Finding their way to high-tech fun
Tristan Armstrong of Marion handed the cell phone he was carrying to his father, Jeremy, and bent over to stick his head between some low branches and a large rock at Marion County Lake.
“It’s not here,” Tristan exclaimed. He kept searching around the rock.
The Armstrongs were geocaching, a treasure-hunt game in which hunters use global positioning satellite location data to find containers hidden in places obvious and obscure. They used the GPS-enabled cell phone like a compass to guide them; others use handheld GPS receivers.
“Somebody put a rock on top of it,” Tristan said, as he extracted an olive-drab metal ammunition box and put it on the rock.
The Armstrongs looked through the box, which had a log book in which to record their visit, and small toys hunters can trade for, leaving something of equal value in return.
Geocaching.com, the official website for the game, list 104 geocaches within a 20-mile radius from Marion. A cache on the west end of town was what got Marty Frederickson of Marion interested.
“I’d seen it advertised in the newspaper, someone planted one where the old stone arch bridge was,” Frederickson said. “I went and bought a cheap GPS locator and found it.”
Frederickson became an avid geocacher, finding caches throughout central Kansas and in Nebraska. An observation he made about his finds led him to create caches for others to find.
“Geocaches were placed at points of interest, they brought you to places that were neat,” Frederickson said. “I thought that would be cool to get people coming to Marion. It did kind of work.”
Frederickson has 16 caches stashed around the Marion area, including one in his own yard on Walnut Street. He keeps track of visitors through the notes they post on the Geocaching website.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been out,” Frederickson said. “When gas prices got so expensive I kind of quit doing it. I’d found all the ones in this area.”
Frederickson said he enjoys finding microcaches, the smallest of the four standard cache sizes.
“One was a .45 caliber shell casing, half an inch long, and big around as a kindergarten pencil,” he said. “Those are the most challenging — they can hide those very well.”
Geocachers do a good job of maintaining the caches, Frederickson said, but not everyone who finds a cache knows what it is.
“I’ve had problems with people stealing them,” he said. “They get curious, find it, don’t understand what it is, and they take it.”
Geocaching has a language of its own, and there’s a name for people who might accidentally stumble across a cache.
“Muggles are people who aren’t geocaching but happen to be in the area for some reason,” Jeremy said.
The Armstrongs started geocaching about a year ago after doing it at a Cub Scout campout.
“When we first got started we were doing something every week,” Jeremy said. “Everywhere we went we were looking up what caches were around, and if we had time we’d take a look. It’s amazing how many there are.”
Tristan’s favorite cache so far is close by.
“One of the ones on the far side of the (county) lake,” he said. “There was a ring of rocks and a rock on top of the rings, with holes you could look through. It was inside of that.”
Inside that cache Tristan discovered a Travel Bug, an item that is carried from cache to cache by hunters, who log its movements online.
“It’s been in Alaska,” Tristan said. He said he’s still thinking about where he will take the bug.
“Maybe grandma and grandpa’s in Colorado, or maybe when we go to Yellowstone we can put it there somewhere,” he said.
Geocaching has become a family activity for the Armstrongs, including Jeremy’s wife Tammy, and daughters Keighlee and Ariana.
“The girls have just as much fun doing it. We’ll take turns as to who gets to hold the phone and tell us where to go,” Jeremy said.
“It’s kind of interesting to let them lead and figure out what’s the best way to get there,” he said. “When you get creeks it might say you go straight across the creek, but you can’t, unless you want to get wet. You have to figure out how to get around — that’s part of the fun.”
Armstrong uses a free application he downloaded from the Internet called c:geo on his Android smartphone. Programs, both free and paid, also are available for Apple iPhone and Blackberry smartphones.
The Geocaching website has comprehensive maps and descriptions of cache locations, as well as extensive tutorials about getting started and playing geocaching. The website address is http://www.geocaching.com.