Sunday, May 4, 2008

GPS-Less Geocaching II

In a previous post, I speculated that geocaching without a GPS unit could be possible using the mapping technologies of Google Earth and Windows Live Maps. And rather than just pontificating from mNo GPS Signy armchair (although my view of the world is pretty clear from here) I decided to give my theories a try. It was a beautiful spring day here Saturday, although still a bit cool. Sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour blew in from the north, whipping whitecaps across the lake. We chose the nearby town of Excelsior to try out my theories.

Excelsior is a tiny town on the banks of Lake Minnetonka, just west of the Twin Cities metro. Its touristy feel is accentuated by the many shops and boutiques along Water Street, streetcar rides in the summer, and cruise ships parked at the city docks.

In spite of the small town feel, it's still urban geocaching. And Wayfarer hates urban geocaching. Just too many muggles. I had to coax her along for this experiment. After a hearty lunch at Haskells (mmmmmm, forbidden hamburgers) the first cache we tried for was Commons - GC179YN

Here's a screen shot from (Click any photo to enlarge.)


And a screen shot from Windows Live.

Commons Arial Photo

From the pictures, it looks like this could be a pretty easy grab. The top photo, is oriented correctly, with north being straight up. But just about exactly where I thought GZ should be, a muggle cyclist was sitting at the base of a tree eating her lunch. As mention before, the wind was howling out of the north. My eyes were watering so badly from the cold breeze, waiting around was out of the question.

We poked around a little, but Wayfarer theorized that the muggle was sitting against the exact tree where the micro was hidden. We moved on.

Lyman Park - GC1B3KD is barely a postage stamp on Water Street. The park wasn't hard to find, but the cache proved to be more difficult. We didn't find it. The park is edged with thick shrubbery and accented by a huge fur tree. While Wayfarer kept her eye on the tourists, I crawled around the tree and peeked into the bushes. Nothing. The cache was found just a week ago, but I couldn't find it. A GPSr might have helped get me to the right corner of the park, but I doubt it. With 20-foot accuracy, it still could have put me out in the middle of the street. DNF! We were batting 0 for 2.

Photo of Lyman Park

Lyman Park Cache

Windows Live screen shot of Lyman Park.

Lyman Park Arial Photo

The next one we attempted was a gimme - The Lake Minnetonka Earth Cache - GC1AW1F is right across the street from Haskells where we ate lunch. We've been here a million times, but somehow missed the publication of this cache last month. When I saw the page on, I knew exactly where this was, so claiming this one as a GPS-less find would be cheating. But I still posed for the photo with the GPSr in hand - just to let the cache owner know that we were there geocaching and not going on a cruise.

Me at GZ.

Minnetonka Earth Cache

The last one we tried was The Lone Goose - GC127TW. I had a pretty good idea where this one was, as I drive past it on my way to work every day. We've just been waiting for the snow to melt to go claim it. Again, Wayfarer was not happy geocaching in full view of the highway traffic, but not so much that she couldn't make the find. I told here that the cache was over in that corner stand of trees. So she walked right over and picked it up. Just like that. There was really no place for the cache to hide from us.

Screen shot from

Lone Goose

Screen shot from Windows Live Maps.

Lone Goose Arial

Lessons we learned about GPS-less geocaching:

It's not as fun. Following that little arrow to the cache is, in itself, very entertaining. High tech toys really are fun to use.

Finding micros can be far more difficult. Even though our Garmin GPS unit is an oldie, it can still put us directly on top of a hide. That's impossible with an aerial photo.

Paperless is nearly impossible. Unless you have a fancy mobile device that can download the aerial photos, you're forced to print the pictures and carry them along.

You still need a compass. Landmarks used for orienting an aerial photo may not be visible to you on the ground. A compass is a must.

Aerial photos don't show elevation very well. That little grove of trees where Commons is located is on a pretty decent size hill. And the north side is a very steep, 50-foot dropoff to the lake. Ground features look very different from the ground.

While my experiment was pretty inconclusive, I can say positively that we'll stick with the GPSr.

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