Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Jana Mathia
Gazette Staff 

My Two Cents: Geocaching provides family adventure


August 23, 2018 | View PDF

It can be hard to find activities to do with the kids while they are home for the summer that aren't expensive or take a lot of time; especially when you live in a rural Whitman County town already removed from so much. There are the staples: library programs, the pool, video games and playing in the yard.

Our family discovered a new one this year: geocaching. I had heard chit-chat about it, but when my eldest came home from a Whitman County Parks program all excited about it, I decided to give it a go.

The premise is simple: people hide little caches in various places for others to find using the GPS coordinates. These coordinates are logged into geocaching.com or a similar website for anyone who wants to get and try to find the cache; all you need is a smart phone or GPS device to point you the right way.

These caches are everywhere. While bigger towns and cities have dozens to hundreds, there are still some along the more remote stretches.

Our first day of geocaching I loaded four boys ages 9 to 2 in the car and left a couple of hours early for a family get-together. The boys and I found four that day. The first was just north of Winona, then two more between LaCrosse and Dusty and the fourth at the Dusty rest stop.

They were so excited about it. My boys love treasure and scavenger hunts and "Where's Waldo" books, and this appealed to all of that. Using the geocaching app on my smart phone, we would head to the location which was usually just off a paved road, something right on the side of the road. Once the app told us we were within 20 feet, we would pull over and search around on foot. The app only narrowed the search to within three feet of the geocache, so we still had to manually search. One cache was the size of a pill bottle my son found in the crack of a rock. Another was about the size of a water bottle hidden under a couple of rocks while another was a fake rock setting in a pile of rocks. The smallest was inside a reflector used for hideaway keys.

Now, one of the big rules of geocaching is no muggles. For those not familiar with Harry Potter lingo, a muggle is someone outside the wizard community. In this case, it means you don't let people who aren't geocaching know you're looking or especially that you've found something. (For the record, the description of the type of geocaches we found do not correlate with the listing of where we were looking.) So not only are you trying to find something that may be no bigger than your thumb, but you are doing it covertly if other people are around. As my children aren't really apt at stealth, it is a good thing these geocaches were in remote locations with no passer-bys.

Another day took us up to the parks of Colfax. Someone has placed geocaches in each park as part of a sort of tour using Colfax's original name, Belleville. In addition to each cache, the placer included historical information and pictures of the town, such as how Schmuck Park came to be and how it got its name. That day we joined forces with my sister-in-law and her three children. It was a fun day with the younger ones climbing on park play equipment while the older ones searched for the geocaches, taking turns―kind of―holding the phone to find the spot. At the minimum, each geocache has a piece of paper or log book for finders to write down their names to prove they found it. One local geocache – but not at a park―– was an ammo box with two sacks of trinkets inside. Here, finders can exchange one of their own trinkets for one left by another. That cache gained four new Lego men where there had been bouncy balls and little toys.

When our family goes on trips, we are able to integrate geocaching as part of the travel. Instead of five hours non-stop in the car to visit family on the west side of the state, we can make pit stops and stretch our legs while looking for a new geocache to log. Once logged as found on the app, a smiley face appears over that location. The more you find, the more smiles. A recent family trip added smiles near the petrified ginko forest at Vantage and five more at a state park near Ellensburg.

Geocaching is fundamentally simple, but you can get very involved and intricate. There are geocaching trails or caches that can only be opened after solving puzzles or following certain clues.

The original geocache was placed May 3, 2000, by Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Ore., as a way to sort of commemorate the removal of Selective Availability from the GPS (Global Positioning System) the day before. The location was posted on the USENET website and within three days it had been found twice. Since then, the number of caches has grown to more than one million world wide.

For more information about geocaching, you can read online https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/gps-geocaching.html or just download the Geocaching app onto your smart phone and jump on in.


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