My wife and I headed out on another geocaching trip on the Sunday before Memorial Day. We invited her parents along for a “mystery trip.” This outing targeted the areas just north and east of Hillsboro.
Wife Kathy is a wiz at planning these “adult” scavenger hunts, as I like to call them. She seeks out waypoints on the geocaching.com website, which lists the longitude and latitude coordinates of the caches. We then plug them into my handheld GPS, and we are off.
If you want to use a smart phone, you can download apps for iPhone and Android systems. Though you can get them for free, the best one will cost you a one-time fee of about $10. It will list caches in the area at the push of a button.
Our first stop this trip was not actually a geocache per se. We have never been inside the St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen. With all the recent publicity over Father Emil Kapaun’s receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, we figured it was high time to pay a visit. And, guess what; even Mennonites are welcome.
When we walked in, a guide was giving a tour to a group from western Kansas. The church’s interior is beautiful with its stained-glass windows and ornate front section.
We wandered down the stairs to the Kapaun—sometimes pronounced like the school in Wichita and sometimes pronounced like “gray poupon”—mini-museum. We were told the Medal of Honor may be displayed down there permanently if adequate security can be provided.
We also made a quick stop to the rectory, another museum of sorts as the current priest is being shared by Pilsen, Marion and Florence and does not live there. All in all, it was an informative visit, and I would recommend stopping by sometime.
Kathy decided to choose geocaching sites with high “favorites” ratings for this trip. We began with a stop at Old Lost Springs, located just south and west of “new” Lost Springs. I was surprised to find a monument to the crossing of the Santa Fe Trail. The path to the springs was mowed and clearly marked.
This site was an important stopping point between Diamond Springs and Cottonwood Creek back in the day. A sign marked the spot of some wagon wheel ruts, but the tall grass concealed them.
We located the cache, signed the log and made our way back to the van. We were one for one.
The second stop was St. John cemetery near Herington. It being Memorial Day weekend, there were quite a few “muggles” in the area. That’s geocache-speak for “normal people who are not out looking for caches.” It took a while to find this one, but the prize was located in a cedar at the back of the cemetery. Two for two.
The next waypoint on our little journey was just outside Council Grove. The container was ingenious for its ability to hide in plain site. On an electrical pole, the cache owner had installed a breaker box. At first, we were afraid to touch it until my father-in-law assured us there were no wires attached. We opened it and signed the log.
This cache was located next to the Flint Hills Nature Trail. The converted railroad bed is what I could envision being built in our area between Hillsboro and Marion. It was smooth and wide enough for hikers, bikers and joggers all to enjoy.
On the east end of Council Grove, we stopped by an old stone barn on the Morris County fairgrounds. It was one of the first permanent structures in the area and was recently restored. We could not go inside, but signs around the barn detailed its history.
We also completed our fourth straight successful cache discovery that had been placed under a large, flat rock.
After a bathroom break at the local grocery store, we headed east and south to the ghost town of Bushong. A few people still live there, and there are some really cool old buildings, including a bank and a school.
This is why I enjoy geocaching, at least the way we do it. I had never even heard of Bushong, let alone had any reason to visit. This cache was located once again along the Flint Hills Trail. Though it took a bit of searching to find the pill box, we increased our finding streak to five.
I have to give credit to my father-in-law, Norman, for making his first find. I am usually pretty good at locating the caches, but this trip I decided to stand back and let others experience the thrill of discovery.
We traveled through the town of Americus and on to Emporia. I did not know there was such a lovely park, complete with a miniature train ride and a small zoo, on the southeast side of town. There is also an old pedestrian bridge, where many families were fishing on this nice evening.
We ate sandwiches purchased at a local shop and hunted for two caches in the park. We wrote one off as it appeared to be located in the zoo, which was closed for the day. The other was intriguing for its name, Boo Radley. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is required reading for my English III students, so they should be able to guess that this cache was located in the knothole of a large tree in the park.
Now, I don’t recommend blindly sticking an arm into a hole in a tree, but I could make out the chain to which this container was attached, so I went for it. We signed the log and tallied find No. 6 for the day.
As a bonus treat for us, my wife had one more destination in mind. We were to stop by Chase State Fishing Lake between Cottonwood Falls and Elmdale. She had seen a photo in the 2013 Kansas travel guide of some falls below the dam.
The good news was, we found the falls. The bad news was, there was little or no water. It was a beautiful little hike across the dam and down the trail. I could imagine what the spot would have looked like before the two-year drought. Maybe things will improve this year.
The cool thing about a trip like this—other than getting a glimpse of some of the beauty of our state—is that it cost us nothing but gasoline. We covered fewer than 200 miles and had a great day. Who knows where the next geocaching trip will take us.