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Local adventurers venture in search of hidden prizes

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There he was, alone in the woods. The foreboding terrain threatened to keep Allen Mulkey from reaching his destination. But he resolved to overcome two muddy, slippery creeks and a thicket of prickly briars that stood before him.

GEOCACHING
GEOGRAPHICAL COORDINATES

Muddied, bruised and bleeding, at last Mulkey spotted the object for which he came: a shoebox-sized Army ammunition can. He gingerly lifted the lid and peaked inside.

Satisfied, he reached in, grabbed his prize " a single $10 bill " and shoved it in his pocket.

"The 10 dollars almost paid for the Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment I needed after finding (that) cache," Mulkey said. "It was by far the hardest cache to get to, but the most rewarding."

GEOCACHING
Mulkey represents a growing number of Oklahomans who are falling in love with the outdoor hobbies of geocaching and letterboxing.

"Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS (global positioning system) devices," according to a Web site dedicated to the activity, www.geocaching.com.

More than 4,700 geocaches " or hidden containers " can be found in Oklahoma, whether in the middle of a busy city or in an obscure rural area. Nearly 800 caches can be found within 10 miles of downtown Oklahoma City. They usually contain logbooks and may contain small, various prizes, according to the Web site.

Letterboxing is another treasure-driven activity. Like its new-age counterpart, it involves hunting for waterproof containers " or letterboxes " outdoors. But unlike geocaching, only old-school maps and compasses are used.

Letterboxing dates back to 1854, when a hiker left his calling card in a bottle by a pool in Dartmoor, England. Passersby began leaving their own cards and, as years passed, started hiding boxes containing stamped postcards, according to www.letterboxing.org.

Today's letterboxes conceal a logbook, ink pad, stamp and other trinkets. Seekers use a personal stamp to mark the box's logbook and use the enclosed stamp to mark their own logbook. While most letterboxes are hidden in England, the activity has reached the opposite shore. More than 200 letterboxes are scattered throughout Oklahoma, according to the Web site.

GEOGRAPHICAL COORDINATES
Geographical coordinates and maps to caches and letterboxes can be found on most letterboxing and geocaching sites. Sometimes, they offer clues or riddles to help the seeker find a box or cache.

Treasure hunting, exercising and using teamwork are all features that drew Curtis Vass, of Moore, to geocaching about six years ago.

"We have a ball taking our kids. We've even taken friends and youth groups," Vass said.

Mulkey's wife, TaLenda Mulkey, said she was "intrigued by the fact there were hidden objects all over the city we knew nothing about. The hide-and-seek factor still appeals to the kid in me."

The Mulkeys' 14-year-old son, Jeremy, enjoys the exhilaration of creating and hiding his own caches.

"I hid one (last month) that took three days for someone to find," he said. "It's just cool to confuse people and get a little revenge for the times I have been confused looking for a cache."

Despite the obvious thrills, drawbacks exist. TaLenda Mulkey's worst enemies include non-geocachers "and poison ivy, not necessarily in that order," she said. In the city, "you have to be stealthy so you aren't noticed and also so you don't give away the cache location. They get stolen frequently."

More rural settings pose different risks. While on a letterboxing expedition near rural Norman, Jeff May said he and friends spotted a large paw print that belonged to "some kind of big cat."

"We heard growling coming from the bushes nearby," said May, who now lives near Dallas. "We almost got eaten by a mountain lion or something."

But he said part of the thrill of geocaching and letterboxing is overcoming such obstacles.

"It's kind of addicting," Vass said. "You could do this for a lifetime and never come near to finding them all." "Elizabeth Camacho Wiley

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