On treasure maps of old, X marked the spot. Today’s treasure might be marked N 41 51.649 W 085 46.433.
Confused? Then you probably haven’t heard about geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing).
Geocaching, a modern-day treasure hunt activity, uses global positioning systems (GPS), handheld radio-based navigation systems that give a location’s longitude and latitude “address” with coordinates. For example, N 41 51.649 W 085 46.433 will lead you to Camp Tamarack in Michigan.
To play, someone must first hide a cache, or container, with an object inside. The hider gives the seeker the item’s coordinates, and the seeker uses GPS to find the item. “It sounds simple, but it can be quite hard,” says Erik Sherman, who wrote the book “Geocaching: Hike and Seek With Your GPS.” “The GPS signal will get you within about 40 feet of the spot, but some people are fiendishly clever in how they hide the cache.”
Caches have been hidden in all kinds of places, such as the heart of Manhattan, Antarctica and even 120 feet under water.
THE FUN IS IN THE FINDING
Bringing home the treasure might be the goal, but “the real fun is the search itself,” Sherman says.
And when you find a cache and take a trinket, you must leave a trinket for the next finder.
Life Scout Khris Brown, 17, of Troop 963, Valparaiso, Ind., has participated in geocaching with his troop.
“My favorite part is hiding the caches,” he says. “It’s fun to see how long it takes the other Scouts to find it.”
Geocaching is a great way to hone your navigation skills.
“Bring a compass with you because GPS units can have trouble under heavy tree cover,” Sherman advises. “And be sure to remember where you entered the area so you can get back out.”
REMEMBER THE RULES
Avid geocacher Dr. Mary Stevens, who mapped out the first geocaching course for a national Scout jamboree, says there are four basic geocaching rules:
1. Safety: Stay far away from traffic or railroad crossings. Don’t place a cache higher than six feet or require dangerous climbing or swimming to retrieve it. Avoid hiding caches near electrical switch boxes. And always enforce the buddy system.
2. Respect the environment: Never bury a cache in the ground. Avoid sensitive ecosystems. Don’t place caches in archaeological or historical sites. Don’t deface any object.
3. Respect private property: Get permission from landowners to hide caches. Caches are not allowed on national park lands, national wildlife reserves, military installments and school properties.
4. Be a positive ambassador for Scouting by following the Scout Oath and Law.
For the best online geocache information in the world, check out geocaching.com and its excellent frequently-asked-questions page.