The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

January 24, 2014

Geocaching takes the search for fun outdoors

— Pittsburg, Kan., mother Suzy Chatman appreciates outdoor activities that don’t break the bank and that she can do with her five children, who range in age from 6 to 22.

Geocaching was the perfect fit.

“It’s something we can do together, pretty much anywhere, and it seems like an adventure,” she said.

The Chatmans are among the 6 million active geocachers on the hunt for 2,299,383 active geocaches worldwide.

It’s best described as a high-tech game of hide-and-seek. A geocacher places a trinket box or cache (a film canister, a medicine bottle, an Altoids tin) in the woods or an urban setting in a spot that’s hidden from view. He or she notes the latitude and longitude and posts it, along with clues, at  www.geocaching.com.

Other geocachers can log on, enter a zip code in which they’d like to look and download coordinates or take note of the clues for hidden caches in those areas.

Geocachers then can hit the trail to find hidden caches, and, if successful, enter their names on a paper log inside it. Some caches have SWAG (Stuff We All Get) inside — perhaps a little plastic green army man or a lapel pin — that a finder may keep and, if desired, may leave a signature item in return.

“It’s like finding little hidden treasures,” Chatman said. “Kind of like Indiana Jones.”

For the past three years, she and her children have concentrated their searches mostly locally, but if they know they’re going out of town — say, to Joplin or to Fort Scott — they plan in advance to look for a few.

“Some of them are in pretty good places where you could make it quite an adventure, and some are right out in the open so it’s not quite as exotic,” she said. “I was surprised at how many are in ordinary spots. One is right on Fourth Street where I drive by every day on the way to the high school. I wouldn’t even have known it was there had I not looked it up on the website.”

Chris Koons, of Girard, Kan., also finds geocaching a great activity to do with her children, ages 8 and 10.

“We were just playing around with one of our GPS units back in 2009, and I was looking for a fun and cheap activity to do with my kids over the summer break. I stumbled onto geocaching and discovered there were some around Girard,” she said.

When they make a discovery, Koons always lets her children open the box and make the discovery. They take photos to record their finds.

When the kids are in school and she is able, she enjoys going with a friend.

“I’m now approaching my 400th find, and I have 43 active caches of my own,” she said. “I guess it’s the thrill of the hunt, but also getting to see places I’ve never been before or paid much attention to.”

That includes historical locations, unusual locations — even on a sculpture tour of Wichita.

“I’ve gone around Pittsburg, to parks, and in downtown Joplin. There’s one at Hotel Stilwell, and at old bridges through the countryside,” she said.

Koons has tried using an app on her smartphone, but found it to be not as accurate as her GPS.

“I still use the geocaching app on my phone for looking up details of the cache I’m after, especially if I’ve tried looking for it for a while and can’t find it, but my little handheld GPS is better at zeroing in on the coordinates,” she said.

Both Chatman and Koons advise first-timers to head out prepared: Wear sensible shoes, dress for the weather and take along a drink or snack.

“There’s been times when geocaches have been in wooded areas and we’ve had no bug spray or no gloves to move away briars, which we regretted,” Koons said. “Weather has changed on us more times than I can count, so take extra layers.”

Chatman suggested planning to concentrate efforts on one area, then biking or walking from cache to cache to lower fuel costs, maximize time and increase physical activity.

Most importantly, they both said: Don’t give up.

“Have fun,” Koons said. “Most of the caches that people give up on are out there. We’ve given up and found out later it was there all along.”

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