On Sunday's trip to Penasquitos Canyon, our big goal was to find a cache called The Cave of Wonder. It's not really a cave, more like a big overhang, but it's still pretty cool. It's also one of the toughest caches in the canyon, based on elevation/lack of trail/etc, and I was pretty doubtful about my ability to do it at all. But if we wanted to join the Hall of Fame, we'd have to find it.
We parked at a strip mall nearby and found our first cache in the fence of a dog park up the hill. While I was signing in, something buzzed by -- one of these giant green beetles that are blundering around everywhere in the summer. They're pretty neat looking, with brilliant metallic green undersides. I am not unnaturally afraid of bugs; I caught grasshoppers and fireflies as a kid, I rescue spiders from the cats and put them outside, etc. However, I wasn't completely thrilled when this one crashed into my neck (I told you they were clumsy) and hung on with its prickly little feet. Ken was studying it with great interest and I was a bit CAN YOU GET IT OFF ME NOW but when he finally coaxed it off of me I took some glamour shots:
Pretty, isn't it? I know you don't believe me, but this is totally worth viewing at original size on Flickr. You can see the metallic stuff so much better.
From the dog park, we found the Pen Canyon trailhead and went on to find a couple of caches on the canyon rim. The very first one took us forever to find -- we were searching the bushes for twenty minutes, I think. Turns out the owner had moved it four or five feet, because the original bush was getting damaged by searchers. But he didn't update the coordinates or the description, so the GPSr was still pointing at the original bush. Yes, a location a few feet away is within the range of error, but when the GPSr is consistently pointing at the biggest clump of bushes in the area, we're going to search it. Especially when the hint is the incredibly helpful "believe it or not, it's under a bush." Ken finally located it under a bush we hadn't checked yet. We were very relieved to make the find, because that cache is required for the Hall of Fame.
I like it when people doodle or write notes in the log book instead of just signing their names.
Cave of Wonder was next. We knew we'd have to go a few hundred feet down the main trail, then leave it on a side trail and go down a bare rocky hillside. But even the main trail was like this:
I do not like descending hills, and the steeper and rockier they are the less I like them. I nearly called this one off or let Ken do it himself. But there was no way around this section of trail; even if I skipped Cave of Wonder, there were half a dozen other caches farther down that would still require descending here. So I finally gave in and made my very, very slow way down. And then, when we left the trail, the fun part started.
See wee little Ken way down there? That's where I needed to go. The only way to get there is across that bare rock. Ken scouted ahead several times to make sure of which way to go, so I didn't pick my way laboriously to some point only to have to turn around. Still, the route wasn't easy. We were coming from the east, but we had to pass well above the cave and make our final descent from the west. When we left the main trail, we were only a few hundred feet from the cache, but I think it took us more than an hour to get there. I did at one point say "I don't think I can do that," but there was a sort-of path across the rock, and I had my hiking stick. I was also spurred on by the previous log, where a guy said he brought his six-year-old daughter to this cache, but I am here to tell you that is the most hardcore six-year-old ever.
I wasn't too keen on the thought of trying to get back up there, either. Other cachers had mentioned looking for an easier way out, but there isn't one. If you try to continue, instead of backtracking, you end up at a dead end with a ten-foot-high wall.
When I finally joined Ken, we looked across to the opposite hillside and saw a mule deer and fawn!
There's a local cacher who keeps mentioning all the deer he sees in Pen Canyon, but we'd never seen any before. We're not usually there near dawn or dusk. But here, some distance off the beaten path, they were wandering around midday. (In one of my wide shots, I swear you can see the fawn, which had gone up ahead of its mom. But I can't find it now, so I'm just cropping to the doe. Sorry about the quality of these, but I didn't have any time to tweak settings.)
Finally, our goal was in sight:
We still had to descend another ten feet or so to get to the entrance, and we were kind of expecting some last-minute gymnastics to be required, but taking the long way around made it easy.
Ken at the entrance of the cave.
Inside looking out.
Cool roots on the ceiling.
The cache was hidden under a few rocks on a ledge. Nothing difficult there, though some previous finders said it once got knocked down and buried under a foot of sand(!). Glad we didn't have that much of a challenge at the end.
Looking the other way -- as you can sort of see, it's not really a cave, but a narrow passageway with an overhang.
Time to go waaaay back up there. I was following Ken, and the route he took was a bit steeper than the one I'd taken on the way down, but we made it. No mishaps on the way, though I did end up with a bunch of fine hairlike cactus spines in my hand. (Which plagued me for the rest of the afternoon, but it was a small price to pay.)
More cool rocks.
I kinda thought we'd be done after that, when we got back to the main trail and kissed the ground and everything. But the point where we rejoined the trail was still was still halfway down to the canyon floor, below that steep section I took a picture of earlier. And there were still probably half a dozen caches we could get by continuing. And the rest of the trail down wasn't anywhere near as bad as what we'd already done.
This is one of my favorite pictures of Ken ever. I love the big canyon vista and the windswept grasses and him looking all explorer-y. I may need a print of it, actually. I look at pictures like this and think this is why we do this. Isn't it awesome to go out and have adventures and explore? Even if I hate the part about the hills.
We did a few easy caches along the canyon floor before heading back up a different hill than the one we'd come down. One cache on the way up turned out to be a bit more challenging than we were expecting; it was some 150 feet off the trail, and I had to do some bushwhacking and scratched my legs up again (they were just healing after the previous weekend!). But I found it. No pictures, because I was busy anxiously following the GPSr and hoping the cache wasn't off the edge of a ravine. (It wasn't, but just barely.)
Back at the strip mall, we found one last cache. This cool iridescent sculpture was nearby.
It feels a little weird, to go from canyon to civilization like that. I'm glad San Diego has so many urban canyons and pockets of wilderness. It probably wouldn't, if the terrain didn't make them difficult to develop, but that's the way it worked out, and it's part of what makes the city interesting. We hadn't seen half this stuff before we started geocaching. And without the caches, I don't think we'd be motivated to push on as hard as we do. I can't say I wholly enjoyed everything we did this day, but I did get a feeling of accomplishment. (I'm just glad I don't have to do it again.)