Looking for an idea for a hobby for the New Year that will provide an activity for the family, promote physical exercise outdoors and be a fun way to get your kids away from their video games and new electronic devices? Then you are ready to discover Geocaching.
Geocaching is an outdoor game using hand-held global positioning systems (GPS) devices. It’s an inexpensive, interactive high-tech treasure hunt that’s a great way to learn geography. Participants use location coordinates to find caches. Some caches are easy to find; others are more difficult. The biggest reward is the thrill of the search and the discovery of a place where you have never been. Geocaching should have minimal impact to the environment and conscientious land use ethics should be followed.
Geocaching, a term invented in the year 2000, comes from root words meaning “earth” and “hide” and involves finding items hidden by others in “caches” with the aid of GPS devices. Once you find a cache, the only requirement is that you replace the item that you take with something of equal or greater value.
Caching, from the word cache, has two different meanings, which makes it very appropriate for the activity. A French word invented in 1797, the original definition referred to a hiding place someone would use to temporarily store items. The word cache stirs up visions of pioneers, gold miners and even pirates. Today the word is still even used in the news to describe hidden weapons locations.
The second use of cache has more recently been used in technology. Memory cache is computer storage that is used to quickly retrieve frequently used information. Your web browser, for example, stores images on disk so you don’t have to retrieve the same image every time you visit similar pages.
Find a cache
Finding a cache is a fun challenge with the correct equipment.
– Sign up for free at www.geocaching.com. Enter the zip code for the state park where you are interested in searching. Press Go. The website will help you find the caches and will provide clues needed for the search.
– Select one or more caches to find.
– Go paperless if your GPS unit allows you to send the coordinates directly to your unit.
– Head to the state park. An entry-fee is usually required for entrance to a state park. Enter the coordinates of the cache in your GPS unit and use the clues provided to search for the cache.
– Each cache usually contains a logbook, pencil and inexpensive trinkets. When you find it, be sure to sign the logbook. If you remove something from the cache, replace it with something of equal or greater value.
– Put the cache back exactly where you found it.
– Share your experience with the geocaching community on www.geocaching.com.
Hide a cache
After you become good at finding caches, you may want to hide one in your favorite spot to see if others can find it. Geocachers are obligated to practice the sport in an honorable and non-destructive manner.
– Find a place to hide your cache that will take a bit of time for another geocacher to find. Select a spot with a great view or an unusual location. Avoid archaeological or historical sites. Those areas are sensitive.
– If you are planning to hide a cache in a Florida State Park, contact the park manager and ask permission for the location you are considering. Describe the location, how you intend to hide it (digging is not allowed) and provide a description of the cache container. The park manager will consider the site attributes and give verbal permission for you to hide the cache in the location. Archaeological, ecological and historical areas are typically off limits. Also consider frequent flooding, fire frequency, animal habitat, etc. before requesting permission.
– Prepare your cache. The container should be waterproof. Put the items in water-tight baggies in case of a leak. Include a small logbook and a pen or pencil. Some people include a note to welcome the cache finder — it’s helpful if someone finds it accidentally — while others include goodies such as a disposable camera, inexpensive toy, coins or a deck of cards.
– Mark the outside of the cache so that someone who doesn’t play can figure out what it is. Most people mark the container with geocaching.com, the name of the cache and basic contact information.
– After you have verbal permission from the state park manager, you can place your cache. When you reach the location to place your cache, note the exact coordinates from your GPS unit. Once you have your waypoint, write it in permanent marker on the container and the log book and make sure you have a copy to bring back with you. Write a few notes in the log book if you like, place it in a water-tight baggie and place it in the container. Hide the container. Trail blazing is not allowed.
– Report the cache by filling out the online form at www.geocaching.com.
– Maintain the cache. You’ll need to return often to ensure that your cache is in good shape. Once people have visited the cache, be sure that other visitors are not disrupting the landscape. If you have concerns, move it or remove it.
The earth and the heavens are the Lord’s, and we should respect his creation by keeping it free from pollution and conserving the environment. Have fun as you discover this new fun family activity!
Bob Woods is a senior project manager at AECOM Technical Services, as well as a published Christian author. He can be reached at [email protected]