It all started in Oregon in the first year of the new millennium.
The U.S. government removed the selective availability for global positioning satellites six years before expected. The GPS receivers mounted on our dashboards were suddenly 10 times more accurate. People working in the GPS industry began to consider what fun applications the new accuracy might offer.
A man named Dave Ulmer was a computer analyst who wondered how accurate the new satellite signals might be. He loaded a bucket with prizes and hid it in the woods near Beavercreek, Oregon. He posted the GPS coordinates on a GPS users’ website. Within a week, two people had found the bucket. Others began hiding their own prize stashes and logging their finds.
The treasure hunting activity grew exponentially. As enthusiasts created more and more caches, a website and then computer and phone applications were developed. Rules of the “game” sprang up.
Now, geocaching has spread over the globe. There are different types of caches, but all include a waterproof container, a logbook and a writing utensil. They enter the GPS coordinates on a website like http://Geocaching.com. When someone finds the cache, they sign the logbook and go to the app to log the find online.
The original experiment with a prize stash carried over into the typical geocache. The rule is, “If you take something, leave something of equal or greater value.” Other caches use trackable trinkets where “treasure hunters” are expected to move a trinket from one geocache to another and log the serial number online.
I first heard of geocaching 10 years ago when my publisher friend in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Larry Foreman, explained his new hobby. The activity has evolved so that caches are hidden in places with easy public access that are special to the cache owner. I could hardly believe the awesomeness of the concept. Was it a club you had to join? No. Were there special devices to buy? No, the GPS on an average cellphone is sufficient. All you need is an app and a supply of some sort of trinket to leave behind in the stash.
The website Geocaching.com jokes that if you’re afraid of being “geo-tracked” when using the satellite signals, place a piece of tin-foil on your head to protect yourself from alien gamma rays.
I first tried it myself with my son-in-law, Walt Bowers. He had the app and knew of two geocaches in a nature park near their home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
We piled out of the car on the crisp autumn day and donned our tin-foil hats — just kidding. Walt oriented himself to the GPS and led us down a trail with leaves fluttering onto our shoulders and painting the ground. We crossed a creek and then climbed along the shore for a short distance. His phone seemed to indicate a pile of boulders. We spread out, searching the cracks and crevasses. Eureka!
The cache was a green ammo box. Inside was the notebook for logging our name, a cheap watch, a small compass, some plastic rings and a tiny screwdriver for repairing eyeglasses. A similar assortment in any other context would seem like junk, but finding it the way we did imbued it with a special magic.
The second geocache we hunted that day was hidden somewhere in or around a 10-foot cliff face. Though we scoured the area within 30 feet, we never found it. Walt went onto the website and registered our unsuccessful attempt as a “no find.” If several people register “no find” for a given cache, the owner will know to go and check on it or report it as removed.
Other than the box of trinkets or trackable bits of flotsam, there are also eco-caches where people may be asked to remove litter or noxious weeds when they find the GPS location.
Nothing potentially dangerous, nor food or highly scented items are allowed to protect the treasure from animals or insects.
Anybody can do it. It takes nothing more than a cellphone with GPS and the downloaded app. It’s a high-tech game that takes people away from their computer for a breath of fresh air.
Started in America, God bless it.