Saturday, January 26, 2013

Geocaching - A free way to get outside and explore your own backyard or a new location with a technological twist!

“Adventure Days” have always been our way to make sure we devote at least one full day to our boys each week.  Sometimes we travel and check out new spots, sometimes we stay close to home and make our own fun.  One of our favorite adventures is to go Geocaching. is the best site to visit to get started and learn more.  It is free to join (there is a fee subscription available and some caches are only available to “premium” members – but we have never felt like we missed out with the free option.  They define geocaching as: “a free real-word outdoor treasure hunt.”  Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.


For us, this has been one of the best ways to explore places we didn’t even know existed.  We have discovered cool parks, wildlife refuges, nature trails, wooded areas, historical points of interest and so much more.  There are over 1,981,183 active geocaches and over 5 million geocachers worldwide.  When visiting a new city we will look for geocaches to take us to places we wouldn’t be able to find on our own.  Our kids love it, because they are hunting for real treasure.  Geocaches can range from something as small as a key holder or film canister with just a log book to sign, to as big as a 5 gallon bucket filled with prizes!  The rule is that if you take something you must leave something, so the fun continues.  The variety of treasure is just as neat as the place we might visit.


Geo (meaning earth) and Cache (meaning storage) became a sport in 2000 when the government removed selective availability from the 24 satellites orbiting the earth.  If you want all of the techy lingo on how GPS works, this is a PowerPoint created for my students as they utilized GPS technology (and some geocaching) in the classroom.  Some of the pictures are from Dr. Steve Brown, an extension expert, and GPS guru who has had some pretty amazing experiences, including tracking glacier movement and space shuttle explosion debris using GPS technology.


Geocaching does not require much in the way of specialized equipment.  Of course there are receivers used for surveying and less recreational purposes that cost thousands of dollars, but we started with a very easy to use Garmin eTrex Legend system that you can get at retailers like Walmart for approximately $100.  As technology is ever-changing, we find ourselves using the eTrex less and turning to our smartphones more.
                Garmin eTrex Legend - 2.4 in. Handheld GPS Receiver

Using a free smartphone app, c:geo, we can connect directly to with our wireless data plan.  This has been one of the neatest applications, as we can pull it up anywhere on the planet and instantly see nearby caches.  With our smartphones we can access maps, see where we are, see icons of the cache on a map and go directly to that spot.  If we need to stretch our legs on a drive, we can see what is available on our route, what type of cache it is, and the display converts to a rotating compass that the boys can follow to find their hidden treasure.


Recently, we used c:geo in our hometown and learned a bit of history we would not have learned anywhere else.  The page for the cache, “Emporia Santa Fe Railroad Roundhouse,” did not just explain where the cache was and how to find it, but included a detailed history of the demolished rail house that once stood on this location, along with the history of the railroad as it once existed there.


We have even hidden our own cache on “Our 7 Acres,” (must be logged in as a free user to see the link) in an interesting container we found while "picking" at my husbands parents house.  It went live on January 1, 2013, and 25 days later, 4 people have found it!  We are pleased with this, because we are off the beaten path a bit.   My students hid one within the city limits of our former town, and it has been found 156 times since 2009, from people as far away as Sweden! 


Another fun component involves “travel bugs” where a trackable device has a goal to travel to certain places or collect certain items.  It is fun to check its tracking number on the geocaching website and see where it has been and all it has seen.  We helped move one along in its trek to visit all Big 12 football stadiums, after we took a pic at our alma mater!

Try it out for your own adventure.  If you have any questions on how to get started post a comment – we love this sport and hope you will too!

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