Caching In on the Geocaching Fun
Hide and seek goes high-tech and the popularity continues to spread.
Last weekend I stood at 10,000 feet in Colorado and surveyed the breathtaking beauty around me. I was holding a treasure in my hands. I had hiked my lowlander lungs up the steep trail in search of a camouflaged, duck-taped geocache and at that moment it felt priceless.
For the last few years I have entered the online and outdoor realm of geocaching (pronounced geo-CASH-ing). I quickly discovered why so many people are hooked on this hobby. Imagine using million-dollar government satellites to play a worldwide game of hide and seek with thousands of other players.
Players use handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) units and specific latitude/longitude coordinates to find “caches.” A cache is a container that is camouflaged and hidden outdoors for someone to find. Coordinates and other useful search information such as the size of the container and the difficulty of the terrain are available on Geocaching.com.
The sheer volume of caches is astounding. More than 1.3 million caches exist worldwide and more than 150 are within Golden Valley according to Geocaching.com. Caches are only placed on public land or with the permission of a landowner. Chances are if there is a park or trail in your neighborhood, it has at least one cache hidden in it.
Why do people take on geocaching as a hobby? The reasons are varied:
- It’s the challenge of the hunt.
- It gets you outdoors and exploring.
- You can use technology while in nature.
- It’s inexpensive.
- All ages can geocache—alone or in a group.
Some of the lure includes not only finding the cache, but also seeing what’s inside. The cache information online lets readers know where it is, but fellow cachers often hide small toys or trinkets inside for people to trade. Geocachers live by the rule that you trade even or trade up if you remove something from the cache.
Anyone who finds or leaves a cache signs a paper log inside it, leaves a note for the cache owner or upcoming seekers and also enters the information on Geocaching.com. Logging the information helps you keep track of the caches you have found.
My personal favorite is looking for travel bugs or geocoins. These items have a trackable number on them that you enter on the geocaching site. Each time a bug or coin is left in a cache, the person who retrieves it goes online and logs in the next cache they drop the coin into. The item can travel from cache to cache all over the world and the original owner can see where it goes.
Current Golden Valley City Council member Mike Freiberg is an avid geocacher and has created a bookmark list of local caches. Freiberg has found more than 4,200 caches and said he has hidden many as well.
Golden Valley has so many caches that I could not possibly get to them all for this story, so I decided to focus my efforts on one of the most interesting and educational caches this city has to offer. Created by Freiberg (who goes by “Sparkfry” on the goecaching Website) and his partner Tom Guntzel (“K0TLG”), the “You Gotta Love Golden Valley History” is a creative multi-cache that requires that you solve clues to reach the final stop. This means that rather than hunt for one spot, sign the log and move on to a whole other cache, this hunt involves 13 stops and clues to get to the final cache.
This also is known as a puzzle cache because multiple clues are used to “solve” the puzzle that gives geocachers the final coordinates. Freiberg said that geocachers have given this area the nickname “Puzzle Valley” because of the large number of puzzle-based caches in it.
The “You Gotta Love Golden Valley History” cache hunt took me all over Golden Valley, from the General Mills headquarters to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, from the oldest town tavern to an antique marker and much more.
Freiberg and Guntzel have listed several traditional (one-step) caches that are near each stage, so you can literally make this a full afternoon or a multi-day adventure.
I picked up a trackable geocoin from the cache box on my hike in Colorado and on June 28 dropped it in “You Gotta Love Golden Valley History” for another seeker to find and send on. It was picked up a day later by a family of geocachers who have since dropped it in a cache in Nebraska. The fun keeps moving on.
For all things geocaching: Geocaching.com
State group: Minnesota Geocaching Association
Videos: “Finding Your First Geocache”
Free access to GPS units: Three Rivers Park District offers GPS units on a first-come, first-serve basis for use in some of their parks, including the Clifton E. French Regional Park in nearby Plymouth.