Last Saturday morning we headed from our campsite to nearby Mine Kill State Park with vague plans to hike. Instead, serendipity led us smack into a “Learn to Geocache” event. Two young parks workers waited hopefully at a picnic table with a huge box of donuts, fresh coffee, handouts providing details on six “beginner” caches hidden just for this event, and absolutely no one else in the vicinity. I’d actually read about the event (because, as you may have noticed, that’s what I do), and I’d suggested it to Cute W as a possible family activity. But his response was lukewarm, and I was afraid that the kids might get bored with a presentation, so we’d dismissed it.
Of course, it would have been rude to ignore the rangers entirely, so we said good morning, heard their come-and-geocache sales pitch, and after they were kind to our kids and tolerant of Cute W’s smart-assery, there was simply no way not to participate. Ditching them would have felt as mean as, I don’t know, kicking a puppy or something.
The girls and I have been letterboxing, and geocaching is similar, except that instead of using a series of clues, you enter coordinates into a GPS device and follow its directions. Many car GPS devices might not be sensitive enough to use, but there are also clever phone apps.
For letterboxing, participants sign a logbook and usually make a signature stamp and collect a unique letterbox stamp as proof that the box was found. Geocachers sign a logbook as well, and they might find some sort of token or treasure to take with them. If you do, you’re supposed to leave something of equal or greater value in its place.
Our rangers, whom Cute W kept calling Ash B’Dash and Just-An-Intern-Vinny, loaned us devices. Some devices look just like a compass, while others look more like an in-your-vehicle GPS, showing the line you should follow to reach your destination.
Everyone pretty much loved it. The girls had no particular patience for explanations about geocaching, but they were excited to go on a treasure hunt. Cute W was surprised that he enjoyed it as much as he did: the tech aspect, and the idea that the girls were learning about coordinates and how to use a compass at the same time appealed to him.
In geocaching, the GPS coordinates get you to a place, but a little hunting is still required. Additional hints or coaching may or may not be included, and details like what type of container to look for help. Ash b’Dash and Just-an-Intern-Vinny followed along offering occasional coaching and helpful advice, like reminding the girls to also use common sense and helpful trails instead of always following the GPS directly, and letting us know where not to look for geocaches (like buried in the ground or in any structure, like a rock wall).
J was a geocaching savant. On their first geocache, M began by walking in the complete wrong direction. J started out following her (something she’s been doing practically every day since she was born), but soon wised up and took her own path. Of the six caches, J found five of them. At one point, M reached the cache area earlier and all the adults were silently rooting for her, and somehow J walked up and just. . . saw the cache while M continued to hunt.
The girls were both excited with their final cache, where a variety of little tchotchkes awaited them. Cute W tried to hold them back to one item each, but there is no restraining children when free stuff with logos is available. I made room in our backpack. We’d had tons of fun, and we still hadn’t started our hike! More information on our camping adventures soon.
Part of the reason behind this “Learn to Geocache” event is that the New York State Parks are doing a 2012 Geocache Challenge. You can get a special Geocache Challenge Passport and try to find all of the new geocaches in the parks and stamp your passport. Other state parks have “Learn to Geocache” events to help you get started. It sounds like a great idea to me, especially if you have the goal of getting your kids active out in nature but you don’t quite have it in you to become an Adirondack Forty-Sixer (yet), this is a family-friendly adventure.
To learn more about geocaching in general, click here for geocaching.com’s Geocaching 101. For more information about geocachers right here in the Capital District, check out New York Capital Region Geocachers.