Recently, my Littles and I were foraging through some woods out in the wilds of Newton County in search of a geocache. Doesn’t that already sound like something wonderful? Just say it with me one time…. “geo-cassshhhhh.” See? Doesn’t that word just reek of adventure and good times? If you don’t know the first thing about geocaching, that’s OK. I’m here to tell you a thing or two and why I think it’s one of the most awesome activities a family can do together. Geocaching is like treasure hunting made even more fabulous because anyone can do it. You just need a GPS and a sense of fun. Most people have the first and are discovering the second.
When families geocache, they use global positioning systems to locate a hidden treasure or “cache.” Once you’ve made the initial investment in a handheld GPS, geocaching is a free activity. Inside caches, you’ll find low priced trinkets with a log book. You locate the cache, take an item, leave one, sign the log book, and congratulate one another on a job well done. While most caches are placed in rural settings, there are hundreds upon hundreds in and around Atlanta, for example. Presently, there are some 650,000 caches hidden all over the world. You can learn about these caches on any number of websites. Just go to www.geocaching.com to get started. You can register for a free account. You’ll be happy to find that Newton County has scads of caches just waiting to be discovered.
You can search for caches by keyword or zip code on these websites. You’ll see there are different kinds of caches. My Littles like to find the ones hidden by other kids. That’s especially exciting for them. There are trackable objects like geocoins and travel bugs as well as multi-step puzzles. You can just start out with the basics though and be engaged in and around Newton County for months and months.
Online cache descriptions include exact coordinates of the cache, what type of cache it is (most often a water proof container filled with those low priced “treasures” and a log book), a rating of how difficult the terrain is or how difficult it is to find the cache, and clues as well as comments from other folks who have already found it. In the beginning, I was choosing which cache we’d seek, but now, my Littles like to be a part of the process. The more experience we get the more difficult and advanced they like for the caches to be.
No matter what type of cache you begin with, once you arrive at the cache location, searching for it is the most thrilling part of the journey. It can be anywhere around the area of those coordinates. If you’re in a high visibility area like say, our downtown square, you’ll get a lot of funny looks, but that’s just part of the fun! My Littles are just beside themselves with anticipation when they have to start really searching, searching for the cache.
It’s important to remember that there are geocaching dos and don’ts, a little cache etiquette, if you will. Be sure to sign the logbook. That’s pretty thrilling for the cache owner to see who all has come a’callin’ to their cache. If you take something from the cache, you should leave something. The search for the cache is a thrilling adventure, but for my Littles, it’s the treasures that awaits them and, believe me, it can be anything. The cache starts with a certain number of items, and then items are traded as the cache is discovered. It’s anyone's guess what you’ll find.
Some folks like to leave something that really represents who they are, a signature item. We like to leave little handmade crafts like a finger-woven scarf or a peace sign made from twigs we find in our woods out back. My middle-Little likes to leave little manga drawings she has made and my little-Little thinks when she leaves a beaded necklace for someone, she is really giving them quite the treasure. Sometimes, the cache has like items for trade, like the Harry Potter theme we went after or toy dinosaurs, for example. Just be sure you bring something for each child to put in if each child is taking something out. You don’t want to leave something that will spoil (like food) or anything illegal (I know- who would even do that, right?). Here’s our family’s rule about what we leave in the cache — we always leave something “better” than we take. We make sure to trade up and think of the next family who will find the cache. Being nice feels pretty darn good, friends.
Be sure to return the cache to the location where you found it, properly sealing the container. We take the “leave it better than you find it” approach to just about everything we do, so we make sure we pick up any litter we’ve found during the whole journey. Be sure you never leave any litter of your own and that you aren’t trespassing in your quest for a cache. Caches shouldn’t be on private property.
What I like most about geocaching with my family is that it pulls us out of our comfort zones. I mean, most kids wouldn’t say, “Please, take me on a hike today, Mom!” If you say you’re geocaching though, they are all on board and ready to go. The idea of a treasure hunt is universally appealing to kids of all ages, including the adult variety. Now, don’t go telling your kids this, but geocaching is educational. You’ll learn about geography, map reading, history, science, geology and so much more. Even if word gets out that some learning might be going on when you’re geocaching, I doubt your kids will kick up a fuss. Kids are outdoors, spending time with their families, and they won’t even care that they’re learning stuff, too. Geocaching just may be the best thing for families since the invention of the Slip n’ Slide.
Beth McAfee-Hallman lives in Covington and can be reached at mamabee@OneFabulousMama.com.