Geocaching: Modern Day Treasure Hunters

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For more information on the new pastime of geocaching, check out www.geocaching.com or mainegeocaching.com or mainegeocachingassociation.com.

To anyone who’s ever wanted to be a treasure-hunter, geocaching is the next best thing.

In the state of Maine alone, thousands of “caches” are hidden, with many of them located somewhere in the Lakes Region. With the help of the official Geocaching Web site, www.geocaching.com, and a Global Positioning System receiver, adventure seekers can get outside and enjoy the outdoors while hunting for secret treasure.

Naples resident Steve Caulfield is one such geocaching enthusiast.

“It started out as something to do with the family in the off-season when you can’t ski or swim,” said Caulfield. “Now it’s more of an obsession!”

Caulfield held a geocaching workshop at the Naples Public Library on Saturday, Aug. 11. Though claiming not to be an expert, he’s an experienced geocacher, and has hidden many caches of his own with his family. Caulfield first heard about it from his wife’s sister, who had friends in South Carolina who went geocaching within walking distance of their home.

“When I first checked the Web site to see if there were any in Naples, I was surprised there were so many closeby,” said Caulfield.

How’s it work?

To begin geocaching, one needs a GPS unit and Internet access. Once at the Web site, www.geocaching.com, enter the zip code to the town or area you want to search, and a map, coordinates and names of the caches will appear. From there, enter the longitude and latitude of the geocache into your GPS and let it lead you to an approximate 30-square-foot area.

Some extra clues from the Web site may be needed, as many caches are in trees, under rocks or camouflaged, Caulfield said

“One time, in the beginning, before we had found many caches, we walked three-quarters of a mile into the woods, in winter. We got out there and the GPS said we were there. We put the coordinates in and went. We weren’t sure if it was buried. Needless to say, we posted a “DNF” on the Web site for “Did Not Find.” Sometimes that happens and you just can’t find it. After a while though, you begin to learn where to look.”

Caches will be in containers ranging from water-tight Tupperware containers to military ammo boxes to small film canisters. All are filled with logbooks to sign or stamp. Some will also have “geocoins” or “travel bugs.” These are little toys, keychains or figurines that have tracking numbers on a dog tag that can be traced on the Web site. Some travel all over the country or world by geocachers who’ve found a travel bug in one cache, taken it out, and placed it in another.

“I didn’t have anyone who taught me how to do this,” Caulfield said. “I learned on my own with my family. You should start out as a finder, it’s a lot like hide and seek. Then after a while of learning how others have hidden their caches, it’s interesting to put one out yourself.”

Once you begin hiding your own, Caulfield said you must remember it’s your responsibility to maintain the cache. That’s part of the reason everyone must create a free account and a user name when placing a cache. Users can anonymously e-mail geocachers about their cache locations to give feedback or alert them if something is awry.

Some geocaching courtesies to keep in mind include “Cache in and trash out.” Also, never bury a cache or place food in it. Place the cache on public land or ask permission to hide it on private property, and never in a national park. Respect the environment and the cache itself – take something out but put something back in for the next geocacher. Also, when geocaching in the woods, bring extra batteries for the GPS receiver and/or a regular compass so you don’t get lost.

Origins

The pastime of geocaching began in 2000 when the U.S. military, which had previously scrambled GPS signals from satellites, changed the policy of “selective availability” opening up the world of global positioning to ordinary users. According to Caulfield, a man from Oregon unintentionally created geocaching that same year by hiding a box filled with goodies and posting the coordinates online for others to find.

From that humble beginning, geocaching has proliferated. There are now several types of caches; Typical Cache, Multi-Stage Cache (“You get the coordinates to find it, but when you open the cache, it has clues to lead you to another site and another, until you finally find the actual cache. These are fun to do with kids,” Caulfield explained), Virtual Caches have been stopped and changed to “Earth Caches” to include more geologic information, Webcam Caches where you are required to take a picture and Mystery/Puzzle Caches where the geocacher must solve a puzzle to get coordinates.

“You can go nuts with the technology. Some people have e-mails sent to their phones about new caches,” said Caulfield.

Centennial cache

With the celebration of the Naples Public Library’s 100th anniversary on Aug. 23, a special geocache was created by Caulfield and his wife Alison, 11-year-old daughter Katie and 6-year-old son Ethan.

“My wife and I were talking about sitting on a bench with our lunch and waiting for someone to show up,” Caulfield joked.

After the Aug. 11 workshop, the group of novice geocachers, led by Caulfield, tested their skills with a special cache Caulfield had temporarily placed outdoors. After finding it, the real geocache was hidden, the location of which cannot be revealed except by retrieving its coordinates on the Web site.

“I’d rather learn how to hide better,” Caulfield said of his future geocaching endeavors. “I’ve put some on trails people don’t go on. There are a lot of trails out there that people don’t use often, so we put a few on those for something different.”

Leslie McConnell, Matthew Carter and Joe Sheffel put geocache coordinates into their GPS units outside the Naples Public Library as part of a recent geocaching seminar. Geocaching is gaining popularity, all over the world and here in Maine. Contributed photo by Erin Enberg

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