What is this thing called geocaching?
It’s a fun-filled, challenging hobby that combines a walk in the great outdoors and a challenge to your observational and detective skills. What’s more, one can participate in this activity as an individual, or be one of a group, a team, a family, etc., but it may not be done in one's armchair or in the comfort of one's living room. Many people combine the activity with a hike – oftentimes a hike is the only way to get to the final destination.
Geocaching is a sport that requires you to find a “cache” that was carefully hidden by some other geocaching enthusiast. There is a listing of all of the available caches on the geocaching website. There one selects a target of choice. You're given the cache whereabouts in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates, sometime accompanied by some other obscure clues. Then you need a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) device to lead you to the exact spot. The cache will consist of a waterproof container holding a small notebook, a pen, and some small “treasures” that previous visitors have left behind.
The only rules are: if you take something from the cache, you must leave something for the cache, and you must record your visit in the notebook. The treasures are necessarily small in size and of no great value.
Some of the treasures this time were an uninflated beach ball, a rubber lizard, a toy automobile, an autographed "four of clubs," and a personalized geocoin (similar to a wooden nickel) left by “Sue & Barry.” We couldn’t see taking any of these fabulous treasures, but we did leave behind a gold coin (really a brass token that we received from some charity in a USMail solicitation).
At the latest count there are more than 1.4 million geocaches placed around the world and they are all cataloged on the web. The above website allows one to enter a zip code or some name identifying a preferred area, and the caches will be displayed along with brief descriptions and coordinates. Would you like to find one right around the corner? Would you like to find one near your vacation spot out in the Poconos?
There are more than 5 million people who enjoy locating these caches, and I am one of those people. In Holmdel Park alone, there are 10 geocaches to be found.
On a recent 95º degree day, my wife and I spent an enjoyable hour or two searching in the Arboretum at Holmdel Park. This site was listed on the web as a “multi” meaning that the coordinates given to you are the location of the place you will find instructions for the next place, etc. Moving from location to location, and picking up more clues, we found the cache hidden in a rotted tree stump. A random passer-by would never have seen it there in the stump – never would have even noticed the stump itself! But when the GPS indicated that we were within a very few feet, we soon spotted our quarry. If you visit that same cache, you will find our names in the notebook. See some of the pictures of our foray into the arboretum.
What equipment do you need to join in the fun?
Some GPS devices have very definite limitations. The satellite receiver in my 10-year old Garmin Etrex® is not as sensitive as those in the newer units. If my search takes me into a wooded area, the unit cannot read the satellite signals through all the foliage. This means that my geocaching season is November to April. The newer, more sensitive units do not have that problem. For our recent excursion, we used my son’s Garmin 60CSx which is extremely sensitive and a pleasure to use. I don’t recommend using the GPS that is currently attached to the dash of your ’97 Chevy. Even if it is accepting of latitude and longitude coordinates for your destination, it may only get you to within 100 feet of the target, and that is quite inadequate.
Although you can learn about geocaching by simply doing it, I encourage you to spend some time on the internet and to read about geocaching and the Global Positioning System as well. The technology is something you don’t have to know, but why not give it a shot? Maybe you can figure out how the GPS knows where you are at all times even when you can’t figure it out yourself.