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Curricula and Learning Links - Geography

Geocaching

by Betty in Vegas

Let's go grab a cache! Cache in, Trash out! Is your GPS set? Watch out for muggles!

Oh yes, we geocache! It's a nearly free (once you own a GPS unit) way to spend great family time, and to get fit at the same time!

You begin by purchasing or borrowing a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) unit, and you let your fingers to the walking (using the keyboard) to www.geocaching.com. You think up a great family name (ours is FamilyCache,) and you begin a search for caches in your area, or the area you are visiting. The easiest search method is by zip code. The site will provide for you the GPS coordinates for nearby caches, and often, a hint or two for each cache. . You can read posts from people who attempted to find that cache and did or didn't find it.

This information can be downloaded into your GPS unit, or simply printed out on a printer. We keep these in a small notebook, so that we always have a few that we haven't found yet that we can do on a boring day. Take your GPS unit, a pencil or pen, and some tiny trading items (things such as tiny cars, or old jewelry, fun pens, expanding towels or other fun items. These things do not have to be expensive, we have found some great trading items at the dollar store or in the bottom of toy boxes!

Then you take the coordinates, type them into your GPS unit, and try to find the cache.

Caches are containers that can be as small (or smaller than) a matchbox, and contain only a log to sign, or can be the size of an ammo can. Very small caches with only a log are called micros. Generally, however, caches will be large enough to include little fun treasures, penny candy things--such as pencils, things you'd get in a gum ball machine, stickers, etc. We often leave Vegas chips on the road, I got my actual Swiss Army knife from a cache and once, we found a working watch! We bring shells back from Oregon to put in caches in Vegas--that's a fun find in the desert! The only item that you would never leave in a cache is something dangerous to a child, since kids often geocache, or something with food in it. We don't want to attract animals to the cache!

Caches often have themes. Some are called travel bug hotels (see below) and others may have one type of item. In Oregon, there is a cache for trading military memorabilia, and in Nevada, there is one for trading state quarters!

You can also find geocoins (which are numbered and tracked) or travel bugs, which are little metal ID tags with numbers, that are attached to some cute object like cute key rings. You can take those, and the idea is to place them in a cache far away--so we try to get those when we are traveling. Don't pick up a travel bug or geocoin if you are not going to be able to place them quickly. The owners are tracking the movements of these items, and it is distressing to have your travel bug go missing for a long period of time.

When you find the cache and take your fun item, leave something else for others to find. Then sign the log with your geocaching name, date, and you can say TFTC (Thanks for the cache) if you'd like! When you go home, log into www.geocaching.com and list your find, what you took, what you left, and a note about what fun you had! Be sure to watch for muggles (no cachers) as many of them would take the items in the cache and destroy it...so stealth is always important!

Some caches are multi-caches, which means you find the first one using the coordinates, but then you have to follow instructions there (or figure out a puzzle using information there) to find the next cache!

We use geocaching for PE, we use it for math (one son adds up how far a travel bug has gone and it's average travel per year.) It's great logic, too. Caches have taken us off the beaten path to hikes we would have never tried. We have been down Alice's Rabbit Hole and we have searched out a stray cat! (Which turned out to be an old Caterpillar earth mover!) You'll see new things, explore and learn about areas you might never have known existed without a caching adventure.

For safety's sake, always take water with you when caching, and it is a good idea to have a small first aid kit in a hip pack. Never continue on a hunt for a cache that looks dangerous. There are too many to find to put yourself or your children into a spot you might find difficult to get out of or that might not be safe. Be careful when poking around under fallen trees as snakes and other critters also like the places that caches may hide within.

Geocaching.com is the only real link for cache locations. It is where you go to find caches, or to post a cache, if you'd like to create and maintain your own! You can also purchase travel bugs and other fun geocaching gear at the site.