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Portland Japanese Garden.
Friday, Aug. 5 2011

PORTLAND, OR — Even if you’re an adult, I recommend the children’s treasure hunt at the Japanese Garden, not so much for the coloring map or the prize at the end (it’s a bookmark), but because it forces one to take a closer look at the surroundings.

The garden, nestled into the hillside of Portland’s Washington Park, has five different styles sprinkled with statues, stone lanterns and fountains. There is so much beauty, it’s easy to miss the subtle details.

A small statue of a jizo (Japanese protective spirit) guards the entrance to the zen garden. I walked right past the guy, carved into a foot-tall moss-covered stone, but the kids found it. It was on the scavenger hunt list.

That was the morning. After a microwave lunch at the hotel, it was off to Mollala to go geocaching with the cousins.

More photos at our gallery.

Photo: Snake art

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We found this guy while searching for geocaches at Prairie Lake park in Cedar Falls. J.S. Reinitz

We found this guy while searching for geocaches at Prairie Lake park in Cedar Falls. J.S. Reinitz

Goldfinch Anniversary (January 2009)

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(NOTE: This is a re-post of an earlier blog entry. It was originally written in January 2009 and re-posted here for archival reasons)

Wow, it’s been eight years.

That’s how long ago we trudged though knee-deep snow in Backbone State Parkand wedged a Tupperware container into a rocky fissure.

And with that, Iowa’s longest running geocache was placed.

I had read about caching in Outside Magazine a few months earlier, and I had been lugging around a Garmin 12 receiver my father gave to me while we were living in South Carolina.

The GPS receiver had marked a few trails and campsites when we were in the south. Once I used it to plot the location of a turtle next to a pond.

So I was excited to put the device to use looking for hidden items. But Iowadidn’t have any geocaches listed when I checked Geocaching.com (apparently there had been one placed a short time before but it had been raided and archived).

Hoping to get others involved so we could have something to find, I decidedhide one. It seemed like a good way to jump start the activity.

Picking a location was a no brainer. I went through Backbone once in the1980s when I was in junior high. I thought it was the neatest place around.Unlike the flatlands that mark most of Iowa, Backbone has cliffs, caves and trees. Katinka and I came out to hike it a few times after returning to Iowa in2000.

If people are going to look for hidden treasure, I might as well show them aneat park in the process, I reasoned.

I didn’t want to wait for spring to place the cache, and Katinka was nice enough to bundle up and hike into the park (it’s closed to vehicles in the winter). We tried a few places until we found one that seemed to be out of the way.

I still remember the excitement when the first group found it. They also slogged through the snow that winter. They posted pictures of the trek on their Web site.

It was raided after the weather warmed up, so we moved it to a more secluded spot. That didn’t last too long before it was raided again, so finally we loaded up a new box and scouted a location that was far from any road or established trail but still near interesting topographical features.

I had one cacher shoot me a dirty look once when he found out I was the onewho placed the cache way out there. He had found it and apparently didn’t likethe challenge. But I can’t offer an apology. It’s way back there to keep it safeand give the seeker an adventure.

Frozen Lake

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We finally bagged the Brinker Lake geocache.

Julie and I used to paddle our aluminum canoe out to this island before the cache was placed here (before someone swiped the canoe and likely sold it for scrap). After the cache was hidden, I tried to walk out to it a few times in winter. But I never could get the time and temperature lined up right.

Then today we drove past while trying to figure out what to do with our day and spotted a half dozen ice fishing tents on the lake. Someone even parked an SUV out there. I figured the ice would hold us.

Kaden and I set out for the quarter mile trek to the island via the NW passage. It wasn’t difficult to find, and you have to admire a cache built to survive flooding. People who found it in January described a stench it has taken on, and the smell is still there. The wooden cross inside wasn’t enough to fend it off.

“Is that smell rabbit poop? You might want to avert your nose,” Kaden said, using vocabulary impressive for a second grader.

I thought it was more of a good-cheese-gone-bad type thing. It stuck to our gloves (I stashed them in the trunk on the ride home). Left nothing, didn’t dare take anything.

We explored the rest of the island.

“This area here covered by snow and ice is were your mom and I would land the canoe and have a picinic,” I told Kaden.

There was a pause.

“Yeah, you really have to see it when there isn’t any snow,” I explained.