Last weekend Ryan and I went on our first geocaching adventure and enjoyed a short hike at the Sears Kay Ruins. We had both heard about geocaching before, but learned more about it when we bought our new GPS for our recent bikepacking trip. The GPS had a geocache setting so we started researching to see what this geocaching was all about. When Ryan stumbled across the geocaching website he quickly realized that there were hundreds of caches right by our house. Driving to and from work each day he would point out general areas where caches were hidden, I politely brushed off his comments, but when I finally looked at the map myself I was amazed and intrigued!
Geocaching is a “high-tech” scavenger hunt where the participants load GPS coordinates of hidden caches into their device and then go searching for them. Here is a little video from geocaching.com to explain how it works.
The neat part about geocaching is once you arrive at the location you don’t really know what you are looking for. Most of the caches have little clues listed on the website along with a size classification. When we arrived at our first cache location we quickly realized that Ryan forgot to write down the clue so we had absolutely no idea what we were looking for or where to look. Luckily I was able to pull up the website on my iPhone and find the clue. Technology for the win! On our short hike we were able to find two caches before the sunset. One was hidden by a group of fourth graders on a field trip back in 2009 and the second cache was hidden in 2007. We were amazed that the log books in the caches hadn’t disintegrated, especially since one of the caches was missing its lid.
I really enjoyed geocaching, in my opinion it made our hike a little bit more exciting and adventurous. Plus, it seemed like a great activity for families, children or the elderly since it promotes exercise and the outdoors. I have to admit however, on the ride home I kept thinking, “that was really fun, but what about leave no trace? We shouldn’t really be burying Altoids tins everywhere, because isn’t that just littering?” There are virtual caches, or earth caches, that are more educational in nature and don’t involve a hidden cache. To claim the find you might have to answer a question about the site. Those caches are nice, especially for wilderness areas where minimizing impact is desired, but part of the fun in geocaching is getting to sign the log book and seeing how many other people have found the cache over the years. Burdened with this dilemma I decided to do some research and see what other people think of geocaching. The Maricopa County Regional Park System seemed to promote geo-caching, but warned geocachers to, “follow the guidelines posted on the national website at geocaching.com regarding placement of caches on public lands. Those guidelines include not placing caches on archeological sites [and] contacting the land manager before placing a cache on park property.” The National Park Service does not permit traditional geocaching with physical caches in the parks (at least not at the ones I looked up), but a lot of parks have earth caching or virtual caching programs. And finally I looked on the Leave No Trace website to see what they had to say and found this:
“The Center views geocaching as a fun and worthwhile recreational pursuit when done in accordance with land management agency regulations and with Leave No Trace in mind. As the popularity of geocaching has exploded over the past few years, land managers in many areas are seeing more impacts related to geocaching. However, because of geocaching, more and more people are enjoying the outdoors. Both people placing caches and people seeking caches need to research current regulations on geocaching for the areas where they wish to partake in this activity.”
So there you have it, clear as mud! The last thing I found in my research on the actual geocaching site, summed it up pretty well:
“When you go to hide a geocache, think of the reason you are bringing people to that spot. If the only reason is for the geocache, then find a better spot.”
I always enjoy reading about how people discover geocaching. Sounds like you had a lot of fun. Responsible geocachers practice the CITO method of “Cache In Trash OuT” and try to keep the environment a clean and safe place. There are even CITO geocaching events where people litter pick and do other projects that benefit the environment such as tree planting, fence mending etc.