GeoFest 2014

In March of this year, our family attended our very first major geocaching event. It was dubbed GeoFest in the Parks, and its purpose was to kick-off the celebrations for the 75th anniversary of Alabama’s state parks.

The main event happened on Saturday at Chewacla State Park, but we decided to make the weekend a family camping trip.

We arrived on Friday and set up camp with very little time to spare before the birthday party/flash mob event. This is our campsite:

DSC_5775DSC_5776I snapped this picture just before I left to go night-caching (which will receive a post of its own).

Friday afternoon/night featured 3 different events. The festivities began with a flash mob/birthday party for another cacher. We all introduced ourselves and sang happy birthday. Noah and Hannah won door-prizes. After the flash mob, we decided to look for some caches in the park.

We were warned to get ourselves to the restaurant early for the dinner event, so after a couple of hours of caching in Chewacla, we went to dinner. I enjoyed meeting more cachers, winning more door-prizes, and swapping geocaching tales.

But the moment I was most looking forward to was yet to come. After dinner, everyone was going to the nearby national forest to hunt for some soon-to-be-published night-caches. I had never found a night-cache before and was very excited to see what all the fuss was about.

The event coordinator gave everyone a paper with the coordinates to some brand new caches hidden deep within the national forest. As soon as the papers went out, cachers left the restaurant ASAP in efforts to be FIRST-TO-FIND.

Paired up with several other cachers from T-town, we raced to the trailhead, parked our van, gathered our flashlights, and ran into the woods. Night-caches work like this: the cacher follows the gps to the given coordinates, then uses a flashlight to search the trees for reflectors (small round or triangular reflectors pinned to the tree; hunters use them to prevent getting lost in the woods). Once the reflector is spotted, the cacher walks (or runs, as the case may be) to the tree, then looks for the second reflector, runs to the next tree, looks for the next reflector, runs to that tree, and so on, until reaching the final stage and finding the geocache.

A couple of the caches were so deep into the woods that we had to position cachers along the route so that no one got lost. My daughter Hannah used this opportunity to utilize the Mockingjay whistle which totally freaked me out the first time she did it. There I am, standing alone in the dark in an unfamiliar forest, when I hear a sad tune in the air….it was a little scary.

After the night caching event, it was back to our campsite and to bed. Saturday was going to be very busy.

DSC_5759_1Saturday was filled with meeting cachers, finding caches, participating in caching challenges and competitions, and having lots of fun.

DSC_5760blogThe moment everyone had been waiting for came when the event coordinator unveiled the newest state parks challenge, the Diamond Treasure Challenge. It involves finding eight unique puzzle caches hidden in state parks across Alabama. At each cache, you stamp your passport. Once all eight stamps are on your passport, the final cache location is revealed. The prize? One of only 75 Diamond Treasure Challenge Geocoins.

As soon as he had explained all of the rules, many cachers said their goodbyes and hit the road to find the first one on the list. We still had one more night of camping and caching to do in Chewacla, though.

Sunday morning, we enjoyed our breakfast and spent a couple of hours geocaching in the park. The caches hidden in Chewacla are very creative and unique. One cache, in particular, is at the very top of our favorites list. It involves a treasure map, a secret code, and a maze. It is a-MAZE-ing.

While we were having lunch and packing up our campsite, the coordinator walked over and introduced himself to us and thank us for coming to the event. He explained that there were enough people who signed the event log that GeoFest would qualify as a mega-event; more than 500 people attended!

Though we hardly put a dent in the number of caches in the park, it was time to pack up our gear and bid adieu to Chewacla….and begin our journey to completing the Diamond Challenge!

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