Nolan Coleman uncovers a geocache near Moab. The hidden container is one of five that Utah GeoTour geocaches that volunteer Scott Young stashed in Grand County. [Photo courtesy of Donna Coleman]

Donna and Nolan Coleman think of the Moab area as their home away from home, and the couple from Springville have covered a lot of ground during their frequent visits to Grand County.

But they might never have found their way out to the Mill Canyon dinosaur track site north of town if the Utah GeoTour hadn’t led them to it. The tour is a high-tech scavenger hunt, where participants like the Colemans use GPS devices or smart phone apps to search for geocaches – hidden ammo cans that contain unique codes and GPS coordinates.

“Mill Canyon was new to us, and we probably wouldn’t have gone out there had it not been for the GeoTour cache there,” Donna Coleman said. “Because of that, we’ve discovered a new area that we need to explore further next time we’re there!”

That’s the kind of thing that Utah Office of Tourism Special Programs Coordinator Ben Dodds wants to hear.

There were already tens of thousands of privately stashed geocaches around the state when his office gave a volunteer the task of coming up with a creative way to promote the state’s “rourism,” or rural tourism, initiative. The volunteer developed the idea of placing geocaches at five secret locations in each of Utah’s 29 counties – an idea that Dodds ran with as an enthusiastic proselytizer of the game.

His office promotes the Utah GeoTour through the website, which Dodds calls “the center of the known universe” for more than 95 percent of the 2 million or so geocachers across the globe.

If visitors find three of the five geocaches in Grand County, they can follow instructions on each of the code cards hidden inside them and then redeem the instructions for free county patches.

They can then continue to search beyond Grand County, and once they collect at least 10 county patches, they will receive a specially minted Utah GeoCoin.

A code inside the prize allows them to program a path for the coin to follow. For instance, someone can program a coin that sets the Eiffel Tower as the final destination, and then follow the progress of the coin’s journey on as others gradually move it across the country and the Atlantic Ocean.

Dodds’ office is still in the process of setting up geocaches in about 12 counties, and once that task is complete, geocachers who are ambitious enough to redeem all 29 county patches will receive a free Utah GeoTour jacket.

Dodds said the tour aims to introduce geocachers to many of Utah’s lesser-known scenic and historic points of interest, which is what Donna Coleman said she loves most about geocaching.

“(It’s) being taken to an area that is beautiful, breathtaking, and on occasion historic, a geologic wonder, or simply has significance to the person who chose that spot,” she said.

The Colemans always make a point of telling people to visit their favorite hidden gems near Moab when they’re in the area.

“So we were excited to find the Grand County GeoTours to see what other areas would be a great attraction for tourists, away from the obvious touristy spots,” she said.

While the Moab area certainly has its share of “touristy spots,” it still has much to offer visitors who want to get off the beaten path to two nearby national parks, and Dodds said his office hopes to promote those areas.

“We want to get people to visit other places in Grand County,” he said.

To that end, the geocaches near Moab direct visitors to Dead Horse Point State Park and the Mill Canyon dinosaur track site, as well as scenic spots along the Colorado River and in the La Sal Mountains. A fifth and far more challenging geocache is hidden somewhere near Crescent Junction, and geocachers can only find it by solving a tricky puzzle that involves the conversion of letters into numbers.

For many modern-day scavenger hunters, the geocaches themselves are the main draw.

“There are geocachers that will plan their vacations around geocaching,” Dodds said. “The scenery is second to some of (them).”

As an extra incentive, participants who join the Utah GeoTour may find free swag that is representative of Utah, such as pens or sunglasses with the state’s official “Life Elevated” slogan on them. Geocachers are welcome to take anything they find, as long as they leave another trinket in its place.

“It’s an honor system: You take something out of it, but put something else back in it,” Dodds said.

Dodds’ Salt Lake City office is far from many of the stashes, and he said the tour is only able to succeed with the help of volunteers like Blanding resident Scott Young, who placed each of the geocaches in the Moab area. The Colemans, likewise, also volunteered to place and maintain geocaches in Juab and Utah counties.

“It’s involving people all over the state that are equally the owners of the Utah GeoTour,” Dodds said.

Utah GeoTour adds five new geocaches in Grand County

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There are geocachers that will plan their vacations around geocaching … The scenery is second to some of (them).