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.


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


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. 


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.


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!


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.


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.....


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.

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