Geocaching is the modern version of exploring using a GPS
Published 10:00 am Saturday, October 24, 2015
By Cathy Hay
Offering a wealth of fun, geocaching — seeking hidden objects by means of GPS coordinates posted online — is treasure hunting for modern times. Instead of an X marking the spot on a paper map, coordinates of latitude and longitude mark the spot on a device screen like a smartphone.
Started in 2000 by GPS enthusiasts, geocaching has found a place in modern culture, evolving along with technology. It has led to websites, forums, cache dash events, books and more.
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Seekers can find caches throughout the Albert Lea area including Edgewater Park, Brookside boat landing and Blazing Star Trail. In fact, players have hidden caches throughout the state, nation and world. Note that caches are hidden but not buried.
The concept is simple: Look up caches on the Internet, use GPS to locate them, open the cache, sign the log book, put the cache back for the next player and post your find online.
One firm rule of the game: If you remove any treasure, usually a small token, replace it with something of equal or greater value. The true treasure is finding the cache, especially those exceptionally hidden, requiring navigation of rugged terrain, micro in size or all three.
Fall is a great time to try geocaching with fewer bugs buzzing around and less vegetation underfoot. Follow along as this player seeks that first cache.
Check out www.geocaching.com to learn about the game. This website is full of information via brief video programs and concise text. You will need to create an account to access information about caches. A basic account — offering website access and an intro app — is free. A premium account costs about $30 a year and offers more features such as filtering caches by size.
After creating an account, do a search for caches. A search for “Albert Lea Minnesota” reveals several caches throughout the community. One helpful tip on the website is to check posts about the cache to see if anyone has found it recently. Two caches in Edgewater Park have “Needs maintenance” or “Didn’t find it” posted in recent weeks, so I decide against hunting for them.
One cache in Edgewater Park is “Popsicle.” The description rates it two stars out of five for difficulty and three out of five for terrain. It’s also marked “BYOP” for bring your own pen/pencil to sign the log book. BYOP is a clue that the cache may be too small to contain a pen or pencil.
The description also has an encrypted hint. It’s encrypted in case players prefer no hints. It just takes a click on “decrypt” to reveal “In the name.” Hmmmmm. This cache looks challenging but findable. I type the GPS coordinates into Google maps on my iPhone, check that it makes sense, grab my camera and snap the leash on my 11-month-old puppy. My 13-year-old son puts aside his video game to tag along. Off to the park!
On the hunt
Using the phone, we navigate along the road through Edgewater Park, then tall grass and toward Fountain Lake. When our position lines up with the cache coordinates, my son, dog and I start looking high and low, back and forth, through leaves and underbrush. I have no idea what to look for — the cache could be up a tree, under a log, taped to a trunk or otherwise hidden. Instead of a treasure chest, the container could be a plastic or metal box, fake rock or just about anything else durable.
I’m about to give up when my son shouts, “Mom, I found it!” His excitement is contagious as I hurry to see the cache and the dog leaps along. The cache is a small plastic bottle, about the size of a vitamin container, wrapped in camouflage duct tape and secured to a long branch. Inside are a narrow log book in a tiny plastic bag, a Bible verse and a nickel. I sign the log book, snap a few photos and put it all back together. My son returns the cache to its hiding place, and we look from a few angles to make sure it’s findable but not obvious.
It was so much fun that we decide to try looking for the “Jedi” cache at Edgewater Park. I load the coordinates into my iPhone and off we go. We arrive at the coordinates, and despite intense searching for several minutes, we fail to find the cache. The sun is setting, supper is wanting and the evening activities are nearing. So we head home with plans to look later in the week.
That night I log my first find on www.geocaching.com. I also email “XHawk,” the player who hid the Popsicle cache. He replies with helpful tips, which I list below with a few of my own.
Tips for beginning geocaching
Dress for the weather and terrain.
Invest in a hand-held GPS device like a Garmin or use a mapping app on your smartphone.
www.geocaching offers a mobile app for a fee or c:geo offers an Android app for free.
Caching can be done all year and winter offers the advantage of tracking footprints in snow.
Carry a pencil in the winter to sign log books because pens can freeze.
Carry extra batteries for GPS devices, especially in the winter.
Study the etiquette of geocaching before seeking, especially respecting property,” Cache In Trash Out,” and not spoiling the surprise for others. The No. 1 rule of geocaching is to follow the Golden Rule: Treat fellow geocachers the way you want to be treated.
Geocaching offers a great way to explore locally and afar. It’s a treasure trove of fun, whether hiking solo, walking the dog, or including family and friends. The game offers several levels, keeping it fresh as you gain experience. With geocaching, adventure awaits around every corner.