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One hiking guide describes it as “a shady ravine graced by overarching oaks and a trickling brook,” but it was a flood-ravaged dell when we were there, with its tall grass combed downstream. It’s where we found the first of two sets of things washed up by the flooding rain.

On sopping ground beneath a large tree lay an assortment of soaked objects: a toy compass, a green plastic Army man figure, a Hollywood Video keychain member card, a gold plastic medallion, a stub of crayon, a wristband, a member card for a yogurt shop in La Mesa, a torn plastic bag, and sodden folded white paper with handwriting on it. All of the items could have fit in the bag.

We were there because my wife, son, and I take a walk every Christmas day, and, having had a pleasant time a few weeks ago at Mission Trails Regional Park — picnicking under the trees on the banks of the San Diego River, catching sight of a couple of California quail and putting our hands in the morteros worn smooth in the stone from years of Native American grain-grinding — we thought it would be a great destination for our annual walk this year.

My son is a few months away from his fourth birthday, so we needed a trail he could manage on his own without needing to be carried — 42 pounds of wiggly boy is no laughing matter even up the lightest grade. So we struck out on the Oak Grove Loop Trail.

Cornflower blue skies, kelly green shoots, and the scent of wild herbs — heaven. The rains and flooding made for some muddy patches — little boy heaven — but they also turned up these curiosities.

I’m no expert, but they looked like a geocache.

Geocaching is a hobby in which people hide things in public places, record their GPS coordinates, leave clues to their locations on websites or in other geocaches, and wait for others to find them. It has components of wayfinding, orienteering, puzzle-solving, and treasure hunting.

The objects left can be anything but usually they’re small toys, keepsakes, memorabilia, or, for the diehards, custom-made coins or trinkets. Finders are free to take things from the cache — especially if someone has left a note telling you it’s okay — but usually people leave something. It’s a bit of a culch pile really, a magpie’s nest of worthless baubles and bits of nothing that are, all together, interesting.

Each geocache also contains a log of visitors, in which people put the date, their names or nicknames, a few notes, and thanks or well-wishes.

I’m not a geocacher —this is the first geocache I’ve ever found — but I wanted answers. Whose cache was it? How did it get there? Did they know it was damaged?

The best place to start was the logs.

Its pages were fragile. Each adhered to the next and lifting them the slightest caused tears. They’d be a pile of mush before I could get them home for drying. So I put everything on a stump of the tree, off the ground away from future rain, and peeled away log pages as best I could. I took photos but left everything there.

Once home, I asked for help about the find on the forums of Geocaching.com. I also sent an email to my cousin-in-law Eddie Frutchey in Elk Grove near Sacramento. He’s found 963 geocaches so far.

At Geocaching.com I searched for the GPS coordinates and found 72 caches within a mile. How to narrow it down?

A user by the name of Wadcutter (3,688 found) suggested it was this geocache, hidden not far away, but the pictures show a squirrel statue as part of it and the finders’ logs at geocaching.com don’t match the paper logs I found.

Then Bryan Ward (1,414 found), who goes by “rockhoundbmw,” responded to my question,

The log for the cache remains that you found matches perfectly with their log for this cache: http://coord.info/GC1380Y […]. The other log entries on that date match the ones online, too. It seems that the cache was archived, but then found by other cachers 2 years later and moved. It was re-hidden by Unknown_2_You as: http://coord.info/GC1RW7D, but then that listing got archived too!

In other words, the cache was considered no longer active — lost, stolen, destroyed, or something else — but it was refound, moved, became inactive again, and then the rain and floods flushed it out yet again in time for my family to find it.

I next sent an email to Mark C. Robinson (6,194 found), also known as “unknown_2_you” or “U2U” at Geocaching.com, because he’s listed as the fellow who rehid the cache that Bryan mentioned. Mark, however, said in an email, “It’s not my cache from past or present.”

Meanwhile, cousin Eddie got to work and discovered pretty conclusive evidence that it’s really this cache hidden by someone(s) who goes by Cookie & Bruiser (184 found). I’m still waiting to hear back from the hider for confirmation.

Thanks to everyone for their help with this, including diehard San Diegan geocacher Mary Ann Cruz, who goes by the name “Goblin Girl” (2638 found). Here’s Mary Ann’s log entry in bright orange:

You can view all high-resolution versions of the photos in my Flickr set.

Coming up: a second discovery at Mission Trails Regional Park.

I’m Grant Barrett, engagement editor for voiceofsandiego.org. Drop me a line at grant@voiceofsandiego.org, call me at (619) 550-5666, and follow me on Twitter @grantbarrett.

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