When someone talks of technology and an adventure game the picture is usually one of someone sitting in front of a computer. With the outdoor sporting activity known as geocaching, modern day treasure hunters travel the countryside to search for hidden treasures and report their findings back to a website.
Instead of using a map and a compass, the hi-tech treasure hunters use a global positioning system (GPS) receiver to find their treasures, called geocaches, or simply caches.
The cache, the hidden treasure, can be anything from a small waterproof container you might find in a lunch box, to a large metal ammo box. Inside the container is a logbook where the treasure hunter enters the date they discovered it. Also inside the container, the treasure itself can be some type of toys or trinkets that can be collected. According to the standard rules of the game, if you take something from a geocache, you leave something similar in its place for the next seeker.
The Birth of Geocaching
GPS (Global Positioning System) technology was created by the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1970s. Initially, the highest quality signal was reserved for military use. For national security reasons civilian use GPS signals were allowed at a lower level of quality. Selective Availability was name given to describe the intentional degradation of civilian use GPS signals.
In May 2000, to make GPS more responsive to civil and commercial users worldwide, the U.S. government turned off Selective Availability. Within 24 hours, Dave Ulmer placed the first geocache and posted its coordinates online. Within three days, two people used their own GPS receivers to find the container and shared their experiences online, and the sport of geocaching was born.
Part of the way the game is played is to report back to the geocaching community and track caches as they are found. Currently there several websites used to track and report caches.
Geocaching.com proclaims itself as “The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site” began in September 2000. There is no charge for a standard membership which allows users to see coordinates for most caches in its database. A premium membership is offered as well which includes advanced search tools and caches designed for premium members. Geocaching.com catalogs geocaches from all around the world, listing over a million caches. Each cache is reviewed by regional cache reviewers before publication.
Navicache.com is the second oldest site for posting caches. The site offers a great deal of information on getting started in the sport, as well as a forum, and a database with thousands of geocaches logged for any region of the United States. Navicache.com does have international geocaches, but the majority of them are located in Germany. Free registration is required to access many features of the site.
Opencaching.com, a fairly new site created by GPS manufacturer Garmin, offers a free online community for creating, sharing and finding geocaches around the world. Caches are approved automatically and coordinates are available without an account.
Geocaching and Tourism
As geocaching is catching on and growing as an activity, tourism organizations are seizing the opportunity to promote their areas.
In Oregon, where the activity first started back in 2000, the communities of Estacada, Canby, and North Clackamas have launched a combined geocaching event to commemorate that first cache planting a decade ago. Participants can claim a commemorative geocoins from the local chamber of commerce after they find 10 caches in the area.
Recently Delaware tourism officials expanded the state geocaching trail, first launched in October 2009. To promote the trail, like the Oregon event, the first 200 participants receive a special limited edition coin for completing the event, in this case, to visit eight cache sites in each of Delaware’s three counties.
What is Geocaching?
The term “geo” stands for geography and “caching” means to hide something in a container. The history of geocaching goes back to the year 2000 when GPS signals, then only used for military use, were unscrambled and available to everyone. Dave Ulmer is credited with hiding the first geocache and entering the GPS coordinates online. Ulmer invited people to try to find his hidden cache. He suggested others hide their own caches, and the game has been growing ever since.
Today, there are over one million active geocache sites around the world. By hiking and treasure-hunting at the same time, individuals and families continue to grow this high tech hide and seek game.
How to Scavenger Hunt With a GPS
Check out a geocaching website, such as Geocaching.com, to find hidden caches near your home or location. By entering a zip code or address within a certain radius, searchers will get a list of hidden caches by GPS coordinate. The caches are rated on a scale of 1-5 for degree of difficulty to find and difficulty of terrain. The lower the number, the easier the find. For example, a rating of 1/1.5 means the cache is relatively easy to find in a fairly easy terrain. This system allows individuals and families to match their abilities to a difficult hike or an easy find.
After getting a list of coordinates of caches, the next step before going on a geocaching adventure is to assemble the necessary gear. New geocachers should have:
GPS with extra batteries
pen or pencil to sign the logbook often left with hidden caches
water to drink
Experienced geocachers often add a walking stick, work gloves, a digital camera to record the adventure and even a pair of wading boots, if the search leads to muddy or swampy terrain.
Before setting out on the hike, the coordinates listed on the website should be downloaded, or manually entered, into the GPS. Drive to the proper coordinates and look for the hidden cache. Look for anything with a lid- container, bucket, barrel, etc. in the rough vicinity of the GPS coordinates.
When the cache is found, open it to find the hidden treasure. Sometimes the treasure is intended to be taken and replaced. The proper etiquette is to replace it with something that is at least as valuable as what was in the cache. often, the treasure is simply to see and tuck back into the container. Seekers may also add their own treasures. If there is a logbook, sign it for future seekers to read. Many geocaching websites also have opportunities for searchers to record their experiences for others.
Geocaching is for everyone, regardless of age or ability. Many of the hikes rated “one” are also handicapped accessible. The coordinates are not exact, so persistence and a love of puzzles is helpful for those seeking hidden treasure.