Monday, 18 July 2011

The Texas Panhandle - Day 1

Late last week a friend and fellow geocacher asked if I would be interested in going on a road trip to find a geocache in every county in the Texas Panhandle. Since I hadn't been in that area since I began geocaching I jumped at the chance. There is a challenge cache to find a cache in every county in Texas, while that is no small feat, I think I can do it in chunks like the trip we took this weekend. We saw a lot of interesting things and a lot of absolute empty hills and plains. the weather was hot but not unbearably so. Amarillo stands out of all the towns we visited with its many parks and long history. We also saw a lot of historic Route 66 along the way which was fun.

After leaving Midland, TX and heading north we drove until we reached Lamesa. There wasn't a whole lot to see there except an old drive in movie theater. For some reason the sign struck me as funny because it proclaims in neon that the films will be "in color." I suppose that back in the day that was an important feature. After that we made a quick detour to the east so I could grab a cache in neighboring Borden county.

We arrived in Plainview, Texas and struck out on the first cache we looked for so we went after another one called Downtown (in plain view). The cache is pretty standard but the location is interesting as it is a diner used in the film Leap of Faith from 1992 starring Steve Martin. There is a mural for the fictional restaurant on the side of the building, and the town's water tower still bears the mascot and name Rustwater, Kansas even though Plainview is very much in Texas.

Our next major stop was in Briscoe County (Jr. - sorry I feel compelled to do that every time. Bruce Campbell rocks!). There is a historic jail on the corner of the court house lawn and as we were extracting the geocache there a man drove up asking if we wanted to see the jail. It took a second to realize he was actually a caretaker offering to open the small museum just for us! He was a very friendly guy, maybe slightly too much so but he said he had been running the museum for years since the judge noticed people were interested in seeing inside. It was beginning to get dark and he told us that the bats would soon be coming out of all the bat houses on the side of the building so we made our exit after thanking him for the improvised tour. As we were leaving he gave us a pamphlet of panhandle museums and attractions featuring none other than himself as the guide for the museum.

The last stop of the day was a virtual cache just outside of Amarillo known as "The Feet of Ozymandius." Ozymandius, aside from a kick ass villain in the graphic novel Watchmen, was another name for Ramesses the Great. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem about him in 1818:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
The virtual cache brings you to what appears to be a shattered statue with only the feet remaining. A plaque says that the statue was destroyed by Lubbock football players after a loss to Amarillo, but the truth is that the statue was commissioned by Stanley Marsh 3. That's the same guy who created the Cadillac Ranch which we would visit the next day.

The we crashed at a KOA, choosing not to worry about tents with the cool weather that night. Plus we may be a little lazy.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Random 4th of July Weekend Photos

This little guy (Melon) made the trip with us to his new home in Alabama.

View of the Mississippi River from Vicksburg Rest Area @ Navy Circle

Pandora reading up on her history

There was a lot of this over the long weekend

And some of this. I liked our team name.

Why yes this guy did have a 1980s era camcorder. And he was filming the signs with it, LOL!

A little red bird in the park

One of my favorite monuments at Vicksburg, very DC-esque

Found this park boundary marker being retaken by nature.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Vicksburg National Military Park - NPS Unit #61

In 2008 we visited Grant's Canal located in Delta, Louisiana in order to log a virtual geocache I needed to complete the Louisiana Delorme Challenge. This geocaching challenge requires you to find a cache on every page of the Delorme Atlas for a particular state. It is a fun way to explore parts of the state you would otherwise never reach. I knew at the time that this was a very small part of Vicksburg National Military Park but we didn't have time to visit the rest that day. In 1862 and 1863 the Union was trying desperately to seize control of the Mississippi River from the Confederates. Vicksburg with its high cliffs was nearly impossible to assault from the water so General U.S. Grant attempted to dig a canal through a bend in the river and thus bypass Vicksburg. After months of digging the dam holding back the river broke and the earthworks were flooded, the entire project was a failure.

Fastforward to 2011: We were on our way from Midland, TX to Tuscaloosa, AL to celebrate the 4th of July with family when we stopped at the rest area on the banks of the Mississippi River in Vicksburg. Navy Circle is just beside the rest area and was one of the anchor points of the Confederate defenses of the city. I was milling through pamphlets and saw that there were all kind of events going on in the NMP due to it being: The anniversary of the Confederate surrender of Vicksburg (July 3), a Holiday weekend, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, and the 25th Anniversary of the National Parks Passport Program. Although we didn't have time that day, I made it a goal to stop on our way home the following weekend.

On our return trip through Vicksburg we stopped at the very nice Visitor Center and Interpretive Museum where there are some reconstructions of the Civil War camps. Today they had reenactors in full uniform performing a variety of activities. After watching for a few minutes in the sweltering heat I made my way into the Visitor Center and walked through the displays and gift shop. Then we took the 16 mile park drive in our wonderfully air conditioned car. Agriculture from Reconstruction has changed the landscape a good bit but driving through the rolling hills and gullys you can see how suited the terrain was for a battlefield. I found myself picturing the best places to position cannon and infantry like a real-life game of Risk.

We visited the Shirley House which is the only original structure still in place and stopped at the USS Cairo Museum to see the only surviving Ironclad ship from the war that sank in the river when it hit a primitive Confederate torpedo (mine). The museum perserves a lot of artifacts recovered from the Cairo and is in my opinion even better than the museum in the main Visitor Center. Then we briefly drove through the Cemetery and returned back to the front of the park. I plan to return to Vicksburg in the winter when we travel home for Christmas, the weather should make it more tolerable to explore the outdoor areas more thoroughly then. But I feel we got a good feel of the park in our time spent here on this trip.

The Shirley House

Map of Vicksburg: Areas visited are circled red.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

MyLifeOutdoors Guest Post on Geocaching

Whew! We are fresh back in West Texas after a week and a half in Alabama visiting friends and family and celebrating Independence Day. (They allow fireworks over there :P)

I want to thank Steven over at He recently published a guest blog I wrote about Geocaching so if you have spent any time around me and wonder what I am going on and on about check this out.

I'll have two new blogs this week, one about our 4th of July trip and one specifically on our visit to our 61st National Park unit (Vicksburg National Military Park). So stay tuned for those.