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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Hide and seek sport ‘caches’ in on campus

An organized network of low-key individuals skilled at working undercover have utilized satellites and state-of-the-art technology to hide containers of mysterious materials throughout the U campus as part of a worldwide movement.

One of these network cells now operating in Utah calls itself the Utah Association of Geocachers and claims responsibility for more than 1,600 containers deposited in hush-hush areas across the campus and state.

Contrary to how it may appear, UTAG is a club of outdoor enthusiasts who play a treasure-hunting game known as Geocache.

Explaining what Geocache is can be just as challenging as playing the game itself.

In simple gas-station direction terms, Geocaching involves using a Global Positioning System to track down a hidden box, or cache, that could be anywhere on the planet.

Geocachers, as they call themselves, post the coordinates of their hidden cache on the club’s Web site. Next, a Geocacher will plug those coordinates into his GPS. Just where these caches can be found and what they contain are the thrill of it all.

With a GPS and a set of coordinates, one can find cache sites around the U’s upper and lower campuses.

Geocachers also post Web site clues on hard-to-find caches and use creative titles for their stashes such as one hidden in Research Park named “Cold Fusion Confusion.”

UTAG member Robert Schaefermeyer has hid several caches around the state, including one on the U campus.

On a breezy evening with just a few hours of daylight remaining, Schaefermeyer demonstrated the art of Geocaching. Holding a wallet-sized yellow GPS, Schaefermeyer stepped off TRAX at the end of the line Medical Center stop.

“Just follow the arrow,” he said as he set off for his cache site.

Approaching Schaefermeyer’s cache site, the treasure-hunting plan took an unexpected detour. A construction company had commandeered the area and set up barbed-wire fencing around the perimeter.

Schaefermeyer said Geocachers are careful as to where they place their caches, making sure not to hide them on private property or locations where a suspicious-looking container might be cause for alarm.

One particular cache hidden next to Hill Air Force Base caused a bomb scare when someone found the red toolbox cache beneath a bridge.

“Be considerate,” Schaefermeyer said. “You don’t want to put caches in places that are susceptible to attack such as a capitol building, national monument or military base.”

And as Schaefermeyer learned the hard way, future construction sites are also not recommended hiding places for caches.

Moving on, the GPS led him on a quarter-mile walk to a second cache hidden behind some landscaping boulders at the Benchmark student housing.

Zeroing in on GPS coordinates can draw the curiosity of others and potentially jeopardize the integrity of the hiding spot. For this reason, Schaefermeyer says that urban Geocaching requires a little more discretion.

“We got some people over here, so kind of play it out,” Schaefermeyer cautioned as he nonchalantly searched for the cache.

“You’ve got to be casual about it,” he said with a smirk as he sat down on one of the boulders. After a few more inquisitive looks behind the boulder, “Bingo, first find,” he said.

Hidden nicely beneath a cairn of small rocks was a 35-mm film container with a tiny pencil, roll of paper and one Canadian penny inside.

An official Geocache sticker on the container identified its purpose.

“Quite often you’ll find them under sticks and rocks,” Schaefermeyer said as he put the container back in its original spot. “This is one you just sign, identify and date.”

The possibilities of how to set up a cache are limited only by one’s imagination.

“I’ve heard of underwater caches that you scuba dive to, some caches you have to rock-climb to…We even have a few out on Antelope Island,” he said.

Whether it’s under water or on a cliffside, Geocaching can lead Geocachers to very interesting sites such as the one Schaefermeyer found on Mount Timpanogos.

“At the top there is a B-52 crash site marked as a Geocache location. It’s cool to see an old plane crash,” he said.

Another cache site that proved to be a smash with Schaefermeyer was one he found down in Delta, hidden within a brick furnace once used by early pioneer settlers. “It was an old German WW II first-aid kit. It had German writing all over it. I won’t tell you the way it was hidden, though.”

Schaefermeyer says that people who are attracted to Geocache have an affinity for the outdoors and electronic gadgets.

The main gadget a Geocacher uses is a GPS unit that normally ranges from $100 to $500 and can come equipped with a communication radio and handheld computer. Orbiting above the earth are 24 geosynchronous satellites that send out a signal received by a GPS unit. By method of triangulation, a GPS unit can register its location on any corner of the planet.

According to Schaefermeyer, Geocaching caught on after President Clinton rescinded an act known as the Selective Availability law in 2000.

Under SA, satellite signals received by a civilian GPS unit were programmed to register within 300 feet of the users location. For security reasons, only GPS units of the military registered an accurate, on-the-spot location.

But with the overturn of SA, today’s civilian GPS units can register a location within 30 feet, giving Geocachers a much more manageable degree of error to work with while hunting for a cache box.

Schaefermeyer said the first Geocache site was started by a man in Oregon who posted the coordinates of a five-gallon bucket on the Internet.

Since then, the sport of Geocaching has evolved into many different forms. Generally, an urban Geocache, or “micro-cache,” is hidden within a small film canister. Cache sites found in the woods are often hidden in an ammunition containers, which Geocachers prefer for their durability and protection from the elements.

Schaefermeyer’s GPS indicated a third cache site located a half-mile northwest of his present location. Eventually the GPS led him to a lone pine tree by LNCO.

Schaefermeyer reckoned the cache was somewhere hidden beneath the tree, but opted out of the search. “I’ve got some good pants on.I might get sap on them,” he said.

The pricker bush-like pine branches grew so close together that Schaefermeyer had to hold them up as another Geocacher burrowed beneath the low-hanging bows. Despite the best efforts of those involved and a pair of pine-sapped pants, the cache somehow eluded him.

After 20 minutes of searching and numerous scratches, the sprinklers turned on, ending the evergreen escapade. “This one took some looking,” Schaefermeyer said. “We’ll just say we were chased off by the sprinklers.”

For all the effort required, Geocachers like to reward those who find their cache with a little prize, but you are expected to return the favor. The three cardinal rules of Geocaching are to take something, leave something and write in the logbook.

Geocachers can just sign the logbook they want, but if they remove the contents of a cache, they must leave behind something of equal value.

“When you trade cache trinkets, you try to trade value for value, trinket for trinket. In my caches…sometimes you’ll find Olympic pins, and I’ve seen some money. Some people have put batteries in there or trash bags,” Schaefermeyer said.

The purpose for the trash bag is to put trash in as you hike out, or as Schaefermeyer calls it, the Geocache policy of “cache in, trash out.”

Keeping true to this policy, a few pieces of litter were trucked out of the site which included a soda can, old candy wrappers and a long-lost love note to “Lori.”

One benefit of the sport, besides finding odd pieces of refuse, is that Geocaching gives people a purpose as to why they are hiking around. Some people find it more enjoyable to hike if they have an objective to reach, such as a cave or a lake.”Geocache gives you that purpose,” Schaefermeyer said.

U alumnus Dave Canzonetti agrees. Canzonetti said Geocache got him back into hiking, and he also enjoys the hunting aspect of it. “It adds a little juice to the hike,” he said.

While traveling across the country, Conzonetti said he tries to pick a few Geocache locations to explore along the way.

“If I’m going to Seattle or Cedar City and I want to spend a few days and see the sights, I’ll plug the area caches into my GPS…Usually it’s the locals who put (the caches) in their favorite spots. You see a spot that has meaning to the person who established it. You get a whole new perspective of the land and I get to see all these places I would not see otherwise,” Canzonetti said.

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