Scattered across Marion County are more than 125 modern-day buried treasures — the trackable quarry in a high-tech game of adventure known as geocaching.
Discover one and you won’t find doubloons or pirate booty, just some cheap swag and a log to sign as proof you were there.
The game isn’t about the payoff, local geocachers Jay and Rachel Gfeller of Peabody say; it’s an outdoor activity for people of all ages — and a great way to explore an area.
The Gfellers search out caches every couple of weeks with their children.
“It’s really a great way for us to have family time,” Rachel Gfeller said. “It forces us all to get in the car together and get outside.”
The kids do more than tag along, Jay Gfeller said.
“We’ll have them crawl down sometimes and get the cache out for us,” he said. “It’s good to bring them along.”
Going out for a cache hunt on a recent Saturday morning, the weather isn’t ideal, but it’s workable. It’s a shade under 60 degrees, breezy, and cloudy. Recent rains have left some areas muddy and others with standing water. Most caches in Kansas don’t require any bushwhacking, Jay Gfeller said, but on this day some puddle-hopping would be required.
When a player hides a cache, he or she logs its coordinates on a geocaching website.
The Gfellers have information on six caches from across Peabody. They’ve found all but one of them before, but you wouldn’t know it from Abby’s enthusiasm for the trip.
Caden runs around happily, not exactly in tune with the expedition but happy to be at the city park, where the search starts.
The first cache sought includes a personal story from the player who hid it. It’s at the former site of a rocket slide the hider remembered playing on as a child. Personal stories like these are common, Jay Gfeller says.
Other caches bear historical significance, such as one placed at the Civil War memorial in Prairie Lawn Cemetery.
A lot of people don’t know about geocaching, even though the game is constantly being played all around them, Jay Gfeller says.
He has been geocaching since 2003, three years after the game was invented. He and his family play whenever they take a road trip, and sometimes attend special geocaching events.
The Gfellers recently attended a meet-and-greet in Mingo, an unincorporated community in western Kansas, to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the first cache ever placed in Kansas.
“Mingo is a town of about 15 people, and we had about 100 geocachers there,” Jay Gfeller said.
More than half were over 50 years old, Rachel Gfeller said.
“A lot of retired persons do geocaching as a way to stay active,” she said.
Community is an important aspect of geocaching. Meet-and-greets are common, as are social media groups such as Flint Hills Geocaching on Facebook. They help bring cachers together.
“There are cachers I know just from seeing their usernames in logbooks, but I don’t know their real names, and there are cachers whose real names I know, but I don’t know their geocaching name,” Jay Gfeller said.
The Gfellers have been caching together for a couple years. They’ve found 126 total caches in and outside the county. They have placed one cache and are thinking of places to put another one.
“Most people recommend you wait until you’ve found around 100 caches until you place any,” he said. “We placed ours after about 80.”
Caches vary in size and style. Some can be the size of an ammunition box, others the size of a pinky tip, with a tiny scroll of paper for a log. Most are camouflaged to blend in with surrounding scenery.
Some caches are locked in clever ways that require decryption or problem solving. Others are just hard to reach. Caches are rated from one to five on how difficult they are to open after they’ve been spotted. Most caches in the county are easy to access once found, Jay Gfeller said.
On this particular day, the Gfellers will wind up finding five of the six caches they sought, all in about an hour and a half. The one they couldn’t spot was the cache at the old rocket slide.
“We’ll have to come back for that one sometime,” Jay Gfeller said.
“Uh-huh!” said Abby, already anticipating their next trip.