Written by Bob Woelk Tuesday, 10 May 2011 15:45
So, back in March, on my massive two-day spring break, my wife suggested round two of family geocaching. It would be a sequel to our first adventure back in September.
Not only did I say “OK,” I suggested we invite our 27-year-old son. Actually, I don’t remember who suggested it. Maybe even he did. At any rate, he had the day off, so he came along.
Wife Kathy begins each adventure by using our computer to do a virtual search for actual places to search. I had mentioned earlier (I think it was in 2003) that I would like to visit the Medicine Lodge area some day. We went there once to play a bluegrass concert at a church for cowboys. It was really windy and dark that evening, so we didn’t see much. But, I could tell there were some really cool hills on the horizon.
The first thing Kathy discovered was that there are loads of caches around Wichita. You can hardly throw a stone without hitting one, though I didn’t actually throw any stones at any of the caches.
We decided to search for one west of the River City, near Clearwater. It was hidden by J.A.R. the Redhead. That in itself is intriguing enough. It was an ammo box, which is the best kind of cache because the contents are usually dry and in good shape.
There’s also lots of room in ammo boxes. According to the website, this one was supposed to contain a log book, a waterbomb, a Twin Mill Hot Wheels car, a 6-inch ruler, four pencils, one visor, two blue lanyards, a golf ball, some decals, some roadhouse pails, a keychain, a Min-Wax fill in pencil, a Google yo-yo, a Little Tykes car and an “American Idol” hand clapper toy.
Geocaching protocol allows the finder to take something, but some new trinket must be left in return. Nothing in this one really appealed to any of us. Well, besides the hand clapper. I don’t remember seeing a waterbomb or a roadhouse pail, whatever those are, or I might have snatched one of them. But, we took nothing and left nothing.
The instructions also told us to “be sure to hide good.” I did. It took my family 20 minutes to find me. That last part didn’t really happen. I just made it up to illustrate that J.A.R Redhead needs to watch what he or she writes when leaving instructions. We placed the cache back in the same location, which was a small tree off to the side of a busy highway.
For those unfamiliar with geocaching, we use GPS units to home in on the coordinates left on a computer website. GPS is only accurate to within 20 to 30 feet or so. That’s what adds to the fun of trying to locate the prize. Our next stop in the hills west of Medicine Lodge really confirmed this.
We stopped for lunch at Sun City. Before setting eyes on this burg, I always thought Durham and Lehigh were small towns. This place redefined that term for me, claiming about 60 residents. There was a restaurant/ bar called Buster’s and a small gift and craft store that wasn’t open. I’m guessing the same people who ran the restaurant also ran the store, so they were busy making lunch for all us tourists.
Apparently Buster’s comes alive with live music (as I always say, much better than dead music) on the weekends. The day we stopped in, one or two diners dropped by, and two weathered cowboys sucked on beers and barbecue at the bar. We chatted with the cattlemen, who said they knew where Hillsboro was and even threw out a couple of names we recognized of Marion County ranchers.
The waitress-slash-cook wrote down our orders on a brown paper towel, then served the pulled pork sandwiches we ordered on the same scratch pad. Not a bad idea. The sodas came in their original cans, and I have to say, the food was delicious, including the ranch-style baked beans.
I highly recommend stopping by Buster’s the next time you are in Sun City, which will probably be never since the town is really far out of the way.
Our geocache was located at the top of a hill to the south, overlooking the sleepy little hamlet. It took us a while to find the container, a beat up old Coleman water jug that had nearly disintegrated.
Despite the 50-degree temperature, we were a bit cautious about doing too much poking around because the website offered this word of caution: “The Red Hills, while beautiful, have a more diverse range of wildlife than most of Kansas. In particular, this is rattlesnake country and very close to the natural range of western diamondbacks. Wear boots and watch where you step and put your hands, and you should be fine.” Gulp.
As it turned out, the cache was located a bit farther away than the GPS led us to believe, but we found it eventually. The log was unsignable, but the view of the surrounding hills was magnificent. This is truly a beautiful part of Kansas where a person can just imagine buffalo and teepees dotting the landscape.
We found some curious white rock on the hillsides and dirt road. It looked like marble, but it crumbled like sandstone. Only after we drove past a sign pointing out a gypsum quarry did we figure out that the white stones were actually the main ingredient of sheetrock.
We reversed our direction and returned to Medicine Lodge, where we perused the west shore of the Barber County State Fishing Lake for Papa Dale’s Hotwheel and Fishing Lure Trading Post, the title of the next cache on Kathy’s list.
The treasure was located among some rocks at the base of an old tree. It was placed there in memory of Papa Dale, who “loved to take the grandkids fishing…. He had a room full of Hot Wheels and was a real kid at heart,” according to the website. How could anyone resist looking for that prize?
Next, we headed on up to Pratt to search for the first recorded cache in Pratt County. Pratt, by the way, is the headquarters for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The cache was hidden near one of the fishing ponds located near the KDWP offices.
We never found it because it was apparently located across the river, and we were beginning to run out of time. Son Jordan had to be back in Wichita later in the evening.
By now, he was more-or-less into the spirit of geocaching, but he was puzzled by what kind of people hid these things all over the place. Good question. More significantly, what kind of people go all over the place looking for them?
Anyhow, we decided to search for one more cache in Pratt’s Lemon Park, a wooded area on the outskirts of town that features a nifty nature trail. After an exhausting trek through downed limbs and stickery bushes, we managed to locate two containers. One was placed by Tornado Alley, and the other was hidden by Sour Turkey.
After I spotted the first, Kathy grumbled that I always seem to be the one who finds the caches. So, I “let” her locate the second one. I can’t help it that I am good at finding lost items. Even when I was a kid, when my dad dropped a screw or nut or something important while he was doing repairs around the house, he would always summon me to find it. I usually did.
Those were the days BB—before bifocals.
We returned to Wichita and took Jordan and his lovely wife out for supper. Despite a cold, wet start to the day, we had a good time seeing a section of Kansas we had never traversed. If the price of gas doesn’t get too much higher, we will likely do it again. Daughter Anna has even expressed an interest in tagging along.
For those interested in the “sport,” check out geocaching.com. May marks the 11th anniversary of geocaching, and the website includes a timeline of the history of the hobby. For us, geocaching has become a real find for family fun.