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There’s money in the terra?: On geocaching

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On Saturday, Feb. 25, Clare Conner and Katie Newman, both juniors at Saint Louis University, found themselves corralling chickens in Tower Grove Park. Were they fully engaged in learning where their food comes from? Not exactly; this is just one of the many adventures a person might come across while geocaching.

Geocaching is a global treasure hunt that was started in 2000 by a group of Global Positioning System enthusiasts, after a major upgrade in the civilianGPSsystem. This upgrade allowedGPSusers to pinpoint locations as much as 10 times more accurately than they had previously been able to, according to former president George Bush’s press release on May 1, 2000.

According to geocaching.com, Dave Ulmer, aGPSenthusiast, wanted to test the accuracy ofGPStechnology. He hid a navigationaltargetin the woods, posted theGPScoordinates on aGPSuser website and waited to see if someone would find it. His rules were: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”

After much dialogue, “geocaching” was chosen as the name for this new hobby. “Geo” was chosen to represent the global nature of the treasure hunt; the French word “cache” refers to a temporary hiding place.

Over the course of a few months, this experiment evolved into geocaching, and Jeremy Irish, aGPSenthusiast who ran across Ulmer’s project, created geocaching.com. Through the website, users can search for geocaches in their neighborhood, or post the coordinates of a geocache they have hidden.

Quite simply, a geocache is a hidden container. The simplest versions have a logbook or logsheet on which participants can write their names and the date. While many geocaches have pens, some of the smaller containers do not have a pen in them—so bring one along just in case.

“One of my favorite things about geocaching is seeing all the names of the people who have been there before you, especially if there is someone who has been there on the same day as you. When I go, there is usually someone who has been to each geocache in the area earlier in the day. One day I want to run into someone else who is geocaching,” Newman said.

Conner began geocaching about a year ago, after hearing about it from a family friend. “I’ve been geocaching in my hometown—Riverside, Ill., in Forest Park, around SLU and in Tower Grove Park. The first geocache I found was in the forest preserve near my hometown. It took a long time to find, and it was difficult because we only had a map, not aGPS, but it was so much fun. It was hidden in a tree; make sure to look in the obvious hiding places, as well as the not-so-obvious.”

As for the adventures one can have while geocaching, Conner said geocaching in Tower Grove Park was the most fun she had. “We got to do so many things—like find animal bones, corral chickens, climb trees—oh—and we found three geocaches. We were on our way to the last geocache when we passed the park ranger’s house, and there were four chickens outside. They had escaped from behind the fence! We went and knocked on the ranger’s door, but no one answered. We didn’t want to leave all the chickens trapped outside, so we guided them back behind the fence.”

Johnny Dolan, junior, has gone geocaching in St. Louis and Chicago, as well as in national parks and on hiking trails. Dolan and his family go geocaching on their biannual trips out west.

“My favorite geocaching adventure was in Glenwood Springs, Colo. We were at a family reunion on my mom’s side, and we convinced the entire family to come searching with us! There were about 25 of us all looking around for one little box; and when we finally found it, the entire family sat down together and we enjoyed looking through the many items in the box,” Dolan said.

As for geocaching in St. Louis, Dolan says there is no reason to roam far from campus. “The best hidden geocache in St Louis that I’ve found is in the park right across the street from The Fox! It took me awhile to find it once I got to the park, but the hiding spot is very clever, and—without spoiling it—essentially out in the open! The box was tiny, but the find was worth it!” said Dolan.

Another draw for geocaching participants is the promise of treasure: in larger geocaches, people often leave little trinkets, which can be swapped for something of equal or greater value.

“The best item I found while geocaching was on the same trip in Glenwood Springs. My uncle, my cousin and myself were hiking up a mountain, and I found a little bracelet with hearts all around. I still wear it, three years later. It’s a constant reminder of how much fun we had on the trip, and it can bring me back in an instant,” Dolan said.

Conner and Dolan both began geocaching by looking up coordinates online and doing their best, but both recommend having some form ofGPSto make the search easier.

As for advice to new geocachers, “Don’t give up! I don’t think I actually found a geocache until my 10th search. It’s important to remember that some are hidden very well and are worth the grueling search, but many of them have also been washed away or picked up by a lucky someone who doesn’t know what geocaching is, and just takes the entire cache,” Dolan said.

An easy way to avoid searching for a lost geocache is to check any comments on geocaching.com. While some geocaches might not be logged as missing, checking the site will reduce the chance of searching for a lost geocache.

While geocaching is fun in and of itself, you can never know: in addition to hunting treasure, you might pick up a new skill—corralling chickens, per se.

 

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