Hidden Treasure in Your Neighborhood (aka: Geocaching)

Did you know that buried treasures are hidden all around your community? In your local parks, beside creeks, along dusty trails, and even in crowded shopping mall parking lots. In every community, and all around the world, there are hidden caches just waiting for you to come along and find them. All you need is a GPS device, and you, too, can join the great treasure hunt.

Geocache Box full of treasure

A traditional geocache, filled with hidden treasures

Geocaching has been one of our family hobbies for around ten years. The sport itself is fairly new, though it is related to Letterboxing, an activity which has been around since the 19th century. To begin the search, you must have a GPS Device, or a cell phone with GPS capability. For years, our family has used a Garmin eTrex Legend Cx.

Garmin eTrex cx Legend

It is not as fancy as some of the newer, pricier devices on the market today, but it works well. Lately, we’ve begun to use the official Groundspeak geocaching app for iPhone. It costs around $10, but it is very user-friendly and convenient.

Groundspeak app

Once you have a GPS device, you are ready to begin the search. You can look up hidden caches on the Geocaching.com website, or on your app. Read the details before you choose, as some caches are harder than others, and there are different types of caches. Some are mini-caches, which are tiny containers, like film canisters, which contain no more than a log book. Some are historical or nature caches, which do not involve a hidden container, but lead you to an important monument, or statue, or a breathtaking view of nature.

Fun for the whole family

Our favorite is the traditional cache. This are usually a camouflaged coffee can or other sealed container. Inside, you will find a log book and pencil, so that you can sign your name. There are also various treasures within, which you are welcome to take, but you must leave a treasure in its place. You never know what you will find — sometimes McToys, or golden dollars, or a ball to toss around with your kids. Some of the caches have a theme, like Disney paraphernalia, pet toys, or holiday items. Occasionally, you may find a “Travel Bug,” or a hitchhiking keychain with an imprinted code and a traveling goal. You can log in to report your find, and then move the travel bug to a new cache and follow its progress online. Our family has our first travel bug — a medieval Playmobil soldier who has managed to free himself from a gang of vicious pirates and is hoping to hitchhike a ride to Playmobil Fun Park in Palm Beach, Florida. We’ll place him in a cache and see how it goes.

Our Travel Bug, "Sir Henry," (center) surrounded by pirates.

Our Travel Bug, “Sir Henry,” (center) surrounded by pirates.

After finding the cache, trading treasures, and signing the log book, it is customary to log in online and report your find, as well, and comment on the cache (though I’ll admit that we have often neglected to do this step. We’re trying to improve).

One thing that our family has not yet done is to hide our own cache. Anyone can do it, though there are certain guidelines that must be followed. All hidden items must be family friendly, for example. And you can’t hide dangerous items like weapons or explosives, nor drugs, alcohol, food, etc. It can be helpful to get permission from land owners before placing a cache, though I’m not sure how common this is.

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

Ready to join the great treasure hunt? Just head over to the Geocaching website and create your free account. While you’re there, look us up. Our screen name is Solfire4. And who knows…maybe one day, you will help our family’s travel bug to travel across the country or around the world.

Official geocaching symbol

Remember to follow principles of Leave No Trace while hunting for caches. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave nature better than you found it.

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