Children know well the thrill of finding a hidden prize, be it colored eggs at Easter or miscellaneous items on a scavenger hunt. Adults reminisce over youthful adventures when they pretended to be pirates or treasure hunters. The good news is that a modern treasure-seeking hobby exists for adventurous hearts of all ages: geocaching.
Geocaching is the 21st century’s outdoor treasure-hunting challenge that uses a GPS device to navigate to a set of coordinates with the goal of finding a hidden geocache (container). You can geocache alone, with family and friends, or with new acquaintances who share your love of adventure.
Why do people geocache? Ryan Harmon of Fargo says, “It introduces me to new parks and areas I’d otherwise never discover, even within my own community.” Harmon enjoys the mystery, knowing that a cache could be within reach at any moment. He has geocached with his parents and siblings, too. Harmon’s brother-in-law, Jared Zimney of West Fargo, says when you’re geocaching it feels like you’re part of a “secret club.”
Are you daunted by the fancy lingo or technology? Use this guide to learn a little geocaching history, familiarize yourself with the process, and get your family started on its own geocaching adventure!
The year 2000 was a big year in the hobby that would become geocaching. Early in May, the government unleashed the global positioning system (GPS) as we know it today. Dave Ulmer then started the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” by hiding a treasure near Beavercreek, Ore. He posted the GPS coordinates in an internet GPS users’ group and people immediately began looking for it. The first person to find Ulmer’s treasure documented the coordinates on his own homepage and gradually built a “GPS Stash Hunt” mailing list. By the end of May, the term geocaching had been created. It combines “geo,” meaning earth, with “cache,” which refers to a temporary hiding place.
Jeremy Irish started geocaching.com in September 2000. At the time, the world had 75 known caches. The new website ignited widespread media reports that caused the hobby to spread from technology/GPS enthusiasts to all walks of life. Today, more than two million geocaches can be found around the world.
What is a Cache?
A traditional cache consists of a waterproof container with a log sheet inside. Larger caches may also include a writing utensil and trinkets to trade. Geocaches are then cleverly hidden to add to the treasure-seeking fun. When discovered, the geocacher enters the date and his code name on the log sheet and then returns the cache to exactly the same spot for the next person to find.
The first step to finding any treasure is uncovering a map. The geocacher’s map is a GPS device, like a Garmin or a GPS-enabled mobile phone. The important function is a place to enter coordinates for your cache. If using a smartphone, you can choose from a selection of apps to enhance your experience, too. Avid geocachers give the full-featured geocaching app ($9.99) a thumbs up, but if you want to check out the sport before making the investment, free apps are also available.
If you do not have a piece of technology with a GPS function, you will need to acquire one—merely printing a map from the computer may challenge your patience and your kids’ attention span. Geocaching.com has a comprehensive guide for buying a GPS device as well as a page dedicated to GPS user reviews. You can also visit your preferred technology vendor for advice and purchasing.
Finding a Cache
First you’ll need to find a geocaching database. While the primary online resource for geocaching is geocaching.com, you can identify other websites through a web search.
Once you’ve chosen a geocaching database, enter your postal code to find caches near you. Select one that sounds fun, and enter the designated coordinates into your GPS device. If you have time to spare, jot a few extras in a notepad—take note of the cache name as clues for your hunt and read others’ online logs for additional clues. The logs can also let you know if the cache has been taken away for repairs or lost entirely.
Now start hunting! Your children may enjoy using your technology to tell you which way to turn and how many feet away you are from the destination. The GPS device will get you in the right area, but your creative mind will be the key in finding the treasure. If directed to a cluster of trees, you might find a log sheet tucked in a false bird, hidden in an egg, inside a decorative nest, or even stowed in a pinecone that can only be differentiated from all others by the ornament hook that attaches it to a branch. Hunting as a family will not only provide you with distinctive minds to decipher the clues, but also different eye levels from which to search.
Once you find the cache, sign its logbook and check out the SWAG (Stuff We All Get; see below for more terms). Some logs ask cachers to leave more than just a name and date, such as the “Crazy little thing called…” cache that invites finders to log a favorite song by the band, Queen. Be sure to capture a photo of whoever was the first to find the treasure. Once you’ve celebrated your discovery, place it back in the exact location you found it.
Acronyms & Words to Know
Before you set off on your trek, take note of the relevant vocabulary. Some of this information will help you prepare for your family outing, and some of it will assist you toward the end of your adventure.
Micro Caches—These are about the size of a 35mm film container. A nano cache is a micro cache sub-type and is particularly small, commonly sold in the size and shape of a thimble. Many include magnets so they can be stowed against a lamppost, street sign, or guardrail.
BYOP—Bring Your Own Pen. Cache owners use this to let you know to bring something to write with. Some caches are too small to include a writing utensil.
SWAG—Stuff We All Get. Larger cache containers sometimes include trade items, such as stickers. You are free to take and leave items as you please.
CITO—Cache In, Trash Out. This type of cache is great for anyone who enjoys mixing volunteering with fun. Bring a garbage bag (along with your coordinates and pen), and leave the area a little cleaner after you find the cache.
Muggles—People who are not geocachers. In the Harry Potter series, magic is not to be seen by non-magical muggles; in the geocaching world, the general rule of thumb is not to let non-geocacher “muggles” catch you looking for a treasure.
DNF—Did Not Find. This note is helpful if you know you’re in the right place but can’t find anything. Check the online log to see if someone else DNF this cache before you discount your ability as a treasure hunter.
FTF—First to Find. When a new cache is posted, cachers race to be the first to find it. You can use this term in the physical cache log or online.
TFTF—Thanks For The Find. This acronym can be entered into the physical cache log or online.
Logging Your Find
Return to the geocaching website and log into your account. As you log your visit, you will be prompted to include the date of your find. You can include a comment, such as if you and your kids particularly liked a find or if you were participating in some other event when you made the find. This is also where you can post if you were unable to find the cache. Beware not to spoil others’ fun by giving away too much detail about the location of the cache.
Some logs show the history of the place. The “Dome Away from Home” cache log notes dozens of reasons people were at the Fargodome: the Fargo Marathon, the Kiwanis Pancake Karnival, a Bison football game, or a concert. Many at the “American Blvd #14 – Pines” cache in Minneapolis mention a trip to the Mall of America or to deliver someone to the airport. “-TwoCs- Keystone” in South Dakota has had recent visitors from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and even Austria. Wherever you are, wherever you’re going, a geocaching adventure is bound to be afoot!
For more acronyms, caches, and local events, visit geocaching.com. Happy hunting!
Courtney Taylor is a freelance writer living in Fargo, ND. She has been a geocacher since 2011.
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