Treasure Hunting in the 21st Century
Imagine you're walking slowly through the woods of Carlisle County, holding a treasure map in your hands, glancing back and forth between the ground and your map. With every step you draw closer to your destination, getting a little more excited about what you might find there. Your digging tools clank and thump in your bag alongside your water bottle and your lucky stuffed monkey. Finally, you reach the spot indicated on the map. You look around, seeing the map's landmarks all around you. A crooked, sad-looking tree; a small, winding brook; two jagged boulders thrusting up out of the ground, like missiles frozen during launch. You drop your bag, take out your tools, and start digging. As dirt flies all around you, you can't stop smiling, wondering what has been left under the surface for you to find.
Sounds like it could be a scene from a book or movie about pirates, doesn't it? (Except for the stuffed monkey part, perhaps.) All it needs is a parrot, an eyepatch, and some goofy expressions about shivering your timbers. But you don't have to be a pirate to search for buried treasure. Hobbyists known as geocachers leave small treasures known as geocaches or simply caches, and then share the location of the cache so that others can find the treasure. (There are caches hidden in every county in Kentucky.) Then, teams of other geocachers use handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to hunt for the caches. The treasure found in the cache may only be a rubber stamp used to add a mark to the team members' notebooks, proving that they were actually there. But geocachers are motivated by the hunt, not the result.
Geocaching has its origins in letterboxing, which began in the 1850s when hikers of a well-known trail in England left letters sealed in weatherproof boxes, waiting to be found by the next group of hikers. The hobby evolved over the next century and a half to include different kinds of treasures, clues in magazines and other places, and other methods of searching. Letterboxing is still a popular hobby, but since the improvement of GPS technology in the year 2000, geocaching has become much more popular. GPS signals became much more precise in the year 2000, allowing people to use them to find very specific locations. Since then, caches have been planted all over the world, including the continent of Antarctica. The caches stay put, but the actual treasures are always changing. Anyone who takes an item from a cache must leave another item of equal or greater value in its place. The most basic rule of geocaching is "take some stuff, leave some stuff."
Are you interested in trying geocaching with a team of your friends or family? Here's how:
1. Buy or rent a GPS receiver. For your first geocaching adventure, or if you only plan to go geocaching once in awhile, you might want to consider renting a receiver instead of purchasing one. Many sporting goods stores sell and rent receivers. You may even be able to use a cell phone, if it has both a GPS receiver and the right kind of software to find precise locations. Whatever kind of receiver you choose, practice using it around your neighborhood for a while at first, so you and your team don't get stuck in the wilderness without knowing how the receiver works. Your stuffed monkey won't be able to help you.
2. Decide which cache you want to pursue. Visit a geocaching website such as geocaching.com or navicache.com. At these websites, you can find locations of caches near you. At geocaching.com, you can enter a zip code and find the nearest caches to that area. For example, entering the zip code 40027 will give you several caches near Harrods Creek, Kentucky. Caches are marked with the coordinates or "waypoints" that will lead you to the treasure, as well as the level of difficulty and type of terrain you're likely to encounter. It's wise to start with an easy cache.
3. Find a topographical map of the area where you will be hiking. A GPS receiver can only tell you how far to travel and in which direction. It can't tell you what lies between you and your goal. A topographical map gives information about the land features in the area, such as trails and bodies of water. Along with the GPS receiver, the topographical map can help you navigate through the area to find the cache. Sometimes these maps are available for printing on the geocaching websites along with the information about the location of the cache. Otherwise, you may need to visit a library.
4. Gather the other materials you'll need for your adventure. Each geocacher on your team needs to bring a compass, something small to leave with the cache, and plenty of water and food. At least one team member needs to carry an extra set of extra batteries for the GPS receiver, and a first aid kit. Depending on where the cache is located, your team may need sunscreen or bugspray. Wear appropriate clothing for the terrain and season.
5. Get going! Now that you've mapped your route, learned to use your GPS receiver, and gathered your materials, you're ready to go. When your team finds the cache, feel free to take some stuff as long as you also leave some stuff. Many caches include a logbook. Leave a note for future geocachers if you like. Then you can heave a satisfied sigh as you return home with your stuffed monkey, your treasure, and the satisfaction of having found it yourself.