By Jon Hicks You’re trekking through a wooded area on the outskirts of your local park, scanning the undergrowth for signs of the treasure. Your GPS tells you that you’re closing in, but you still don’t have a visual on the target. Then you spy it. High in the tree to the left, an ammo-box hoisted into the bare winter tree with a camouflage rope. Your partner unties the slip knot from the tree and slowly lowers the awaited treasure into your arms. Sound like fun? Just recently, two of our college leaders and I trekked through some fairly spooky woods in the back of our local park tracking a treasure that was suspended from a tree. Now, the “loot” was a couple matchbox cars, a golf ball, and a happy face necklace, but the thrill is in the hunt, and the search is called “Geocaching.”
Geocaching is a global phenomenon that is, simply, treasure hunting for real people. All you need is a hiking GPS and a free password to geocaching.com. Chances are there is treasure in your own zip code. Here’s how it works. People playing the game hide treasure or “caches” in remote, and sometimes not so remote, locations and mark them by putting the treasure's exact longitude and latitude in a post on geocaching.com. Then using your GPS you enter the coordinates, and by following your GPS you will eventually find it, often with some serious adventures in-between.
Geocaching is my favorite new way to spend some time with a small groups of students or leaders. We have a blast deciding what caches we will track, then enjoy the rush of energy we get while we search. When you find a cache, geocaching protocol is to take something from the cache (if it’s big enough to contain some treasure) and leave something of your own. If the cache is just a log book, make sure you log your find so the person who left the cache will know you have been there. Outside of the $80-$150 one-time cost for the GPS, geocaching is free! Plus, if you have Sprint, Nextel, Boost or Southern Linc cell phone service you can locate caches with the GPS on your phone using the Trimble Geocache Navigator. For more details, head over to geocaching.com.
Here are some hints on get the most out of Geocaching:
Take your GPS on trips. Once you have secured the appropriate GPS, take it wherever you go. You can add a little “treasure hunting” to your agenda for mission trips, road trips, and vacations. There are literally caches all over the country!
Learn the Lingo. Geocaching has its own vocabulary. Learn the terms to add understanding to your hunts. It's fun to be able to distinguish between a multi-cache and a micro-cache, to know the uniqueness of travelbugs and geocoins, and what TNLN stands for.
Become part of the community. Come up with a name for yourself or your group of cachers and get online. It could even be a great small group activity. Log the caches you found from the day’s hunt and your frustrations with the ones that got away. Then get together your own cache and come up with the perfect hiding place. Let your students enjoy checking on it and seeing who has found your treasure and what was left behind.