Spoiler alert: See the video BEFORE you read!
Earlier this month, Brad and I went on a geocaching mission that really helped us get to know some parts of town up close and personal. Geocaching is a modern-day sport, a hide-and-seek treasure hunt that utilizes GPS technology.
It's easy: get yourself a GPS device (Ford sent us a Garmin Nuvi), visit the geocache website, find some geocaches in the location of your choice, download the coordinates and go! There are literally hundreds of geocaches all over Miami-Dade County and if you ever got bored, you could start leaving your own.
A geocache is basically a plastic, waterproof container with stuff inside it like a log book and small trinkets, toys or other easily moveable objects. A travel bug is a toy or object that geocachers move around from one cache to another. You're encouraged (though not obligated) to leave something behind. The fun part is searching for the cache. Of course, finding it is even better!
In this sleuthing process, you're supposed to be subtle and discreet, avoiding the attention of muggles -- people who don't know about geocaching and might think you're nuts poking about in bushes and what not.
For our mission, I wanted to focus on geocaches in my neighborhood (South Miami/Coral Gables) but also take a little excursion down to Miami-Dade's agricultural zone, the Redlands.
We started at Riviera Park, a patch of green and Royal Poinciana trees across Publix, right near the border of South Miami by Red Road. We totally sucked at this one! The GPS put us right on the high-traffic corner of this urban area and it was impossible to be subtle. We did find that the City of Coral Gables left the phone switchboard WIDE OPEN for anyone to tamper with ... hello?
Next stop, historic Pinewood Cemetery on beautiful Erwin Road. An important pioneer family, the Wagners, lived nearby in the 19th century. The original home still stands, but I've yet to confirm with historian Dr. Paul George about its exact location.
Anyway, this lush area is home to one of Miami's first cemeteries. Old timer Miami folks, some of them even civil war veterans, rest here. The site has been beautifully preserved with native vegetation and features the live oaks festooned with clingy Spanish moss that are common around here. It's a lovely, peaceful place for a pleasant stroll in the shade. In case you get all creeped-out by the thought of walking over dead bodies, don't worry -- the tombstones are not particularly prominent and if you didn't know it was a cemetery, you might think it was a park. Here, tucked by the roots of a tree, we scored our first geocache -- but I won't tell you EXACTLY where it is!
(Note: At this point in the adventure, we figured out that when you get out of the car, you're supposed to change the settings on your GPS from automobile to pedestrian. This way, you'll get a far more accurate reading.)
Afterward, we headed to Pinecrest Gardens, the former grounds of Parrot Jungle. This FREE park is one of my favorite places in the world and one of Miami-Dade County's best kept secrets. The grounds are lavish -- all manner of tropical specimens, including a unique Talipot palm, as well as the biggest banyan tree you'll probably ever see (and walk through!) -- are just two of the main botanical attractions. We found our second geocache here, but again, I won't spoil the surprise. (It's bad enough we caught it all on video and camera.)
At this point, we had worked up an appetite and headed down to the Redlands for a key lime shake at Robert is Here. Brad also indulged in his favorite food -- boiled peanuts. We tried to find a geocache at the Everglades Outpost wildlife refuge, but didn't have any luck, so we went straight to El Nachito, a great, little inexpensive Mexican restaurant near Homestead Air Force Base. Tucked away in some nondescript mall, seemingly in the middle of nowhere (the area remains desolate after Hurricane Andrew), El Nachito is worth the trip for authentic, fresh dishes. (Read more about El Nachito over at Miami Beach 411.)
Geocaching or not, do yourself a favor and follow the same itinerary for a great day tooling around urban Miami's most densely forested region at little cost except for gas and food. Pinewood Cemetery and Pinecrest Gardens are two very special and FREE Miami locations for enjoying a beautiful, subtropical natural environment, in spite of the fact that both are located within residential neighborhoods. Trust me, after you see these locations you'll think South Beach is a barren concrete jungle! Also, skip the Turnpike and take Old Cutler Road down to the Redlands, too. Finish it off with some delicious Mexican food at an affordable mom-and-pop restaurant. If you go, tell the owner, an army veteran, that those crazy Ford Fiesta people sent you!
As for geocaching, I gotta tell ya, I'm hooked! And I'm definitely going to continue geocaching, even beyond the scope of this Ford project.
June's Ford Fiesta mission theme was technology and as far as GPS is concerned, I'm sold. Even though I'm one of those persons with internal GPS (I have a great sense of direction), I use the device all the time now.
Other places to stop and enjoy greenery, but not free: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Deering Estate. FREE: Matheson Hammock, including the nature trail on the west side of Old Cutler Road. Also, Pinecrest is not designated as an official Tree City USA for nothin' ... the title was awarded by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
Want to travel virtually? See a Qik video of Pinewood Cemetery I shot in March, unrelated to this mission.
By the way, my leg is doing much better! I'm off the cast and I've actually driven the car a few times, but I'll save that for another blog post.