Let me introduce a sweet little book titled “The Box that Watch Found,” created by Gertrude Chandler Warner. As the story opens, the Boxcar Children are playing Frisbee. It flies into the woods! While searching they find a treasure box with the note “Official Geocache. Congratulations! You found it!” but having never heard of geocaching they decide to take the box home to investigate. Fortunately, Ned Robertson and his son Andy were looking for that particular box and were able to introduce the Aldens to the activity. The rest of the book is an interaction between the children and other geocachers (plus TWO mysteries) as well as an introduction to how to do this and why you should and what to expect. This book was written in 2007 and everyone used a GPS device, yet much is the same now. In 2023, you can use a GPS device or an app on your smartphone. There are still geocaching groups and clubs and events. I believe the types of caches have expanded into educational caches and more but all-in-all, it’s the same game.
But what is geocaching? The “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” started on a GPS user’s group in May 2000. Someone hid the first cache, made a note of the GPS location — N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800 — and posted it to the group. Over the next week, people started finding it using their own GPS devices. Then they started hiding other caches. And like any other fun thing when humans are involved, it spread across the world. Organization happened, websites developed, and groups formed but always it comes down to that relationship between one person hiding a cache and other people finding it
“The Geocaching Handbook” by Layne Cameron may answer 99% of your questions. For me, it also pointed out something I’d never considered. Mark the location of your car on a map or make a note of the GPS coordinate so you can find it again, especially if you are hunting down a cache that is up a mountain or back in the wilds of a local forest. Hunting through the Grindstone Nature Area, I did get turned around trying to find a cache. I found the burr oak tree mentioned in the cache’s description and posted a picture of it as I logged my DNF (did not find) attempt. Layne Cameron has written a great guide with many useful suggestions. Also enjoy the forward by Dave Ulmer, the acknowledged founding father of geocaching.
The subtitle of “The Joy of Geocaching” is “How to Find Health, Happiness and Creative Energy Through a Worldwide Treasure Hunt” and that’s a lot of responsibility for a single book. Wow. But truth be told, I am using this activity to get out to walk and improve my health and happiness. And family does join me sometimes. I hope you enjoy this activity as much as I do. There are caches that will teach you things, caches that are puzzles, and caches that are just a good hunt in the woods (called bushwhacking, btw). Most will have a log of some sort and often will also have small prizes. You also should log them on the website geocaching.com and use their easy tracking system to know where you have been and where to go to next. It’s free to create an account and there are over 100 free caches within 10 miles of Columbia and 22 within 10 miles of Fulton to find. Many more if you join geocaching.com for a small fee.
There are many free-to-find caches that are family-friendly. There are very few wheelchair-accessible spots, unfortunately, although I’m working to change that. Many caches will send you off into the woods and wilderness so be sure to look at the difficulty and terrain indications on a cache’s page. Look at the descriptions as most cache owners will tell you if it’s a ‘stop and grab’ or if you have a hike ahead of you. If you have children who are really into finding caches with prizes, look for larger containers that might have something to trade. It’s a good thing to have items with you to put back into the cache: I bring thimbles with me.
We have added caches to the Holt Summit Public Library and to the Southern Boone County Public Library so that each of those libraries has one. The library caches are all of the mystery type. We wanted to add a cache on the bookmobile but found out that moving geocaches are no longer allowed. Wouldn’t that have been a fun catch, though?
If you would like to see geocaching in action, we are having a presentation at the Columbia Public Library on Wednesday, March 29. Explore Your World with Geocaching is for children at least 8 years old and for adults of all ages. Come learn about the basics and maybe hear a story or three. If you are reading this past this date, check our events calendar to see if we are offering it again.
There have been many changes to geocaching since Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote a book about it. Some are special types of geocaching that take advantage of some of the new functions of GPS devices. Adventure Labs and Wherigo caches turn your hunt into a game with puzzles, interactive challenges and more. I plan to attack the Quest for Glory: The Magic User on the first warm day I am free. And I hope you try this activity and explore some amazing places!
“That’s one of the fun things about geocaching. It takes you to places you might not have gone to otherwise.” ~ Gertrude Chandler Warner, “The Box that Watch Found”
Image credit: Geocaching, Bob n Renee via Flicker (license)