All ages enjoy searching for treasure in Buena Vista

The undeniable pull of the Upper Arkansas Valley is the proximity of almost every breathtaking feature of Colorado from river to sky. Chief among the gratifying challenges for the residents and organizations that focus on the outdoor experience is how to continually find new ways to enjoy our Ark Valley treasures.

So with treasure in mind, Buena Vista locals Mark and Erin Godonis approached the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce with the idea to set up a geocaching challenge. For Kathi Perry of the chamber, this was an introduction into an international group of hobbyists that have figured out a way to make travel, outdoor exploring and orienteering and technology all come together to form an activity that turns the whole family into treasure hunters.

The concept of geocaching is to hide or “cache” what is typically a waterproof container with a log book somewhere in the outdoors and register the cache with an organization, typically geocaching.com, giving coordinates so that treasure hunters may find it. The seeker will navigate to each find they choose as part of a trip. When they find each cache, they can sign a log book to prove success; and typically, there is a sort of honor code of leaving and taking small sentimental trinkets such as toys, coins, figurines, stickers, etc.

From this basic premise, geocaching has blossomed into a full-fledged adventure game due to the creativity of the many thousands of participants. Systems of coins left in caches, which are intended to be tracked in their own journey from cache to cache, are one example of an embellishment to the activity. The tracking websites have become de facto chat groups and travelogues. The photos of some of the amazing places in which caches are placed entice new visitors to areas that might have otherwise gone undiscovered. Participants will often leave comments and challenges for other participants and create different goals and circuits.

In Buena Vista, 25 labeled ammunition boxes have been placed in 2o locations from the rodeo grounds to Cascade Falls to St. Elmo. The variety of special places around the area is represented. The Godonises and the BV Chamber have been supported in the effort by a grant from the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau, local sponsors and volunteers.

It takes some maintenance to find and restore caches that have either been vandalized or “muggled” (a reference to the term for common or unmagical people in the Harry Potter series that was popular in the early 2000s when geocaching emerged) or have fallen victim to the elements. Perry tells of one incidence of a box near Cottonwood Lake gone missing. It was eventually recovered by Mark Godonis from a mudslide caused by recent rains.

The local game has been made more exciting locally by the Geocaching Journey Passport, which is a printed guide to Chaffee County’s caches and coordinates. Punching the passport at each find with a special hole punch can be combined with patronizing several of the different sponsors in town to earn points. Thirty points earns a leather geocoin handcrafted at the leather shop at the state prison. Forty points adds a hat, and a total of 50 points will earn the previous two prizes plus a custom leather wallet. It is a wonderful way to discover the beauty of the Ark Valley with even the youngest of treasure hunters in tow as evidenced by comments that come back to the BV chamber’s email:

“We spent the weekend with family … caching with my nephew, great-nephew and great-great-nephew – that is so awesome.”

Or “Spent the day with the family at St. Elmo and picked this cache on the way back down the hill. I haven’t been up around Iron City since 1998 or so and it’s every bit as beautiful up here as it was then! Thanks BVGT for the hide!”

Information and passports are available at the chamber or printable at the chamber’s website: buenavistacolorado.org. As with any outdoor activity, all safety rules apply, although none of the chamber’s boxes are terribly remote. And if you catch the geocaching bug, keep this warning in mind: Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., was evacuated in 2009 when a man recovering a cache behind the school’s signpost was seen burying a tackle box wrapped in duct tape and a teacher called the bomb squad. So use your best judgment when hiding or rehiding unmarked boxes in populated areas.

Geocaching runs year-round, and we’re happy to give a shout out to the sponsors for their creativity in bringing the second year of this great outdoor activity to Chaffee County: The Asian Palate, Biggies Sub Shop, The Branding Iron Bar and Grill, Brown Dog Coffee Company, Cool Beans Coffee and Collectibles, Jan’s Restaurant and Lounge, Los Girasoles, Pizza Works, Princeton Club Restaurant, Quincy’s Steak and Spirits, Rooster’s Crow, The Evergreen Café, The View Café, Best Western Vista Inn, Chalk Creek Campground, Great Western Sumac Lodge, Mountain River Inn, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, The Topaz Lodge and Vista Court Cabins and Lodge.