Geocaching is catching on

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— There's one in China that contains some batteries, along with a couple of American compact discs and a camera to record faces. There's one in Petra, Jordan, hidden near a lookout to an ancient castle known as the Habees Crusader Fort. There's even one in Scottsbluff, Neb., conveniently located in the Riverside Zoo, and searchers are urged to take in the zoo before finding it.

And now there are a couple around Steamboat Springs, adding to the list of 147 caches that are hidden in Colorado.

Anyone with a Global Positioning System device, the will to do a little hiking and a bit of an adventurous spirit can find one.

This is geocaching, a new treasure-hunting-like sport that has blown up around the world in less than two years. Thousands of caches (usually Tupperware containers holding a logbook and some trinkets) are hidden around the world somewhere and their GPS coordinates are put online at geocaching.com.

The idea is to go to the Web site to find the GPS coordinates of a cache and then look for it. The GPS device, which gives a global position to the user within six to 20 feet in terms of longitude and latitude, is used to guide the geocacher to the site. Some caches are hidden in easy-to-find places; others will take a good hike into the woods and a smart nose to find.

When a cache is found, the geocacher should sign in the logbook, take and replace one of the trinkets, then go back to the Web site and record the find. Geocachers are urged to hide their own caches and put the information on the Web site for others to find.

Since the official Web site was created in July 2000, 9,503 caches have been hidden in 90 countries and there is one in every state in the United States. According to the Web site, 5,015 people have logged in finds between Dec. 22 and 29.

"It's like a nice hike with a little added objective," Steamboat Springs geocacher Tony Seaver said.

Seaver's buddy, Peter Wich, who visits Steamboat from Alabama, turned him on to geocaching, recognizing that a cache was hidden in the Buffalo Pass area. The two found the cache and decided to plant one of their own in the Fish Creek Falls area.

"You might have to dig a little in the snow," Seaver said of the Fish Creek cache, but he suspected that it could be found in the winter.

In other spots, winter caches can be hung in a tree or other off-the-ground spots.

"I have a feeling that in a year or two from now it will be a fairly popular thing," Seaver said.

Jeremy Ireland of Bellevue, Wash., is the geocaching guru who named the sport and operates the Web site. He explained that geocaching became possible on May 1, 2000, when the federal government unscrambled the signals of 24 positioning satellites, making it possible for GPS devices to be accurate within 30 feet.

On May 3, a man hid a cache near Portland, Ore., in celebration of the unscrambling. A man named Mike Teague was the first to find the cache and he created a Web site to tell people about it. The following July, Ireland found the site and his first cache and approached Teague about redoing the Web page and renaming the sport.

"I sort of thought of it as a sport that a unique type of people would do," Ireland said. "I really liked the idea of getting people outdoors."

Initially, Ireland, a 29-year old Web designer, thought geocaching would catch on with computer-game fans because the concept was similar to adventure-type games.

However, he said, families are the demographic that has expanded the sport.

Since becoming widely popular, geocachers have spawn additional activities. For example, some caches are "multi-caches," where the searcher is looking for numerous caches, each one a little more difficult than the next.

There also is something called a travel bug, which is a small device sometimes located in the cache. The travel bug can be tracked by satellite and comes with instructions on where it should be taken like, "take me to all 50 states." The geocacher can choose to take the travel bug and drop it off at a location in accordance to the instruction.

Ireland said some state parks even support geocaching as a way to get people to come to recreation areas. Plus, Ireland recently launched the Cache in, Trash Out program, which encourages geocachers to carry a bag and pick trash during the search.

Most recently, geocaching gained some Hollywood attention, being used in the promotion of the movie "Planet of the Apes," Ireland said. Numerous prop archaeological caches, connected to the movie, were hidden all over the world with coordinates available on the Web site.

"I think it's going to branch out," he said of the future of geocaching. "I think it's going to get more complicated and more interesting."

He has plans for stirring up the geocaching world a bit in the near future, but wouldn't disclose much information.

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