Geocaching: Family Friendly Fun
The author's son finds a well-hidden geocache in the forest
“There it is!”
The excited cry rang through the quiet woods as my two children simultaneously noticed the green container partially hidden inside a hollow log deep within Morgan-Monroe State Forest. My brood scrambled off the trail and through a vicious patch of wild rose bushes that only slowed them for a moment because, with victory so close, a mere shredding by a thousand thorns was trivial concern.
Pulling away slabs of fallen tree bark that had carefully camouflaged a plastic Moosehead Beer jug, we could see several items inside. Pulling off the cap, I extracted a notebook and pencil while the kids sorted through the treasure trove of trinkets within. We had found our first Geocache.
“Geocaching” (pronounced geo-cashing) is a fast-growing, family-friendly and thoroughly enjoyable outdoor pastime that is spreading faster than mildew on an old shower curtain. Simply put, the sport is a scavenger hunt that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to guide searchers to hidden treasures placed by other Geocachers.
An outing starts when the participant logs onto the sports’ primary website, http://www.geocaching.com, then searches for nearby geocache locations out of the nearly two million cache sites currently listed. Once one (or a series) has been chosen, the latitude and longitude coordinates contained on the page are entered into a handheld GPS unit and the fun begins.
Geocaches are usually hidden in public areas such as parks or cemeteries but can also be placed on private property with permission of the landowner. The person placing the cache puts it within a few feet of the given latitude and longitude but tries to use a great deal of creativity in hiding the item from casual view. Some caches might require climbing or SCUBA gear to retrieve though most aren’t quite so challenging.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has issued new guidelines for geocaches on DNR-owned property and all existing cache references were removed from Geocaching.com database during the first week of November 2012.
Today, the person placing the cache must be granted a license from the DNR which expires every year. Many other public land agencies have geocaching policies but they appear to be rarely enforced so long as geocachers aren’t destructive or disruptive.
Once a geocache has been found, the logbook inside is signed and replaced. Many caches also include trinkets such as key chains, small toys or other items that finders are encouraged to take provided they also leave an item. Once finished, the finder re-hides the cache in the same place for the next geocacher.
Most geocaches are small plastic containers or surplus military ammo cans but are limited only to the imagination of the person hiding the cache and the environment where it is hidden.
There are a growing number of variations on the basic theme, such as “Microcaches” that are small containers such as pill bottles which are hidden in very public places such as phone booths or street side flowerpots. Virtual caches require the geocacher to find a little-known place or item such as a historical marker and then answer questions online.
Geocaching is becoming a hot sport for several reasons. Foremost is the joy of discovery and the hunt. There is a great satisfaction using the GPS correctly in combination with good ground searching skills to find carefully hidden treasures. Secondly, the outdoor experience can be as wild or mild as you desire. With caches hidden anywhere from the trackless wilderness to downtown park, there is a location to suit any skill or ability level. Finally, there is minimal environmental impact and no special skills or equipment necessary aside from the GPS receiver.
As many cellular phones now include built-in GPS functionality combined with the ability to take photographs and “geotag” (link with latitude/longitude coordinates) them and upload the whole thing to the internet, the sport is now reaching a whole new group of people.
The sport continues to grow. A recent search found over 2500 geocaches within a 60-mile radius of our home and several that were added within the last month. In one case, we were the “FTF” (First To Find) a cache and were rewarded with a nice handmade pottery bud vase that my daughter keeps on her desk.
Unfortunately, there is one downside to this whole craze: my children won’t stop pleading like addicts, continually asking to do “just one more.” I’m afraid they’ll end up on the street, strung out and jumpy, begging passerby for spare longitude.
“Psst. Hey, you know anyplace to score some grid coordinates?”
Set Up Your Cell Phone
There are many applications for “smart” cellular phones that enhance the Geocaching experience. Geocaching.com has a dedicated app for both iPhone and Android handsets that is perfect for finding new cache listings while in the field. The downside is that it costs $9.99, quite pricey in the world of phone apps.
Our favorite is Trimble Outdoor Navigator. This free app is available for over 300 different phone models and is our single favorite outdoor phone application. Basically the Trimble app turns your smartphone into a mapping GPS with the ability to take geo-located photos and then upload them along with a step-by-step track of your route to the Trimble website. Once at home, you can relive the trip, save it, share it with friends and even import it into Google Earth for a detailed dissection of your travels.
The only downside is the learning curve for this powerful application. However, with a bit of practice, you will probably find yourself leaving your old trusty “old fashioned” GPS receiver at home.
You can download at http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com