State parks, Parkites get hooked on geocaching
May 12, 2007
The computer science-meets-sunshine sport of geocaching, once limited to the nomenclature of the technology elite, is quickly becoming a household term.
The number of Park City geocaches hidden treasures searchable with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver has nearly doubled since 2005, according to geocaching.com, a site that lists caches throughout the world. Two years ago, there were 90 caches within 10 miles of Park City. Today there are 143.
Tom Kelly, United States ski team spokesperson and local geocaching instructor, has kept a close eye on the trend since 2004.
For the past few years, he has taught an introductory course through
The Park City School District’s adult education programs.
GPS units work by collecting time-encoded signals from multiple satellites, three or four, he explains, then, the GPS receiver matches the time from different satellites and computes the differential using triangulation.
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The first satellite was launched in 1974, Kelly says. By 1994, there were 24. Geocaching began in May, 2000, when President Bill Clinton allowed a more accurate signal to be accessed by the public Kelly says before that time, the more precise signals were reserved for the military.
Geocaching.com names Dave Ulmer, an Oregon computer consultant, as the father of the techno-sport. The day after the satellites were turned on he began what he called "The Great American GPS Stash Hunt," by hiding a navigational target (a black bucket filled with a logbook and prizes videos, books, software and a slingshot) in the woods near Beaver Creek, Ore.
Ulmer posted the coordinates on a Web site. The idea was that once a person found the stash by plugging in its coordinates to the GPS unit, they would "take some stuff, leave some stuff," and document their discovery in the logbook.
Kelly’s first geocache excursion took him to the Pony Express Trail near Orem, where he found two or three caches in ammo cans and Tupperware containers, he says. Inside the containers, as is the geocaching custom, were gifts and a pad of paper for a logbook to mark a finder’s discovery of the cache.
"When we used to drive our Jeep in the West Desert, we’d drive aimlessly and look at scenery," he recalls. "Now geocaching takes us to places in the desert we would never have known to stop at — beautiful places, adventurous places — just places we’d never thought of."
In the online community at geocaching.com, the husband-and-wife team is known as Tumbleweed (for Tom) and Cactus (for Carole). Cactus tends to be the brains, while Tumbleweed has a knack for understanding the GPS unit, Kelly says.
GPS units convey the location of a cache within 30 to 50 feet, leaving the rest of the search to strategic thinking and logic. When geocachers list the coordinates on geocaching.com, they often accompany their treasure box with a description and a hint.
Two years ago, the duo visited a metropolitan area with their GPS receiver in tow. They had downloaded the coordinates of the cache, but while Kelly says he did pinpoint the coordinates with his unit, his wife was instrumental in finding the cache.
"We were in the middle of a huge, open plaza and there was absolutely no place anywhere you could hide a cache," he remembers. "Finally, after reading it enough times, we started to read between the lines and found out we were at the right place, but that there was an underground parking ramp beneath us."
Mountain Trails Foundation Executive Director Carol Potter, who describes herself as "hooked" to the geocaching craze, likewise gets stumped by caches once in a while. She’s found several caches in Miners Park and Round Valley, and has upgraded her GPS unit twice, but still can’t find the one at Shoe Tree Park. "It’s gotten me crazy," she says. "I’ve been there 20 times and can’t find it."
Potter says she began geocaching last summer with friends and family.
"Friends of mine from Michigan came and it was a really fun way for me to show them Park City," she says. "For me, it’s like the ultimate activity, because I’m really techy, but it also gets me onto sections of our trail system that I’ve never seen before."
Utah State Division of Parks and Recreation Department of Natural Resources hopes the sport will bring new visitors to parks.
To commemorate their 50th anniversary, 41 Utah State Parks have hidden geocaches, and received 80 Magellan GPS units (two for every park). Renting a unit is free.
Next week, the parks, including Summit County’s Rockport State Park and Wasatch County’s Jordanelle, Deer Creek and Wasatch Mountain state parks, will be planting commemorative geocoins in their caches for an extra incentive.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Wendy Wilson, a Wasatch Mountain State Park naturalist, led a trip to one of two caches in Midway. The adventure began .78 miles away from the cache, with a GPS unit plotting the way to Huber Grove. To start the hunt, Wilson pressed the button "go to."
Within a few paces from the cache, the GPS unit began to beep.
The box discovered, the treasures examined, Wilson suggested reading the logbook, brimming with geocachers notes.
February 18, a geocacher wrote: "Took a guide book and left a shark’s tooth."
And on April 28, another penned: "Taking Lego Larry around the world" (a figurine had been placed and then taken on a journey to another cache site, says Wilson).
This is the first geocache adventure the state has put together to get people to visit more parks, Wilson says, adding that most national parks don’t permit geocaching.
Before this year, Wilson had not cached, but like Potter and Kelly, she now finds herself on excursions in her spare time.
"You find one," she says, "and you want to find another."
To sign up for Tom Kelly’s class which begins in June, visit http://www.pcschools.us or call Jane Toly at 615-0215.
GPS units can be found at outdoor retailers like REI. For used GPS units, Kelly recommends Magellan and Garmin brands, which cost around $200 to $300. More affordable used units can be found on eBay, he says.