March-April 2007 Selected Content
Geocaching - High-tech Treasure Hunting - Lori Diehl
My children and I were introduced to geocaching in a roundabout way. While hiking at a local state park, my son Julian found an overturned boat just off the trail and had already scrambled over it before I could shout, "Watch out for snakes!"
"Mom, look at this!"
He had found a sealed plastic bowl hidden beneath the boat. Metal glinted among the bizarre array of objects inside: a Beanie Baby, bottle caps, buttons, coins, patches, photos, jewelry and a notebook. It was our first geocache, and we hadn't even been looking for it.
Geocaching is high-tech treasure hunting. The premise is simple: program longitude and latitude coordinates for a cache into a handheld global positioning system (GPS) locator, find the loot, sign the notebook and leave something behind for future searchers. Or put together and hide your own cache, upload the coordinates to a geocaching website and wait for users to find your cache. It is especially rewarding to return to your own cache and check out the items that have been left behind by other searchers. Every cache has the same basic components: a waterproof container, a notebook or log for searchers to sign and trinkets that can be moved to other caches or simply kept as souvenirs.
Variations in game play abound, however. Leagues compete against one another to find caches hidden underwater, in caves or on mountainsides. Reverse and virtual caches involve no physical box but may be a location that must be photographed and uploaded to a geocaching website. Searchers move traveling caches or items to new locations. Multi-caches require visits to several sites. Event caches are meetings and can be found through dates and coordinates posted online.
As a parent new to geocaching, I first registered online with www.geocaching.com, a site that rates the difficulty of finding caches, and learned that the cache hidden beneath the boat was rated one star (caches rated one or two stars are easiest to find). Targeting other one- or two-star caches, we located a box in a pocket park in a nearby town. Our Garmin eTrex is accurate to within 20 feet, so we had to search the area. The kids were elated when Zoe, then six, found the box hidden behind a water fountain. We were hooked.
After several more successful one or two star finds, Julian and Zoe put together their own cache. A true reflection of their personalities, the cache contains a notebook with their own stories and drawings, trading cards, action figures, Zoe's guitar pick and a sheet of Julian's trombone music. The box has collected string, photos, notes, toys, more picks and CDs from visitors.
When we visit a site, I ask my children to choose something from the environment for closer inspection. It could be a rock, a squirrel's dray, a shell or the contours of the land. We sketch and examine whatever they have chosen. Each treasure hunt becomes a lesson in ecology and science. While hunting for a cache near the beach, we found raccoon tracks on the banks of the estuary. Based on his stride, the little fellow was small and missing a toe on his rear right leg. Zoe wondered what he was hunting, and Julian pointed out that the incoming tide would soon erase the tracks, which led to a satisfying mini lesson on gravity and moon phases (drawn in the sand, of course).
My children are now 14 and nine, and they have become expert users of our handheld GPS. They hardly realize that they've learned essential math and mapping skills or that they've become keen observers of nature. Best of all, they are learning the value of working together and are making memories that do not include television and video games. And this is perhaps the greatest treasure they will ever find.
© 2007, Lori Diehl