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Natural Awakenings National

The Hunt for Buried Treasure: Geocaching with Man’s Best Friend

Jun 01, 2010 03:00AM ● By Patricia Komar

Summer trailheads can tempt even the most diehard computer fans to push away from desktops, lace up hiking boots, pack dog treats and trek into the great outdoors to become their own search engines in pursuit of hidden treasures. What they’re after is the next geocache. Geo means “Earth” and cache is French for “a hiding place to temporarily store items.” This year, celebrates its 10th anniversary, with nearly 2 million Earth-friendly hunters seeking a current total of more than a million active caches around the world.

A geocache searcher ventures forth equipped with a handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver, a set of designated longitude and latitude coordinates, trail descriptions and cryptic clues posted on the website. New Jersey geocacher Jeff Smith also takes along his Scottish terrier mix. “What fascinates me is that there’s a goal to the hike,” he grins. “My pooch loves it.”

But he adds that it’s important to be a bit secretive and avoid attracting attention from non-geocachers who may become alerted to the presence of treasure. “Bringing a dog can be helpful; after all, you’re ‘just out walking your dog.’”

The fast-growing sport started in 2000, when Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, filled a container with software, money and a video, book, cassette recorder and can of black-eyed peas, as well as a slingshot handle and a logbook with the notation “GPS Stash #1.” He hid it in the Oregon woods, made note of the coordinates using his GPS, posted it on a website and called it “The Great American GPS Stash Hunt.” His only rule: “Take something, leave something.”

The idea took off like wildfire and the word stash soon changed to cache. Delve deeper and we discover the story of a 19th century traveling businessman who left his calling card hidden in a jar in the English countryside with instructions that whoever found it should add his own card. Soon, people began planting boxes with self-addressed letters or postcards as their calling cards. The next traveler who came along and found one of the boxes would take the letter, mail it and leave a letter in its place. Sounds a bit like “Who’s got mail?” (See

To get started as a geocacher, simply log onto the Geocaching website, type in a location and sort through the many hits of hidden caches. Caches can be concealed anywhere, from wilderness areas to inner-city parks. Forms also vary, from traditional (ammo can or Lock & Lock brand divided tray) or  micro-caches (film canister, breath mint tin) to theme or benchmark caches and virtual caches that designate a special point of interest, such as a dazzling sunset overlook, secret grove or panoramic view.

Earth caches promote education; visitors learn about geological processes, resource management and scientific investigation procedures. Mystery and puzzle caches challenge searchers by offering puzzles, problems or mathematical equations to be solved in order to determine the coordinates.

Items hidden in caches may be geocoins, trinkets or dog toys. Some include a “travel bug”—a metal dog tag with a unique tracking number stamped below the picture of a bug. The number can be tracked on the geocache site and by definition, a bug must hop from cache to cache.

After finding a cache, there are three basic rules to follow:
1.  Sign the logbook, and if you take an item, leave an item of equal or greater value.
2.  Return the cache to its original hiding place.
3.  CITO, Cache In Trash Out.  Geocachers often participate in cleaning up the environment by bringing a trash bag and picking up the occasional litter. For coordinated worldwide cleanup events, log onto

George Hornberger, an avid geocacher from Vienna, Virginia, echoes a common sentiment: “I’m a kid at heart,” he says, “so hunting for hidden treasure using grown-up technological toys is perfect for me. I’ve been introduced to several nearby parks and natural areas that I’d never visited until going to hunt for a cache there. The moment of joy when my family finds the cache we’re hunting for is very satisfying.”

Geocaching helps indoor entertainment junkies put the active back into interactive.

Patricia Komar is a freelance writer in British Columbia, Canada. She, her husband and their Lab/border collie and cairn terrier dogs are avid geocachers. Connect at [email protected].

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