Welcome to Geocaching—the World’s Biggest Treasure Hunt Imagine a worldwide treasure hunt with millions of participants using futuristic GPS technology and hidden clues to discover secret hiding places around the world. Are you perhaps imagining a modern-day Indiana Jones or some kind of science fiction movie adventure? Well, come on back down to reality because this is not the stuff of fiction – this is a very real activity called geocaching, participated in by over 6 million people around the world! And if you have a smartphone or any other sort of GPS-enabled device, you’re already set to participate.
So we’ve established that this sounds like a game from the future, right? Well you might be surprised to discover that geocaching has been around since the year 2000 — that’s 14 years ago, as a friendly reminder. We won’t bore you with too much history or technological information, but here’s basically how it happened: prior to 2000, the United States government maintained a policy under which public access to GPS signals was purposefully made less accurate due to concerns about “national security.” In May of that year, however, the government reversed its stance and literally overnight highly accurate GPS technology was made available to everyday people around the world. Individuals began using it – businesses began using it and blah, blah, blah… Let’s cut to the chase – on May 3rd, a man named Dave Ulmer hid a container out in the woods in Oregon and posted its GPS coordinates online. He wanted to test the accuracy of this new GPS system. Within a few days, a number of people had found the container and the goodies that Dave had placed inside. They reported back to him and a community sprang up, placing more and more of these stashes around the world. They discussed potential names for this new activity among themselves and eventually settled upon the term geocaching. Fast forward back to 2014 – so what exactly is a geocache? That is to say, what exactly are we looking for? There’s no straight answer to this question, and that’s part of the fun. Geocaches range from large, clearly marked containers to cleverly disguised repositories meant to blend in naturally with their surroundings. As you approach the GPS coordinates of the geocache, it’s up to you to use your sleuthing skills to locate it, though often you’ll be able to find clues or hints regarding what it is you’re looking for before you set out.
And what exactly will you find inside your geocache? Once again, results will vary. There is one thing that you will always find inside any official geocache – a logbook or in very small geocaches – a log-sheet. Once you locate the geocache you will sign your name, announcing to the world and to your fellow geocachers your prowess and skill as a treasure-hunter. You can also check in at the geocache via your smartphone or online once you get back home. But that’s not all. Depending on the size of the geocache and on your timing, you could find any number of surprises. This is what makes geocaching a true treasure hunt. Browsing a popular geocaching message board, geocachers claim to have recently hidden foreign coins, rubber ducks, classic Hot Wheels cars, jewelry, guitar picks and the list goes on. Some geocachers have even found tickets to sporting events, gift certificates to restaurants and cold hard cash! It’s rare that you’ll find anything of great monetary value, but you’ve got a great chance to find some cool knick-knacks to help you remember your trip. When you take something from a geocache, it’s considered good etiquette to leave something of approximately equal value, so before you set out think about what you could bring to leave behind for the next geocacher.
So maybe you think that geocaching sounds awesome, but you’re not ready to drive out to the middle of nowhere where these geocaches must all be hidden, right? Well actually, wrong! Geocaches are found in all sorts of environments. Do you live in the big city? There’s almost bound to be a geocache not only nearby but most likely within easy walking distance. Are you in the suburbs? There’s probably still at least a few geocaches very close to you. That’s not to say that all geocaches are easily accessible – there’s a geocache located at the South Pole, for goodness sake – but it does mean that if you want to start out with an easier hunt you should most certainly be able to. That’s the benefit of having more than 2 million geocaches located all throughout the world. So, are you as excited as we are? Ready to get started? Amazingly enough, participation in geocaching is free, though if you decide that you want to take your hunt to the next level you can eventually decide to upgrade to a premium account. The most popular and widely-used website for geocaching is, perhaps not very creatively, named geocaching.com, and a free version of the geocaching App can be found for your smartphone by searching Geocaching Intro. When you sign up, you’ll be prompted to choose between a few of the geocaches located closest to your current location. You’ll also be given access to a huge but surprisingly close-knit community ready to help answer any further questions you may have regarding geocaching and your very first treasure hunt. So… what are you waiting for? The only thing you have to do to start your first adventure is get up and go! Welcome to the exciting new world of geocaching. Remember – be safe, have fun and maybe we’ll run into each other on the hunt someday soon.
Click here to read this article in our Awesome Family Adventures magazine.