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High-tech treasure hunting comes to IC

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | DECEMBER 13, 2010 7:10 AM

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There's treasure hidden in City Park.

On Sunday afternoon, University of Iowa students Christine Wagner and John Clark braved the frigid weather and huddled over her iPhone, contemplating the coordinates to the hidden item — a geocache — tucked somewhere in the snow-covered park.

After only around 10 minutes, UI junior Wagner walked up to an ice-laden tree nestled on the bank of the Iowa River and reached across the trunk to retrieve a tiny film canister.

"Sometimes, there are little things in it … weird little trinkets," Wagner said as she unraveled a slip of paper — a record of all those who've come before. The canister was so small, only the paper fit, with the last signature from Nov. 27.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt that allows people with GPS devices to locate hidden objects placed in a container. When a geocache is found, the object must be left there or replaced with an item of equal or greater value, generally trinkets and toys. A piece of paper is left to sign.

With the developments of devices such as Wagner's smart phone, more are "caching" in on the adventure, said Iowa Geochachers President Richard Buman.

Buman learned of the activity while planning a camping trip in 2006. Since then, he's found caches in 55 of the 99 counties in Iowa and captured 200 different caches with his family.

"I use $12 billion of military technology to find Tupperware in the woods," Buman said, joking about their use of GPS systems.



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Despite the technology, geocaching is for everyone, Buman said. He said he's seen everyone from families with infants to 93-year-olds involved in the activity.

"I feel like anyone can enjoy it," Wagner said.

Where to locate caches and how to find them are limitless. Some can only be found at night, using reflectors to track the trail. And Morse code, spelunking, and scuba gear are tools some used to find hidden treasures.

"Most [people] probably come within 500 feet [of a cache] and never know it," Buman said.

With a few clicks of the mouse, Buman discovered there are 1,000 geocaches within 25 miles of the University of Iowa, 2,000 within 50 miles, and roughly 10,000 caches in the state.

On the official website, seekers can type in the Zip Code of where they'd like to geocache. A list pops up with coordinates, the level of difficulty, and details such as size and descriptions.

The activity began in 2000, when the ability of global satellites to track the position of certain items became much more precise.

One man from Oregon, Dave Ulmer, decided to test the accuracy of the new system by hiding some objects and having his friends try to find them.

Enthusiasts have been hunting for treasure ever since.

The first day 35-year-old Buman went searching with his wife and three kids, they found 14 caches.

"We realized at the end of the day we hadn't heard a single complaint out of the kids," he said. "We just had a great day."

Iowa City-area resident Mike Fulton found his first geocache in 2007. A trip on his motorcycle with his newly purchased GPS device led him to a geocache on a guardrail near Nichols, Iowa.

Since then, the 50-year-old has found 1,941 geocaches.

"It's taken me places I'd never see normally," Fulton said, listing wooded paths and hidden terrain. "To really see rural Iowa."


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