This past Saturday, I made a trip up to Davenport, IA to visit the GPS Adventure Maze that has been touring the country. I chose that day for two reasons. One, another local cacher was looking to get a group together to go visit it. Two, because that cacher told me there was an event going on that day too. So, after a long drive up there, I finally got to see what all the hype was about. Let’s start with an overview.
The GPS Maze is a 2,500 sq. ft. maze designed to teach about the Global Positioning System, or GPS. At the same time, it also teaches about geocaching. The basic idea of the maze is to follow a series of “GPS Signals” to try and find the doors to locked rooms. You are then given clues for where to find hidden geocaches that contain information for solving a puzzle. Once you solve the puzzle, you’ll gain the combination to the room. Once in the room, various props are employed that teach you about different aspects of GPS use, along with a stamp to be used on a card you get. The stamps are of numbers used to determine your final location in the world once you complete the maze. There are a total of four hidden rooms. Plus, as you go through the maze you will find that the walls of the maze also contain a wealth of knowledge about GPS’s and geocaching.
The entrance to the maze will find you at the final map station (which is partially seen on the bottom left in the above picture). This is where you will use the numbers collected at each hidden room to determine where you are located in the world. Here, you see me at the entrance with a travel bug WebScouter. helped me get from someone down in the lobby. It is a travel bug I gave to Razor Sharp to make his first bug.
Once you enter the maze, you’ll soon find yourself at a “GPS Signal”. Each signal is a black rubber pad located on the floor. It has a picture of Signal the Frog, along with four circles that radiate out from him in various directions. Each circle represents one of the hidden rooms. You are given a distance in both feet and meters, and it’s position on the pad also designates a direction. Here you can see one of the first ones I came across, along with an example of the information the walls of the maze provide, this time about the sport of Letterboxing.
The signals will help guide you through the maze, through corridors, across bridges, and passing by benches and displays. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a small room with a door. The door has a combination lock on the front and some sort of display will be in the room. The display will provide instructions for solving the puzzle, and clues about where to search for a hidden geocache. The geocaches are designed to help demonstrate how you can literally walk right by a geocache without realizing it’s there. When you find the cache, some form of clue is inside, whether in the form of a number or a message that has a number in it. This number is used in the puzzle at the locked door to figure out the combination. Here is an example of me entering in that combination at one of the doors:
Once through the door, you’ll find some more displays and information about various aspects of GPS use. In one station, it talked about how the system works to identify your location. It included a video and interactive displays. One such display involved some cords with three numbered markers placed at certain positions. You match the numbers up, say the marker with number 2. By overlapping the three number 2 markers, you find that they only match up at a specific location on the image of the globe. Then, you identify the location and look under a corresponding block to see if you are correct. I had one wrong because there were two locations very close to each other and the markers landed in between for me. Other displays talked about using compasses, the equipment you might take if you go hiking, or how latitude and longitude work (this last one is in the next image).
The maze is marked with lots of interactive displays, which is a huge bonus to the exhibit. I don’t think there was a single display that wasn’t interesting in some form or fashion. I didn’t handle every one of them, but some I did. For example, another one I handled other than the two already mentioned was a 3D topographic map. The display taught about how those maps work, giving you lessons on identifying features based on the patterns of topographic lines. Here is an image of the larger map:
While in the room, you don’t want to forget the card in your hands. The card, which would be one of various different colors, will have four corners marked by room. In each room is a device used to stamp the card with a number. The device will have a sign that marks which corner to stamp. These numbers, as stated before, are used back at the entrance to determine your final location. It’s the overall puzzle to solve by going through the maze. Here is a photo of what the device looks like:
Some of the other displays that caught my eye include two displays in one of the hidden rooms that deals with GPSr’s. You can see a lot of models that many of us are familiar with seeing. But the cool thing is seeing the collection of models many of us wish we could play with. Some of these models cost thousands of dollars and are elaborate looking to the point of funny in some cases. But they are designed to be high precision instruments, making ours look like toys in some cases (even though ours are often cooler). Another display was a wall in the maze that had pictures and information about geocachers from around the world. Imagine my surprise when I recognized one of them. NevaP, a name many in Nebraska would recognize (especially those in Eastern Nebraska), had her picture on the display.
Another display that many geocachers would like is the room devoted to geocaching. This includes a cool display of various geocoins and travel bugs (some of which are discoverable online so make sure to write down those numbers), along side a table of different geocache containers. They are bolted down so don’t try to steal any. In this room was a timeline of geocaching:
Overall, the maze was a very well done exhibit. Definitely worth the time to go see, even though it took my five hours to get there. While some of the information may seem old for geocachers, for a muggle there is a lot of stuff to digest. I’m sure some people will get into geocaching after visiting the exhibit. And for all the geocachers out there, this will add a new icon to your list.
Oh, and don’t forgot to stop by the museum store when your done. So far, it seems they have sold geocaching items at each location. This includes t-shirts, stickers, pelican containers (I bought one of these waterproof containers), and geocoins. Each exhibit has it’s own geocoin made to commemorate the visit, with the name of the museum on the coin. At $10 a piece, it’s a cool coin to add to your collection. Here’s what one looks like that is from the exhibit when it was located in Bridgeport, CT:
And let’s not forget the update to my streak (I still need to go after one today, so that’s not included yet).
Day 13 – 1 cache
Day 14 – 3 caches
Total days in a row – 14 days
Total caches during streak – 71 caches