January 20, 2019

Hiking in Hampton/Dinosaur Park

  • 1.3 miles
  • 1:17 duration
  • 67 foot elevation gain
  • 33° high/28° low
  • 3 geocaches found during hike
  • 5 geocaches found after hike
  • 2 geocaches did not find (DNF)
  • 1 geocache visited (previously found)

This past weekend’s weather forecast was for cold and rain all day Saturday, and even colder but possible snow on Sunday. Because we would prefer to hike in snow than rain, LakeBum (Rob) and I decided to plan an adventure for Sunday and take care of chores on Saturday.

Our plan for Sunday was to do a short hike to find the “Hiking in Hampton” series – three geocaches on a bike trail in Hampton, Tennessee. We then planned to go to nearby Dennis Cove and attempt to hike to Dennis Cove Falls and visit Firescald Falls.

There was no snow when we left my house at 8:00 am. The temperature was around 38° and was on a steady decline. We began to see a little bit of white on Buffalo Mountain as we drove through Johnson City, and even more on the mountains beyond.

By the time we arrived in Hampton, there was a little bit of snow on the ground, but the continued precipitation that had been forecast had stopped. The temperature was 33° when we arrived, and it was a bit breezy.

When we pulled into the parking area for the trail, we encountered a sign saying the trail was closed for maintenance. We sat for a few minutes, contemplating our choices, and finally decided to go ahead and tackle it, assuming that it was closed to bicycles but still accessible for hiking.

I was dressed warmly in several layers. For this hike, I added a balaclava made by Seirus to keep my head, face and neck warm. Despite the cold temperatures, I was very comfortable.

Note: visit my Hiking Gear page for info on what I typically wear and carry on such adventures.

The geocaches that we were searching for are all on the Pines Loop of the Watershed Mountain Bike Trails. This is a mostly level one mile loop rated as easy for mountain bikers. This system of trails also includes an intermediate River Loop Trail and a very difficult Cat’s Pajamas Trail.

We headed off in a counterclockwise direction on the Pines Loop. The trail was definitely in need of maintenance. It was passable for hikers, but there were many overhanging branches that would be “face-slappers” for mountain bikers. The small amount of snow on the ground and in the trees made for some beautiful scenery along the way.

A dusting of snow was on the ground and trees
This tree swallowed a piece of lumber. I guess that makes it a cannibal.

We eventually came to a point where we were within less than 30 feet of cache number three in the series. My iPhone’s compass was pointing in all different directions and the distance kept changing. It either did not like the cold weather, or the heavy tree cover. The cache page said that the cache was about 25 feet off trail, so we finally settled on a direction, and began bushwhacking.

The cache owner had written in the description that the cache was hidden under some deadfall and shouldn’t be too hard to find. The area we were searching was covered in deadfall, and the choices were many. Fortunately, from several yards away I heard Rob quickly call out that he had found it. I fought my way over to him, and signed the log sheet for both of us since I was carrying the only pen.

After replacing the cache, we made our way forward a few yards and found the trail again where it looped around. We followed it toward the next cache. However, once we were within about 400 feet, we realized our way was blocked by huge downed trees. The situation looked hopeless, and we suddenly realized why the trail was “closed for maintenance.” It is going to take some serious work to ever rebuild this trail. The forest looked like a war zone, or like a hurricane had come through. Everywhere we looked there were downed trees and obstacles.

Just a small sample of the obstructions we found in our way.

But, we are persistent. Some might call us stubborn. Others may say we are crazy. At any rate, we decided to push on in search of cache number two. We battled our way over large, felled trees, and through brambles. We picked our way through and around tangled branches. We tripped over fallen limbs and carefully navigated mine fields of debris trying not to crash through into holes that might snap an ankle.

As we were fighting our way through, Rob mentioned that he had watched the movie “Pet Semetary” the night before and that this reminded him of one of the scenes in it. It was indeed a spooky place.

We finally reached a clear patch of the trail and thankfully followed it a few yards as our phones indicated we were close to the cache. Suddenly, we were faced with the root ball of another huge fallen tree that blocked the path, and Rob’s phone indicated that the cache was just past it. The hint had mentioned that the cache was “in a tree.” If the tree it was in was under this beast, we would never find it.

Fortunately, the compasses on our phones finally settled in and pointed us back about 20 feet toward another tree. I circled around it, and there was the cache, nestled in the vee of its branches. We were so relieved to have found it, but also laughed at what muggles might think of us for going through all of this for a smiley on the map.

I signed our names to the log sheet, and carefully replaced the cache as I found it. As I was covering it with sticks Rob chuckled and said, “Yeah. Be sure to hide it really well so no one passing by sees it,” as if a non-cacher would be crazy enough to be in this spot among all the fallen debris.

We then had the chore of finding our way back to clear section of the trail so that we could continue our quest for the final cache. Once again we had to fight through what seemed to be miles of fallen debris, but was in reality only several yards. We were overjoyed to finally find the trail again.

We were now looping back toward the entrance of the trails, and for the most part our path was clear. The trail took us to within a few feet of the cache location, according to our phones. Once again mine was pointing in all directions. Rob’s was a little more settled, and pointing toward a group of medium sized fallen logs. He quickly spotted the container, and after a little effort was able to retrieve it.

This was the largest cache of the day, a plastic “lock n lock” container. The lid was not on securely, so there was a good bit of water inside. Also inside were two $1 bills so we each took one. There was also a travel bug which Rob took to move along as well as a camo covered pill bottle that would make a nice cache container. Rob grabbed it as well.

As we were looking through the contents, I kept hearing a sound like someone was knocking two sticks together. Rob seemed to have heard it as well, because he suddenly stopped what he was doing and cocked his head to the side. A minute or so later, I realized what we were hearing. The wind was making the tree tops towering above us dance, and some of them were banging together. I suddenly remembered the notation on the trail head sign that warned against using the trails in high winds. Once again we both got a spooky feeling and decided to finish our business and get out of the woods as soon as possible.

Looking up through the towering trees.

We emerged from the trail at 10:10, having found all three caches in just over an hour. The temperature had dropped to 28° but the day was still young, so we decided to carry on with our plan to hike to Dennis Cove Falls.

The road into Dennis Cove is steep an windy. You must first drive up one side of a mountain, and then descend the other side into the cove. There are several swithbacks along the way, and the road is narrow with no guardrails.

The first few miles up the mountain were clear sailing, but as we climbed higher we encountered more and more icy patches. At one point, we met a truck with a snow plow on the front that was apparently trying to scrape off as much as the icy as possible. I had to back several yards down the road to find a spot wide enough for him to pass.

We continued climbing to the top, and then started making our way back down the other side. There was even more snow on this side of the mountain. We began to discuss the possibility that with the temperatures continuing to drop, the road conditions on this side would deteriorate. Neither of us relished being stuck in this valley, and finally made the decision to abort our plan to hike here. I turned around at the the trail head for Laurel Falls, and carefully drove back over the mountain. I felt a little bit of slippage going up, but with four-wheel drive made it across without incident. My truck shuddered through many of the sharp curves as the four wheel fought to power the truck in different directions.

Once back in Hampton, we stopped at the Dollar General to log a cache hidden there by our friend Rudekoolaid (Angela) in December. I went in to use their facilities, and when I returned, we talked about what we might do next. It was still very early in the day.

Rob suggested a geocache on the highway between Elizabethton and Bluff City that had a difficulty and terrain rating that he needed to fill in his fizzy grid. All geocaches have a difficulty rating between one and five and a terrain rating between one and five. On a geocacher’s profile page is a chart showing how many caches you have found for each D/T rating. There are 81 possible combinations of ratings, and some geocachers will attempt to fill in their grid by finding at least one cache with each rating. I was able to complete my grid last year, and finding this cache would place Rob within three of completing his. The cache he was interested in was rated 1.5/4.5.

My Fizzy Grid
Rob’s Fizzy Grid

As we were driving in that direction, Rob mentioned a cache in Elizabethton that he had searched for twice without finding. I agreed to stop and see if we could find it today. As I pulled in to the park where it was hidden, he told me there was also another cache nearby that he had already found. I parked and we walked over so that I could log it.

The “Welcome to Elizabethton” cache is hidden near an exhibit depicting Carter County’s railroad history. It includes a caboose from the Southern railroad which operated in the area from 1911-1940, a boxcar from the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) railroad which operated from 1881-1951 and a steam engine from the North America Rayon Company that transported materials inside the plant from 1936-1992.

Relics of railroad history

After logging the cache, we made our way to the other side of the park to search for a cache hidden in a rock wall. Sadly, we were unable to locate it. The temperature seemed even colder than ever, so we gave up and went back to the truck.

We continued along Highway 19E to a point just beyond where the 1.5/4.5 cache was hidden. It’s name was “Jack and Jill Failed” and as you can imagine it was high above us at the top of a cliff. We parked and began making our way toward it, climbing a very steep hillside. Once we were at the top of it, we checked our phones and they seemed to be pointing across a deep valley between this hilltop and the next. We grumbled a bit because to reach it we were going to have to climb even higher, traverse a hillside, and then make our way back down to the area where we presumed the cache to be.

When we had reached the highest point, I paused to check the altimeter app on my phone. I was curious to see what the altitude difference was between this point and where we had started down by the highway. The altitude here was 1,850 feet. When I later checked the altitude next to our parking spot, it was 1,695 feet. This means we climbed a total of 155 feet in a very short distance.

We made our way down toward the top of the cliff overlooking the highway where Rob found a broken plastic barn and wondered if it had been the cache container. However, when I checked my phone, it was pointing back toward the original hilltop we had stopped on. I realized that the cache was actually in the valley between the two hilltops!

The cache is under that tree in the middle, 60 feet away from us and about 40 feet down.

We grumbled a bit, and then climbed back up and around to where we had been before. I then made my way down the slippery hillside toward a tree. Rob couldn’t believe that the cache would be hidden there, and was slower to follow. I pushed my way through some low-hanging branches and found the cache at the base of the tree.

It was a smallish Tupperware container that had grown brittle with age. There were two very mushy log sheets inside, but there was a third that was inside a 35 mm film canister and was therefore dry enough to sign our names. Out of curiosity, I checked the altitude here and it was 1,771 feet, a little less than halfway between the highest and lowest points of our route.

Rob carefully descending the steep hillside.

Thankfully, we made it back down the steep slope to the truck without breaking our crowns as Jack did. Once in the truck we decided to stop and log another nearby puzzle cache that Rob had solved. It had not been found by two previous hunters and appeared to be missing. The owner of this cache has not logged onto the website for several years, so we decided to replace this cache. The cache page described the original container as being a camouflaged pill bottle, so Rob replaced it with the container he had retrieved from a cache earlier in the day.

From here we drove down the highway another couple of miles so that Rob could log a cache I had found in 2013. It has 64 favorite points and I knew he would enjoy it. We actually passed by at least a dozen geocaches along this stretch of highway, but were not interested in logging park and grabs on such a cold day.

Before climbing up yet another steep slope in search of this cache, we sat in the truck and ate lunch. Sadly, the cache has deteriorated quite a bit over the years but is still a great cache. The name of the cache is “Geronimo!”. I am purposely not providing more details so as not to ruin the fun for others, but if you cache in our area I highly recommend it.

After returning to the truck we talked about what we might do next since the day was still young. Rob suggested that we visit the nearby Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park. I had heard of it, but never had the chance to go there, so eagerly agreed. We stopped on the way for me to log a cache nearby, and then pulled into the empty parking lot.

Entrance to the free Dinosaur Park

This is a free, outdoor attraction created in the back yard of a local artist and dinosaur enthusiast. Owner Chris Kastner has created dozens of life-size dinosaurs of several different types. They are amazing! As I took a selfie with the first dinosaur I encountered, Rob said, “You’ll be doing that alot!” He was right. I was snapping photos around every bend here. I will post just a few to give you an idea of the amazing exhibits he has put together.

Signal chats with one of the smaller dinosaurs.
The dinosaurs are constructed from wooden frames covered in metal fencing and chicken wire, and then shrink-wrapped in vinyl “skin”. Some features are sculpted from hardened epoxy or spray foam.
The artist carefully studies each type of dinosaur to create a life-size, true-to-life replica.

A geocache had been hidden here a few years ago by another cacher that is no longer active, but it is now missing. I added a DNF log online for it, but did not attempt to replace it. If it is archived, it will free up room for another cache in the future. Rob hopes to enlist the help of Chris to create a great cache container worthy of this amazing place.

We spent nearly an hour wandering around the park, and then decided to head for home. I hope to return on a warmer day when all of the water features are up and running. A night-time visit also promises to be special as there are special effects and lighting to enjoy in the dark.

While this day did not turn out the way we had planned, we still had a great time and were able to log several caches. Sometimes the key to fun adventures is to detour from the plan and be flexible!

One thought on “January 20, 2019

  1. What an adventure! Am so glad you aborted your mission, the trail which was closed sounded a bit scary. The dinosaur park looks fantastic and to think someone has created all those life size models. Hope you are able to place a cache there in the future. Have started a new blog about my geocaching adventure which I had on Tuesday, hope to finish it either later today or tomorrow. By the way my fizzy grid is nowhere near completion lol! Happy caching!

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