Lake Norman & Mooresville

A geocaching treasure hunt

Every time you run into the local grocery store to buy milk you pass one. It's been there for years, perhaps known to only dozens of people. You may have even unintentionally sat on it.

In fact, you most likely happen by dozens of them in your everyday life without realizing. At North Mecklenburg Park, near Birkdale Village or the Goodwill in Cornelius, or near Davidson College.

They are geocaches, hidden treasures found by punching in exact longitude and latitude coordinates on a GPS device. And if you think there is no fortune left to be found, go to the hobby's most popular website, www.geocaching.com, type in 28078 and watch the map light up with at least 50 treasures. Check out 28031 for Cornelius, 28036 for Davidson or 28037 for nearby Denver and you'll find even more.

Geocaching is a fairly new hobby, only 10 years old. The high tech game of treasure hunting began when Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant from Portland, Ore., wanted to test the accuracy of the advanced GPS technology newly relinquished to civilians by the government.

Ulmer placed a bucket with random treasures, a Ross Perot book, a sling shot, four crisp dollar bills, and a can of baked beans, along a wooded road. He gave the coordinates online, inviting anyone who could find it to take from his bounty.

Not only did hoards of people find the trove, but they also discovered a love for the hunt, their inner pirates released.

Today, more than 1.1 million caches lie in wait worldwide, many of them stashed in the suburbs.

A typical cache holds a paper log so finders can leave a comment. Others hold small prizes, which seekers can take, if they leave something of equal or greater value behind.

"The imagination and creativity of people is unbelievable," said Gary Horton, a geocacher who lives in Concord.

Caches are rated twice on a scale of 1 to 5, once for difficulty and again for terrain. Those that require Scuba gear or rock-climbing equipment earn a five for terrain. Puzzling caches earn a five for difficulty.

The tricky caches are best left alone by the newcomers to the hobby, said Horton.

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