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High Country treasure hunting

Donna Gray

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – On a typically blustery end-of-April day in Glenwood Springs, Lisa Doris and I were making our way up the Doc Holliday Trail. Lisa had set her Global Positioning System unit for the latitude and longitude of the “geocache” we were to visit.I’d discovered “geocaching” by accident about a year earlier on a hike up Grizzly Creek Trail. I’d stopped to take a breath and a drink along the trail and noticed a plastic box hidden in a rock crevice. Curious, I opened it up and read it was a geocache with the instruction to take something out and leave something behind. Inside was a collection of plastic toys and little trinkets.Even more curious, I did a little online investigating and found http://www.geocaching.com. The site explained that thousands of people all over the world use GPS units to find hundreds of thousands of caches in over 200 countries.Once up at Doc Holliday’s grave, Lisa handed me her GPS, a Garmin Rino. On it was a compass and an arrow pointing toward the cache. As we approached the area of the cache the GPS “bleeped.””We’re close,” Lisa said. “Start looking around.”Just then, a group of visitors to Doc Holliday’s grave approached up the trail.”Uh oh, muggles,” Lisa said, putting her GPS behind her back and trying to look nonchalant.”Muggles?” I asked.”From Harry Potter, the nonmagical people. For us it means non-geocachers,” Lisa said, meaning, geocachers don’t like to let everyone in on what they’re up to or have the uninitiated disturb the cache.We let them stroll by, then I resumed looking. The GPS will get you within 20 feet or so of the cache, then it’s up to you to find it. Using my knowledge as an archeologist – that finding artifacts meant seeing things that were out of place in the landscape – I cast around and there it was. A pile of rocks – obviously not natural.I unpiled the rocks and there it was, an oblong plastic box with all sorts of neat stuff including the logbook which we both signed.As it was my first cache I said so in the log.Among the usual geocache stuff – baseball cards, batteries, trash bags, plastic toys like you’d get in a McDonalds Happy Meal – was a travel bug, in this case a toy car with instructions to carry it away to another location.Lisa hopes to send a travel bug from Colorado to her father’s hometown in Germany. It’s not such a far-fetched idea. Travel bugs have been known to go all over the world. A travel bug named Sea Biscuit started in Utah, traveled through Colorado to Pennsylvania. Another also started in Utah and made it all the way to the baseball World Series last year. The idea is, when you take it you log the move online at http://www.geocaching.com, which tracks the bug’s movement. The site is also a forum for geocachers to share their experiences.High-tech huntingGeocaching got off the ground, so to speak, in May of 2000 when the government, actually the military, reprogrammed 24 satellites orbiting at over 22,000 miles around the globe, to be accessible to GPS units. Previously, only military units could use the satellites to find locations on the ground to within a couple meters.”Tens of thousands of GPS receivers around the world had an instant upgrade,” said the geocaching.com Web site. Soon after, geocaching was born. GPS enthusiasts discussed on the Internet ways to use the things. Someone came up with the bright idea to hide a box in the woods and post the latitude and longitude online. People would program in the coordinates on their GPS and when they found the cache would take something and leave something in the box. Also in the box was a logbook for the finders to leave messages.Then the geocaching Web site came along to keep track of the folks in the game. The site also has a database covering hundreds of thousands of caches all over the world with their particular coordinates. Just enter the zip code or country and up pops a list of cache names and coordinates or waypoints, plus a description of the area and encrypted clues.Caching coincidencesIn my search for local geocachers whom I found on line, I met Al Holliday. A “shirttail cousin” of Doc, Al is retired from the military and lives in DeBeque, which is handy for his geocaching hobby.Al came to the sport by way of the hunter education classes he teaches. Hunters have taken to GPS units for good reason as they’re often out in the wilderness. He read a newspaper story about using a GPS to find geocaches and now has scored several hundred finds.I actually met Al in an indirect way before I spoke to him on the phone. Lisa and I and another geocacher from the area, Karen Skalsky, met up recently for an afternoon treasure hunt. Also coincidentally, Karen and Lisa had met on the geocaching Web site but not face to face.After a quick trip to the Hanging Lake cache, we turned west and drove to South Canyon. The cache is just off the interstate. It was a quick find. As we were sifting through the treasures – more sports cards, fish hooks, Happy Meal toys – Karen mentioned the cache had been recently adopted when its caretaker passed away.The new caretaker, I was soon to find out, was Al Holliday.Al, who is 67, has his favorite caches around DeBeque and Grand Junction, especially ones that involve a good hike or four-wheeling.”It’s been a lot of fun and gives me exercise,” he said. “I enjoy it so much. It takes you places you wouldn’t usually go and you learn about things you wouldn’t usually learn about.”Whenever he and his wife travel they look for nearby caches on the Internet.Coal Camp cacheOur last cache of the day was up South Canyon near a historic coal mining town. That one took us a while. For some reason Karen’s Magellan GPS was not getting the same reading as Lisa’s Rino, both of which indicate distance as well as direction. Figuring we were pretty close, we nosed around an old stone wall and finally found it buried under a pile of metal. After prying off the top, out came baseball and basketball cards (again!), a bottle of liquid bubbles, more “Good Luck!” brand fish hooks and band-aids.Here at 39 degrees, 32 minutes, 101 seconds north latitude and 107 degrees, 25 minutes, 06 seconds west longitude in the heart of the Rockies, we pored over buried treasure like latter-day pirates, well satisfied with our finds, and already making plans for our next foray.


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