There are treasures out there. Millions of treasures, just waiting to be found, and then re-hidden. Some are tiny, others as large as landmarks, but all have one thing in common; there are three million people worldwide looking for them. They are called geocaches, and the adventurers looking for them, who range from toddler to senior citizen, are geocachers.
At its most basic level, geocaching is an activity that combines the use of technology, skill, and creativity to form a worldwide scavenger hunt. A geocacher hides a cache (usually a waterproof container with a written login inside and sometimes other items), then they post the GPS coordinates online at geocaching.com, sometimes with clues added. Other geocachers then access the cache online, then go on an adventure to find it. Once they find it, they sign the log and then post their find on the online log for that cache.
It started very simply in 2000 when the United States government discontinued its use of Selective Availability in order to make GPS more responsive to civil and commercial users worldwide. Prior to that, the government degraded GPS signals that the public could access (for security reasons). Once the public was able to get quality GPS signals, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant in Oregon, decided to see if others could find an object using only the GPS coordinates. He placed a bucket with some “prizes” in it in the forest near Beavercreek, Oregon and posted in an online science community a message with the coordinates: N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800. A new hobby was born.
Within months, the “GPS Stash Hunt” evolved onto geocaching. Today there are over 800,000 active geocachers in the United States and 3 million worldwide. There are over 2.8 million caches hidden in over 180 countries. The hobby is very popular with families, allowing parents and children to share in the use of technology and the adventure of getting out in the world to hide or find caches.
What’s a geocache look like? There are several kinds to be found. There are tiny caches called nano or micro caches. These may be the size of a pencil eraser and have a tiny paper log inside. There are large caches, some in waterproof food containers (think Tupperware) and others in recycled ammo containers. There are specialty containers designed to blend into their surroundings (like a magnetic hollow bolt). There are also virtual caches, where the finder photographs themselves at a certain site to prove their find.
Some of the larger caches hold treasures inside. Usually they are just small trinkets or children’s toys. The geocaching code of honor asks that a cacher who takes something, leaves another prize in its place. There are also items called trackables. Trackables can be geocoins and travel bugs. These have their own code number and are registered on the website. When found, geocachers take them from the cache and hide them in another cache later on. They are logged, often with a photo, each time they are found. Some travel around the world, with the original owner being able to watch their travel online.
Bryan Kemp, also known as Asgoroth (geocachers choose their own geocaching name), is a geocacher from Douglas County who has been active in the geocaching community for almost fifteen years. To date he has logged over 6,700 caches and hidden over 150 himself, many in Douglas County. Like many, he enjoys the challenge of finding a cache and the joy of hiding one for others to find. Kemp has geocached as far away as the Republic of Georgia and almost always includes geocaching in his travels.
Kemp’s advice to new geocachers? “Perseverance pays off, in finds and in your appreciation of geocaching.” He explained that many start and find a few geocaches, but none that “wow” them. “Chances are, if they stick with it long enough to find 10 or 12 caches, at least one of them is really going to inspire them to find more.”
He is especially fond of some of the geocaching events that take place throughout the geocaching community. Perhaps his favorite is the eighth annual Going Caching event to be held in Rome this October. The five day event, beginning October 4th, is themed “Spy Games” and will have at least 8 challenges and over $5000 in prizes. Last year over 1100 geocachers participated in this family-friendly event and sponsors expect more this year.
Most state and local parks have geocaches hidden in them. Clinton Nature Preserve and Hunter Park have about a half dozen. Sweetwater Creek State Park has over two dozen. Geocaching has adopted an environmental initiative supported by their community at large. Since 2002, CITO (Cache In, Trash Out) has helped preserve the natural beauty of cache-friendly spaces. In that time, more than 240,000 people have volunteered at 11,000 CITO events. This is one reason that park directors are open to giving permission to geocachers wishing to hide their treasures on park property. The geocaching community, for the most part, strives to teach an appreciation for historic and natural sites and actively participates in preserving them.
Whether using the GPS on a phone or a handheld GPS unit, adventures are waiting just around the corner. For more information about geocaching, visit geocaching.com or look for the free geocaching app available for smartphones.