Thursday, August 2, 2007

Geocaching is a modern day Scavenger Hunt

Does anyone remember the 1979 movie, “Scavenger Hunt”? It was the movie where Old Mr. Parker made millions inventing and selling games. At the beginning of the movie, he dies and his relatives gather for the reading of the will. However, Old Mr. Parker is a game player to the last, and his will stipulates a Scavenger Hunt to determine which relative will get the inheritance. The winner of the scavenger hunt gets all the money, the rest get nothing. The relatives break up into five teams and try to win the game. It is a comedic classic.

About a month ago, late into the evening, I stumbled into something of a similar nature, while thumbing through a magazine about what to do in the city of Birmingham. It is called Geocaching. You pronounce it Geo-cashing, like cashing a check. Geocaching is not limited geographically to Birmingham, it is a “secret” global phenomenon. Geocaching is an entertaining adventure game for gps users (although, I do not have a GPS, I used clues that are listed on the web). A GPS unit is a electronic device that can determine your approximate location (within around 6-20 feet) on the planet. Coordinates are normally given in Longitude and Latitude. You can use the unit to navigate from your current location to another location. Some units have their own maps, built-in electronic compasses, voice navigation, depending on the complexity of the device. Believe me, You don't need to know all the technical mumbo jumbo about GPS units to play Geocaching. All you need to do is be able to enter what is called a "waypoint" where the geocache is hidden. Participating in a cache hunt is a good way to take advantage of the wonderful features and capability of a gps unit. The basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and share the locations of these caches on the internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches. Once found, a cache may provide the visitor with a wide variety of rewards. All the visitor is asked to do is if they get something they should try to leave something for the cache.

That very night, after I read about it, I announced to my children “Load up into the car, we are going on a treasure hunt”. They did look at me like I was crazy-for all of 10 seconds and then they flew out the door and loaded up into the van. At 10:40 PM, we had found our first cache and we were all hooked. Since then, my teenage son, Brock and his friends have gotten into the action, as has my (*almost) 61 year old mother. It is something that people of any and every age can enjoy doing together. It is very simple to get involved, all one needs to do it to go to the Geocaching web site (there are a few of them) and create an account. After that, you just punch in your zip code (or the zip code of the area you are in) or city and a list of caches in the area will pop up with hints of the cache location. You will be amazed at the number of "treasures' you have walked by unknowingly in your everyday life… All right under your nose. Whether you geocache alone, with your partner, with friends or with your kids, it is great! Not only is it fun-it is educational.....learning to read maps, trying to figure out clues from hints, much more fun can learning be? It is such fun-even my mom is loving it. And it is FREE! Because it is a global recreation, it can be incorporated into family vacations, even family reunions to make things a bit more interesting.

Geocaching is a relatively new phenomenon. Therefore, the rules are very simple:
1. Take something from the cache
2. Leave something in the cache
3. Write about it in the logbook

Where you place a cache is up to you. A cache can come in many forms but the first item should always be the logbook. In its simplest form a cache can be just a logbook and nothing else. The logbook contains information from the founder of the cache and notes from the cache's visitors. The logbook can contain much valuable, rewarding, and entertaining information. A logbook might contain information about nearby attractions, coordinates to other unpublished caches, and even jokes written by visitors. If you get some information from a logbook you should give some back. At the very least you can leave the date and time you visited the cache. Larger caches may consist of a waterproof plastic bucket placed tastefully within the local terrain. The bucket will contain the logbook and any number of more or less valuable items. These items turn the cache into a true treasure hunt (and this is the kind of cache my children prefer). You never know what the founder or other visitors of the cache may have left there for you to enjoy. Remember, if you take something, its only fair for you to leave something in return. Items in a bucket cache could be: Maps, books, software, hardware, CD's, videos, pictures, money, jewelry, tickets, antiques, tools, games, etc. We have personally found key rings, picture frames, dog toys, bracelets, pins and pens and a variety of other small items. It is recommended that items in a bucket cache be individually packaged in a clear zipped plastic bag to protect them. The location of a cache can be very entertaining indeed. As many say, location, location, location! The location of a cache demonstrates the founder's skill and possibly even daring. A cache located on the side of a rocky cliff accessible only by rock climbing equipment may be hard to find. An underwater cache may only be accessed by scuba.
Other caches may require long difficult hiking, orienteering, and special equipment to get to. Caches may be located in cities both above and below ground, inside and outside buildings. The skillful placement of a small logbook in an urban environment may be quite challenging to find even with the accuracy of a gps. That little logbook may have a hundred dollar bill in it or a map to greater treasure. It could even contain clues or riddles to solve that may lead to other caches. Rich people could have fun with their money by making lucrative caches that could be better than winning the lottery when you find it. Just hope that the person that found the cache just before you left a real big prize! Never move the cache! Responsible cache owners often check on their caches and would be alarmed to discover that it is missing.
For more information log onto the site below (or the are a couple others by searching the internet). Create and account (free) and get started and join in on the fun. What better free entertainment is there than to take your family "treasure hunting" as we say in my family. I feel just like the bumbling bunch of folks in the Scavenger Hunt movie, but we have a great time. The kids will love it and what found memories you will create while doing it. Certainly you will be the coolest parent around. Even my teen and his friends think so!

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Anonymous said...

Jay and I got into this a couple years ago and had great fun with it. We have not done it in a while, but we are looking forward to doing this as a family one day.
It's great for kids!!
I am keeping my eyes peeled for Jack signs... I should have a few pics to send soon.
In Christ Alone,

Anonymous said...

So are we. We have a cache hidden in thousand islands near our house, you have to get there by boat. We take the kids out on weekends out in the boat and go on treasure hunts! It is so much fun! They think they are pirates!
Come on down. Our house is itty bitty, but there is lots to do!

_Robin, Cocoa Beach, FL

Anonymous said...

I got a kick out of your geo tripping. We use Ken's hand held gps and do this all the time! Only it seems like the boxes are actually still there in about 1/2 of our searches. No luck in New Orleans, Key West, Harpers Ferry, WV, Greeneville, TN and a few others. When you do find it, the kids are thrilled. In Virginia last month, Ken got a bad case of chiggers finding the box and another time I got poision ivy and a tick. Quite the adventure. We are actually going to try and locate a box on our way to your house so we can move someone's geo-tracker. or maybe, I'll just leave it with you.... Talk soon,

Orlando, FL