Local Geocachers Seek Out Secret Stashes in Community - The Missourian: Features People

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Local Geocachers Seek Out Secret Stashes in Community

A treasure is hidden only a few hundred feet off the Washington Riverfront Trail. A group, hunting for this treasure, dives into the woods next to the paved path and fights through thick brush and poison ivy. A young boy frantically searches through dead leaves and around an old tree. "It's more west than that, Isaac," one of them calls out. Then, they discover it: a small film canister tied to a tree branch, camouflaged in the leaves.

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Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 12:00 am | Updated: 4:25 pm, Tue Apr 16, 2013.

Inside are the names of dozens of people who have come here before, all in the pursuit of their treasure-hunting, high-tech hobby: geocaching, pronounced geo- #"cashing."

The new sport - or obsession to many - doesn't require a lot of money or equipment. All you need is a GPS unit, which is a handheld device that can direct users to specific locations through coordinates, and a love for adventure and the outdoors.

How to Play

Tim Ueltzen, Washington, said the hobby involves "getting out in the woods, hiking and seeing new places." Anyone, including young children and the elderly, can take part.

Ueltzen, his wife, Pam, and their dog, Molly, have been geocaching since 2001. They first learned about the hobby on a news program. Since then, Ueltzen and his team have found over 1,400 secret geocaching spots, called "caches."

To play, a person must buy a GPS unit, which costs about $100, Ueltzen said. Participants can be from all walks of life, including young children, senior citizens, couples and single adventurers.

A GPS user can then choose a "cache" they want to pursue. Geocachers log onto the Web site www.geocaching.com, the official geocaching Web site, to find caches.

A quick search on the Web site reveals over 35 "caches" in a 15-mile radius of the 63090 ZIP code. Each of these miniature treasure hunts is labeled with a clever name, such as "Bridge View" and "Do You Want Fries With That?" There are about 400,000 caches worldwide.

Users then click on a cache they want to find. This page will contain the cache's coordinates, general area, a clue on how to find it and comments from hobbyists who have already found it.

After entering the coordinates into a GPS, the geocacher drives to the general area and starts walking. They use the directions given by their GPS as well as the clues on the Web site.

It sounds easy, but the trick is finding the cache once you reach the spot, the Web site explains. Caches in rural areas may be hidden in a log, under some brush or tied in a tree. Caches in urban areas may be stuck to magnetic surfaces in odd places.

Trinkets Become Treasure

The caches themselves come in four varieties, explained Gale Nie, Union, who geocaches with his son, Isaac, age 8.

A "micro" cache is nothing but a small container that contains strips of paper. Geocachers write their names on the paper.

A "traditional" cache is a sealed container that holds little trinkets left by all of the geocachers who have visited that spot before.

The items can be anything, from wooden signature coins with the geocacher's name on it to a little plastic toy. Nie said the items must be "family friendly" and should never be food. These caches also include a notebook for hobbyists to sign.

A "virtual" cache asks geocachers to find a location and answer posted questions about that spot.

A "multi" cache involves a series of coordinates. These caches usually include a complex puzzle.

For example, Ueltzen showed off a cache he created at the Washington riverfront park, in which other hobbyists must find numbers on a monument. The cache's page on the Web site gives a formula to follow. Once the numbers are located and plugged into the formula, the geocacher will receive the GPS coordinates to the next spot.

Other geocachers make the caches. They place them in a secret spot with permission; put them on the geocaching Web site; and maintain the caches - just for the love of geocaching. Ueltzen and his wife have created about 30 caches in Missouri.

Crazy for Caching

Tom Brinkmann, Washington, geocaches with his family as well as with his friend, B.J. Hillermann, Eureka, formerly of Washington.

Brinkmann said he loves geocaching because he enjoys discovering new places and staying active.

He and other geocachers who gathered at the Washington riverfront on Monday discussed their most challenging caches as well as how many finds they have "logged" on the Web site, or saved on their account to show off. Bragging rights are a big part of geocaching.

Nie said, "The only people who don't care about the numbers -"

"- can't find any?" Brinkmann finished for him with a chuckle.

All geocachers have a favorite cache-hunting stories to tell, as well.

Ueltzen completed a cache titled the "Blood Cache" near the intersection of Interstates 44 and 270. At the end of the hunt, Ueltzen found a small house made of rocks. When he reached his hand in to pull out the container, it released a trigger that caused a fake spider to fall down.

"Molly (the dog) was with me on that one," Ueltzen said. "She even jumped!"

Brinkmann said he went on a cache hunt in St. Louis County that included about 11 coordinates. Luckily, Brinkmann had a notebook with him and scribbled down details about the various clues at each location. The last coordinate asked specific information about the items found at each location, such as the numbers on a set of keys.

At the last coordinate, he had to put together numbers from all of the sites' puzzles and use it on a combination lock.

Some of the geocachers dream of finding caches hidden in the world's most exotic locations.

"Has anybody ever found the caches in Antarctica?" Isaac Nie asked his dad with a mischievous grin.

"Yes, they have," Nie responds, and the same glint can be seen in his eye.

Geocachers also have their own unique lingo, user names and annual meetings.

However, these enthusiasts encourage everyone to give geocaching a try.

They gave a list of items for a beginner's survival kit:

GPS unit, extra batteries, cell phone (especially if geocaching alone), bug spray, flashlight, compass and a tool for checking places you may not want to reach into, such as a rotting log.

Other Web sites to check out include the St. Louis Area Geocachers Association at www.geostl.com and the Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure, an annual convention and competition, at www.mogageo.com

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