The ghosts of homesteaders and miners haunt Tarryall, Colorado. Woven in its rich history are tales of horse thieves and gold strikes. And an orange five-gallon bucket.
The bucket is the oldest geocache in Colorado. Placed somewhere in the Tarryall Valley west of Colorado Springs in 2000, it beckons to geocachers, who guard its stash and location with reverence, replacing it when it becomes worn, or moving it when it becomes accidentally found (“muggled” in geocache speak).
For those not familiar with geocaching, it is an outdoor sport (“geo” comes from geography and “cache” from treasure or stash) that uses Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers to pinpoint locations in a global scavenger hunt.
Geocaching started in 2000, the year President Bill Clinton signed a bill that allowed civilian use of satellites. In an instant, a multi-billion dollar tracking system was activated in the palms of our hands. Hikers rushed out to purchase GPS units and most went home with a yellow plastic Garmin eTrex, an inexpensive device that, with the power of two AA batteries, connected with satellites.
Many used it to navigate for their outdoor adventures. But some took it to the next level, and became geocachers. The sport has exploded in the decade and a half since it started. In 2005, there were about 160,000 caches stashed around the world. Today, according to geocaching.com, the go-to site for cachers, there are 2,419,819 caches stashed worldwide, and millions of geocachers who search for them.
Keith Horowitz, a Colorado Springs resident who works at T. Rowe Price, got hooked on geocaching in 2005. He had heard about the sport from a neighbor who was involved in launching the satellites. On a training hike in the forest above Colorado Springs, he found his first cache, a little plastic container with a log book and trinkets.
“I sat down and talked with my kids (who were nine, 10 and 15), and told them we were gonna go out and do it,” he said.
Nine years later, Horowitz and his fiancée, Deb Schwab, have logged more than 4,000 caches each. Schwab, who had never heard about geocaching until she met Horowitz, is now president of the board of Geocaching Colorado, an organization formed to support and advance the sport.
The couple started dating in 2007, and they went hiking to find a cache soon after. “It didn’t take long for me to ask, ‘where’s the next one?’” Schwab remembers.
Horowitz still carries a Garmin, and uses his Android smartphone as well. The couple will sometimes find 100 caches in a day of searching. Their tools: a Garmin and an Android smartphone, apps such as Groundspeak , and a combination of navigation skills and something else, according to Horowitz. “Deb is tenacious, and her intuition and attention to detail really helps find the hard ones.”
The couple has become active in the Colorado geocaching community. “The sport seems to draw curious, creative technical-based outdoor kind of people,” Schwab says.
Long before Facebook was launched, geocaching was creating its own kind of social network. To find caches or group events, geocachers had to connect on the Internet, where all caches are logged and coordinates available. Group events have since morphed into multi-day gatherings and even incorporated flash mobs.
The concept behind geocaching has even been borrowed recently by an anonymous California man who started HiddenCash, who has posted clues about hidden stashes of cash on Twitter. “It’s a similar mentality to geocaching, but there’s more involved in geocaching,” Horowitz says.
Geocachers hide geocoins or travel bugs (devices that can be tracked), or simple paper logs that are protected in tiny containers – film canisters and pill bottles work well. Others favor plastic or metal containers that might hold trinkets such as toys, pens, and promotional items from businesses, books or cards.
Locations can vary from the nearest Starbucks (a favorite for Schwab and Horowitz) to the top of the tallest mountain. The Colorado Springs geocaching couple has found caches in New York City and Sacramento and dozens of places in between.
“The game is addicting,” Horowitz says. “And everyone plays it a different way.”