Keene, Texas may not be very large – it was pegged in 2006 with a population of just slightly more than 6,000 – but it has a sort of regional importance for a variety of reasons. The University, for instance, is the beating heart of Adventism in Texas, and draws Adventist students and visitors from all over the world. It’s connection with the church, however, has given it a reputation for being slightly backward within the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. It’s often whispered, for instance, that cigarettes (or meat, or alcohol, depending on whose whispering) are illegal in Keene. And indeed, some of these rumors are based in fact, or at least, caricatures of fact; for instance, at the turn of the century, girls and boys were instructed to walk on opposite sides of the street from each other. Smoking and eating meat are certainly not illegal in Keene, but, if only to maintain an old-fashioned Protestant face, prohibition of alcohol is still in effect. And its not for lack of trying – a ballot initiative intended to allow for the sale of beer and wine within city limits was voted down by a stunning 70% in 2008.
But Keene stands out from its neighbors in another, far more hidden way. It is a haven for Geocaching.
A small handful of locals have turned Keene into an invisible treasure trove of caches – meant to be found only by those who have noted their GPS coordinates online, and set out to find them with hand-held GPS systems. They are placed all over – a fence post might be hiding one, or a bird house, or even branches lying on the ground. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are, indeed, hidden – meant not to be found by anyone who isn’t looking. And some, even by those who are.
Keene has hundreds of caches, blanketing the city, when other, nearby towns might only have a couple dozen. Similar coverage is usually only achieved in the parks of larger cities, but Keene is carpeted by caches, which are required to be a tenth of a mile separate from all other caches, in all directions. And,to top it all off, this achievement is largely due to a single man.
Michael England (Ph.D., by the way) teaches Physical Education at Southwestern Adventist University. He has placed 117 of these geocaches – not all in Keene, but still close. We spoke with him recently, as he showed us how he has come to hide them. Quite a few are fairly rudimentary: a pill bottle, for instance, painted in camouflage, placed in the nook of a tree. But they quickly become diabolical – a fake patch of moss, with a small container underneath, to be placed on the ground, or a small metal cannister placed in a specially drilled hole in a log, that would become invisible when placed beneath a tree. He picked up a fake leaf, intending to show me where the cache would be placed. For a moment, he couldn’t find it.
“So, you manage to hide them even from yourself?” I asked, incredulously.
His laconian reply – “Yeah” – was given immediately before he found it.
But this is certainly not common: Keene’s several geocachers continue to visit the scenes of their crimes, checking on who has been there, and making sure their carefully hidden treasures haven’t been stolen – or muggled, in geocache parlance. And it is then that it becomes a form of communication. One of the chief joys of geocaching is to see the list of adventurers who have found what you have hidden, especially online, where they comment on the cashes, and where the sheer enormity of the endeaver becomes clear. Because it is online that you can see who it was who found a cache, where they are from, and where they have been. Keene’s caches have been searched for and found by people from not only the metroplex, but from across Texas, and the world.
Among geocachers, it’s good manners to keep up the appearance that they aren’t geocachers at all. That is why it is called the silent sport – Keene is constantly being visited by practitioners of a nearly invisible sport, whose actions are completely unknown to the uninitiated. And now, one of Keene’s greatest hidden treasures is its newfound position on the map – or rather, its position on the GPS.