One weekend in November, I happened to notice a geocaching event being held at Highlands Hammock State Park. It's only a couple of hours from home, and it looked like they were going to be publishing almost 100 new caches for the event. Rob and I talked about it, and we were both extremely interested in attending. We knew Olivia wouldn't want to hike for hours and hours, so we arranged for a weekend at Mimi's house for her. Chris and Xandra were away at a regatta, so Rob and I embarked on a solo camping and geocaching weekend!
We got in late Friday night and set up camp. The campground was almost to capacity, and there was one particularly large group staying behind us. Apparently not everyone teaches their children campground etiquette...or boundaries, for that matter...and for some time we dealt with kids walking through our camp and even one little boy checking out our goods while we were standing right there. They eventually got the hint that we weren't going to put up with them, thankfully, and we didn't have any further issues.
After introducing ourselves to the geocacher in the site next to us, we headed to bed. Early the next morning we made our way to the pavilion where the event began. After meeting a bunch of nice folks, we searched for a microcache hidden nearby, discovered some travel bugs, and then went off to find the caches in the park.
The park is home to the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum and was one of the first (THE first, if you ask the locals!) state parks in Florida. The CCC, like I've mentioned in earlier blogs, was an FDR program and created so many of the amazing parks we love to visit. The event coincided with the annual CCC Festival, and the park was packed with people!
So let me tell ya...when you get lots and lots of geocaches in a small area with lots of trails, it's easy to start going in circles and not really accomplish anything. We thought we were heading toward some caches down the Altvater Trail, only to realize there was nothing out there. We needed maps...and a plan...soon!
We eventually went back toward the festival area and ran into other geocachers. They pointed us in a good direction to start, and while at that cache we ran into yet another cacher. Only, this one had maps. Not just maps, but maps and notes and organizational skillz that I admire! And, he let us take pictures of his maps:
Armed with our 'maps,' we took the nearest loop and let the mosquitoes carry us away. And by that I mean, OH MY GOSH the mosquitoes were HORRIBLE!! Granted, we were in a swampy area, but still.
Eventually we moved into a less-swampy area and began to fall into a groove. The maps helped a lot, but they weren't perfect. Still, it was a beautiful area and we really didn't mind spending time in it!
Lovely shot, right? Well, I was returning a geocache to its hiding spot and Rob couldn't resist. This was also where we ran into our map-sharing friend, Lloyd. We had such a good time laughing and joking with him that we decided to hang together for awhile. Lloyd was awesome company and his maps were spot on! It was nice having him there also because he could take our picture:
We failed to get Lloyd's picture.
Onward we went down the main road, taking smaller trails as they looped off, finding caches and really just enjoying ourselves. Lloyd decided to head off in a different direction, but by then we had a good idea of the layout of the trails and caches. Then we came to the Cypress Swamp Trail. And let me tell you, it was one of the highlights of the trip for me!
I don't think I gave the term 'catwalk' much thought when I took the picture. Once we got out on it, though, the light bulb went on and it all made sense. It was so AWESOME!!
See that? The catwalk? Nothing but some wooden planks with a rail down one side. Right over the swampy water, and it leaned to one side, too. It was breathtakingly beautiful there. And, it was just a matter of time before we saw this:
(Thank you, nice strangers!)
By this time we were pretty exhausted from hiking all day. We lasted maybe another hour before heading back to camp and taking off our boots. We rested a bit, grabbed some salad we had brought, and headed to the rec hall for an end-of-event dinner. It was nice to meet even more people, smile at the ones we recognized from the trails, have some great food, and just relax. Lloyd was there, as was our camp neighbor, and we all sat together. After dinner, on the walk back to camp, we were surprised when a herd of about 8 deer jumped out of the woods and stood by the road.
The event's organizer, Sarah, calls the The Cronies. Her mom works in the park and Sarah has had several run-ins with this particular herd. I shouldn't have been surprised, then, that they let us get pretty close.
Our day was almost over. Rob, wanting nothing more than to rest by the campfire, stayed at camp while I wandered down to the park's campfire circle for one last gathering. Many cachers got together for s'mores and stories, and it was a nice end to a very long day.
Sunday. Last day. Before packing up and heading out, we met up with Sarah, her mom, and lots of other geocachers for one last event, a Cache In, Trash Out event. We learned about invasive exotic plants and set to work ridding the area of air potatoes. It wasn't much, but it was a great way to give back after the wonderful time we spent in the park. We've been inspired since then and are trying to set up a CITO at one of our local parks.
After the CITO and breaking camp, we went back into the woods to complete some geocaching challenges, such as hugging trees and eating sour oranges. Then we made a stop into the CCC Museum.
Spending time at this amazing park, and then more time at the museum...well, I can't put into words exactly how it makes me feel. The parks are so dear to me, and to see where they began...it's humbling. Seeing quotes from the CCC workers, the kind of pride they had and how great an organization the CCC was really makes me wish we had something like that today. Until then, I'll continue to get out and have experiences like this one because of the hard work they did so long ago. I'll appreciate it that much more, too. I'll share and encourage others to do the same. And I am SO grateful.