Monday, July 31, 2006

A Primer on Geocaching

By Christina VanGinkel

If you find the idea of seeking out treasure, albeit small fare, exciting, or even a bit interesting, then geocaching might be just the leisure pursuit you have been in search of. The basis behind this hobby is simple enough, you search with the aid of a GPS unit for a cache of hidden 'treasure', and once you find it, you take one of the found treasures out, and replace it with something you brought along just for the purpose. It could be anything from a baseball card, to a DVD, maps, to small toys such as marbles or even a Furby. The point being that almost anything goes. Many parents do take their kids along with them though, so if you are new to the fun, try to remember that kids may be the ones finding whatever you left to discover, so be nice and keep the fun factor in it for everyone. Some treasures are meant to be passed along from one cache to another, so keep this in mind if your find includes such an object. They are usually marked and are not meant to be kept by the finder, but just transported to the next cache that finder happens to visit, be it down the road or across the country.

Some caches are as simplistic as they come, with nothing in them much beyond a log that you can sign, saying that you were able to find it, your signature your proof for those who come after you, no treasure, just the lure of discovering the hidden cache. These can be as much fun as those caches that do hold a treasure, as they are often a bit more challenging to find. Somewhere along the way though, someone thought that adding a few trinkets to be discovered would make the whole concept much more interesting than just adding your name to a log, and then logging online to post that you found the cache.

As with any pastime, rules have been created as the process has grown. Once, caches were only found in very out of the way places, with real work involved getting to them, and many of these still exist today. Others are friendlier to the average geocacher, such as those who want to bring the kids along for an afternoon search.

It is thanks to the Internet, that much of this is even possible. Online sites are gathering places for both listing the coordinates of where a cache is hidden, and a place for those who have either created or discovered a cache to discuss the whole process. For example, is listed as The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site, and it is a wealth of information for anyone, beginner or advanced in the world of geocaching. allows users to search for caches via zip code, by state, or even country. If your GPS is computer connectable, you can even download a waypoint file, which you can then load directly into your GPS unit. If your GPS unit is not computer connectable, coordinates can be entered by hand, which in no way detracts from the enjoyableness of this activity, as it just takes a few minutes to do so for each location you are interested in searching for.

The first time I told my thirteen year old about the hobby of geocaching, he was immediately interested. After just a short while, I know that this will be a hobby that he pursues for a long time. Other adults that I have talked to about this pastime are just as excited months and even years after starting, as they were when they first began. The thrill of finding these small treasures is addictive, and it is a great excuse to get out and do something on the weekends or anytime for that matter. When I first checked for caches by my home some time ago, there were just a few, and most of them required at least a several hours drive to reach. However, in just the last eighteen months there are now literally hundreds within an hour of my home. Geocaching is a fun hobby, and participation includes people of all ages. Be sure to check the level of the terrain if you are hunting with young children or someone with physical limitations. Play fair, and remember to bring along a treasure or two to replace any treasure that you take to keep. If an object is intended to travel from cache to cache, try to pass the item along to another cache as soon as time permits.

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