Can you find it?

Published 10:11 am Friday, November 4, 2011

Amy and Steve Patten hold a typical geocache Tuesday. It features a logbook for signing and other items. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

There’s going to be a big treasure hunt in Albert Lea on Nov. 12.

But it’s really more about the hunt than the treasure. The Rain, Snow or Shine Cache Dash, starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Hy-Vee conference room, is a geocaching event. Geocachers use GPS coordinates to find hidden containers, then share what they found on the Internet.

Geocaches can be any container. Often, they are ammo boxes from Army surplus stores. This one has a sticker from the Minnesota Geocaching Association.

The organizers, husband-and-wife geocachers Steve and Amy Patten, hope to draw people from around the region with the event, which is geared at highlighting geocaching in Greater Minnesota. This year, the Rain, Snow or Shine Cache Dash is in Albert Lea, and it could be in another southern Minnesota city next year.

Email newsletter signup

The Pattens have hidden 19 new permanent caches in Albert Lea, and there will be four caches set up for just a day.

Steve said it is called the Rain, Snow or Shine Cache Dash because “we thought it would be interesting to do it on the weekend of the traditional first snowfall.”

Cachers will show up at Hy-Vee, sign the log, probably grab some breakfast, then receive coordinates and begin scouring the city for containers or sometimes additional coordinates. That happens with multicaches, where one set of coordinates leads to a place that has another set of coordinates and eventually to a container.

Steve said the GPS coordinates usually will get a person to within 10 feet of a cache.

“After that, it is an old-fashioned hunt,” he said.

Often, the coordinates come with a clue.

Amy said one set of coordinates for a cache at the Wells airport said the container “was in plane sight.” It turned out the cache actually was on an airplane.”

A geocache can be any container that holds a log, even this small metal capsule with a tiny scroll in it. Geocachers call this a “nano.” -- Submitted photo

GPS devices are a common way to find the locations that coordinates designate, but these days, smartphones are GPS-enabled, too. They often have downloadable geocaching applications.

Containers can be almost anything, such as a bucket, an ammo box, a peanut butter jar, a pill bottle or even a metal capsule. They usually have a notepad inside or, for the small ones, a tiny scroll, either way serving as a log. People sign their name or leave initials. They also go online — usually to — to record what caches they have found and to get the coordinates for their next hunt.

The Pattens got into geocaching in 2007 during a visit to Bemidji State Park. The ranger offices at Minnesota State Parks have GPS devices for park users to use as a means to explore each park. Often, they are multicaches.

They got home and began doing it themselves.

The Pattens said Albert Lea has about 100 geocaches. The 23 to be set up for the Rain, Snow or Shine Cache Dash “will be winter-friendly,” Steve said.

The Pattens said some cachers do it for the joy of the hunt. They like discoveries. Others do it for the love of geography, saying they have been here and there. Hikers really like the ones along hiking trails. Still other cachers like the educational aspects, such as learning where a town used to exist or where some historical event happened or tinkering with technology.

All of them like that they find themselves in places they never expected. Steve described following a geocache to the Steele County ghost town of Summit.

Amy said children get into the sport because some caches have toys. For instance, kids will trade toys from fast-food restaurants through the caches. She said geocaching teaches problem solving and observational skills

Cachers make the activity more interesting with trackables, items that can be sent around the globe. Often, they look like dog tags on a key chain or shoelace. Steve said he created a trackable that had the goal of being at the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. He has followed its journey online. As of Tuesday, it was in Germany.

The Rain, Snow or Shine Cache Dash will conclude at 5 p.m. with a pizza party at Pizza Ranch in Northbridge Mall.

Do it yourself!

Want to try geocaching? We have set up a new cache for beginners just for this story.

Go to, navigate to “Hide & Seek a Cache” and enter these coordinates:

N 43.38.643
W 093.22.781

Or enter the geocaching code of GC36RNY. The name of the cache is “Read All About It.”

If you have a smartphone, you can download “Geocaching” from Groundspeak Inc. and enter the information.
You never know where it will lead you.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

email author More by Tim