A Rundown on Geocaching

As a child, I was obsessed with drawing treasure maps: the burnt edges, tea stains, big red X, the works. In one Girl Guides meeting, our leaders took us geocaching. You may have heard of it if you’re any type of outdoorsy. This limitless scavenger hunt, particularly popular in the early 2000s, would be a perfect activity for this summer. In short, geocaching is tracking down a container of goodies, hidden at a set of coordinates by a member of the geocaching community. Perhaps it could help you scratch your itch to go on a small adventure with a few friends. Who knows, you might find something interesting.

History of Geocaching

Geocaching relies on the use of GPS devices to follow coordinates. In the old days for America, satellites were not allowed to use their full functions. Due to a security concern, public GPS signals were purposely slightly inaccurate. There were about 50 meters of error across and 100 meters vertically. This was called selective availability. Only the US military and authorized groups could access accurate GPS signals. 

This changed in May 2000, when selective availability was finally turned off. Civilians and commercial users could now use an accurate GPS signal. A man named Dave Ulmer was curious about how much better the signals could be. So he hid a container in the woods and posted its coordinates to a GPS enthusiasts group online, touting it as the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt.” Participants could only try to search for the stash with a GPS, and once they found it, they should swap the prize inside with interesting things of their own. 

The game spread quickly after two group members found Ulmer’s container of books, videos, and a slingshot. After sharing their experience, people took to hiding their own stashes and posting the coordinates.

Geocaching Today

It was harder, in the beginning, to find geocaches at accessible locations. But over the years and technology, online communities have lumped together. Today, it is quite easy to find a geocaching activity nearby. Pick any geocaching website, and they will have a decent collection. Enter your city, and it can help you filter ones that are nearby. Each hunt has difficulty ratings and hints about container sizes. For some, you can even use your phone as your GPS device.

Types of Geocaching

With its evolution over the years, some popular types of geocaching are compiled here.

Traditional – Logbook style; you can note down your name on a list after finding the cache, usually small objects.

Mystery – this one requires extra work on a puzzle or game to get the coordinates.

Multi-Cache – Some caches are clues to lead you to the final cache.

EarthCache – Rather than random things at the end, this kind might lead you through a unique path or to an interesting site. There may be a cache with a few pages of information on the location.

Reasons to Get Out There

From my few experiences, there are quite a few reasons to try geocaching. There’s plenty of ideas besides the bragging rights for digging up a hidden dinky object from years back.

1) Learn about your surroundings

Think you’ve been everywhere around your city or local park? Geocaching can take you through some interesting routes or to sites you’ve never noticed before. Even if there is no bright hidden gem of the city, it is still a playful experience to travel through mundane places with such an unexpected reason.

2) Problem-solving

Not all geocachers will hand you the location so easily. A more recent type of geocaching includes a puzzle to solve to get the coordinates. Others may have multiple stashes with clues to the ultimate end prize. So on top of having a good eye to spot the hidden container, you could have some fun with problem-solving.

4) It gets you outside

This one should be nearer the top. Personally, I’ve found my social distancing walks could do with a bit of spice. However, be sure to stay safe. Go with a friend and bring a bear bell or some precautionary items, just in case you go somewhere too remote.

5) Appreciate some cool art or set ups

Some geocaching setups are quite elaborate. Enthusiastic people create themes, interesting container camouflages, and scout out good locations for you to go to. It’s a great way to take a peek at some creativity. If you’re after little trinkets, that’s fun, too. They make fun souvenirs for your hunt to get there. Just make sure to leave something else behind. No one likes walking in the ferns for hours to find some gum wrappers.

If you think of trying it sometime, I hope you enjoy it. Unfortunately, it’s been ages since I’ve gone, and I’d like to see what it’s like now. However, I do remember it being an enjoyable time. I’m hopeful that hasn’t changed.

Resources

“1.1 The History of Geocaching HQ.” Geocaching.com, Groundspeak, Inc, www.geocaching.com/help/index.php?pg=kb.chapter&id=141&pgid=625.

“Geocaching Types.” Geocaching.com, Groundspeak, Inc, www.geocaching.com/about/cache_types.aspx. 

GISGeography “Selective Availability in Global Positioning System (GPS).” GIS Geography, 28 May 2021, gisgeography.com/selective-availability-gps/.

“Selective Availability.” GPS.gov: Selective Availability, www.gps.gov/systems/gps/modernization/sa/.