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Geocaching: a high-tech treasure hunt

By Melissa Lowrie
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Photos by Melissa Lowrie

Melissa Lowrie
Melissa Lowrie

Need a little exercise during the holiday season? Do the kids have energy to burn? How does an outdoor technology-based treasure hunt grab you?

Welcome to the world of geocaching.

Everyone has a smartphone or a GPS these days ... if not, you probably know someone who does.

This technology is key to the hunt, so make sure your batteries are charged ... but wait, I’m ahead of myself.

What is geocaching?

In a nutshell, geocaching is a treasure hunt. Members of the geocaching community have hidden caches all over the place—literally. Caches can be large or small with little prizes or just a sign-in log. The cache can be stickers, gum, a plastic army man or anything that can fit in the container. If you take something, be prepared to replace it with something else. Check out geocaching.com for a short instructional video.

CanoeKids
  Caches can look like this or can be a different size or shape altogether.
Canoe Kids
  You never know where the hunt will take you.
  CanoeKids
Looking high and low for a cache.

We used my iPhone—and trust me here—you need to pay for the $10 geocaching app should you choose to try this activity. The free app will only frustrate you and your group.

So, on a recent sunny day, the Canoe Kids and I set out to find a cache. It’s best to have a navigator and a driver; you can also walk or bike, depending on your location. (Being a driver while looking at a map is a bad plan in general ... please don’t try.)

Wherever you are, click “Find Nearby Geocaches” on your app, and it will pull up caches in your area. Currently, I’m told there is a cache called Fire Light a scant 395 feet from where I sit in the Smoke Signals office. It was hidden in April 2006 but was last found Nov. 5, 2012.  Always chose the caches with recent logs; otherwise your group may be hunting for a cache that is no longer there.

Recent logs, hints and descriptions are all within the app’s cache information. Once you find (or don’t find) the cache, you can easily post a log: Found it! Didn’t find it, or Needs Maintenance. You can add a comment, but don’t give anything away that would spoil the hunt.

If you are strategic with your planning, this is a fun outing. Only hunt for caches with recent activity, and if your kids are younger than 7- or 8-years old, they will probably get bored. I don’t have a teenager yet, but I’d think they might enjoy the challenge. Aren’t they generally glued to phones anyway?

On our hunt, we found three of six caches we attempted. In the spirit of full disclosure, I attempted to use the free app before upgrading during the day ... the hunts were much improved with the additional information the paid app provided. And, since I’m disclosing information, the above use of “we found” should be changed to “my 8-year-old found.” I was merely the driver.

We hunted from the car, then, when we got close, we parked and walked the rest of the way. For a total walking experience, check out gastateparks.org/Parks-GeoTour. There are currently 43 Georgia State Parks participating in geocaching.

The idea for geocaching began in the year 2000 by a “GPS enthusiast” or, perhaps more accurately, a computer geek (the name-calling written with love, I promise). Through word-of-mouth, articles and accidental discoveries, there are 1,934,791 active geocaches today and more than 5 million geocachers worldwide, according to geocaching.com.

Geocaching is a cool concept and it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. Whether you’re at grandma’s or home for the holidays, you can hunt anywhere. Wherever you end up, have a great time and enjoy the holidays with your Canoe Kids.

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