"What the hell is geocaching?"
This question, accompanied by bewildered expressions, is not an unusual one for geocachers, who often have to explain the 3-year-old sport known as geocaching (pronounced jee-oh kash-ing) to people who have never heard of it.
And it's no wonder inquirers are dumfounded when they find out what it is.
Geocaching is the first sport in history to combine romping around the back country in a Jeep, operating one of the most sophisticated weapons of war in the world and hiding dollar-store items in former ammunition cases.
In other words, geocaching is treasure hunting for technologically-inclined nature lovers.
How it works
It all starts at www.geocaching.com, where geocachers log on, enter their zip codes and look up various geocaches in their area. For instance, typing "85541" would result in about 25 nearby geocaches.
Users then select the geocache they want to search for, print out a copy of the geocache's coordinates or write them down, and begin the hunt.
Geo stems from the word geography and caching comes from cache, a camping term meaning a hidden store of supplies -- only the supplies in geocaching include tennis balls, key chains, toy cars, and jokes in lieu of food, sun block or matches.
Caches also contain logbooks where the successful write their names and the date they found the cache.
To find the caches, geocachers need to use handheld Global Positioning System devices, which use satellites to give geocachers their nearly exact coordinates on the globe.
Once geocachers get to the starting point provided by the website, they walk around, trying to match up the GPS's coordinates with those of the geocache (also provided by the website).
Originally, GPS was designed for and used exclusively by the U.S. military. Most recently, the military used it during the war in Iraq to guide bombs to specific locations and avoid civilian casualties.
Because GPS coordinates are typically between 15 to 30 feet inaccurate, actually finding a geocache is harder than one might think.
Some are hidden on tree branches, under rocks, in bushes and even inside hollow trees. That's why geocachers need to rely on their own mental ability and not exclusively on GPS.
Chuck Jacobs, former chief of the Payson Fire Department and currently a Regional Payson Area Project consultant, said he has always loved participating in outdoor sports.
From mountain biking and hunting to hiking and four-wheel driving, Jacobs thought he had done just about everything he could to entertain himself in Mother Nature's playpen.
That is, until he heard about geocaching two years ago.
"Like most people, I spend a lot of my time working indoors. So I like to get out when I can," Jacobs said. "It kind of mixes the Internet, treasure hunting and hiking ... to make a really fun sport."
The first geocache Jacobs found was "Pioneers Remembered," named for a mother and her baby that died in 1900 from diphtheria. It is only one of more than 1,000 in the state.
Pioneers Remembered begins at the gravesite, surrounded by a white picket fence, on the Beeline Highway between Payson and Pine. From there, geocachers go either north, south, east or west depending on their GPS readings and how they match up with the geocache's coordinates.
Jacobs says Pioneers Remembered was a rather easy geocache to find despite the fact it was well-hidden.
In fact, Jacobs uses this site when he gives geocaching lessons to intrigued students.
He recently returned there Saturday morning with friend and fellow geocacher J.J. Logan to show a first-time geocacher exactly how the sport works.
After about 30 minutes of stumbling into prickly bushes, getting her hair caught in trees and staring at Jacobs' GPS device, the novice found the geocache.
Jacobs told her with a smile, "You see. You just have to look for what's out of place."
When the trio opened the geocache, a former missile launcher, they found brightly-colored key chain flashlights, sunglasses and a logbook among other various odds and ends.
After Jacobs signed the book and secured the geocache once again, the three went on a second geocache hunt that began at the Houston Mesa Loop Trailhead and required roughly 20 minutes of walking and searching.
Jacobs said the best part of geocaching is just being outdoors.
"(J.J. and I) love anything that gives us an excuse to get out," he says.
Jacobs' other favorite hobby is taking his 1980 blue Jeep out four-wheeling in Payson's back country. He says geocaching allows him to do both at the same time.
While geocaching does not require a four-wheel drive vehicle, Jacobs said having one makes the sport even more fun.
"There's nothing better than a full tank of gas, a Jeep and a nice new road you've never been on before."
The most vital tool geocachers need is a GPS device. Prices range anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on the device's features.
Jacobs bought his eTrex Legend at Wal-Mart for $200. However, Wal-Mart has not carried GPS devices for the past three weeks and representatives there said they are unsure if the item will be restocked or not.
GPS devices can be found in most sporting goods stores or ordered online.
Jacobs said while many different people enjoy the sport, outdoor lovers and families seem to have a particularly good time geocaching.
He added that many first-timers feel intimidated on their first hunt, and if that is the case, they can call him for a lesson.
To reach Jacobs and find out more about geocaching, call (928) 595-0967.