John Curtis, a Springfield optometrist, uses a hand-held GPS to locate a geocache hidden under rocks and sticks near the Wilson's Creek Greenway. He estimates that there are more than 400 geocaches hidden in a 20-mile radius from Missouri State University.
John Curtis, a Springfield optometrist, uses a hand-held GPS to locate a geocache hidden under rocks and sticks near the Wilson's Creek Greenway. He estimates that there are more than 400 geocaches hidden in a 20-mile radius from Missouri State University.
When John Curtis read an article about geocaching, he thought his sister would like it. Turns out, he had discovered a passion for himself.

The Springfield optometrist and his wife, Jennifer, are regular geocachers and even went looking for treasure on their honeymoon in 2007.

"We never have to sit and wonder if there's something to do," Curtis says. "We can go out and find a cache."

Geocaching was born in May 2000 when a computer assistant in Portland, Ore., put a bucket in the woods and posted its GPS coordinates, Curtis says. A sign now marks that spot.

Geocaching is a worldwide activity popular with people of all ages who use a handheld GPS to locate geocaches - hidden containers with a sign-in log and that may include a trinket for trade. Some caches are urban, and others are hidden on trails or in parks. Within a 20-mile radius of Missouri State University, for instance, there are more than 400 caches.

"For us, it's not really about the trade items," says Curtis, who has 1,300 finds in 12 states and three countries. "It's about getting out of the house and finding things."

The key to the geocaching kingdom is www.geocaching.com, the Web site that links geocachers around the globe. This is where geocachers exchange information, post new caches and log their finds, Curtis says. A basic membership is free.

A basic GPS sells for less than $100, Curtis says. But within a month of starting geocaching, he upgraded to a unit that has street-by-street mapping. He also practices paperless caching by using a software program that downloads hundreds of caches to a PDA or cell phone with updates every week or two.

Anyone can hide and record a cache at www.geocaching.com, provided permission is granted from the property owner, Curtis says. The cache will be reviewed to make sure there aren't too many in one place, which leads to geolitter, and that certain rules are followed, such as not placing one near railroad tracks. Caches are ranked from one to five on terrain and difficulty.

Curtis and his wife have created seven caches.

"When you first start caching, you think about it all the time - oh, that would be a great place for a cache," he says.

Paul Kelsay is equally enthusiastic.

The systems analyst for Springfield Business Systems enjoys getting out alone, often hiking to some of the more challenging caches. The father of two young boys, Kelsay is limited in how often he can cache, although he takes advantage of out-of-town work trips whenever he can to find new caches.

Caching is family-friendly - kids love finding the trinkets for trade - and Kelsay plans to take his sons on more caches.

"I look forward to them being older and physically big enough to go on the really long hikes required to find (some) caches," he says.

Like many extracurricular pursuits, geocaching has its own lingo. A "park-and-grab," or "skirt-lifter," cache is easier to get to (the bases of lights in parking lots have a "skirt" you can lift to reveal a cache).

There are micro caches, puzzle caches and multicaches. Coins or travel bugs are meant to be taken and moved to another location and their serial numbers logged online. A cache that can't be found is logged as DNF - did not find. The first cacher to find a new site can claim a FTF - first to find.

Kelsay, who's been known to dash out at 10 p.m. after receiving notification of a new cache, has 42 FTFs and 964 finds in 11 states.

"It's a very big and complex thing, and you have to learn more and more as you go along," Curtis says. "It can be tough for beginners, because there's so much to learn. ... But that's part of the fun."