In case you hadn’t noticed, “Wanderings and Walkabouts” took a somewhat long hiatus. That’s because I also took a somewhat long hiatus, which sounds like a sneaky way to say I took a vacation, but I can assure you that definitely was not the case. No, instead I was laid up in bed after (surprise!) surgery. Gallbladders aren’t really necessary anyway.
After a long stint holding down the couch, I was getting antsy; I needed to get back to nature. So when my surgeon cleared me to swim, exercise and enjoy life to the fullest, I bolted for the door. Walls weren’t going to contain me any longer!
Slight problem though; my time in repose left me weak and out of shape. A short walk would have to do for my reintroduction to the outdoors. Snake Den State Park had been on the to-do list for a while and it made perfect sense for a quick hike after work.
Located off Route 6 in Johnston, Snake Den State Park is a pretty impressive piece of preserved land in a town known mostly for its landfill. It’s encompasses approximately 1,000 acres, which includes beautiful open fields, hiking trails, hunting areas and a working farm. The name of the park is rather peculiar and a little worrisome if you’re me or Indiana Jones. I couldn’t find much information on the origin of the name, except to confirm that the park is not full of snakes, which was good enough for me.
There is parking for one trailhead at the fire station on Route 6, but we decided to park in a dirt lot north of the farm on Brown Avenue. We took the trail that runs alongside of the open field for a while before it plunged us into the cool darkness of the woods.
I was instantly rejuvenated. The smell of damp earth and oxygen straight from the tree immediately relaxed me. I was exactly where I wanted to be. We wandered for a bit, keeping an eye on the sun as best we could through the leaves. We weren’t exactly prepared to hike in the dark and the view from the trail over the open field looked due west. Perfect sunset spot.
Eventually we came to a small stream and decided it was as good a turnaround point as any, so we about-faced and made our way back. Since we were the only car parked at the trailhead and hadn’t seen a single soul on our short trek, we were quite surprised when we realized we had company.
And apparently we had walked right by him without even noticing. Standing in the brush about 20 feet off the trail next to a large tree was John Nichols, known to the members of geocaching.com as “Adventurist1.”
“You walked right by me before,” said Nichols as we approached. “I wasn’t sure if you were looking for the cache so I didn’t want to give it away too easily.”
Holding a bright red DeLorme GPS and sweating a bit from his bushwhack through the woods, Nichols was standing underneath his find. The geocache, a small camouflaged cylinder in this case, was screwed into the underside of a downed tree branch.
According to geocaching.com, there are over a dozen caches in Snake Den State Park. Nichols had found several the day before and was back again that day to find more. Using his GPS, he traverses the park in search of the caches, which can be hidden just about anywhere. The coordinates for each are listed online, and so all you have to do is follow your GPS to the right spot. It’s far easier to decipher than a treasure map.
The caches usually contain a log book to record that you found it, and sometimes a handful of small “prizes” for the victorious searchers. This particular cache, named “Screwed Up Again,” had a sandwich-size plastic bag inside filled with a plethora of different items, ranging from key chains to rubber worms and everything in between. It’s customary to take one of the prizes when you find the cache and leave something in return, but Nichols usually practices “take nothing, leave nothing.” The thrill of the hunt is enough for him.
Using his GPS, Nichols recorded that he found the cache, and then took a look at the sun, which was making a fast break for the horizon. He was far more prepared for a nighttime trek than we were, so we said goodbye and continued back down the trail, plotting a return to trip to Snake Den. Except next time we’ll bring a GPS and a sack of trinkets from the dollar store.