Through California on electronic treasure huntGPS units add to thrill of the chase in the Sierras.By John Flinn
San Francisco Chronicle
Posted October 30 2005http://www.sun-sentinel.com/travel/prin ... avel-print
Fish Camp, Calif. · I am a human cruise missile, zigging and zagging through the forest with the same technology that guides our military's smart bombs to their bridges and bunkers.
If all goes to plan, data beamed from a cluster of navigational satellites 22,240 miles overhead will steer me unerringly to my target: a bucket with some tchotchkes in it.
This relatively new pastime -- basically a high-tech scavenger hunt -- is called geocaching, and it's become wildly popular among owners of handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) units. It's so popular, in fact, that the Tenaya Lodge, just outside Yosemite National Park near Wawona, has begun offering a geocaching program along with its nature hikes and horseback riding outings. I signed up for it recently to sample both the sport and the hotel.
Built 15 years ago and renovated recently, the 244-room Tenaya Lodge is the grandest of Yosemite's perimeter "gateway" hotels catering to the park's overflow and visitors who prefer to put a little distance between themselves and Yosemite Valley's bustle.
Tenaya Lodge began offering the geocaching program this fall, and I was one of the first to sign up. Essentially, the sport is a cross between orienteering and a treasure hunt using high-tech navigation. Someone hides a "cache" -- typically a plastic or metal bucket with a lid -- with a logbook and some goodies in it and publishes the precise latitude and longitude on the Web. The goal is to dial those coordinates into your handheld GPS unit and have it lead you to the stash.
Since the sport began in 2000, it has grown exponentially. According to Geocaching.com, there are 202,735 caches in 218 countries.
"Some people call it a hobby," said Bryan Roth, co-founder of Groundspeak, the Web site's parent company, "and others call it an addiction."
Geocachers are continually adding new wrinkles to the sport. Some transport little objects from cache to cache around the world, a high-tech twist on the famous traveling gnome.
Tenaya Lodge offers both a hiking and a mountain biking version of its geocaching program. I signed up for the former. At the hotel's activity counter I was handed a small backpack, a box lunch and a Garmin Rino 130 model GPS unit, which was about the size of a small walkie talkie.
When I switched on the unit, it locked onto four satellites in geostationary orbit -- meaning they appear to hover over one point on the globe -- and spat out our elevation (5,288 feet) and our exact location (37 degrees, 26.402 minutes by 119 degrees, 36.237 minutes.) Depending on how well it linked up with the satellites, it was accurate to anywhere from 25 to 100 feet. With various "waypoints" pre-programmed, the GPS unit directed my wife, Jeri, and me down a series of increasingly rough dirt roads -- the last was four-wheel-drive territory -- and beeped to alert me at various junctions.
I was beginning to wonder about the point of the hike when we reached the last waypoint and found ourselves staring up gape-jawed at our own private grove of giant sequoias.
As I reached each waypoint I dialed in the next one, and the gizmo's arrow pointed me in the right direction. After a few minutes I arrived at a little metal pail tucked into the bushes. I'd found my treasure.
Inside was a disposable camera with which I was invited to photograph myself for the hotel's Web site, a logbook to sign and a handful of goodies: squashed pennies with the Tenaya Lodge logo.
Under the rules of geocaching, I was supposed to take one and leave something of my own, but I'd forgotten to bring anything.
If you go: Yosemite
Tenaya Lodge is located on Highway 41 in Fish Camp, two miles outside Yosemite National Park's Wawona entrance.
Where to stay: The lodge's "Geocaching, Sierra Style" package runs through Nov. 22 and starts at $202 for hikers and $214 for mountain bikers. http://www.tenayalodge.com
For more info: Visit http://www.nps.gov/yose
or call 209-372-0200.