An American caching adventure (Part 1) – The ET highway

And now for something completely different…

Thanks to everyone who asked me, tweeted me, and emailed me over the past few months asking “What’s going on with your blog? I want to see a new entry!” Sorry guys, I’ve been extremely busy with work and other commitments. I haven’t given up blogging, I was just on a break and normal service will be resumed shortly. So, thanks for waiting. I hope this makes up for it… πŸ˜‰

After months of planning (and months of saving!) we jetted off to America at the end of March. Going to America has always been a dream of mine, and it finally came true! It took us a long while to decide where we wanted to go, but in the end caching got the best of us and we decided that Nevada would be our destination. Home to The ET Highway and Route 66 Geocaching power trails we knew that we would have a good time caching there. No big caching adventure would be complete without our caching partners, mel-ray and they joined us on our US adventure. We had planned at first to just stay in Las Vegas, however shortly decided to also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles, turning our simple American trip into a real adventure…

Las Vegas

We started off by staying in Las Vegas for a few nights. It was so overwhelming! So many grand hotels and shopping malls, each trying to out-do the other. Possibly the greatest place that we visited along the strip was “The Venetian”. An Italian-style shopping mall complete with a canal running through and gondolier rides through it. There was a hotel shaped like a pyramid, a hotel with a giant pirate ship show outside, a hotel with waterfalls and an erupting volcano outside… it was breath-taking! It was a little hard at first to do caching around the city. We didn’t feel completely “comfortable” searching in a foreign area and we weren’t sure of the hiding styles there so we only grabbed a couple of urban caches on our first few nights, it was mainly a sight seeing couple of days. We did however return to Vegas at the very end of our trip feeling a bit more comfortable caching in another country and were able to grab some great caches which took us to some lovely spots along the strip.

There were quite a lot of virtuals along the strip. There was Toga Party which took us outside Caesar’s palace to grab a snap of the man himself, IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST which took us to the Lion outside MGM Grand, Eiffel Tower which took us to the Paris hotel complete with its $20 million half size replica Eiffel tower, and MM MM Good which took us to the huge 4 floored M&M world!

Me and Mel with Caesar

It had to be done!

Perhaps the best virtual however was one that we completely overlooked until our very last night. It was in the Flamingo casino. It didn’t look very grand on the outside so we hadn’t explored any deeper, but if you follow the casino right to the back there is actually a big wildlife habitat complete with waterfalls, HUGE Koi carp, various types of duck, and 10 pink flamingos. Wow! It was just like being at the zoo.

One of the many waterfalls at the Flamingo

The pink flamingos

On the Saturday 31st March our caching really time started. We were lucky enough to have planned our trip at a time when the owners of the ET Highway caches, Clay4&whtwolfden were hosting a couple of GeoPoker events in town. These events are held annually and although we didn’t participate in the fun that followed on from them we were able to attend to meet some friendly American Cachers. The cachers told us what the events were about. The idea was that everyone met up in the morning and grabbed a sheet of paper with the coordinates of 20 new caches on. Finding these caches allows you to increase your chances of building a good poker hand. The cacher with the best poker hand wins. If you find all off the caches you will be able to build a poker hand of 5 cards, plus have the chance to “throw away” 5 cards and swap them for better ones. The caches were scattered all around the area, so we didn’t participate in the poker challenge, however attending did allow us to meet the ET Highway CO’s, have our photo taken with them, and buy an official ET Highway Geocoin! πŸ˜€

Meeting Clay4 & whtwolfden

At the event

After the event we went and grabbed a few odd caches around the area, including our first “LPC” (Lamp Post Cache). These are very common in America as all of their lamp posts have “skirts” at the bottom that you can lift up. These are the perfect places for caches to be stashed away! From listening to The Podcacher Podcast, I’ve learnt that these caches are disliked by quite a few cachers, simply because they are boring and predictable. They were quite exciting for us though having never found one before, however we learnt that they were very common as we found a lot of them on our trip!

An LPC (Lamp Post Cache)

Whilst the other cachers were busy hunting down these new caches, we headed off to do a short series to the North of Vegas, My Heart.

The My Heart series makes a nice shape on the map

This was a series of 20 caches over about 3 miles. It was a very hot morning and the sun was really beating down on us as we walked around. The series of caches shows on the map as a heart (awww) and could be done because the caches were placed on a section of wasteland. The caches little sprinkler containers placed in white pipes in the ground at the base of bushes with a rock on top. In some cases they were easy to overlook even though we were standing right next to them because the ground looked the same on the whole series. There were some amazing views of mountains in the distance however.

Sprinkler cache

Views of the mountain on the Heart series

We were hoping to see some critters, but only spotted a hare. There wasn’t a lot for wildlife to eat on the ground around the series!

The only wildlife we spotted on the series

We also got to see a few cactuses as we walked around the series, however not as many as we expected.

One of the few cactuses on the series

A round cactus on the series. We saw a couple of these.

After completing the series in the hot sun with such rough ground to walk on we were knackered! Thankfully it was then time to head to Walmart to stock up on groceries for the following day on the ET Highway and after that we headed off to the second GeoPoker event in the evening to find our who the winning cacher was. The event was held at a great pizza restaurant, and we were also able to meet up with Aussie cacher micaparamedic who we met at Mega Wales 2011 who was in town for the week. After our pizza we watched the cachers all try their luck at poker. We cheered on micaparamedic as he played, but unfortunately he wasn’t the winner!

Micaparamedic trying his luck

There was a raffle afterwards and everyone who attended got to have a ticket so we grabbed ours… And we won! πŸ˜€ There were some great prizes and I won a trackable name badge, and Mel won a year’s Groundspeak premium membership. We did feel a little bad for gatecrashing their event, winning prizes and then leaving! Hehe! But after the event there was still time for a little bit of caching on the way back to the hotel, which included a Wherigo in the parking lot, another LPC, and A Special Memory, GCQ596. This cache had hundreds of favourite points on it and the description said that it was the “Ultimate drive up cache”. We ended up at a drive through wedding chapel!!! Lol!

The drive through menu!

We sheepishly drove up to the window wondering what we had let ourselves in for, but then saw the Geocaching logo stuck on the window. A lady came to see us and we asked for the Geocache. This is what we got…

A very pretty ammo can

The prettiest ammo can we have ever seen! We were speechless, what a brilliant cache to end the night with before venturing off to the ET Highway…

1st April – The start of the ET Highway

And so our adventure had begun, we headed out of Vegas, along US-93 to The ET Highway (So called because of the many UFO sightings from it, and Area 51 being along it). We did a few drive-by caches along this quiet road to get us all used to the hire car (like a practice run). One of these caches was at the end of a dead-end road. At the end we spotted lots of shotgun shells on the ground and signs that had been used for shooting practice!!! Scary! We got away from there quickly!

Shotgun Shells

The target!

Another nice cache along here, (Critical Coyote Springs), gave us a great view of the entrance to Coyote Springs.

Coyote Springs

Next we passed through Alamo to get gas. There’s a gas station at Alamo near the start of the ET, and at the end in Tonopah, but other than that there is no gas or 130 miles. In Alamo there is also a place to stay with wood cabins called “Windmill Ridge”. We stopped off here to grab the Windmill Ridge cache. It was a regular ammo box, and inside were plenty of path tags which we swapped for our collection.

Windmill Ridge cache

It wasn’t long before we were on The ET Highway. For those who don’t know, The ET Highway series of Geocaches is a power trail of 1500 film cans each placed just off the road along The ET Highway (US375) around 528ft apart. They are drive-by caches with the first 950 along the main highway where you pull off to the gravel on the side of the road to grab the cache. The rest are along a dirt road.

The Highway starts with with a big green sign announcing the name. We kept with the tradition and stopped here to have our photo taken! We also added a sticker to the sign, as many have done before us!

At the starting post

Adding our sticker to the sign

It was then on to ET0001, the first cache in the series. The other 1499 caches are film cans, however this was a big ammo can placed under a little trap door in the ground.

The trap door

And the cache inside

This cache is at the front of an alien-themed shop with a giant alien outside! We were a bit disappointed though because the shop was closed! 😦 We still visited to take a look of the outside though.

I hope real aliens aren't this big!

Geocaching capital of the world!

Another great sight at the start of the series was a single lonely mailbox by the side of the road. This was also alien-themed, and there was the Area 51 Black Mailbox cache at it.

An extraterrestrial mailbox

Another view of the mailbox

The mailbox is where UFO watchers gather to watch the skies. Watchers were convinced that the mailbox contained mail for Area 51. In fact it is actually the mailbox of a local rancher. It was once the “Black mailbox” but the rancher got very fed up of watchers routing through his mail for confidential documents. He even found a bullet hole in his mail once. So he installed a new white bulletproof mailbox and auctioned the old black one off for $1000 to a UFO fan!!! “Mailbox road” leads off from the mailbox and to the famous Area 51, although we didn’t visit it!

The first hundred-or-so caches along the stretch were the most demanding. The ground that they were placed on was very bushy and full of cactuses and hiding places. Spotting the pile of rocks that the caches were hidden in was very challenging and in many places the caches were very far from the road. It was a real team effort to jump out of the car and hunt them out!

Mel and Ray running for the cache

Me and Ray searching

One of the many cactuses on the first stretch of the series

It wasn’t long before we hit the “Open range” signs and all of the cows that were roaming around the area. They all looked very skinny as there really wasn’t that much to eat for them anywhere. In a few cases cows were standing right next to the caches that we needed to get to and we needed to encourage them to move! We also found a few caches missing and wondered if the cows had taken them!!!

Look out!

The only muggles on the highway!

After our first day we had managed the first 195 ET caches. This included the slow drive from Vegas plus a few other nice individual caches. These included one at Horny’s rest area, a roadside memorial (Shara), and a cache at a car wreck, Elvis can’t drive. When we lifted the bonnet to find the cache, a big mouse scuttled out. Very cute!

Horny's Rest Area

The memorial

A little mouse at GZ

We stayed the night in a little town called Rachel, in a place called the Little A’Le’Inn which is in the middle of the ET highway stretch. They had a bar/restaurant as well as plenty of trailers where you can stay the night. There’s also a gift shop with everything alien! We had a good look around before grabbing food and settling down for the night. We were also able to get Geocaching ET Highway sweatshirts from there. πŸ˜€ We were really impressed with the food that they served at the Little Ale Inn. Everything was freshly prepared and their “Alien burger” and Blueberry pies were absolutely amazing. It was an amazing place to stop off and really made our trip on the ET Highway feel special. There was also a cache in the Little Ale Inn, QUARK’S. It was a huge ammo box, the biggest that we had ever seen!!!

The Little Ale Inn Cache

Aliens at Little Ale Inn

Us with QUARK'S cache

After some good food and a quick explore we headed to our trailer for the night. It wasn’t the greatest accomodation, but the place was clean, the bed was comfortable, we had a fridge and microwave, and mel-ray’s room even had a lounge area and kitchen in it!

2nd April – ET Day 2: Walking in the desert

On the second day we had a *really* early start because we had the Alien Head and UFO walks planned. These are walks of 50-ish caches each which form an alien head and UFO shapes on the map.

Some more interesting map shapes

Although it was very warm in Rachel when we left, and the caches were only 5 miles down the road from there it was absolutely freezing due to the wind by the time we started. I was wrapped up in two jumpers and a coat just to keep warm as despite the blue sky and bright sunshine it was very cold.

Views on the walk

Like the “My heart” series that we had done in Vegas, these caches were placed in white pipes in the ground and placed around every 528ft. You may think that these would be easy to find but in some cases we were standing right next to them and still couldn’t see them!!!!!

A sample of the caches on the walks

There were some great views of mountains all along both walks and despite there not being much to see on the ground the views of the mountains kept us going!

The ground on both series

Wrapped up warm for the walking

Alien head scratched on the sand on the walk

Soon we had finished the alien head and ufo walks and were able to head back down the Rachel for lunch. On the walks we had reached our 7000th cache and mel-ray reached their 9000th cache. It was too windy outside to pose for a photo so we did our snapping when we got back to the Little ale Inn.

Celebrating our 7000th find

Mel-ray celebrating their 9000th find

Pat, the owner of the Little Ale Inn and her daughter were running it this lunchtime and we got such a warm greeting “Oh it’s the Geocachers!” They looked after us really well. The Geocaching series along the highway has brought a lot more business to the Inn. The previous ET Highway series got archived last year because there were complaints from truck drivers that cachers weren’t pulling far enough off the road and were causing hazards. With the series archived the businesses along the stretch weren’t doing so well and so the CO’s were able to negotiate with the authorities to allow the series to be replaced. In the old series the caches were right along the side of the road, with this series the caches were placed a lot deeper to encourage the cachers to pull off onto the gravel strip and not cause a hazard. From the plaque on the wall it’s clear that there’s a good relationship between the inn owners and the cache owners.

A thank you from the COs

After a well deserved Alien Burger for lunch, we headed off to do some more ET. We started at ET0317, leaving ET0196 to ET0316 for the following day as they were back in the direction of Alamo where we needed to head for gas.

We managed to get a better system going for the ET Highway. 4 people in the car is the perfect number as everyone can have a job so that you can get through the caches quickly. We hired a Dodge Grand Caravan mini van for our task. It was the perfect size as the back seats folded down to accommodate our luggage when traveling so that we could sit in the 4 front seats. It was also equipped with a sliding door so that you can easily hop out to grab the cache. For the ET Highway, there is a “rolling log” system. It’s something we’d never do for any other caches, but is an acceptable method for finding the ET caches. Our system worked like this: “The driver” would drive and stop opposite each cache. “The counter” would sit in the front and count down the distance to the next cache so that the driver knew where to stop, “The stamper” would stamp the previous cache logbook and then “The runner” would jump out of the car, run to the rocks, swap the cache with the pre-signed cache, and then hand the new cache back to “The stamper” ready for the next swap. The result is that the caches slowly move along as each cacher finds it. Using this method you can easily find a good few hundred caches in a day and it’s how some people have found all 1500 in the space of 24 hours. Crazy!

Stamping (The red nail polish didn't last long!!!)

An ET cache under stones

We alternated jobs as we did the series. Every 25 caches there would be a new “Runner”. Ray and Andy did all of the driving and would swap at 50 or 75 caches. We swapped the “Stamper” and “Counter” roles every 25 or 50 caches. Doing it this way meant that it didn’t get boring. When we were planning to do the series I did think that we would get bored, but the great scenery and laughs along the way kept us motivated.

Views of the mountains

The long road ahead

Snow capped mountains ahead

Another mountain ahead

Rocks in the distance

Some of the ET series were placed at US Benchmarks. We stopped to grab some photos of them so that we could perhaps log them on as well when we got home.

A benchmark

We were treated to some really nice individual caches along this stretch of the ET series too. This also helped break up the flurry of film cans. One was Mike’s Memorial Cache by the memorial of a cacher’s brother who had died on the Highway after hitting one of the cows on the open range. The cache was a really interesting container.

The memorial

An impressive cache

There was also “The original ET Highway” cache which had us doing some rock climbing for some amazing views over a lake where we were also able to pick up the Playa earth cache.

The Original ET cache

Views from the Original ET cache

We finished this day on ET0750 with some great views of the mountains and some trails going up into the sky which were *obviously* from UFOs! πŸ˜‰

UFO trails in the sky

Once back at the Little Ale Inn for our final night we were able to explore the alien-themed outside. It was amazing the amount of effort that had gone into decorating it!

An alien painted on the outside of the building

Self parking!

Crash landing!

The Little Ale Inn bar

A very grand UFO!

3rd April – Time to refuel!

On our 3rd ET caching day we had to head back to Ash Springs (near Alamo) to get fuel. It was about 40 miles back so after we had topped up we were able to head back towards Rachel and grab caches ET0196 to ET0316 that we had missed. It was quite strange as we found our names in some of these caches already. Cachers that had found the earlier caches after us had used the “rolling log” system and pushed the caches we had signed prior to ET0196 onwards! In these caches we stamped over our names and replaced them as normal.

ET0316 brought us back to the Little Ale Inn for an early lunch.

This is Rachel

After lunch we were able to complete a challenge cache, One Busy Day On The E.T. Highway. To complete this you had to find 6 caches on the same day with different icons within 100 miles of the challenge cache icon. Hidden around Rachel were plenty of traditionals, an earthcache, a virtual cache (archived but still loggable), a letterbox cache, a multi-cache, a wherigo, and an unknown cache. We found them all and completed the challenge before heading off to ET0751 to carry on from where we left off the previous day.

DC Day Park

We headed up towards Tonopah where we were staying for 2 nights. We headed through the Ghost town ‘Warm Springs’ where we also found the “ET Asteroid” cache where there was a huge rock by the side of the road.

Warm Springs

ET Asteroid

Although the cache series runs along the highway to begin with, after around the 950th cache it runs along a dirt road. We started the dirt road and grabbed around 100 caches along it before heading off to Tonopah. There were a few nice caches along the stretch to Tonopah which we stopped off for. One was at the entrance to a missile testing range, Testing 3-2-1, and the other at a giant bucket by the side of the road, Oh Bucket!.

Bucket cache

Missile testing

When we had planned our trip, we hadn’t realised what a lovely little town Tonopah is. It’s a mining town with a lot of history behind it and the locals seem very proud of their heritage. All along the street are plaques and statues giving information about the history of the town and a few caches were hidden on the metal statues. We were so glad that we visited Tonopah. We learnt that Tonopah was where they secretly tested Stealth Fighter planes in the night between 1982 and 1989.

Tonopah - Home of stealth

Home of stealth mural

Ore carts

Western Auto Mine

Auto mine cart

Tonopah are very proud of being a mining town and there were caches hidden on many of the metal figures around the town. The most amusing one however was hidden up a lady’s skirt. Oh my! πŸ˜‰ It was a sample of things to come.

Tonopah man and woman statue

One local was particularly friendly when Mel and I went for a wander around the town. It seemed that he collected junk from the local dump and surrounding areas and he was keen to show it to us. After trying to get us to take home a rusty horseshoe each he settled for giving us a small old glass bottle each, and then gave us a tiny piece of Turquoise stone each and also gave Mel a piece of Peacock Agate which he said was rarer than diamond and worth a fortune. We’re yet to be convinced! πŸ˜‰

Our new friend!

4th April – The end is near

Our final day on the ET Highway was a dusty one! We had around 450 caches left to grab and they were all along the dirt road. It didn’t start off too badly. The ground along the middle of the track was quite solid with the dust flying up only if you took the lazy option to park right next to the caches. We however stayed in the middle and instead ran the distance to each cache. All the time we were travelling along the track there was only one other vehicle that passed by us. Other than that we just saw wild horses, cows, and some bucks running across the road.

Wild horses

ET1000 was nicely laid out with rocks and we were grabbing the caches along the dirt road very quickly until…

ET 1000

We hit the REALLY dusty part of the road which had about 100 caches along it. The car was absolutely covered in dust both inside and out, as were we!!! Our spirits were still high, however and we were able to hit our 8000th cache, with mel-ray finding their 10,000th cache 50 caches after us. Wow! A massive congratulations to them both!

Our 8000 milestone

mel-ray's 10,000th find

We carried on. The last 250 caches seemed to drag by. We were getting worn out, had dust paste in our mouth, dust up our noses, and dust all in our eyes, but somehow we soldiered on and grabbed those last few that we needed to complete the whole ET Highway series.

Views from the dusty road

Views of the long road ahead

Cache ET1500 didn’t disappoint and it was a lovely way to end the series.

1500 in the rocks

mel-ray at the end

cassandy at the end

Our car however, wasn’t quite so lovely! It was absolutely filthy!!!!!

Dirty car

A very dirty light

The boys did a good job of cleaning it up for us in the evening, both inside and out and it wasn’t so bad in the end!!! πŸ™‚

At the car wash!

When I first heard about the ET Highway I thought it’d be extremely boring. Film can, after film can, after film can… In fact it was quite the opposite. It was a big mass of frantic fun! The scenery and area was so different to anything that we’ve ever cached in before that the whole experience was just brilliant and the alien theme just added to the fun. I thought perhaps that afterwards I’d never want to see another film can again, however I feel quite the opposite. The ET Highway power trail was a truly amazing caching trip!!!


8 Responses to “An American caching adventure (Part 1) – The ET highway”

  1. sandi Says:

    Fantastic blogs posts! You are so lucky to have the ET Highway and route 66 under your belt. I live in California and I haven’t had the opportunity to do them yet.

    I fulfilled my dream last summer of traveling to England. But we traveled with a huge group of Girl Scouts (or Girl Guides) so there was little opportunity to cache. We did manage to grad one in Windsor Castle. the next time I go back it will just be my husband and I and we plan on doing serious caching.

  2. Clive Says:

    What a wonderful blog, thanks Cass for sharing your experience.

  3. John Rawnsley (Yorkie63) Says:

    Cass thank you for sharing your adventure. you have certainly changed my opinion about this series. it seems you had a great time and some cherished memories to take away.

  4. oldweeb Says:

    500 additional caches added to ET2 series. # 2000 = GC3KY2B
    Now you have to come back!!

  5. sky-seeker Says:

    Thank you for your post. I “Discovered” your Travel Bug trackable at “An Ammo Can” and that had the link here. I only have 89 caches so far in less than 2 months. The TB’s here were the first I had ever seen! I am learning so much from your adventure. Thank you. It must be so exciting to geocache internationally!

  6. Betsy Says:

    Wow thanks so much for all this awesome info!! We are heading there this Saturday and I was really worried it would be boring but your story made me feel much more excited about it!!now I am looking forward to it all the more!!

  7. Power Up | Cacheology Says:

    […] but I’ve read a few blogs written by folks who have done it – like this group from EnglandΒ – and they had a blast doing it. Β The ET first became popular with UFO fans during the […]

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