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Geocaching 101

Hi,

I’ve put together a series of five pages on the basics of geocaching. This is the first one.

Here are the other four.

GPS 101

Geocaching with Smart Phones

Geocaching with Handheld GPS

Geocaching Software

They’re all linked to the page bar at the top of the home screen and the titles are self-explanatory. If you’re just starting out, these should get you going in the right direction. If you’ve got questions, comments or ideas, feel free to send them along.

The best description we’ve heard of geocaching is using satellites and computers to find pill bottles in the middle of nowhere. Geocachers are part geek, part sleuth and part explorer. Geocaches are everywhere. You drive by dozens of them every day along with letterboxes, benchmarks and waymarks. They’re on your street, in your parks, in the parking lot of the mall and in the wildest wilderness. You can do park’n’grabs and get 50 in a day. Or you can do back-country geocaching and spend all day getting just one. We’ve done both and everything in between.

You would be hard-pressed to find another activity which is more fun, positive, educational and family friendly than geocaching and its stashing cousins. My 85 year old mother and our two year old grandson have both been out with us. Some of the best times I ever had as a Dad were with my youngest son hunting down geocaches in the wilds of Montana and Wyoming. When I was teaching school, I used it in my math classes to teach all kinds of NCTM objectives before taking the students out to the park for the real thing.

Geocaching, along with its relatives like letterboxing, benchmarks and waypoints, are sometimes referred to as stashing games. These activities are great real time, real world exercises in problem solving, decision making and setting priorities in addition to the technical stuff involved. If you are looking for a way to teach and motivate kids, get them active outdoors and have a lot of fun, give geocaching or one of its relatives a try.

One thing you can be sure of – geocaching will develop skills and take you places you would have never known about otherwise. If you’re new to the game, your first stop is www.geocaching.com.

Geocaching originated in Beavercreek, OR and has been around since May 3, 2000. On that day, a computer engineer named Dave Ulmer hid a bucket in the woods and posted the latitude and longitude online in a GPS users’ group. He called his new activity “The Great American Stashing Hunt.” He did it to give his fellow GPS users a target to test the accuracy of their devices and had no idea what it would turn into.

A day later, fellow GPS enthusiast Mike Teague found it and posted his story on the group page. Geocaching was born, although it didn’t get called that until several weeks later.

Today there are an estimated 5 million geocachers hunting 1.8 million geocaches in every country in the world, including Afghanistan and Antarctica.

Here’s a link to a geocaching dot com’s history page.

Here’s a link to a good explanation and summary of geocaching on Wikipedia, including all the different kinds of caches and different organizations that list them.

Original geocache plaque

Dave Ulmer’s original stash is long gone, destroyed by a road crew. In its place, some geo-fanatics put this plaque with a geocache nearby in 2003. If you’re ever in the Beavercreek, OR area and want to stop at this holy shrine, the geocache is called “Original Stash Tribute Plaque” on geocaching dot com.

Mainstream geocaching is the province of geocaching dot com, by far the biggest and most expansive geocaching site. Starting out as a hobby site in 2000, it grew by leaps and bounds and is now run by a corporate entity called Groundspeak. If you want to geocache, this is where you start.

To access full cache details, you have to register for a membership. There are free memberships and premium (paid) memberships. They cost $30 a year per account. Here’s a link to a summary of the differences between them. You can also register at that link. If you just want to grab a few caches when you’re out doing something else or just try it out, a free membership should work just fine. If you eventually migrate into caching at different places and need to to do searches remotely or along a route, you’ll want to go with the premium. You can also mix and match. When I was geocaching with my kids, I had a premium account and they had free ones.

A geocaching membership also gives you access to waymarking dot com. This useful tool has all kinds of destinations along with geocaches and benchmarks that are nearby. It’s great for traveling and caching on the fly.

There are other sites that list geocaches, such as Navicaching, Terracaching and Opencaching. They require separate memberships but they’re free. I’m signed on to them and a couple more but they simply don’t have the extensive cache lists and features that Groundspeak does.

Now you need something to geocache with. You’ve basically got two options – a smart phone or a dedicated handheld GPS device. We’ll talk about each in the next couple of posts.

Good hunting …. Boris and Natasha

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