Finding the cache

Geocaching: The world’s largest treasure hunt

Barry Pawelek holds open the sheet of paper found inside a small geocache container at Hermann Heights. When geocachers find their cache, they write their names down on a sheet of paper found inside the geocache container before placing the cache back in its hidden location.

Geocaching: the hobby that uses multi-million dollar satellites to find tupperware in the woods.

Well, that’s the commonly shared joke a geocacher will tell if asked what geocaching is.

On May 2, 2000, the global positioning system (GPS) received an upgrade after selective availability was discontinued at the direction of President Bill Clinton. Selective availability was a way to mask public GPS signals for exclusive government use for national security reasons.

Geocaching, originally referred to as the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt,” began May 3, 2000, after GPS enthusiast and computer consultant Dave Ulmer tested out the accuracy of the new technology. Ulmer hid a container in the woods in Oregon, noted the coordinates with a GPS unit and alerted an internet GPS users’ group. The rules were that a finder would then search and locate the container with the use of a GPS receiver, take some things from it and leave some behind.

Within three days, two different readers read of Ulmer’s stash in the woods and used their GPS receivers to find the container before sharing their experiences online. The prospect of engaging in a treasure hunt using GPS took off from there and soon became a worldwide activity.

Pictured is a screenshot view of some local caches around New Ulm. The geocaching app can be downloaded on your smartphone by searching Geocaching in the Google Play Store or Apple Inc.’s App Store search bar. The app is called “Geocaching®” and is by Groundspeak Inc.

Many states then began forming their own groups to organize searches and events.

The state of Minnesota saw the Minnesota Geocaching Association form in 2002.

Christine Traxler, known by her geocaching name Acleon, is MnGCA’s secretary and has been on the board since October of 2021.

She said that those interested in signing up to start geocaching can log onto the official geocaching.com app on any mobile phone, although some die-hard fans still use GPS devices as hikers do. Users then create a handle and are taken to wherever they are in the world.

“On the map, there will be icons indicating where different geocache containers are located, ranging from very tiny to huge,” Traxler said. “It will tell you how far away you are from any container, but it’s up to you to figure out how to get there (car, bike, hike, climb, swim, etc.). The difficulty and terrain (D/T) are listed to tell you how hard it will be to find.

Husband and wife geocachers Dave and Chris Goplin are the area’s geocaching ambassadors. The two have placed 3/4 of the caches in New Ulm and have found 6,600 caches total since beginning in 2009.

GPS is only as good as +/- 16 feet, so once it says you’re at ground zero (the GZ), you need to search. Hints and clues are gotten from the description, the name of the geocache, and previous finders. Once you find it hidden at its location, you open the container, sign the log, and get a point.”

There are sometimes toys, coins and other prizes one can take home with them from the search. Other times objects are intended to be taken, logged and moved alone and are referred to as “trackables,” with the idea being to see how far a trackable can go and where it ends up.

New Ulm recently held a special geocaching party at Hermann Heights on July 9.

Traxler, who calls herself relatively new to geocaching, has ties to the area. Her parents were born and raised in LeCenter, Minnesota, while Traxler was born in Mankato, Minnesota. Traxler said she has a mostly-German heritage, so New Ulm and the entire region are home to her.

“The MnGCA normally puts on two events per year,” Traxler said. “This year is special. Our 20th anniversary meant we wanted to touch every corner of the state during June and July, culminating in an event in Baxter, which is as close to our geographic center as we could get. The Baxter event is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Oscar Kristofferson Park in Baxter, Minnesota. The goal of events is just to get together and share stories, give away prizes and have games or challenges. Geocaching in Minnesota is, however, a year-round event that anyone can do any day and any time they want to challenge themselves individually, in groups, or with their families.”

Geocachers of all ages and experience gathered at Hermann Heights in New Ulm on July 9 for a special get-together. The MnGCA hosts special events each year such as this to bring geocachers together to socialize. First-time geocachers are invited to these events also.

At the special geocaching party, avid geocachers and those new to geocaching gathered. The husband-and-wife duo of Dave and Chris Goplin were just two avid geocachers and local geocaching ambassadors who attended the event.

“We started in 2009,” Chris Goplin said. “And the reason we did was we loved going to state parks. And we just finished the year before visiting every state park. So we said, ‘Now what are we going to do?’ And we said, ‘You know, Flandrau’s got this thing called geocaching, let’s go check it out.’ And we did and we were hooked within days. … We started in August and by Christmas we hit our 100th find. Right now we have 6,600.”

The couple have also placed most of the caches in New Ulm.

“We also like to promote the town,” Dave Goplin said. “She was a nurse in town, I was a mortician in town before we both retired. It’s nice to know that you’re bringing people to town. They come through town, and they’ll stop, they geocache, they might grab a burger, they might do this. But it brings people to town. They can obviously see Hermann the German. There’s so much here.

“I moved here 40 years ago, I used to live in Mankato, but I’m going to be here until I die now. But if you can’t find something to do in town, there’s something wrong with you. This town is the nicest little, cleanest little town. It’s got a lot of history, nice people, and it’s nice to bring people here that they can see it.”

Two geocachers navigate Hermann Heights in search of a cache in New Ulm on July 9. Eden Prairie’s Barry Pawelek, left, has been geocaching since 2009 and has about 13,500 caches to his name.

MnGCA president Mike Lewis, known by his geocaching name Copaman, was born in Seattle, Washington, but currently lives in Bloomington, Minnesota. He started geocaching in 2011.

“It’s kind of like a treasure hunt,” Lewis said. “I had heard about it, a friend of mine did it in New York, and he’s like, ‘It takes you to different places and you find things hidden you never thought were out there.’ Since then what’s really gotten me interested is it takes me to lots of interesting places, places I would have never known. Lots of parks in my town that I never even knew were here except that someone located a geocache there, and it’s like, ‘I never knew this park existed, and now I have an excuse to come here and find it.'”

Lewis also said geocaching is a fun way to get exercise.

Another interesting fact is that most geocachers know each other only by their geocaching names, something the Goplins believe brings everyone together on a common ground.

“Everybody’s got a nickname and everybody had a handle,” Dave Goplin said. “Some of us know each other’s first and last names, sometimes you know them just by what they do by. Because with geocaching, it doesn’t matter what you did, what you do, how much you’re worth, anything like that. The focus is a social, and all we’re really dealing with is geocaching.”

The 20th anniversary celebration takes place July 30 in Baxter. Those interested in learning more about geocaching or talking with Minnesota geocachers are invited to visit www.mngca.org or join the Minnesota Geocaching Association group on Facebook.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?


Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today