By Meredith Burbank:
If you see my kids and me wandering around in circles in the woods, staring at my Blackberry, don’t worry – we haven’t lost our minds. We’re just geocaching. Geocaching is my new favorite family activity – it’s like a real life treasure hunt, and the kids love it. But warning – it’s mildly addictive for the grownups too.
What is it?
According to the Geocaching website: Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups (I would recommend for children, kindergarten and up), with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.
How do you do it?
1. Start by visiting the official Geocaching website and create a free account. Then enter in your address and pull up all of the geocaches (or “caches”) hidden in your area. If you live in the greater Charlotte area, you will be shocked by the number of geocaches hidden all around us.
2. You need some sort of battery-operated GPS device. For me, it’s my Blackberry. My sister-in-law uses her iPhone. Others use hand-held GPS receivers. The geocaching website has loads of information about GPS devices, buying used models, etc. Try to borrow one or go with a friend before investing any money in a device.
3. Pick a geocache to find. Geocaches are rated by difficulty and terrain, each on a scale of 1 to 5. Read the descriptions and choose one that seems accessible and not too difficult for your first hunt. Print out the geocache description or download it into your device. Most smartphones have geocaching applications that make it really easy to search for caches and download the coordinates. I downloaded Geocache Navigator to my Blackberry, and it finds geocaches in my vicinity anywhere I go. It also downloads all of the information about each cache from the website (descriptions, hints, logs, etc.).
4. Go on your hunt. Geocaches can be hidden anywhere – on the ground, in a tree hole, hanging from a branch, in a pipe, etc. You will never have to dig with a tool to find one. If you get stumped, read the clue (if there is one) from your geocache description. Read the logs from previous finders – often there is valuable information in those logs.
5. Once you find your cache, record your username and the date on the logsheet inside of the cache. This is the proof that you found it. If the cache has treasures in it (usually small trinkets, toys, coins, etc.), feel free to take something, but leave something of equal value in its place. My kids love finding silly bands, army men, etc. inside of caches. Make sure you put the cache back exactly where you found it.
6. When you get home, log onto the geocaching website and log your find. You will see that experienced geocachers have their own lingo that they use on logs, such as TFTC (thanks for the cache) and TFTH (thanks for the hunt). You can write whatever you want.
I hope you enjoy geocaching as much as my kids and I do. It’s a great way to get out of the house and explore our surroundings. Geocaches are hidden all over the world – there’s even one in the International Space Station (not that I plan on finding that one anytime soon). There’s one at the bottom of Lake Norman that you have to scuba dive to get to. But don’t worry – there are tons on dry land that anybody can find. So what are you waiting for? Happy caching!