Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Decatur's Hidden Treasures



Decatur’s Hidden Treasures

Are you looking for something new and fun to do in Decatur?  Maybe you’re looking for an activity that gets you outside with your kids or your grandkids?  Perhaps you should look into geocaching; a hobby that connects high tech, nature, and enthusiasts young and old!
Geocaching Near Spitler Woods


This area is a veritable treasure trove of geocaches with over 750 hidden treasures located within ten miles of Decatur’s Central Park.  These treasures are called geocaches and represent just a small portion of the 2.3 million geocaches hidden around the world.  Geocaches come in all sorts of shapes and sizes ranging from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a telephone booth.  There are also several different kinds of geocaches, including puzzle caches, geology caches and mystery caches, but most are “traditional caches” which are a small container with a log sheet for you to sign.

There are a variety of ways to start finding geocaches and become a “geocacher”.  One of the most common ways is to go to www.geocaching.com. There, you can sign up for a free account, create your geocaching name and begin searching for geocaches near you.  You then load the coordinates of the caches into a handheld GPSr (Global Positioning Satellite Receiver, commonly called a “GPS”) and head out to make your finds.

Others prefer to use their smartphone’s GPSr features and use apps that they’ve purchased/downloaded.  These applications are multi-purpose, allowing you to use your smartphone to find the cache and to log your find.  Typically, smartphones aren’t as accurate as a GPSr, but they are generally good enough for almost all geocaches.  We geocache using our smartphone almost all all the time.

All geocaches have a terrain and difficulty rating assigned to them.  A terrain rating of 1 means that the cache is wheelchair accessible and a terrain rating of 5 means you may have to climb a mountain, hike a good distance, or even use a boat.  Difficultly ratings also range from 1 to 5.  A cache with a difficulty rating of 1 typically can be found in just a few minutes.  A difficulty of 5 means that the cache will likely require a significant amount of time to find.

Luckily, most of the caches in the Decatur area are rated 1.5/1.5; meaning that they are in relatively easy terrain and they are relatively easy to find.  These caches are ideal for the “newbie”, someone learning how to geocache.

Each geocache is also ranked according to size.  A size of 1 means that the cache is small, the size of a film canister or even smaller.  A cache size of 5 means that the cache is large…maybe the size of a 5 gallon bucket or even the size of a telephone booth!
Sample geocaches and log sheets.  The pen is pointing
 to a tiny geocache.


Okay, you’ve got your geocaches picked out and you’re off to find one.  You park your car near the cache and head for the cache.  Once you reach the GZ (Ground Zero) you begin your search.  Sometimes, the cache is obvious and sometimes it’s cleverly camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings.  After a search you find the cache and open it.  Inside you’ll find a log sheet to write down your geocaching name to prove that you made the find.  You might also find SWAG, inexpensive items to take and trade.  You now return the cache to its hiding spot for the next geocacher to find.  Your final action is to log your find on geocaching.com or on your smartphone.  This helps you keep track of all your finds.  You’re now a geocacher!

There are over 6 million people geocaching all over the world, some of who have found thousands of geocaches.  In fact, a Central Illinois geocacher (racer2814) is one of the world’s top geocachers having found over 51,000 caches.  There is also a local geocaching organization that meets and conducts geocaching events.  This organization is CIGA, Central Illinois Geocaching Association.  You can find more information about CIGA by searching for their site on Facebook or by going to http://www.cigacache.org/.
We started geocaching in 2010 and now cache with all of our grandkids who range in age from four to sixteen.  We also geocache with our 76 year old uncle who often geocaches without using a GPSr.  He simply checks out the location online and then just goes out to find the cache the hard way.  Geocaching is definitely fun for all ages!
A grandson's joy in finding a geocache!


Geocaching is also a hobby that you can take with you on vacation.  As I said, there are over 2.3 million caches throughout the world and there always seems to be one nearby, wherever you are.  We’ve even found caches in 48 states, in 13 other countries and even in the Vatican City.  This is a hobby that goes wherever you go!

So, the next time you hear your kids say, “There’s nothing to do in Decatur.” Prove them wrong by taking them out to find some of Decatur’s hidden treasures! Take them geocaching!

Marvin Sowers
(The author’s geocaching name is MNM1011.)





Thursday, September 19, 2013

Caching like it’s 1999!


Actually, the title is a bit of a misnomer  since geocaching wasn't invented until 2000.  So caching like it’s 1999 would actually mean not caching at all!  In truth, the 1999 was our goal for today.  We needed to find 13 caches to get our total cache count to 1999.
We needed a tool!

We (Mona, Laura and I) started our day by trying to find Panther Memories, a cache in Lovington.  Our initial attempts to find the cache failed as we simply didn't have the proper tool.  As luck would have it, Molly’s Aunt Jan lives only two houses from the cache location.  We made the short trek there and luckily she had exactly the tool we needed.  We quickly made our way back to the cache and within moments we had the cache in hand!

All that caching made us hungry so we made our way to Arthur, Illinois.  There we stopped at Pauly’s and tried their ribs and hobo potatoes.  Wow!  Best ribs we've had in Central Illinois.  Highly recommend this as a caching destination!  I love finding caches in the Arthur area because of the Amish and Mennonites in the area.  There are always lots of horses and carriages to see.
Smith Cemetery

After Arthur we made our way south and west picking up caches here and there.  It’s a good thing we were in Red because one cache, Coles Cemetery – Smith, required us to drive down a grassy path through the cornfields to get to the cache.  At the end of path was an overgrown cemetery and we had to walk about 100 feet (Equivalent to one of Sheryl’s miles?) through high weeds.  Glad we didn't try to find this one at night or in the rain!

Our 1999th cache turned out to be a very creepy cache…Skully.  This cache was our favorite of the day and I’d love to share pictures of it, but any pic would totally give this one away.  If you’re ever in Sullivan then I recommend stopping by to find this one!

We’re anxious to find cache #2000 but have to wait a few more days for it to be available for us.  Can’t wait!


Happy Caching!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Geocaching - Digging It!

The view!
It was a beautiful early summer day and we were enjoying a scenic drive along the Illinois river.  Of course we were making the drive more enjoyable and more scenic by picking up a few caches along the way!   A few miles outside of Havana, Illinois we saw a cache that seemed to fit the theme of our day: GC431TT “Just For The View Of It.”  We quickly turned off the highway and took the little gravel road that led to the cache.  After parking the car, the first thing we did was to enjoy the view across the Illinois River valley.  From here we could see lush green fields and the river in the distance…absolutely beautiful!

 However, we were soon distracted from the view by something happening on top of the hill to our left.  Looking up, we saw a man standing up under a tent awning and several nearby tripods with boxes hanging beneath them. As with most geocachers I am naturally curious so I walked up the base of the hill and shouted up, “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing up there?”  “It’s an archaeological dig!” came the reply.  I quickly asked for, and received, permission to climb up and take a look.When I reached the digging site I was greeted by Greg, the team leader.  He explained that they were from The University of California, Santa Barbara as part of the Living with War Archaeological Project. This is the third year of excavations at this site.  In that time they've found remains of two large structures, probably council buildings, as well as numerous dwellings, granaries, and fire pits.  These remains date back about 1000 years ago and from two different Native American cultures, the Oneota and the Mississippian.





As luck would have it, the archaeologists were excavating half of a granary pit that had been backfilled with ancient rubbish.  As I was standing there, the digger in the pit, Brian, held up a jaw bone that he had just unearthed.  They said it looked like a raccoon’s jawbone.  I commented that it looked pretty new to me, but they said that the composition of the soil here kept artifacts in surprisingly new condition….even 1000 year old bones!

The picture to the right shows Brian digging in the granary.  If you look closely in front of him you’ll see pieces of bone, pottery, utensils and other ancient rubbish, just waiting to be rediscovered and turned into an artifact!

I could have stayed here all day, but I had to let the diggers get back to work.  Reluctantly I started to leave but I had one final question.  “What do you do with the site after you’re done,” I asked.  I was stunned to learn that they rebury the site…letting it return to its original use and leaving the remaining treasures hidden below for perhaps future digs and study.

Making new discoveries like this are just one more reason we really dig Geocaching!  (Okay, bad pun, but it fits!)


Note:  If you’d like more information search for “Living with War Archaeological Project” on Facebook.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Caching in the Bahamas



On The Ferry

At long last, we were going to realize our goal of visiting the Bahamas and of course we wanted to geocache there!  However, caching would be problematic since we weren't going to rent a car.  With that in mind I did some advance work on geocaching.com.

First, I looked to see if there were any caches near our hotel.  None.  Not only that, but there are only five caches on the entire island!  Talk about limited choices.  (Note: We were staying on The Grand Bahamas Island…one of hundreds of islands that make up the country of The Bahamas.)  I found the cache closest to our hotel was GC22GZG, Taino Beach.  This cache was several miles from our resort so this was going to take some planning!

We could handle a mile of this!
Finally, the day came to find the cache.  We started the expedition by taking the resort shuttle bus to Port Lucaya.  Then we caught the ferry to the Taino Beach landing.  Now, we were just a mile from the cache!  From my research, I saw that we could get to the cache by strolling/wading along the beach for that last mile….what a nice way to geocache!

My plan for wading along the beach went well for about two tenths of a mile.  Then suddenly the beautiful sandy beach gave way to limestone rocks lining the beach.  These rocks were very slippery and tough to walk on with sandals.  But, we’re geocachers on a mission so we soldiered on! 

Soon we found ourselves in a very isolated part of the beach.  There was absolutely nothing in sight either direction except water, rocks, and dense woods.  It was getting creepy and our feet were hurting from slipping on the rocks.  We were about four tenths of a mile from the cache when I saw a man in the woods.  He looked like he was trying to hide…..and it was just him and us out there.  I told Mona to stop and turn around….and we headed back as quickly as we could!  I kept looking back to see if we were being followed, but no one was behind us.  Whew! 

In retrospect the man was probably doing something perfectly innocent and I probably overreacted.  However, we were just too isolated for my comfort and we had violated one of the cardinal rules of geocaching:  Tell someone where you're going.  Duh!
Conch Tree Near the Cache

After a hot and exhausting forced march we got back to civilization, our feet were sore and mine were blistered.  Not to mention, we were worn out from our rapid retreat across the rocky beach. I asked Mona if she wanted to just skip the geocache.  “Hell no!” came the reply, so onward we went.  This time we walked a mile along an isolated road….no strange men lurking around it so we made it all the way to Taino Beach without further incident.  (Other than aching feet!)

Lucky for us the cache was near a conch shack that had a deck with a thatched roof.  The only people on that beach were under that thatched roof and we quickly joined them.  After, of course, after finding the cache!  Everyone at the shack knew where the cache was and they loved watching the hunt and find, but of course they wouldn't say where it was.

Mona and Her Medicine
After the find we relaxed in the shade; enjoying the ocean view and an ice cold local beverage.  We needed to rest up for the trek back.  All too soon, it was time for that mile walk to the ferry; then the ferry to the port; and the shuttle back to the resort.  Oops….forgot to mention that we stopped at the Rum Runner at the port for medical purposes….painkillers for our aching feet!

We only found the one cache on the island.  That was enough for us!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

MOGA! MOGA! MOGA!




It was the eleventh hour in the great halls of Cachelot and the mood was dire.  The entire day had passed and still the sword was in the stone as no champion had yet come forth to pull the sword and claim the prize.  Yes, many good knights, along with a few lads, lasses and ladies, had mightily tried in vain, but none yet had succeeded.  Hurriedly, a Council of the Roundtable was called to discuss what should happen if no champion ever came forth.  Just as the discussion began the doors at the back of the great hall burst open and two young lads from ActMoritz strode purposely through the great hall.  Their eyes were full of fire and locked upon the sword!



The Council went quiet and a hush fell over the huge crowd as all eyes watched the two lads stride to the stone and kneel.  No one could quite tell what was going on: were they praying, or maybe invoking a mystic unlocking spell, or could it be they actually had solved the mystery of the stone?  Suddenly one of the lads stood, grabbed the hilt of the sword and pulled.  You could hear the “swoosh” as the sword came out of the rock and the lad pointed the sword skyward! The crowd roared! We had our champion!



The story above is not just the stuff of legend…at least not yet… and if you haven’t guessed by now, the theme of this
event was Cachelot – Quest for the Dragon’s Cache.  Here at MOGA 2013 (GC3GN2E) you would find many caching knights and damsels, a few dragons and an actual round table….not to mention the aforementioned  Sword in the Stone, designed and built by cacher Sixrows  (Shawn Renfro).  To pull out the sword cachers had to find up to 48 “Knight’s Caches” hidden throughout the Lake Shelbyville area.  Six of those caches contained the numbers that would unlock the sword from the stone.  The two stalwart young lads who finally retrieved the sword were part of a four-person team (including their parents) that had searched over hill and dale to find the secret to the cache.

Can you find the Q in this pic?
MOGA 2013 (Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure) was held from April 5th to April 7th in Shelbyville, Illinois and in the nearby Lake Shelbyville area managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The event was hosted by the Central Illinois Geocaching Association (CIGA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers.   The co-directors of the event were Racer2814 (Pam Rankin) and Gossamar (Tom Hankins) who are also CIGA board members.  Numerous local vendors along with vendors of geocaching supplies sponsored the event.  Actually, it seemed as though the entire town of Shelbyville was hosting the event because everywhere we went we were heartily welcomed and quizzed as to “what exactly is this geocaching thing?”  Even the local schools got into the act when they offered their high school gymnasium when the original venue fell through.

The CIGA Board plus "Cache Artiste", Sixrows

MOGA  got its start back in 2004 by St. Louis Area Geocaching Association’s (SLAGA) Brawny Bear (Mike Griffin)  when he created a geocaching competition known as the Midwest Invitational Geocaching Competition (MIGC) The three-day event was held at Hawn State Park in St. Genevieve, Missouri, and was sponsored by the St. Louis Orienteering Club with the cooperation of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. MIGC was attended by over 80 participants from seven different states - some from as far away as New Jersey.

Over the next ten years, MIGC evolved into MOGA, now the world’s largest geocaching competition.  This year’s event was attended by over 1000 geocachers from 23 states and from as far away as Australia.  Over 200 new permanent caches were hidden for the event along with 80 temporary caches hidden just for the competitions.
Best Costume Winners....See Anyone You Know???

MOGA 2013 really began back over a year ago, when Pam and Tom volunteered CIGA (Central Illinois Geocaching Association) to host this year’s event.  At the time they really had little idea of what was involved to put on such a huge event.  Over the ensuing months they have driven hundreds of miles and put in over untold hours just doing the advance work.  The work of actually hiding the caches began in December 2012 when CIGA volunteers hid about 200 caches in the 11,000 acres of the Shelbyville Lake Area and along many of the roads leading to MOGA.

The event kicked off in earnest on April 5th, beginning at 4:00 PM.  Hundreds of cachers checked in, put on their orange event lanyards and strolled through Cachelot, greeting old friends, making new friends and, as always, sharing caching stories.  The evening ended with the BYO Bash, with costume contests, live music and even a magic show!

Early the next morning the caching competitions began.  First out of the gate was the Individual’s Competition with cachers seeking 40 punch-caches hidden in the hills and valleys of the Shelbyville Lithia Springs area.  Later in the day the Team Competitions began with caching teams seeking another 40 punch caches.  You can check the MOGA 2013 entry (GC3GN2E) for a list of winners of these competitions.
MOGA 2013 had lots more than just the competitive caches to keep everyone occupied.  There was a poker run, a costume party, plenty of kid’s caches and even a Wizard’s Challenge to test those who love puzzle caches.  Also several local caching organizations sponsored get-togethers throughout the weekend….including a pizza fest and a feast sponsored by Bear and Mad Chef!
Signal and Friend At The Awards Ceremony
Cute Couple, Right?!? 

On Saturday evening the winners of the competitions were honored at an awards ceremony.  Prizes were awarded for first, second and third places for each competition.  Hundreds of people filled the local high-school gymnasium to applaud the winners and to celebrate yet another great MOGA event.  As with most of MOGA 2013 activities, it was a smile-filled event!

At the end of the awards ceremony a special super-secret movie was shown.  The movie involved spies, intrigue and all sorts of mayhem….all leading up to the announcement of MOGA 2014, Geocaching Impossible (GC491R5) to be held March 28th through the 30th, 2014 in Athens, Ohio. Already, it looks as though the organizers of this event are going to carry on the excellent tradition of great MOGA events!

Alas, MOGA 2013 ended all too soon, but MOGA 2014 is already on the horizon.  In the meantime get out there and find some caches!



Thursday, April 4, 2013

Big Nose George Parrot


We had an overnight stay in Rawlins, Wyoming and decided to look for a cemetery cache; hoping to find a grave of a Calvary soldier, an outlaw or some other old Weste3dex character and thus “find” a Wild West story.  After doing a search on geocaching.com we found a cache in Rawlins Cemetery, just a mile or so from our hotel.  Our target cache was Wild West Redux (GCG010).  With a cache name like that we couldn’t lose!

 Tombstone near Wild West Redux
We quickly found the cache and figured out the answer required which indeed was a Wild West story, but we wanted more.  We looked around the cemetery a little more, hoping to find a U.S. Calvary veteran’s grave or some other interesting graves, but didn’t find much of interest.  We resigned ourselves to leaving without discovering a bigger story and headed to our hotel.  But wait, all was not lost!  Shortly after dinner we received an email from scribbler, the Wild West Redux cache owner, saying that we had gotten the right answer to the cache and if we wanted more information about the cache’s story we should look up “Big Nose George Parrot.”  We immediately did a Google search and got, as they say, “the rest of the story!”

Big Nose was a cattle rustler and would-be train robber.  After a bungled train robbery in August of 1878, Big Nose and his gang shot and killed two lawmen that were on their trail.  Big Nose escaped capture for almost two years until he got drunk in Montana and bragged about killing the two Wyoming lawmen.  He was captured there and then sent back to Rawlins to stand trial.  There he was convicted and sentenced to hang, but while awaiting his execution Big Nose overcame his jailer and almost escaped.  This almost successful escape enraged the townspeople and they burst into the jail, grabbed Big Nose, and took him outside and lynched him.  That’s a pretty good Wild West story right there, but wait, there’s more!

No kin claimed Big Nose’s body so two local doctors claimed the body in order to examine it for clues as to why Big Nose was so bad.  They began by sawing off the top of his skull so they could remove and examine the brain.  They gave the skull cap to their 15 year old medical assistant, Lillian Heath.  Having found no abnormalities in the brain the good doctors then took the skin from Big Nose’s chest and thighs….and had it made into a doctor’s bag, a coin purse and a pair of shoes!  One of the doctors, Dr. John Osborne, later was elected in 1893 as the governor of Wyoming since statehood and he wore his “Big Nose shoes” to his inauguration.

You would think that having a rustler/train-robber turned into a pair of shoes would be a great ending to the story, but no…there’s more!  Roll the clock forward to 1950 and the story continues.
On May 11, 1950, construction workers unearthed a whiskey barrel filled with bones, a skull with the top sawed off….and a pair of shoes made of some strange leather.  Some locals remembered the stories about Big Nose George Parrot and they sent for Lillian Heath. 

Lillian Heath was the 15 year-old medical assistant who received Big Nose’s skull cap.  She had gone on to become the first female doctor in Wyoming and she was now in her eighties.  She had kept the skull cap all this time, making good use of it in a variety of ways including as an ash tray and a door stop.  She brought her half of the skull and it matched perfectly with the bottom half of the skull in the whiskey barrel.  Big Nose George Parrot was back together again at last!

We finally had our Wild West story, and so much more!  Thanks to scribbler and Wild West Redux we have discovered another piece of Americana that we would never have heard about without geocaching.  It’s amazing what you learn while geocaching!

Big Nose George Parrot did find his final resting spot in Rawlins, but not in a cemetery like most other people.  The bottom half of Big Nose’s skull and the shoes made out of his skin are on display in the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, along with some other related artifacts.  Next time you’re in Rawlins we recommend you stop by Wild West Redux, visit Big Nose at the museum and then find your own Wild West story that you can share with us! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Geocaching Out West


We've spent the last three weeks out west: Arizona, California, and points in between.  It’s always fun to geocache away from your home base because you see a lot of different kinds of caches and you learn a lot of new stuff.

Mona wanted to geocache around Sedona, Arizona on her birthday.  We started with an Earthcache called Red “Rocks” (GC1DBA2).  This cache takes you to a location overlooking the valley and helps you learn to identify some of the beautiful red rock formations.  This is probably the best view in the valley that you can get to without climbing.  (Our climbing days were yet to come!)  Another neat cache we found on her birthday was Sedona Historical Marker (GC36JE1).  This is a cemetery cache that takes you to the grave of Sedona Schnebly, the city’s namesake.

A couple of days later we visited Jerome, Arizona.  At a nearby state park we saw a video depicting the town’s heritage.  The video was narrated by a ghost and a lot of it was set in an unusual cemetery.  We decided we wanted to find that cemetery.  We decided to look for caches that were probably in cemeteries.  We saw Los dias del muerto en Jerome (GCYXD6)and decided that sounded “cemeteryish”.  Sure enough, it took us down a little dirt road to an abandoned-looking cemetery…the same one that we saw in the video.  The graves here all around surrounded by iron fences and the graves are covered with rocks.  It’s very different from our Midwestern cemeteries!  (Not to mention it’s the perfect environment for rattlesnakes!)
There's a cache around here somewhere!

Two caches illustrate the wide variety of caches to be found in the Coachella Valley.  First up is Marilyn’s ASSets (GC3N8KX).  Here you are caching in downtown Palm Springs and trying to not attract the attention of the thousands of Muggles who are here to see Marilyn.  On the opposite side of the spectrum is Welcome to Palm Desert (GC331X0) where you’re trying hard to not attract the attention of the many rattlesnakes in the area.  Both were fun, but for totally different reasons.

We had been carrying a travel coin (Ocean Kami Geocoin) whose goal was to visit oceans.  We’ve been carrying the coin for about six weeks, knowing that we were going to visit Monterey.  Finally we got the coin to the Pacific at Monterey Bay View (GC36HA0).  Glad to have helped!

No wild horses, but no rattlers, either!
On the way through Nevada we stopped at a rest area hoping to find a cache to break up the monotony.  Darn, no signal!  We did some walking around to stretch our legs, read the signs about the wild horses that were in the area, then got in the car to leave.  Just then we got a signal and found that there was a cache (Break the Monotony of I-80 E1 (GC71BA)) up the hill 2 tenths above us.  Out of the car we went…hoping that the snakes and scorpions weren’t out because of the cold.  Got to the top of the hill and got a breathtaking view of the countryside…no wild horses, but we got the smiley!

We found two very interesting caches in Rawlins, Wyoming.  The first was at an old prison cemetery.  The Unclaimed (GCRREQ) takes you to the graves of prisoners whose families didn’t claim them.  All that is here are some simple stones with just names on them and a board outside showing their birthdays and the date they died or were executed.  At least one had “birthdate unknown”.

At second cache (Wild West Redux (GCG010)  we learned about Big Nose George Parrot, the Outlaw Who Grew to Be A Shoe. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Nose_George) It’s amazing what you see/learn from geocaching!

Had lots of fun traveling and geocaching out west.  But, now we’re home and hoping to catch up on some new local caches. 

MOGA is soon and can’t wait to meet up with a lot of geocaching friends.  Hope to see you there!