04 March 2009

Payson Geocaching

So, several of you have wondered what exactly this "geocaching" thing is. Well, I'm not only going to TELL you today, but I'm going to SHOW you! (Meaning, of course, I finally got around to getting my pictures from last month developed!) The pictures below are from my geocaching trip to Payson, AZ with my mom and sister. We found five caches this day ranging from the uniquely well-hidden to the ordinary to the kind of hard to find. A good mix, as it were. So, right then. Geocaching is a sport of sorts whereby participants use both the internet and a GPS receiver to find objects hidden by other geocachers around the world (literally, there are caches almost everywhere!). First, you log on to the geocaching website at www.geocaching.com and you pick out caches which you want to find. You then download their coordinates (like N33 51.189, W111 45.990, where N and W are north and west, and the numbers correspond to degrees and minutes of longitude and latitude) to the GPS receiver, which I am modeling below. The cache hikes I am showing you here are "Lookout Mountain", "waterfall", and "Pioneers Remembered." My GPS unit below is a refurbished Garmin ETrex Legend C, for those who care.Basically, you are trying to find the stuff seen below: the green ammunition box I'm holding in my lap is the cache container. These may be as small as a dime (and are damn hard to find!) or as large as, well, whatever you can hide adequately without it being found and destroyed by non-geocachers. Typically the containers, if they're large enough, hold SWAG (an acronym for Stuff We All Get). SWAG is just random little things that people can trade in or out of a cache when they find it. Sometimes it's cool stuff, like coins of the world, supplies (spare batteries, flashlights, carabiners, etc), or even gift certificates; other times you find lots of toys, games, puzzles, and other assorted "McCrap" for kids. You should not ever find food (animals would destroy the cache to get at it) or non-family friendly stuff. The other thing I'm holding is the yellow geocache logbook. A find doesn't count unless you sign the logbook, so that's the most important thing you will find in any cache. Sometimes the logbook is a tiny scroll of paper (inside a microcache), other times it's a mini spiral notebook, or even an "official" logbook like the one in this picture. For these larger ones, it's pretty fun to read what others have written about their hike to reach the cache. This logbook's entries stretched back over 2 years, so there were a lot of fun stories about what people did or saw on the way.
The reason people participate in this sport is widely accepted to be twofold: first, hell, it gets you off the couch and outside! In late January-early February here in Payson, it's just barely cold enough at midday to need a light lacket, and partly cloudy so the sun's not baking you. The second reason is the thrill of the hunt. When you were a kid, didn't you always want to find buried treasure like the pirates in stories? This sport provides the opportunity to do so! (By the way, my sister is giving me a look like "did I ASK you to take my picture there, Andrew?")
The thing about geocaching is, you never know where the cache could be hidden. This time, we searched all over this bloody tree until we finally found the cache at its base. Sarah climbed the tree to try and get a better view. Many times, the cache is camoflaged. This particular cache was a coffee can, pretty large in size, but because it was made to look like a pile of tree bark, it took some actual searching. It was definitely worth it when we finally realized what was real and what was not! (Other caches like this I've found include a stump, a fake electrical box on the side of a light pole, and a fake cactus!)
Sometimes, you have to get messy in the quest for the find. Here at the "waterfall" cache, we ended up getting wet after trying to cross this iced-over stream. The pic below is of me PRE-getting wet! In my defense, I totally thought I could make it over the ice without slipping....
Other times, it's just a pretty straightforward hike on a well-manicured trail. But the views are magnificent! Behind me here is the town of Payson with the White Mountains (I think) in the distance. This is the first time I'd been up to the forest again since last summer, and it was AMAZING to be back among real trees that don't try to gouge out your eyes as you walk near them!
Finally, you end up at the end of the trail making the find in the hollow of an old tree, an outcropping of rocks, or under an electrical box in a city. As Ben's father said in "National Treasure," "You found the clues they left behind for you to find.... You did it...!"

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