December 22, 2018

Phipps Bend

  • 4.5 miles
  • 4:23 duration
  • 222 foot elevation gain
  • 11 caches found
  • 2 caches hidden (1 by me, 1 by LakeBum)
  • 1 DNF (did not find)
  • 8 cache resurrections

Phipps Bend in Surgoinsville, TN is the site of an abandoned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) nuclear power plant project. TVA began construction of the facility in November 1977. Work was halted in August 1981 after the power company had spent a reported $775 million to $1.5 billion. The reason given for deferring the project was a decreased demand in power due to a declining business economy.

The land surrounding the abandoned project sits in a deep bend of the Holston River. This peninsula-shaped area is surrounded on three sides by the river. Over the years, the city of Kingsport and Hawkins County joined in a effort to bring businesses to this land by creating the Phipps Bend Industrial Park. It is now home to more than a dozen businesses employing about 1800 people.

There is a three mile walking/biking/horse trail along the river, and this was our route for the day. LakeBum (Rob) and I arrived at Phipps Bend at around 9:00 am. It was a cool, partly cloudy morning. We parked in the gravel parking lot near the trailhead and began our journey.

Both of us had already found the first cache along the trail, so we passed it by. I had visited this trail with Deban and our dogs five years earlier. Rob had cached here nearly three years ago.

Our first goal for today was a puzzle cache hidden by our friend Reis’s Pieces (Scott). Rob had solved the puzzle prior to our visit. I had looked at it the night before and quickly announced to him via text that I would be riding his coat tails. I had just spent a couple of hours solving another puzzle cache (more about that later) and did not have the brain power left to tackle one involving chemical equations. Who am I kidding? That would likely be beyond my capabilities on a GOOD day. Math and science were not my strongest subjects in school. Combine the two and I am lost.

This cache had last been found in November 2015, so finding it would give us a three year cache resurrection. As we approached the cache site, we became concerned that it may be under water. There is a marsh next to the trail in this area, and with all of the rain and snow we have had recently, the marsh seemed to have increased in size.

Fortunately, we spotted a location matching the hint very close to the water’s edge, and began looking for the cache. As Rob dug around in the leaves and dirt with his stick, he hit something solid, looked up at me, and whacked it a few times. Looking more closely he said, “It’s covered in deer poop.” Nice. After he had scraped off as much as he could with his stick, he pulled the plastic ammo box out of the ground.

The hole it had been nestled in was full of water, so we were not hopeful about the dryness of the inside of the cache. However, once he opened it, we saw that it was nice and dry inside. One of the pieces of swag in the cache was a beautiful purple feather that I attempted to attach to my cap for a photo op. Rob proved that he has skills as a stylist by arranging it for me. I considered keeping it, but decided to leave it behind for a future traveler.

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Don’t you love my beautiful feather?
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Three plus year cache resurrection.

The next cache in our sights was also hidden by Scott, and called “What’s up doc?”. This cache had not yet been hidden on my last visit, but I remembered seeing the rickety looking pier that it was hidden on.

As soon as we arrived at the pier, I spotted something strange floating in the water next to it. Rob fished it out with his hiking stick, and we examined it. It was spongy in texture and shaped like a large mushroom, with a round, domed top and a stem. But, the top had indentations in a honeycomb pattern, making it look like a turtle shell. In a couple of those cavities we could see seeds and surmised that it was some type of alien seed pod. Maybe we watch too much science fiction.

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What is that floating in the water?
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Alien seed pods

Rob had zero interest in walking out on the pier, so I was elected by default. He assured me that it was not necessary for me to attempt it if I didn’t want to, and that he would not think less of me if I didn’t. I scoffed at him and dropped my backpack so that I could head out onto the pier.

While many of the wooden boards were missing, the remaining ones looked very rotten. However, the steel frame that supported the pier looked as strong as ever, so I decided to just stick to the edge of the pier so that any boards I stepped on were firmly supported by steel. First, we had to beat down the sticker bushes and other vegetation with our sticks, so that I could make the giant step from dry ground onto the steel “I” beam.

Once on it, I carefully balanced myself and took small steps along the beam until I reached a large tree that grew up next to the structure. I hugged it as I stepped around, and then walked along the edge of the pier on the boards that remained. There were some missing in the middle, so I had another short balancing act along the beam until I reached more boards. Finally, I was at the end of the pier and ready to search for the cache.

Side note: This all sounds very dangerous and frightening, doesn’t it? In truth, the worst that would have happened if I had lost my balance was that I would have fallen into the cold water of a three-foot deep pond. The water level was only a few inches below the surface of the pier. So, it would have been a cold and inconvenient mishap, but not life-threatening. This did not make it any easier to negotiate my steps, but it did make it possible for me to attempt. If this had been twenty feet, even five feet up in the air, I would have been much less likely to try it.

So, I had finally reached the end, and slowly crouched down to begin looking for the cache. I had assumed it would be near the end, and since the supporting structure was steel that it was probably a magnetic container. Do you know what happens when you assume something?

I felt all around both inside and out of the steel beams. Rob had looked at a photo of our friend Mrs. Jack (Dori) in Team Cache Cracker Jack’s “Found it” log, so we felt sure I was on the correct side of the pier. Finding nothing, I decided to text her and ask where she located it. I also texted Scott to see if he could give me some guidance on where he hid it.

I learned from their replies that it was near the midpoint of the pier, and had been sitting on the lower part of the “I” beam below the boards. I carefully made a turn-around maneuver, and made my way back toward the center of the pier. I again lowered myself, laid on my belly, and looked under the boards in all directions. No cache. We surmised that it must have floated away in high water, since the current water level was right at the ledge it would have been resting on. I texted Scott for permission to replace it and he responded with an enthusiastic “yes”.

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Out on the pier.

After much grunting and maneuvering, I managed to get back on my feet, and made my way back toward shore so that I could reach the container that Rob was holding out to me on the end of his stick. I then crossed over the end of the pier to the other side and walked out to a small tree that was growing up through the structure. I hung the cache on it, ensuring thasssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssst it would not disappear in high water events unless we experienced a Noah-type flood. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The very long word above should read “that.” This is what happens when you are trying to write your blog and your dog wants attention. John Wesley stood on my keyboard pawing at me as I was editing what I had written. As I scrolled down, I found his contribution to the story and decided to leave it intact.)
Mission accomplished! This was another cache resurrection, since it was last found three years ago. I made it back to solid ground without falling in the water, and we continued our journey along the trail. We passed by the next cache since we had both found it on our previous trips.

A short distance past it we came upon an interesting rusty sign that read, “High Voltage Grounding Mats.” I suppose it was a relic from the planned nuclear power plant. I decided that this was a good place to hide a cache, and we paused so that I could dig out a container, hide it, and shoot the coordinates.

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Further along the trail, I spotted something interesting in the pond. I had discovered the source of the alien seed pods. We could see more of the seed pods attached to the top of stalks that reached about two feet above the water, so apparently this was some type of aquatic plant. They hung over from the top of the stalks so that they looked like shower heads.

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Seed pods in the natural setting.

At this point in the trail we also had a good view of the remains of the cooling tower for the nuclear plant. The huge round, steel structure gives this scene a very eerie feeling. It is almost like a post-apocalypse atmosphere.

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Remains of the cooling tower.

We continued along the trail, and as we walked beside the river the temperature seemed to drop several degrees. There was a cool breeze coming off the water. Rob had already found all of the rest of the caches on this trail, but was kind enough to continue hiking with me so that I could log them.
I stopped to log a geocache that was hidden at the base of a large power-line tower. This was a two year, five month cache resurrection. I spotted the log sheet in a baggie laying on the ground, and then located the container – a magnetic key holder that had sprung open. Since the log sheet was too soggy to sign, I replaced it with a new one that I had in my pack. I was well stocked with log sheets, baggies and containers after receiving two plastic ammo cans full of such items in the Dirty Santa gift exchange at the New Cache Order Christmas party. RedRider99 (Lois) brings the best gifts to the party!

The next cache was another resurrection, last found in July 2016. It was hidden in a cookie tin that was very difficult to open. I finally managed to get into it, and found the contents to be nice and dry.

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Two year, eleven month resurrection.

I was looking forward to finding the next cache on the trail. Named “Obi’s Lost Bones: Phipps Bend” this was part of a series of caches hidden by my friends Cache Cracker Jacks (Tom and Dori) in honor of their boxer named Obi-Wan. It was Obi who introduced me to Dori years ago, when we arrived at a newly published cache at the same time several years ago. I was atop a hill making my way toward the cache when another vehicle arrived below. A woman and a dog got out, and the dog made a beeline up the hill to me as his owner shouted, “I hope you like dogs!” I immediately knew who this was from seeing Obi’s pictures in “found it” logs that Tom and Dori had posted. This was the first time that I had met another geocacher, and Dori and I immediately became friends for life.

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February 17, 2013. The day I met Obi.

Obi is no longer with us, but his memory lives on in our hearts and with this series of caches. Of the seven original caches in the series, I lacked this one and one more completing the series. They all feature custom containers made of PVC pipe.

Unfortunately, this lost bone is really lost. It was no longer in its designated hiding place, and although we searched the whole area in case it had fallen out or been dragged out by an animal, we never found it. I used one of the small containers in my pack to replace it and keep this cache active. Rob was the last person to find this cache nearly three years ago, making this my fifth resurrection of the day.

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The hole where Obi’s bone should have been.

Through the trees we could see a nice picnic shed, so we made our way there to have some lunch. As we approached, we noticed a wooden wall with multiple holes in each section, and strange-looking contraptions in a row along the front. This turned out to be a firing range. The holes in the wooden wall were from bullets, and the contraptions in front were for holding the targets with silhouettes of bad guys. It appeared that they use a hydraulic system to spin those silhouettes around to face the shooters. There were also distance lines marked on the ground for the shooters to stand behind, and the ground was littered with shell casings. I’m sure this can be a very noisy place when the shooting range is in use. But on this day, it was a quiet spot to sit at a picnic table under the shed and enjoy our lunch.

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Lunchtime

After we ate, we continued along the trail. The next geocache had just been found last New Year’s Eve, but was hard for me to locate. I finally unearthed it from under the piece of tin that hid it. Once again, this was a tin container that was very difficult to open. This one was not as dry inside but the log book was in decent shape. However, once I had opened it and signed the log, I could not figure out how all of the swag and the log book had fit inside. I ended up pocketing some of the swag because I couldn’t get the lid back on otherwise.

I decided to pass up the next geocache. It was hidden in a culvert that ran under the dirt road we were walking on. With all of the rain we have had lately, the water was running about a foot deep in the culvert. I would have gotten very wet retrieving the cache that was about halfway through the 40 foot tunnel, and this cold day was not the day to do that. BackWoodsAng is the cache owner, and he and I both have a history of getting accidentally wet searching for each other’s hides. No need to do it intentionally!

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That little rectangle on the ceiling is the cache.

On Rob’s last visit here he had found, but not been able to retrieve and sign the next cache. At the time it was deep in a hollow stump and he could not reach it. I began searching for the cache in the grouping of stumps, only to realize that I was standing on it. Someone had found it since Rob’s visit and had placed it between the stumps where I was standing. That person had stated in his log that he was glad to have a young person with small hands with him who could pull the cache out of its hiding spot. Rob was happy to finally be able to sign the log. This cache had last been found in January 2016, making it yet another cache resurrection.

To this point our route had been on level ground. But, we now needed to follow the road up a hill and back down the other side in order to complete our circuit. We were both a bit out of condition, and were huffing and puffing our way up hill. We were happy to stop along the way to search for another cache. Rob had already found this one, and remembered where it was supposed to be. He dug all around in the leaves, but could not find it. I fanned out to look in other areas in case he remembered wrong, and he checked a couple of other spots as well. We finally returned to the original spot and I started digging through leaves downhill in case it had washed out of its hiding place. I found it buried in the leaves, and happily signed the log. This, too, was a cache resurrection, with the last find in July 2016.

We finally reached the top of the hill, and the end of the walking trail. We descended the other side and followed the streets of the industrial park back to where I had parked the truck. But, our adventure wasn’t quite over. I had spent time the night before solving a puzzle cache that Rob had hidden at Phipps Bend. We drove to the location and walked into the woods to search for it. It had not been found since 2016, and Rob wasn’t certain it was still in place. We were unable to locate it, so he replaced the container and I signed the new log sheet.
Near the cache location I spotted the interesting stump of a cut tree topped by lichen. It was unique enough to capture my attention, and I stopped to take a picture of it.

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Lichen on a stump.

We both also paused on our way out of the woods to take a picture of the solar farm that has been installed next to the ruins of the nuclear plant. It was an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new.

As we drove out of the industrial park, I stopped to log one more cache hidden next to the road. Since the day was still young, we decided to attempt to find two caches on the opposite side of the river. One had not been found since August 2013 and the other was last found in November 2012. To reach them we had to a short distance to Surgoinsville cross a bridge, then make our way up the opposite side of the river. We stopped at a sweet little park in Surgoinsville to find a cache hidden under a covered bridge. 

When we arrived at the coordinates for the first of the two lonely caches, we got out to search for it. It was supposed to be an easy park and grab right next to the road, but after scouring the area thoroughly we could not find it. We finally gave up, and drove on to the next cache. When we arrived at that location, we realized that to reach the cache we would have to bushwhack up a steep hillside for about 300 feet. Neither of us felt like doing that, especially for a cache that had not been found in over six years. We may return some day, but we were too tired from our hike to make the attempt on this day.

You may have noticed in the bullet list that Rob hid a cache during our trip. Since it has not yet published, I didn’t note in our journey where that was hidden. Congratulations to RedRider99 (Lois) and her hubby Redball (Richard) on being first to find the cache I hid. They went out on Christmas Eve after we spent the morning and early afternoon volunteering at a kindness event.

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