Where Can I Take My Dog Then?

One day you’re hiking along, probably by yourself, thinking, “Man, it sure would be great to have a dog along with me on this trail.” So you visit the animal shelters, browse Craigslist and PetFinder online, or pay some breeder a fortune, and find the perfect animal companion. Now you’re ready to hit the trail with your new friend only to find every hike you used to enjoy doesn’t allow pets or requires they be on a leash. What fun is that? You got the pup to watch him run around, not trot along next to you.

If you live in Larimer County, Colorado, then fear not. We’re a dog-friendly place up here. You can take Fido into most of the home improvement-type stores and many restaurants have an outdoor area that allows dogs. Okay, there’s no point in taking him into Rocky Mt National Park as he can’t go on any of the trails, leashed or not, but most of the National Forest hikes are open to dogs and allow them off-leash if you can control them. I’m going to outline a few near Estes Park (another dog-friendly town).

Lily MouView from on top of Lily Mtntain: This one’s a bit of an effort, being over 3 miles round trip and 1k’ elevation gain with a boulder scramble at the end, but the view from the top is staggering. You can see into the Park one way and out to the plains the other, with Estes Park spread out below you. There’s also a geocache below the summit. The trailhead is on Hwy 7 south of Estes Park a few miles and can be hard to find as parking is along the side of the road. If you get to Lily Lake, you’ve gone too far. Take water as there is none on the trail.

Transformers: Just below the switchbacks between Estes Park and Glen Haven are 3Picture of 3 transformers on a pole transformers up on poles. Park there. The trail starts by the telephone pole to the right of the transformers, scrambles up the side of the ridge, then wanders back to the McGraw Ranch subdivision; a fence marks the boundary. You can turn right and continue along Cow Creek, but there aren’t any bridges so you won’t get far in summer. This is a fairly short hike, less than 2 hrs, but not well travelled so it’s a good one if your dog isn’t very social or you just want peace and quiet. No water until you get to the creek; no geocaches either.

Piper Meadows: This is one of my favorites. It starts in Glen Haven as the Crosier Mt Trail, switchbacks up the ridge, then splits off to the right at Knapp’s Knob towards the H-G Ranch (there’s a sign). ItPicture of a meadow with mountains in the background‘s quite gentle as it meanders through semi-open pasture, passes an old homestead, and up to a gate that continues on into Estes Park, but don’t go that way. Turn left onto another path that takes you back to the Crosier Mt Trail along the upper side of Piper Meadows, where Harry Piper used to have a dairy farm early last century. Turn left when you hit the main trail (there’s another sign), then back down to the parking lot. You’ll see the ruins of Harry’s old milk house at the bottom of the meadow. It takes about 2 hrs and there are several geocaches around. Intermittent water.

Pauldy Sawmill: Take a lunch for this one, but you won’t need water for FidoPicture of old boiler and steam engine as most of the path is along Miller Fork Creek. The trailhead is at the end of Dunraven Glade Rd in Glen Haven and it has a restroom. Continue along the road on foot until you hit the trailhead on the right, then take it up over the ridge (hard work); you’ll drop down onto Miller Fork Trail at the bottom. Turn left and follow the trail to the ruins of George Pauldy’s old sawmill, which was destroyed in a forest fire in 1905. The boiler and steam engine are still there, and there’s also a geocache at the site (and others along the way). This hike is probably about 4 hrs and it’s quite steep at the end. There are also other trails that branch off along the way so it’s best to have a map with you.

There are other places to take your dog around Estes Park. The hike to the top of Crosier Mt has three different trailheads and another stunning view. The Deserted Village is a nice 2 or 3-hr hike along the North Fork of the Big Thompson; technically it requires a leash, but in winter when it’s not much used, you can get away without one if you go during the week. Lion’s Gulch is another good trail, but long. You can find all these online if you’re interested. You can find Lily Mt online too, but the other three trails I mentioned are off the beaten track.

Remember, your dog has to be controllable off-leash. No chasing wildlife or jumping on people. These trails are used by other hikers and their dogs; they’re trusting you to keep your dog off them.


So You Want to Plant Your First Geocache

I know how it is. You’ve found a few geocaches by now and you’re thinking, “Some of these are rubbish. I can do better than this,” and you probably can, but only if you keep a few things in mind. Geocaching hiding in a birdhouse

1. Pick the right location. Seriously, remember that cache you found under some rocks by the side of the road? Pretty boring, wasn’t it, not to mention a little dangerous for kids and dogs. Put your cache somewhere interesting in its own right. People shouldn’t be going there just to find your cache. If they are, put it somewhere else.

You can’t place physical caches in the National Parks or Wilderness Areas, but you can create virtual ones. Geocaching.com will reject applications to publish traditional caches in these places. You can’t bury them either or place them on private property without permission. Sorry, them’s the rules.

2. Make sure your coordinates are good. Look at the accuracy reading on your GPS to see how close it is to knowing where you are, and don’t use a smart phone for cache planting; it’s not good enough. When your GPS is getting a strong signal, your coordinates should be accurate to within 10′, but on a lousy day, you may be off by 80′ or more. If that’s the case, try approaching the location from several directions, wait a while and try again, or come back another day. Bad coordinates will just make people mad as they fumble about trying to find your cache. Sometimes you can stop the signal, Mal.

3. Pick the right container. Most people are pretty good at this, but I’ve come across a few containers that really weren’t up to the task. It’s going to be freezing. It’s going to be hot. It will rain. There will probably be animals sniffing around. Your container should be tough, waterproof, yet easy to open. You might also want to paint it or wrap it in camo tape.Picture of several different types of geocaching containers

GroundSpeak sells suitable containers that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are even camouflaged to look like rocks or logs. Ammo cans are always good, but they’re also quite large and hard to hide. Rubbermaid makes cheap and versatile containers, and old film canisters can serve as microcaches.

4. Put the right stuff in it. First, it needs a log book, and I do mean log “book,” not a few sheets of papePicture of small, black notebooksr stapled together. Logs get wet sometimes; they are taken out and replaced every time the cache is opened. Sheets of rolled up paper don’t last and are hard to use. Those little booklets you can buy in department stores work well.

Second, include both a pen and a mechanical pencil in your cache. The pen won’t work when it’s freezing and regular pencils need sharpening. Obviously you won’t be able to do this if your cache is a small one. You’ll also be stuck using rolled up paper as a log. (Can you tell I don’t like microcaches?)

Third, no food. None. Even in urban environments, critters will be attracted to it. While they may not get inside, they could reveal your hiding spot to muggles, never mind what a bear will do to it!

Fourth, put some seed articles in it. It’s not required and other cachers wPicture of a geocache and its contentsill put their own trinkets in, but it’s nice to start off with some quality stuff. You might also want to include a disposable camera if your container is large enough; it’s fun to see who’s been visiting your site.

Fifth, consider leaving a “first to find” prize. While it’s also not required, it encourages cachers to get out there and find your cache as soon as it’s published online. A suitable FTF prize would be a gift card, a multi-tool, money, or some other small but useful item. I’d spend $10-20 on it.

5. Make your listing interesting. Is there a history associated with the site? A great view? Some fun fact? Tell them about it. Upload a picture or two. Fill out the facilities information: Does it allow dogs? Is there a restroom, parking, food or water nearby? Is it a strenuous or long hike to the cache? Is it stroller or wheelchair friendly? Don’t make someone drive his family all the way to the trailhead only to find they have to leave Fido in the car.

Geocache hiding in a logGeocaching is a good time if people make the effort to do it right. Anyone can throw an old pill box under a rock in the parking lot, but what fun is that? Make your caches worth finding.

Treasure Hunting for Adults (and kids)

It’s a lovely day: brilliant sunshine, green grass, singing birds, and all that hoo-hah. You want to be out and about in it, but you don’t want to walk down the same old local park trail you use every day and a drive sounds too roady. Or maybe you have kids whose basic refrain, besides “I’m hungry,” is “I’m bored.” And then there’s the dog who just has to be walked every single day. What’s up with that?

Do you have a handheld GPS or a smart phone with a GPS app? Then why not go on a treasure hunt?

There’s this thing called geocaching, maybe you’ve heard of it, where people hide small coWoman holding GPS and pointingntainers of inexpensive items out in the wide world somewhere and you have to find them using your GPS. It’s easier than it sounds as the locations of all these containers are uploaded onto a website for you to select and download directly into your device.

The first and biggest of these sites is geocaching.com. You make yourself a free account, then zoom in on your area on the map so you can see all the geocaches displayed as little green box symbols. If you click on one, you bring up a data page that tells you about the site, why it was selected by the cache owner, maybe some pictures and information about parking and facilities, and a log. If you like it and want to find it, you download it into your device (which you’ll need to connect to your computer), then off you go.

Don’t forget, if you’re using a smart phone instead of a real GPS, you’ll have to make sure there is cell coverage in the place you want to go. Sounds obvious, but city dwellers make this mistake all the time.

Contents of a geocache spread on the ground next to an ammo canCaches vary in size and contents. Some are quite large, while others are only big enough to hold a log. Ammo boxes are common choices, as are rubbermaid containers and old film canisters. They contain trinkets like coins, polished rocks, small toys, or anything that isn’t food (you don’t want to attract wildlife). Each cache will also contain a paper log of some sort, which you sign with your geocaching user name and date. If you like, you can take a trinket and leave one of your own behind. I like to use dollar coins.

If you find a camera inside, take a picture of your team. The cache owner will eventually retrieve the camera and develop the images. He might upload some of them onto the cache’s data page or simply put the prints back in the cache for you to take later.

Another thing you might find in a cache is a trackable. These are items with codes on theTravel bugm that aren’t designed to be taken and kept. Geocachers move them from cache to cache and log their location on the website so the trackable owner knows where it is. Each trackable has its own data page with a log and a mission. Many missions are simply to visit as many caches as possible, but some are more ambitious and direct the trackable to go somewhere particular. If you decide to take it, your job is to help it along on its mission. It is not necessary to replace the trackable with a trinket; they are their own thing.

Once you’ve found your cache, go to its data page and log it again (there’s a paper log and an online log). This lets the cache owner know the cache is still there and in good shape. If you couldn’t find it, log that, too. If there are several “couldn’t find it” logs in a row, the cache owner will go to the site to see if it’s still there. If it’s been “muggled” (found and taken by a non-geocacher), he’ll replace it. Be careful when opening up caches that no one is observing you. They may become curious and take the cache after you’re gone, not realizing what it is. Hide it carefully in exactly the same place you found it to avoid it being muggled.

When you get home, take a look at the world map on geocaching.com. There are caches everywhere, even Antarctica, so don’t forget to take your GPS on vacation with you. Who knows? After you’ve found a few of these treasure troves, you may decide to hide a few of your own.World map showing locations of many geocaches