Local Treasures: Geocaching Across America
Margot Anne Kelley

Margot Kelley teaches photography at the Art Institute of Boston.  She holds an MFA in Media & Performing Arts and a PhD in American Literature. Her work has been exhibited in college and public galleries and is held in museum and corporate collections.




Kelley's work will be on view in Ramsey Library's Blowers Gallery from August 15 - September 28, 2006.  A reception and artist's talk will be held Thursday, September 28 from 4-6pm.

1. Pisgah National Forest, outside Asheville, North Carolina
While I sat in the dry nook beneath a small cascading waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, two young mothers arrived, pushing baby strollers through the woods. They got out the makings for a picnic, then took each of the toddlers by the hand, and helped them come in under the red rock outcropping. Together, they stood a few inches back from the sheet of water splashing down. Once the little ones got their bearings, their moms helped them reach forward to catch some of the streaming water, and they washed their hands for lunch.

2. Mankato, Minnesota
Geocaching reveals a thickly layered world, one in which a place is always at least two places. On this rails-to-trails route in downtown Mankato, Minnesota, some folks are at a bike path, a few police officers are on a shortcut to their firing range, we are on the prescribed trail to a cache. That we are all within feet of one another, but in entirely different places, is a point whose obviousness has not made it seem less profound to me.

3. St. Augustine, Florida
The cache owners warned that it’d be hard—not so much to find the cache as to do so without being observed. In fact, they described this cache as specifically “for the enjoyment of the truly adventurous or just stupid,” added that folks should “come prepared with a good excuse.” Across the street was a Ripley’s Believe it or not! museum, so (of course!) most of the excuses that my friend Janet and I invented began “uhh, believe it or not…”

4. Jacumba Wilderness Area, California
The cache is in a boulder field outside San Diego, California—in “a 400-ft avalanche of car-sized boulders” as the cache owner warned—near the remains of old U.S. 80, the westernmost portion of the Old Spanish Trail that once linked St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California…. Every quarter mile, the person who’d laid that portion had pressed his company’s name and the completion date into the concrete. Keeping an eye out for them, trying to feel how long a quarter mile is, I thought about how many quarter miles there are between the two coasts, how long it had taken to connect the Atlantic and Pacific, how long it would have taken early automobiles to make the trip.

5. Louisville, Kentucky
The clue read “Walk off the end of the wooden plank and keep going straight. Little kids can't reach it.” But there was no wooden plank….In such moments, I try to imagine geocaching is a kind of mindstate, tell myself that it is possible to reconstruct the owner’s inspiration. In this old urban park in Louisville, Kentucky, the arched bridge held my attention. After a few minutes of staring, I imposed a pretend pirate’s plank, considered where a Captain Vere might order a dismayed mate overboard; then, I kept going straight. And instead of facing certain doom, I spied hidden treasure.

6. Marshall Point, Maine
Fog makes the familiar new, the ordinary breathtaking, the world beyond vision an improbable fiction. Details soften, colors shift, light follows different rules. At this park where Marshall Point Lighthouse marks the entrance to Port Clyde Harbor, fog has thoroughly recast space.

7. Lake George, New York
This dock is at Bolton’s Landing, near Lake George; it was the recommended launch site for getting to a cache called “Almost Paradise”—and as close to the cache as I got, having neglected to bring a boat. Standing at the shore, knowing it was too far to swim, I heard Laurie Anderson singing in my head, reminding me that “paradise is exactly like where you are right now—only much, much better.” In this moment, I feel sure she is right.

8. Evansburg State Park, Pennsylvania
I don’t collect. Maybe I’m missing some gene for discriminating among similar objects, or one for enjoying the heft of a complete set. Whatever the reason, quantity makes me anxious. I mention this because the person who visited this geocache in Evansburg, Pennsylvania immediately before me had already visited more than a thousand caches. A thousand. Not a large number in many ways, but considerable when one takes into account that geocaching started in May 2000, 961 days before my visit to this state park—meaning that cacher averages more than a cache a day.

9. Las Vegas, Nevada
The first cache Rob and I looked for was at Lone Mountain, Nevada, on the border between Las Vegas and the Mojave Desert. It’s about to become a subdivision; but until construction is complete, this land is absolutely liminal—no longer wilderness, but not yet absorbed into one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States.

10. Belfast, Maine
We had no trouble finding the nearest cache, which was called “Belfast by the Bay.” It had been safely nestled a few feet from a railroad track bed that abuts the Passagassawakeag River, northwest of the actual bay.… My friend Lisa called that night to see how our efforts had gone, and I told her about looking for the Belfast cache, how I’d assumed from its name that it would be by the Penobscot Bay, rather than by the train tracks. I hadn’t even realized the train still ran there. Oh, yes, she assured me. Just as a tourist attraction now. But it goes. She paused. I think we went by the station that time you visited me at school. It comes here. To Unity.

11. Washington, DC.
My friend Janet and I are in Washington, D.C., waiting for my brother Tom and his son, Nathaniel. We’ll geocache awhile; then Tom will take us on a tour of the Pentagon, where he works. I want to see his new office, but more than that, I feel I need to see where his old office was—before a hijacked plane destroyed it on 9/11. When Tom and Nathaniel arrive, we set out to find a virtual cache that is a labyrinth… Spotting it, Nathaniel immediately dashes to the middle, expecting the geocache to be hidden there. Tom gently explains that at this kind of cache there is no box, that the experience is the prize. Nimbly, he steers his son away from disappointment, and they walk the labyrinth together. Nathaniel is puzzled at having to zigzag when his destination is right in front of him, but he plays along, humoring the adults.

12. Roanoke, Virginia
This morning, my brother e-mailed me an article about how GPS technologies are being used to monitor and control movement. Using a GPS that’s worn by—or implanted in—a prisoner, police can track that person’s movements. Hospitals can make sure Alzheimer’s patients don’t wander too far. Parents can know their kids made it to school, or are safely on their way to a friend’s to play. And I think about how seeing and being seen are not each other’s inverse, about how a benefit and a detriment almost never sum to zero.

13. Ecola State Park, Oregon
It’s pouring when we arrive, so Rob and I read the park brochure before trekking the Clatsop Loop Trail. Point of interest #6 on the trail, “The Cycle of Life,” notes that when a Sitka spruce tree falls, the slowly decaying trunk becomes a home first to myriad bacteria and insects, later to animals, and finally to new trees—a process known as “nutrient cycling.” What amazes me about these nurselogs is their longevity; according to the brochure, “Some trees can last just as long in the forest dead as they did alive,” which is, on average, 700-800 years…. This collaboration knocks me out. I find their resourcefulness inspiring, but also humbling. It’s sobering to think people must work so hard to approximate the kind of mutuality a forest exhibits in every instant.

14. Ridley Creek State Park, Pennsylvania
In January 2002, two astronomers at the Johns Hopkins University announced that the universe is light green, specifically a few percent greener than turquoise. In reaching this conclusion, the scientists began by plotting the wavelengths of all the visible light in the galaxy, based on intensity, on a single chart. Then they converted those intensities into the colors that the human eye would perceive at a given wavelength. When they averaged the results, they got green.
A week or two later, I heard a brief retraction of the claim one morning on National Public Radio. The new announcement claimed the universe is not green, but beige, that the earlier results had been marred by computer error. I reject this new claim. Walking through Ridley Creek State Park, on a misty Earth Day afternoon, I know my universe is still green.

15. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
The pilgrimages that geocachers make are something else again. To create a cache is to invite strangers to share a place, to invoke the hope that others will see something of what you’ve seen, and will say, “Yes, I understand; this place is special.” But the specialness is not based in its being battle ground or holy ground; it resides neither in official history nor in the sacredness of all places. Geocache sites are consecrated by an entirely secular incantation, a childlike invitation to “come play here”—digitally recast, swollen with grown-up knowledge, mixing fear and courage as much as any poem does.

16. Dixon, Illinois
In June 2004, my sister and I headed to Dixon, Illinois, to a virtual cache at Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home. On the way, Gina spotted “Lost Nation Road” on our map, proposed we find it. We had plenty of time; we’d left early in the morning because we thought mourners might visit Reagan’s old home and we didn’t want to interrupt their grief with a game. Sure enough, people soon arrived to pay their respects. We left to find coffee and Lost Nation Road…

17. Madison, Wisconsin
In Dane County, Wisconsin, one doesn’t need dice and a thimble or top hat to get from Kentucky Avenue to Mediterranean and North Carolina Avenues. A parking permit for Governor Nelson Park in Madison will get you close to them all. They are part of a grand suite, twenty-two caches all named after Monopoly locations, that “WISearchers” created to share some of their favorite places.… My sister Gina and I found all three one afternoon in June. Wandering around the park, we didn’t encounter any greedy landlords—though we did have to fight off mosquitoes who seemed to think anyone in their space was ripe for bloodsucking.

18. Lake Erie, Ohio
I left a camera in a cache near Lake Erie, in Huntington Reservation, which is part of the Cleveland Metropark System. Just before Christmas 2002, the cache owner contacted me; he had to remove the cache, and wondered what to do with the camera…

19. Medford, Massachusetts
I’d arrived on the same day as an annual fishing competition drawing hundreds and hundreds of young children who wear numbered-vests and vie to catch what they can from the stocked pond… I watched them for a while—but fishing is not really a very engrossing spectator sport, so I soon threaded my way up the hill, past an ambulance that was on call and an ice cream truck doing brisk business, and reached the cache itself.
The little trove was replete with incenses, herbal concoctions, sweet-smelling candles—fitting for something named a “New Age Cache.” And I smiled to realize I had joined a drove of folks using GPS satellites and the World Wide Web, rather than bent paper clip fishhooks and pieces of hot dog, to participate in this new age’s version of fishing a collaboratively stocked pond.

20. Upper Falls at Graveyard Fields, North Carolina
Looking for a geocache at the Upper Falls at Graveyard Fields, off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, I climbed down into the fields and then up, ducking through tunnels of enveloping green, on my way to the top of the falls. Two guys playing hooky from UNC-Asheville arrived at the top at the same moment I did. They offered me one of their Nalgene bottles to collect some water. As it turned out, I didn’t need it. Instead, we all squatted gingerly at the head of the falls, scooping handful after handful of shockingly cold water, indifferent to giardia, glad to drink from a brook before it raged.

21. Boston, Massachusetts
With urban caches, rarely is a beautiful hike or a clever hiding place being offered. Sure, some of the sites are idyllic spots known only to locals; often, though, I’ve left urban caches perplexed as to why anyone would invite me to come here. But while the particulars might be opaque, I understand someone wanting to add a piece to the invisible city, wanting to contribute a node to a network composed by thousands of anonymous makers to share with any cognoscenti who happen through. Wanting to contribute to a world that’s different.
Different. Self-made. And oddly rich.

22. South Lancaster, Massachusetts
The steep hill we had to climb at the end was wet, leaf-covered, unpleasant in tennis shoes. But once we reached the top, we were greeted by a flat expanse of tiny pine trees and a cache so obviously placed it took just a minute to find. The folks who’d hidden it had put almost all of the emphasis on the journey, almost none into concealing the goal. My mother was delighted when we spied it, though I think she’d expected something grander, not a Tupperware with Pez dispensers and keychains and a logbook.

23. Beauchamp Point, Maine
I first visited Beauchamp Point in Rockport, Maine many years ago. I’d just enrolled in a photography workshop and my teacher recommended it as a place I might enjoy. When I learned he walked there each morning, I felt moved that he’d share a favorite place with someone he’d just met. In a world brimming with built-up venues rather than quiet landscapes, a willingness to part with information about less-traveled trails seems particularly generous, like a thoughtful gift.

Updated 21 August 2006. Comments to the Library Web Team.

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