Geocaching - A Beginners Guide
Are you a Muggle? If you are or don't know if you are, you need to read this beginners guide to geocaching.
What is geocaching you ask? It is a treasure hunt and a hike combined into an outdoor activity that every family member can enjoy. Still confused? Don't worry, I'll explain. Usually a geocache is a hidden box of "treasure" that you are challenged to find. The original person that started the cache filled a weather-proof box with trinkets and hid it somewhere, then placed the latitude and longitude co-ordinates on the Internet for you to read. The person challenges you to find the geocache. If you do, your reward is picking a prize from inside the treasure chest. But, geocaching protocol requires you leave a prize in return.
Doesn't this sound like fun? Kids from five to ninety-five enjoy geocaching!
Kids love geocaching.
To get started in geocaching you need two things.
The first is a handheld GPS unit. A GPS receiver is an electronic device that receives data from the Global Positioning Satellites orbiting our planet and then translate them into latitude and longitude. Planes, ships, and trains have GPS receivers to keep track of where they are. I'm sure many of you have them for your car to find your way around town and across country, but handheld units are a little different.
Handheld GPS units are battery powered and compact enough to be easily carried while hiking and display your latitude and longitude, act like a compass, show you a map of the area, points of interest, lakes, highways, streets, airports, and more.
Before you buy a GPS unit, find a friend that has one or do some research. Many have special features that you don’t need. You don’t need an expensive unit to have fun. When you are ready, they can be purchased at most sporting goods stores and department stores or even on eBay, Amazon, or other online stores.
One feature I would recommend against is a rechargeable proprietary battery, meaning you can’t use common, readily available batteries to power the GPS. A dead battery in a GPS can ruin an outing or even cause life-threatening issues when backpacking, canoeing, or hunting.
The second thing you will need is an account at www.geocaching.com. It's a free service that brings tens of thousands of fellow geocachers together.
Once your new account is active you can do a search for caches in your location or near a destination. Hundreds, if not thousands of geocaches will be listed, from as close as next door, to as far as you want to travel.
A typical geocache listing.
Each listing will give you the GPS co-ordinates, who placed the cache, who else has found it, and more. Once a cache is selected there is often an encrypted "secret message" that has to be solved to get an important clue on how to find the cache. Solving the clue is great fun for children and adds to the excitement of the treasure hunt.
Geocaches are usually hidden from plain site.
There are different types of geocaches. The most common are treasure chests usually made using water-tight ammo cans. The can is usually hidden somewhere in a public but secluded location. Along with prizes left by other geocachers there is usually a log to document your visit. Some caches have a theme such as children's toys, music CDs, fishing lures, and other “treasure”. It all depends upon the person that started and maintains the cache.
Another type of cache is the micro cache which is commonly something like a 35mm film canister with a small roll of paper to log your visit. The prize is meeting the challenge of finding the cache. The micro cache is often found in urban areas.
A virtual cache is a place of special interest that the person wanted to share. A scenic location, a historical site, a good fishing location can all be a virtual cache.
To get started, the co-ordinants of the geocache need to be entered into the GPS unit. The unit should then show an arrow to follow to the cache location. The description of the cache will often give you a starting point to drive to.
Many treasure caches are hidden in a hollow log, in the roots of a tree, in a pile of rocks, or something similar. The secret message usually tells you where to look. It's easiest to geocache in the spring or fall when the trees and bushes have no foliage to block your view.
When approaching the cache it best to make sure no "Muggles" are around. Muggles are those folks that don't understand the geocaching principles and may steal or destroy the cache. If you do encounter Muggles before you find the cache, don't reveal what you're doing or the location. After you find the cache be sure to re-seal it and place it carefully back in its hiding spot.
Some geocachers enjoy the sport so much that they have their own special coins made up to hide in a cache. These coins often have a website and serial numbers on them so you can track where the coin has been. The idea is not to keep the coin but to take it to another cache for someone else to find.
Good caches have lots of goodies to choose from.
Most treasure caches are cheap trinkets. Small toys, foreign coins, music CDs, game cards, and other odd items all make neat plunder to the next person. Geocaching protocol requires a gift be left for every one taken. They are a great way to get children to clean out their toy box to trade for what new treasures may be waiting.
Once you find the cache be sure to get back on the website to log your experience, without giving away any details on how you found it. This does two things. It lets you brag about finding it plus it lets the person who maintains the cache know is still there and hasn't been stolen.
If a cache is repeatedly reported as missing then the person maintaining may want to go see if they can find or replace the cache. See why you need to keep clear of Muggles?
One last word of advice. Take care to not destroy the nature of the site. Don't trample vegetation, alter how things were, or harm historical sites. In short follow the tenants of “leave no trace”.
You and your family can find treasure in more ways than one if you follow this simple beginner’s guide to geocaching.