jolly trolley reserved a spot in line early. Soon we were inside to see our old friend again.


I'm sad this is blurry, but you can't miss our smiles
TaGeez, ShelleyJean, and Scrapcat

The Earth Caches were hard -- obviously written by PhDs. The cache page descriptions were even longer than a RayQix cache page. All three of us started working them weeks before the trip. Then we spent hours before and during the museum opening reading every sign (and even visiting the Oceanography exhibit). After debating and Googling for another hour in the courtyard of our hotel, we agreed upon our 11 answers and submitted them. It was a relief receiving a quick reply the next day from Dan of the Smithsonian confirming our answers as correct. 




ALEXANDRIA, VA

Our last stop in the Smithsonian tour is Alexandria, VA, and we had to race there to beat the clock. This one was the last and the hardest to find (because the previous hiders camouflaged it very, very well). The day included 80 degree weather, sunny days, and lots of Muggles enjoying the first real sign of Spring. Perfect last stop on this leg of the geotour.

TaGeez, Scrapcat and ShelleyJean
The Smithsonian geotour was fabulous because the caches were (mostly) accessible for TaGeez and his broken leg. It was also an amazing effort between Shelley's puzzle solving, my route mapping, and TaGeez overseeing the passports. The commemorative coin will be the perfect memento of this adventure.


NATIONAL HARBOR

Now that we completed our primary mission, on to some hijinx. That means hitting the National Harbor for lunch and comedy. First stop (and one of our favorites in DC), was to visit an old friend who lives on the beach. One day I will see him in high tide.

"Awakening" GC15F1

High five for a job well done, Shelley!
Scrapcat hanging with the locals

Scrapcat and TaGeez got into the act, too!

And TaGeez made a new friend!

PENTAGON MEMORIAL

Then, on a more somber note, we turned to the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon.



It was solemn and beautiful. Each bench arranged by birth date. You could hear the gurgling fountain under each one. Benches with names facing the Pentagon belonged to the Pentagon victims. Benches facing away belonged to those who died on the air craft. Wrenching.



I'm so glad we're remembering them. Fitting memorial between Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery.


CONGRESSIONAL CEMETERY

Our final stop for the day was Congressional Cemetery (and dog park!). This was our second visit here.

There are a lot of hills here...

... and dogs!

Shelley spotted this one. It's the headstone for a former librarian - shaped and etched like a card from a card catalog!




Shelley hanging with John Phillip Sousa

We greatly enjoyed a Multi-cache called The Silent City GCQYTG. One of the unexpected surprises included a stop at Belva Lockwood's grave. Belva was the first female presidential candidate, and people have stopped here to leave their "I Voted" stickers at her grave. 


Congressional Cemetery has a number of fabulous geocaches and novel headstones. It's Bohemian spirit, infamous celebrities (a madame, J. Edgar Hoover, several Congressional members) and happy dogs make it one of my favorite cemeteries so far!

Congressional Cemetery

After a long day of walking (and scooting), time to return to the Staybridge. The next day stops are to to complete the HCWCA tour and Martinsburg, WV. 

To be continued.....


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Special note about the Smithsonian NMNH Tour



After we submitted our passports, our answers to the Earth Caches, uploaded the required pictures, and logged our caches, we received notice from Dan of the Smithsonian that our geocoins were on their way. A day or so later I opened one of the cache pages to see this new message: 
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History GeoTour will be discontinued at a date to be determined in the first quarter of 2018. The NMNH GeoTour was launched April 2, 2013; and we’ve appreciated the support and positive feedback on the NMNH GeoTour from the Geocaching community. We have enjoyed reading your logs. We hope; and I believe we did, through the cache pages and puzzles, provided a different look into the National Museum of Natural History. We wish it could continue but that will not be possible. We wanted to let you know, at this time, so that if you wish to do the tour it should not be put off. As of 4/20/2017 there remain 125 coins to be awarded for completing the tour.