The Joy of Geo-Caching

Make sure to sign the logbook listing the date and your geocache id name. When you arrive back home, log your visit at www.geocache.com to track your amount of successful cache. Photo by JulieAnn Krajci

My family has hiked many New York State parks, from Stony Brook to Watkins Glen. For many years, we never knew that hidden treasures – or “caches” – existed in them as part of an activity called geo-caching. Geo-caching led us to rediscover the parks and their beauty. Because searching for the cache often leads us off the main trails, we’ve discovered spots we didn’t know existed, didn’t realize were part of public land.

Geo-caching is exciting for children, who can be very persistent when it comes to finding treasures. My own children are always eager and determined to find the cache, searching for hours, if that’s what it takes.

Besides being great exercise, geo-caching is an opportunity to learn about the environment and about geometry. It’s fun, and even comes with a reward if you succeed. Here are some tips to get you started.

To learn more, log on to www.geocaching.com.

The Tools
Geo-caching is an entertaining adventure game that can be “played” by families and other groups of people of all ages. Hunting for a cache is very similar to going on a scavenger hunt. Many caches are hidden in natural park-like settings, usually under a rock, in a hollow tree or log. Most are hidden in containers designed to blend into the environment.

All that’s needed to participate in a cache hunt is a Global Positioning System (GPS), a computer with Internet access, and a desire to explore nature. By using the absolute location (latitude and longitude) of a specific spot, GPS users try to find the cache. The absolute location of caches by city or zip code is provided online at www.geocaching.com. It’s all an adventure, much like searching for buried treasure.

A GPS unit is a hand-held electronic device that determines your location by using coordinates in degrees of latitude and longitude within 5 to 20 feet. It can be used to navigate from your current location to another specific location by plugging in your current coordinates and the desired coordinates. Some units have built-in compasses and maps. GPS units range in price from $100 to $1,000 depending on the complexity of the unit and its array of built-in features. Some sophisticated units, found in newer cars and trucks, have voice navigation to guide you on your journey.

Even if you have GPS, it’s helpful to carry a compass when you go geo-caching. During periods of thick cloud coverage, a hand-held compass can help you find the cache easier.

The Treasure
The cache is usually made up of little treasures and other items that can fit inside a small container. Many people shop the dollar store for small trinkets and inexpensive “treasures.”

Sometimes they’ll come up with signature items to place inside the cache to represent themselves. For instance, a New York Yankees fan might place Yankees pencils in all the caches they find.

Waterproof or plastic items work best, just in case the container gets too wet or leaks during a heavy rain. A notebook and a pen or pencil is placed inside so geo-cachers can log their visit. If you live in a climate where winters fall below freezing, it’s best to bring along a pencil as ink can freeze.

Caches differ depending on their level of difficulty. Regular caches are made up of average-sized containers such as waterproof ammunition boxes or plastic pretzel containers. Both can easily be hidden within the natural environment. Micro caches are tiny containers (think film canisters) that make finding the treasure more challenging. There are also multi-caches where coordinates are given online for the first part of the cache and when you find it, inside is a paper with the second set of coordinates that lead you to the next part of the cache. Most multi-caches have two to four parts, but in Allegany State Park, there is a 20-part multi-cache for real enthusiasts.

“Virtual” caches lead hikers to existing landmarks, such as a statue or tombstone. Be prepared to answer a question from the information given on the landmark to prove that you actually found it.

More Variations
Another great idea spawned from the creative cacher’s mind is a travel bug. Travel bugs are metal key chains, similar to dog tags, with identifiable numbers on them. A geo-cacher develops a goal for his travel bug and then sets it free in a local cache. As geo-cachers travel from site to site, they move the travel bug around to different caches to help it reach its goal. My son created a 50-states travel bug; its goal is to travel to all 50 of the United States.

People often place pictures or momentos on the key chain and online to show its trail. My son can monitor the progress of his travel bug online at any time. We can watch the travel bug reach its goal as it moves from state to state. At each stop on its journey, we can read notes from cachers with information about that particular area. It’s a great way to encourage children to learn about geography and the environment. Some travel bugs have gone all over the world.

You can even create your own cache. Last summer when my family and I veered off the hiking path at Canadice Lake in Springwater, we found a unique man-made structure in which we decided to hide our own cache. If you never go off the path, you will never see this amazing site, so our goal has been to draw more attention to it. Since August of 2005, over 30 geo-cachers have visited our cache.

Geo-caching in the Finger Lakes region provides a way to discover sights that you never knew existed. One time we were led to a tall waterfall hidden in the countryside only 6 miles from our house. While you hunt for treasure, explore the Finger Lakes and enjoy the new places you’ll find.


by JulieAnn Krajci