Geocaching and the Saga of Bull Creek Overlook

Many years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the hobby of Geocaching. I believe he had read about it in Playboy magazine, which really has no bearing on this subject other than I find it a bit amusing for no good reason. However, now that I’ve mentioned that, I feel I should tell you right up front that Geocaching does not in any way involve naked women. Well I suppose it could but…never mind, let’s get back to the point.

Geocaching is a hobby where people across the world get little containers (an ammo box is a popular choice) and hide them in the woods or any place they think would make a good spot. They then use a hand held GPS unit to note the coordinates (you can get a decent one for about $100), and post those coordinates to the Geocaching website. Other intrepid Geocachers can then search the website for caches in their area (or beyond) and use their own GPS units to go and seek out these caches. There’s usually a log book to sign, and various little knick-knacks in the box. If you’re going to take something from the box, it’s generally polite to leave something in return. See the official website for more details. I’ve found this hobby to be a great way to discover places in Austin that I never knew existed, including beautiful little parks, trails, and points of interest. One Geocaching adventure that stands out in my mind, however, is our quest for Bull Creek Overlook.

My wife, cousin and I first tried for this cache several years ago when we were visiting my cousin before we lived here. We had found many other caches that day, and thought we’d try and squeeze in one more. Following the GPS, we wound our way through a neighborhood way up in the hills of the Bull Creek area. We got as close as we could to coordinates but they seemed to be over the edge of the road where it dropped off steeply. Apparently we needed to approach from below, possibly. We wound our way around to what seemed to be a parking area leading into a wooded park with some trails. We didn’t have a lot of daylight left, so we hustled toward the coordinates.

We pushed through the woods, now off anything resembling a beaten path and reached a point where it seemed the cache was straight up a fairly steep hill, which made sense after our previous attempt. The three of us started scrambling up the hill with daylight fading fast. Up and up we clambered, but yet the distance to the cache was not decreasing quickly. It then dawned on me that the distance to the cache was probably not including altitude, so though we were climbing higher and higher up the hill, we were only getting very slightly closer to the cache on a horizontal plane. It was getting dark quickly, and realizing that we were now halfway up a very steep hill after rushing through the woods to get here without really knowing where we were going, I realized that getting back to car could be challenge. We gave up and decided we better start back.

Getting down was not going to be as easy as getting up. We had to employ the “sit and scoot down the hill” method. Once we finally got to the bottom, it was officially dark. One of us had a keychain LED flashlight, luckily, so eventually we managed to backtrack our way through the unfamiliar woods to the car, defeated.

Several years passed, during which time my wife and I moved to Austin and I got a job right by the Bull Creek Overlook Cache. In fact, some of the pictures people had posted from the view of the cache had a clear view of my office building. It was time to plan and mount another assault. This cache had haunted us for too long! During lunch hours, I scouted out the park nearest the cache and planned our approach.

Christmas Eve, 2005. It was time to conquer this specter from our past. It was a beautiful day, although laughably warm considering it was December 24. You would have thought it was spring. We crossed the creek at a shallow point, stepping on a rock to get across without even getting our feet wet. We followed some trails for a bit, and then made a beeline through rough woods when it looked like we should be in line with the cache. I had read all the previous feedback on the website, and previous cachers all indicated that this was one hell of a challenging cache, and a very steep climb up a hill for the last bit of the journey. Pictures taken from the cache seemed to be pretty high up on the hill. Most geocaches are fairly casual affairs, not nearly this rough, but that made it all the more interesting.

We arrived in the vicinity of the coordinates (GPS is only accurate to within about 20 feet at best) and started looking. Suddenly my coordinates seemed to drift a bit away from where we were. A little drift is normal, but they kept drifting further. As we tried to follow them we found ourselves nowhere near where we had started looking. It quickly became apparent that we were having a day of GPS wonkiness. That’s a technical term. The coordinates went from supposedly being within 20 feet to ever increasing numbers, until it now thought the cache was a mile away. Then we started losing locks on the satellites altogether and having no signal. Battery power was fine, it was a clear day, this made no sense. I could hear Bull Creek Overlook cackling maniacally at me. It was just mocking me now. We tried for a while longer, determined to stick with it, but it quickly became obvious that for whatever reason, the GPS unit was not going to keep a lock. It was hopeless. Again, we went home defeated, and took solace in the loads of Christmas treats.

December 26, 2005. This was it. The theme from “Rocky” played in my head. Cue montage of applying warpaint, and preparing equipment. None of this actually happened but it’s much more exciting than an accurate montage which would have been really boring. It would basically be just one scene of us bringing a second GPS unit with us. That’s right, Bull Creek! Two! Two GPS units! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ahhhh!

It was actually a bit hot outside. Gotta love a Texas winter. The signals led us through the woods and trails and soon we found ourselves once again beginning the ascent up a fairly steep hill. It was definitely a challenging climb. Being cautious (a.k.a. a big paranoid wussy), I took my time being extra careful, as a slip on this hill could lead to a fairly nasty slide down. Finally we reached a place where both GPS units indicated that the cache should be in our vicinity. Moving around on the hillside was not easy, so the three of us spread out a bit to search more area. The view was amazing, looking out over the park towards 360. Then the words came, “I found it!” My cousin had located the elusive ammo box.

We all converged on it’s location examining its contents. As usual, there was a log book which I signed and browsed some of the other entries. From all the trinkets we decided to take a little moose toy that splays its legs out as if it was on ice, and then springs back up when you push his antlers. In return we left a Star Wars Battle droid on a battle bike. The curse of Bull Creek Overlook had been broken. Our quest which had begun years before had finally come to an end. We decided to have a conquerers dinner with the $50 gift certificate to The County Line that my wife’s boss had given her, not knowing she was a vegetarian (she had a salad). The moose sat triumphantly on our table as we took turns pushing it down and watching it spring back up. Only this very moment did I realize the symbolism in that and how it’s a pretty good parallel to our experience.

When life pushes your moose down and splays its legs asunder, flick your antlers and spring proudly back up. Alright, maybe toys from kid’s fast food meals don’t make the best proverbs. Check out Geocaching, and explore Austin.

1 Comment so far

  1. wae (unregistered) on February 13th, 2006 @ 5:06 pm

    Welcome Heath! I’ve been tempted to jump in the geocaching fray. It never hurts to have another reason to explore Bull Creek.

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