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A new technology-based pastime that is becoming popular worldwide combines
the mental rigor of a riddle with the excitement of a treasure hunt.

It began
as a routine trip to service an automobile and troll the aisles of Wal-Mart,
but evolved into a high-tech trek through the nooks of Homestead.

Guiding Lisa Magrane and her three kids — Dannon, 13,
TJ, 11, and Kieran, 10 — in their odyssey last Thursday: A black, hand-held
Garmin Global Positioning System unit whose coordinates led the Keys family
to an overlooked park, a vacant ”ghost” mobile home community, and a green
plastic lizard.

”Some of these places we would never find,” Dannon said.

The Magranes were ”geocaching” — a relatively new pastime
that combines the mental rigor of a riddle with the delight and obstacles
of a treasure hunt.

Using one of the satellite-positioning devices, and latitude-longitude
coordinates culled from special websites that guide them within 20 feet
of a bounty, players search for hidden ”geocaches” that often include
small trinkets, a log, and a disposable camera to record their find. Cachers
leave the camera and their own small presents, tracking some finds on the
Web.

Geocaching has spawned caches in places as diverse as
Iraq and New York City, has led to the formation of regional hobby groups,
and has prompted 4-H organizations traditionally devoted to topics such
as husbandry and plant identification to form special clubs focused on spreading
the game.

”The sport has taken off worldwide,” said Heidi Roth,
a community relations specialist with Groundspeak, which runs the largest
cache listing service on the Internet. “We are in 215 countries at this
point in time. It’s word-of-mouth.”

The caches range from ”something that’s wheelchair-accessible
to that something that could take a two-day backpack trip to get to,” Roth
said. Some geocachers also leave ”travel bugs” — tiny, bar-code encrusted
metal tags that owners wish to be transported to a particular place or moved
around. Finders plot the bugs’ migration online.

The geocaching ”movement” — which recently earned a
plug on the television show Law & Order: Criminal Intent — has
spawned websites specializing in regional challenges, leagues devoted to
group hunts, and an event called ”GeoWoodstock III” in Jacksonville on
May 28.

AN ALL-AGE ACTIVITY

The first cache was ”placed” in 2000 by a Portland-area
man shortly after the Clinton administration relaxed federal rules on use
of the U.S. military-created technology.

While the phenomenon has plenty of youthful adherents,
geocaching has a large following among adults, some of whom have made it
a full-time preoccupation.

With the cost of a hand-held GPS declining — one can
be purchased for $100 — the technology has proliferated and can now be
found in everything from child-monitoring backpacks to watches and phones.

Caches range from ”Ugly Duckling” — a Belle Isle find
that promises cachers a choice of a 1976 Bicentennial half-dollar, a rain
poncho or a small screwdriver set — to ”Courtyard Cache,” a small, green,
tubular container hidden near a well-known Miami Beach hotel, to ”Yeay
Mao” — a cache tucked at the foot of a steep Cambodian mountain that consists
of a peanut butter pot and a small log sheet.

Geocaching has birthed its own lexicon — from ”microcaches”
that contain a tiny log in a film canister, to ”nanocaches” — which are
smaller, and thus harder to detect, to ”muggling” — the loathsome practice
of finding a cache and pilfering it without depositing something in return.

Cache creators frequently leave additional clues on their
Web listings that must be decrypted using special software.

GETTING OFF THE COUCH

Educators and parents like geocaching because it gets
kids off the couch and away from the television set and another hand-held
device — the Game Boy.

”I think this shows kids the connection between technology
and real life,” says Kimberly Coldicott, a Monroe County extension agent
and 4-H coordinator who is trying to recruit children for a local club.
Chapters in Washington State, Oregon, and Missouri are already teaching
kids how to geocache.

The Magranes, who are home-schooled, heard about geocaching
from an online geography teacher.

In South Florida, they have found a cache near Miami Metrozoo,
and another one near a water pipe that delivers freshwater to the Keys.
One cache they detected in Miami asked finders to leave a scribbled portrait
of themselves. Geocache coordinates have taken the family to remote sinkholes
in North Florida and to hidden spots in downtown Tallahassee.

Already, legends have been made.

”It’s very rare, but sometimes people leave $100 bills,”
Dannon Magrane said last week, as she and her brothers led a visitor to
a trinket-containing cache tucked behind the remains of a coral rock fountain
in a Tavernier butterfly garden.

Source : www.miami.com