Geocaching: Using multi-million dollar government satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.
You’ve probably heard of Geocaching, but what exactly is it? Bumper-sticker slogans aside, Geocaching is a fun and inexpensive way for both parents and kids alike to get out of the house and out into nature. The official definition from the Geocaching website states: “Geocaching is a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.”
Geocaching can be as easy as stopping at the back of a parking lot in town, or as involved as climbing trees and hiking up mountains or finding underwater caches only accessible using scuba gear. They are as easy or as challenging as you feel up to tackling. The best part is, these treasure boxes are all around us, usually in places you pass every single day and would never otherwise think to look! It’s literally a worldwide game with caches in every state and 180 countries around the world.
This morning, ComputerGuy and I were out running errands while the kids were at VBS. We stopped at a store that we knew had a geocache nearby. After checking the Geocaching app, we discovered the cache was roughly 200 feet from where we were standing. We’ve been caching a few years now, so now have a sort of sixth sense that is usually (not always!) pretty reliable. Sure enough, up on a telephone pole across the parking lot, we spotted a birdhouse. It had a puzzle we had to solve first to get the combination for the lock to open, but once we did that we got the cache, and were able to sign the log. Caches are usually filled with little toys and trinkets and goodies, trade items that the kids love to collect. Take one and leave one.
One of our favorite geocaches we found as a family was the reward of a long hike through the woods. We knew it was a “large” sized cache, so we supposed it’d be an easier find. Not so much, as ComputerGuy ended up having to climb inside a giant hollowed-out tree, headfirst, in order to pull up the 5-gallon bucket full of loot. Slight injuries were obtained during that find, but it was all in good fun, and lots of “rememberies” were made.
How to start? Have a smartphone or GPS device. Download the Geocaching app, and make an account. Choose a good name, because that’s the name you’ll physically sign on all the logs you find, and that all the other local geocachers will know you by. (There’s a local team we’ve never met, but we like to think we have a competition with them because we seem to find the same caches around the same time. There is much rejoicing when we find a cache they haven’t made it to yet!) So be creative with your name!
There is a relatively inexpensive fee to upgrade to the premium version, but this is not a requirement to play. Some caches are hidden from map-view on the free version, but the free version is just fine to learn on!
Once you’ve got your app and your team name, you’re good to go! Use the map to navigate to a nearby cache and read up about it. Check the hints tab, discover what size of cache you’re looking for, (save those micros and nanos for when you’re a little more experienced!) and check on the cache’s activity. An active cache will have lots of recent commenters. If no one has commented in a while, it doesn’t necessarily mean the cache has gone missing, but it may make it a more challenging find. If you see a cache with multiple “DNFs” (Did Not Finds), or frowny faces, it’s probably not there, so try another. I’ve just glossed over some of the basics of geocaching, but once you play it’s not hard to learn.
Geocaching is awesome educationally as well! We are learning navigating skills as we figure out distances, directions and sometimes geographical coordinates using longitude and latitudes. We’re employing our critical thinking skills as we decode the hints and interpret what they mean. We’re using our puzzle-solving and strategy skills on those caches that require them. We’re reading what past geocachers have said about the cache and assimilating that information into our new situation. We’re getting out into nature, exploring parks, walking trails and often beautiful places off of the beaten path. We’re learning to take notice of and to appreciate our surroundings. We practice CITO (Cache in, Trash out) to help ensure a good experience for future cachers and to help care for God’s creation. We are learning the sometimes-difficult skills of patience, endurance, and sometimes even of how to handle disappointment. We learn every time we go out. And best of all, we are having lots of family-together-time making wonderful rememberies.
Has your family tried Geocaching? If so, what are your favorite geocaching stories? Do you have any favorite caches?
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