By Steve Kash
Special to the Tribune-Star
CLAY COUNTY, Ind. —
Indiana, long-known as the Crossroads of America, has for years been a destination for people coming from around the world to witness such activities as the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, Indianapolis Colts football games and Indiana University Hoosiers basketball games.
Since October 2012, Indiana’s attractions have come to include the surprising geo-art creation of a group of Wabash Valley geocachers — people who use Global Positioning Systems and similar location-sensitive devices to find hidden objects for fun.
Geo-sleuths with iPhones, Androids and GPS units from outside of the Wabash Valley or Indiana are now coming to Vigo and Clay counties to trace the geo-art outline of Indiana’s boot-like borders by car, truck and motorcycle along a two- by four-mile geo-trail, which meanders along rural country roads.
The high-tech artwork’s godfather is Brazil resident Paul Baty, who originally became interested in geocaching as a consequence of doing search-and-rescue work with his bloodhound during his free time. In June 2009, while attending a search-and-rescue seminar, he became aware of the potential for geocaching as a hobby while talking with other search-and-rescue volunteers already interested in the activity.
“By September of ’09, I was a premium member on the Geocaching.com website with my own user ID, which is sort of like a CB handle,” said Baty.
He began making friends with other Wabash Valley geocachers, and by plugging “pocket queries” into the geocaching website he was able to obtain intriguing tips about hunts within driving distance from his home, such as the Greencastle area, which was one of his favorite early caching destinations.
Hundreds of caches have been established in the Wabash Valley. Geocaching is a world-wide hobby, so tens of thousands of caches have been established worldwide, including in Antarctica.
As soon as geocachers like Baty are able to navigate Geocaching.com, they can also select the type of terrain and difficulty of a hunt on a scale of 1 to 5. Objects of a hunt are either partially-hidden or well-hidden containers from the size of AA batteries to small suitcases. These are deposited by geocachers for other geocachers to discover in locations as diverse as woodlands, graveyards, sign posts, tree boughs, parking lots, and even storm sewer grates.
The seek-and-find hobby is made possible for people with GPS technology because the geocaching website enables a person to know a site’s exact coordinates, such as “N 39 degrees 27.770 W 087 degrees 14.267.” Sometimes riddle-like clues are provided for well-concealed caches. When geocachers get within 10 or 20 yards of a cache, the fun begins — finding the cache itself, which might take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour depending on the difficulty level. During hunts, cachers try to evade the keen eyes of dreaded “Muggles” — the term for a person unappreciative of geocaching as a hobby who might take a cache for themselves. (The term Muggle originally comes from the Harry Potter novels as a person who cannot understand magic.)
Many caches contain “swag” or booty. Finders are free to take the gift (treasure) but honor-bound to leave one of equal or greater value. Each cache has a paper log in it for finders to sign with their handle. A finder is also honor-bound to log the place and date of his or her find into the Geocaching website, along with their IDs.
Some virtual caches have been established to attract geocaching enthusiasts to places of historical interest that might not be well known by the general public; other virtual caches might be intended to lead people to excellent scenic overlooks or settings.
“Most kids love geocaching, especially the hunting,” said Baty.
He and his wife, Tina, have involved their three children (ages 8, 6, and 3) in the hobby. His wife found her first cache of swag along Terre Haute’s Heritage Trail behind Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology while carrying a baby with her in a sling.
As in other activities, the more a geocaching enthusiast knows, the more challenge the person might crave. Often people geocache in cooperative ways or engage in friendly competitions. One elaborate caching technique, a “power trail,” began leading Baty to the novel geo-art brainstorm that has been attracting people from near and far to the Wabash Valley.
It started last September. Eleven Wabash Valley geocachers, who are among the 94 in the Wabash Valley linked with Baty by Facebook, decided to establish a power trail. Each person agreed to set up a cache along a single road; then everybody would have 10 new sites to find.
The group established its power trail along a dirt road in a rural area because setting one up along a highway or state road might lead to a dangerous parking or walking situation if a cache is established near the shoulder of a road.
“After we established our power trail, we decided to go together to do geo-art,” said Baty. “There were already examples of geo-art around North America that had been set up by groups. Geo-art included such images as crosses or skull and crossbones designs. Much of the geo-art had been established in the West, where roads pass through wide-open spaces. One day I got the idea to use geo-art to create the outline of the state of Indiana. As far as I know, Indiana is the only state to have its own geo-art image.”
Baty shared his concept on Facebook with other Wabash Valley geocachers. Then he and his geo-friend, Dan Whittington, collaborated to map a theoretical image of Indiana that would be constructed in a rural area. In early October 2012, they decided to draw their imaginary map around the Chinook Fish and Wildlife area east of the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field and near Staunton.
Indiana’s geo-art border is comprised of 125 geocaches, with half being set up north and half south of Interstate 70. The exact coordinates can only be determined by a geocacher interested in tracing Indiana’s outline by answering 92 questions, one for each of Indiana’s 92 counties and 33 about Indiana as a whole. Questions are offered as multiple choices.
An example: “Which of these professional basketball players was not born in Indiana?” The four suggested answers — each with a set of coordinates — are (A) Skiles, (B) Shawn Kemp, (C) Eric Montross, (D) Oscar Robertson.
“Answers can be found on Indiana trivia websites,” Baty said. “It might take a single person a few hours to find all the answers, but a group working together could do it in less time. Unless a geocacher takes the time to figure out the answers, the individual will not be able to successfully complete the geo-art experience.”
Twelve members of the Wabash Valley Geocachers helped in the making of the geo-art map of Indiana. Each participant agreed to come up with 10 to 15 trivia questions and to establish a geocache for their locations along the geo-art state line.
Caches are silver bison tubes about the size of a AA battery. For the geo-art map of Indiana, the caches have been established at sites that are relatively easy to find, such as on street signs, fence posts, and telephone poles.
Each cache has a log in it that a finder should sign by hand, and then finders are supposed to log by email the time of their find and the geo-handle into Geocaching.com.
At least 90 people or groups have made their way to Clay and Vigo counties from several states to trace the geo-art map of Indiana. The travelers usually come by I-70. People from Florida and West Virginia have made plans to come to the Clay-Vigo geo-art site to do the trail in the future. So far, the fastest time recorded for the completion of the the state outline has been four hours and 21 minutes.
One of the early visitors to the Clay/Vigo geo-art site called itself Team Duckman. On Nov. 25, 2012, a member of the group logged onto Geocaching.com to say of the experience: “This is an amazing series! It is nice that our great state has a cool series that cachers from all around will want to come and do. We cached today as a group of 4, signing the logs as BHA. … This is by far the most thought out and well place that we have done. We burned through real fast with only a few hiccups. … Thanks for putting out the series and thanks for the nice geo-art on my map. …”
The current record holder for working its way through all of the Indiana geo-art’s caches is a group with geocachers Hyrieus 07, Austin Hauger, Havoc in a Tux, Ale 8, and Team MCH. According to the group log posted on Geocaching.com, “Today a Band of Brothers ventured forth on a quest to cache their way through the ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ series. We met up at Exit #23 (Brazil) at 8:15 a.m. and by 8:22 we had the first log in hand. The final log was signed four hours and 21 minutes later. … We had a lot of fun today — and I even learned some things solving all the puzzles.”
Baty and his Wabash Valley geocaching friends hope to fashion more geo-art in the future.