By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN When people hear the word “geocaching,” they invariably give one of two responses:
“I love geocaching! I do it all the time!”
Or . . .
“Geocaching? What’s that?”
For those who are new to the game, geocaching is a high-tech “hide-and-seek” that’s played throughout the world using handheld GPS devices.
The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, which are hidden in parks, trails, and other scenic areas.
Anyone can hide a geocache (pronounced geo-cash) and give its coordinates online. Other players then look at the geocaching website to see where the items are hidden, and try to locate them.
“Some are difficult and hard to get to, and some are relatively easy,” said Mike Lhotka of Cokato, who first tried geocaching with his wife, Barb, about three years ago.
“A friend of ours got us started while we were camping at Collinwood Regional Park,” Lhotka said.
It might seem easy to find a hidden container when given the coordinates, but that’s not always the case.
“Some are really small, and off the beaten path,” Lhotka explained. “They’re not buried, but they can be in a hollow tree or up in the crook of a branch.”
The element of surprise is always a highlight. Players never know what type of treasure they will find.
“You see a lot of different styles,” Lhotka said.
Traditional geocaches include a weather-resistant container and a logbook for players to record their pseudo name, date, and time of the find.
Some have little prizes, such as golf balls, erasers, keychains, or collectible cards. People who find the cache are welcome to take one item, and leave something of equal or greater value in its place.
Puzzle geocaches give players clues that they must decipher in order to find the prize.
Dave Racette of Winsted and Todd Baumann-Fern of Waverly ran into this type on one of their hunts.
“When we found it, it was just an old film canister,” Racette said. At first, they were confused, but when they opened it, another clue was inside, pointing them to the real treasure.
A similar type is the “multi-stage” geocache. One of these is on the Luce Line Trail in Winsted, near the trestle collapse site. The first set of coordinates takes players to the west side of the trestle collapse. Once they find that, they are directed to a second set of coordinates on the east side.
One of the hardest caches for Racette to find was in a tree in Delano.
“It was disguised as a pinecone,” he said. “It took me 20 minutes to find. It was the size of half a pinky, hung in a branch.”
Another type is the virtual geocache, where instead of searching for a container, players go to a certain location and answer questions. They can then record their visit by taking a photo. One of these sites is at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum near Chanhassen.
Earth caches are similar, in that participants answer questions about the geographic site, and sometimes record their opinions. A natural spring fountain in Rockford is one such location.
Geocachers also have events where they go out to eat and discuss their finds and love of geocaching.
Those who sign up to be part of the online community can get to know other geocachers through blogs, forums, and personal messages. Some people share photos of their finds, along with interesting stories about their searches.
Geocaching is a popular hobby for people of all ages.
“It’s a worldwide phenomenon,” said geocache enthusiast Bob Blake of Mound. “People use it as an excuse to get outside, and it’s a fun adventure for families with children.”
Jennifer and Joe Gallus of Howard Lake enjoy geocaching at state parks with their sons, Joe and Jacob.
“I just think it’s a great learning experience for all of us,” Jennifer said.
“I like how it’s hard and a challenge,” 11-year-old Joe said.
The family remembers one hunt when it started raining.
“We didn’t let that stop us,” Jennifer laughed. “We were soaked.”
For 9-year-old Jacob, the rain only added to the adventure.
“It’s a challenge when it’s so slippery,” he said.
To learn more about geocaching, go to www.geocaching.com.