Technology has always played a huge role in the exploration of our planet, but did you know you can use something as ordinary as your smartphone to participate in a real-world, outdoor treasure hunt? Welcome to the world of geocaching, a sport which requires players to seek out hidden “caches” using the Global Positioning System (GPS). According to geocaching.com, the world’s premiere website on the game, there are currently over 2.1 million active geocaches and 6 million geocachers worldwide.
Chuck Vanlue is an Oregon resident and a volunteer for geocaching.com. Among his duties are making sure new geocaches are appropriately placed and maintained.
He lights up whenever he talks about the sport: “What’s nice about GPS and geocaching is not only can kids participate online, in their environment, but it also gets them outside enjoying nature.
“Years ago, when I first started geocaching, you had to buy a specific GPS device. Today, with a smartphone, you can get an app just like thousands of other apps. Not only will this allow you to look up geocaches, but it allows you to use your smartphone to find them. So you can be a geocacher immediately – no extra charge.”
Caches can be any object of almost any size, from as small as your thumb to as large as a steamer trunk. The cache should be sealed inside a weatherproof container along with a log book so finders can record their discovery. (Geocaching.com also allows you to sign logs online!) Good geocaching etiquette means that if you remove something from the cache, you replace it with something else. The object doesn’t have to be fancy. A pretty rock or a hand-written note might suffice. And a responsible geocacher will always replace the container exactly where and how he or she found it.
Not everything you search for in geocaching is an artificially-placed object, however. Earthcaches are geological formations which require the player to learn a little natural history along the way. Chuck notes that there are multiple earthcaches along the Oregon Coast, some dealing with landforms, others with natural phenomena such as tsunami.
“For me, the allure of geocaching is multi-fold,” Chuck said. “I like to do things that get me outdoors. But a bigger part of it is doing something secret and not getting caught… the treasure hunt part.”
For those planting geocaches, part of the fun may also be in making the search as challenging as possible. The creative geocacher may suspended a “treasure” from a tree limb, stick it to the back of a metal sign with magnets, or hide it under a covered bridge. As long as the cache can be safely and legally accessed by players, anything goes.
After finding a cache, many players will share their experiences online. Maybe they had to find the cache during a driving rainstorm? Or hike up a steep mountain to retrieve it? Or spotted a herd of elk while out searching? The outdoor adventure is the true allure of the game.