(For you, Heather!)
Before there was Pokemon Go, there was geocaching. Geocaching is an activity that uses the GPS on your phone to find hidden treasures in parks, along trails, or even in shopping centers. We are VERY new at this, so if you are a more seasoned geocacher, feel free to leave extra tips and tricks in the comments or feel free to correct me. I tend to get on board with things way late, so since Google tells me geocaching has been around since 2000 and I'm just now joining in in 2016, I suppose I'll get on board and begin Pokemon hunting in 2032. I'll eventually catch 'em all!
So, geocaching. In my limited experience, these things are everywhere. Lots in parks, lots in touristy areas, lots in shopping centers. It can be completely free to do, or you can go straight to Geocaching Nerd level right off the bat and subscribe for a year like we did. Subscribing gives you more geocaches to find, and who knows what else, but for $6 a month or $30 for the year I figured we'd just go ahead and do the year.
Ok, let me back up to the basics.
Alright. So, to do this activity you need the following:
- A GPS enabled phone (or you can use a compass I think, but I have no experience using that method so I'm not going to talk about that here)
- A pen
- The Geocaching App
- Some little trinkets to leave behind if you plan on taking something for yourself
You download the app and sign up for an account. (This is free). Once you've done that, you are taken to a map within the app which should show your exact location. From there, you just scroll around to see if any geocaches are located near you. The circles that are dark green are geocaches that are available for you to find. If there are any light green dots, you are using the free version and those light colored ones are only available to super nerd Geocaching Subscribers, like myself.
Find one that looks appealing to you and click on it. You can see the difficulty, terrain and actual size of the container you are looking for here. If it all sounds like something you'd like to attempt, push the start button and the app gives you the mileage or the number of feet you are away from that geocache.
A compass is also shown on the screen, with a red indicator at which direction you need to maneuver to get closer to the cache. Sometimes you can tell that the geocache is going to be off of this trail that you are walking on, but since the trail may weave back and forth you may actually walk against the direction it tells you to go in at some points. Does that make sense? Ultimately, you are trying to get close enough to the geocache that your phone buzzes and tells you:
Once you get to within 30 feet of the geocache they give you a warning that the GPS may not be accurate to the exact location. Like, once you find it it may say you are still 15 feet away, for example, just because GPS isn't that accurate. In my experience though, I'd say it has been pretty accurate from 5-10 feet out.
So from there? You just look! We have a whopping 8 finds under our belt, but there are at least 2 others (maybe 3? I can't remember.) that we never found. When Charley and I went geocaching last weekend though, I did feel like we were getting much better at this than we were when we started. You sort of start to learn what to look for.
A few times it has been hidden under some sticks that are placed just so at the base of a tree.
Sometimes they take advantage of little hidey holes in trees to hide the cache.
That one above was really cool - the hole was in the middle of the tree where two trunks split apart, and instead of having you stick your hand down there to get it - because ew snakes and bugs and such! - they had a rope tied to it wrapped around the tree so it rested right in the hole. You just pulled it out by the rope and dropped it back in when you were done.
And some are even in just plain sight. This one was called "Bienvenidos" and was a fake rock next to a welcome stone at a nature museum. Turned the rock upside down and voila!
So what do you get when you find it? Mostly just the pleasure of finding hidden treasure! But, some geocaches are large enough for little trinkets too. So the idea is to bring something to leave, and to take one thing with you as well if you wish. This one here was the best we've seen so far for actual stuff to trade. Stickers and little toys and magnets and all kinds of things.
If you are stuck wandering around and just not finding the darn thing, there are sometimes hints you can use on the actual app, and if those don't help, you can go through the comments of those that have found it before you and try to pick up hints from those. Sometimes there are even pictures attached to the comment which can at least point you to the right tree or right area. We definitely used the heck out of those for our first few finds.
Another 'hint' is to pay attention to the name of the geocache. Some have boring names that don't mean a thing, but often times they DO mean something. Like the "Bienvenidos"one I mentioned before was right next to a welcome stone, and this one below was called "Sea Turtle" which didn't really help until we actually found it and saw a turtle (not even a sea turtle!) on top of the box but worth mentioning as well. Sometimes the titles help, sometimes not so much.
The last thing to do is to sign the log. Many geocaches are too small to include a pen in them also so it is usually a good idea to bring your own if you want to sign them. Sign, date, put everything back in the container and hide it just as you found it. Done!
On the app, you then log your find (or log that you didn't find it) and it places a smiley face over the green dot so you can remember which ones you've found and which you haven't. It is important to log those you don't find also...one of our first ones that we didn't find we searched and searched and searched. Finally we gave up and logged our DNF (did not find) and moved on. I went back to check on it a week or two later and saw that many people after us had the same results so they took the listing off the site completely until the owner could go back and either reset it or hide one again in the same spot. Made me feel much better that others didn't find it either!
That's really it, I think! I know there's tons more that you can do with these but this is all we are doing so far and it is perfect for Charley's age. We enjoy it, it's free to try, and it gets us out and walking. Of course we completely forgot to look for any last week on vacation, but that's usually when we look for them - makes it easy to explore a new place. Let me know if you try/have tried it! Give me all the tips!