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It’s a beautiful Fall day and I have taken the girls on an outing. I scan the park and look for anyone who might be staring at us. I lead the way with smartphone in hand looking for possible places where a treasure might be hidden. I stare back at the compass on my phone which led me to stop at fallen tree. I look around again for suspecting eyes and the girls do the same. Once the coast is clear, we begin our hunt. We cautiously search under leaves, between rocks and in nooks and crannies of the tree when the oldest kid yells, “I FOUND IT! ”
“Shh…they’ll hear us.” I remind her.
“Oh, yeah. Mom, I found it.” she whispers.
I walk up to her as she pulls an ammunition can from under a pile of strategically placed rocks and sticks. In it are the treasures we’ve been hunting for…
The hunt, the stealth, the excitement of the find and the prizes are what we enjoy about Geocaching. “Geo-WHAT,” you ask? Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt. You obtain GPS (longitude and latitude) coordinates online to find hidden “caches” using your GPS receiver (GPSr) or your smartphone, which is what I do. The physical caches contain a logbook, which you sign and also log online to keep track of what you have found.
Geocaches come in several sizes/types ranging from a nano, which is the size of a dime, to as large (or even larger) than a cooler. Some caches have several stages, where you find one coordinate which leads you to another location or puzzles that need to be solved in order to get coordinates. Others are “earth caches,” which take you to a location of geological significance as your “cache.”
Anyone who’s part of the geocaching community can hide a cache. There are guidelines to follow when hiding a cache (e.g. can’t be on private property without permission, must be at least 500 ft from another cache, can’t be anywhere that would be too dangerous – like on the side of a busy highway). A few caches are cleverly disguised so much so that they sit out in plain view without the general public knowing. Stealth is encouraged so the caches won’t get destroyed by people who are unaware of geocaching.
Why I Like Geocaching:
- The thrill of the hunt. You use a lot of problem-solving skills to find a cache.
- Geocaching takes you places that you normally wouldn’t go. We’ve discovered new places when we were looking for a cache.
- Stealth teaches kids self-control. The kids can’t act crazy and always have to be aware of their surroundings.
- You’re being a friend to the environment. Geocachers are encouraged to “cache-in” and “trash-out.” Which means to pick up some trash while you’re looking for a cache.
- It makes kids look for things that are “out of the ordinary”
- You get to use code words like “SL TFTC,” “muggle,” “CITO,” “TOTT” and feel like you’re part of some secret society (yes, that’s the nerd in me).
The topiary garden we discovered while geocaching. Yes, there’s a geocache there somewhere!
And the best reason: You can get rid of those tiny “junk” toys without putting them in a landfill. You know the kind of toys I’m talking about —party favors, prizes from a pizza place, fast food meal toys—pretty much the stuff that will make you scream “**** that hurts!” when you step on it while walking barefoot around the house.
As I mentioned, geocaching is a treasure hunt. Some caches have toys or “trade items” inside. You may take an item, but the etiquette is to leave one as well. However, the rule is not always followed and caches start to be a little empty. That’s when I add a few—or a lot—more toys in there just “to be nice” (at least that’s what I tell the kids). I’ve been collecting trade items while cleaning and store them in our “geocaching bag.”
Geocaching is free. You can sign up for an account at geocaching.com. You can also pay $30/year to become a premium member which grants you access to “premium caches” and gives you options to be notified when a new cache is placed. Last year we signed up for a premium membership and my eldest found $20 in a cache as a “first-to-find” prize. Most caches won’t have a $20 bill in it (the cache owner was being generous plus it was a difficult hide). Most of the regular-sized “first-to-find” caches will have $1 or a special coupon for something nearby.
There are hundreds of thousands of caches out there! We’ve run into cachers who have found over 20,000 caches throughout the world. Most likely, there are a few geocaches in YOUR community. So get out there and discover something new and go on a treasure hunt with your family.
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