Hidden treasure is everywhere in Wichita. You just have to know where — or, more importantly, how — to find it.
Geocaching, which is a high-tech and highly additive form of modern treasure hunting, is the focus of Exploration Place’s latest exhibit, called “High-Tech Treasure Hunting: GPS Adventures.”
The traveling exhibit, which opens Saturday and runs through April 15, focuses on the whys and hows of the hobby, a world-wide game that leads hunters to treasures using GPS technology.
“I have cached in 20 states and probably about a fourth of the counties in Kansas,” said local geocaching enthusiast Maggie Nye, a nature love and mother of three grown children. “It’s taken me to places I would never have gone otherwise.”
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Nye, a member of the Wichita Geocaching Society, became interested several years ago through a geocaching friend. She found one treasure. Then she found another. Then she was hooked. To date, Nye has discovered about 3,500 “caches,” the term for the treasures, herself. In a few weeks, she will have completed a goal of finding one cache every day for an entire year.
Geocaching started in 2000, a game invented in Portland, Ore., to celebrate the fact that the government had opened up the Global Positioning System, which uses satellites to track latitude and longitude, to civilians. The first ever cache was hidden in May 2000, and people across the world were invited to join in the game.
Cachers hide cache outdoors all over the world. The treasures aren’t really of any value. They’re usually just containers bearing a log book or bags of trinkets that can be traded out for other trinkets. The goal is not collecting treasure but rather collecting “finds.”
Today, there are more then 1.6 million caches hidden around the world. Kansas has 9,000 caches, and chances are good that several are hiding very near where you are right now.
When a cache is hidden, it is logged on the website www.geocaching.com, and its exact GPS coordinates are recorded. Geocachers check the website when they feel like hunting and use handheld GPS devices or the GPS apps on their smartphones to find the cache.
When they do find a cache, they don’t take it. They open it, log their name in the log book, and report online that they found it. Then, they leave it exactly where it was for the next hunter to find.
The Exploration Place exhibit, a maze of interactive stations and activities, starts by showing what a “cache” might look like and how it might be hidden. A golf ball resting at the base of a tree. A pill bottle camouflaged and hung like an ornament from a branch. A shoe-box -sized container — or larger — stashed under a bush.
The exhibit, which will regularly be staffed by members of the local Geocaching Society, also includes interactive games, information about the satellites that make GPS devices work and more.
Those who attend the exhibit also can borrow a GPS device and search for some temporary caches hidden on the Exploration Place grounds. If they’re successful, they can move on to the long list of real caches hidden near Exploration Place, many of which have been there for years.
Geocaching is something that people of all ages can enjoy, Nye said. She searches for caches everywhere she goes, from vacations to errands, and has some wild stories of lengths she’s gone to locate them.
“It really opens your eyes to nature,” she said.