GPS hide-and-seek game takes families on exciting outdoor adventures
As Mike and Rosie walked across the field at Antrim Park, they stared down at Mike’s phone. A blue dot was moving across the screen toward a green dot. They began to walk faster until the blue dot nearly covered the green dot, which we all hoped betokened a hidden treasure.
“It’s around here somewhere,” Mike said.
They searched for crevices in a brick wall, thumbing around for a small container.
“I found it, I found it” yelled Rosie, pointing to a small green capsule attached to a tree limb.
Father and daughter gave each other a high five. Rosie then unscrewed the top of the capsule, which bore no treasure – only a miniature scroll. Still, after the 20-minute site search, that was in itself a prize. Rosie signed her name on the paper coil, rolled it back up and returned it to the capsule.
We had completed our first “geocaching” family adventure.
Geocaching is an outdoor-adventure game that originated in the year 2000. Players use a mobile app or GPS device to find cleverly hidden containers (or geocaches) around the world. It’s pretty simple: A geocacher hides a geocache, lists it on Geocaching.com and challenges other geocachers to find it. There are more than 10 million registered users on Geocaching.com.
It’s a fun way to explore your everyday surroundings, where the possibility of a new discovery hides under a fallen tree, near a parking meter or within a short walk of wherever you happen to be.
We’ve discovered that geocaches can come in a variety of shapes and sizes – from a non-hidden structure containing shareable books in a neighbor’s front yard to an earbud-sized magnetic container holding a strip of paper hidden at Whetstone Park.
At minimum, geocaches contain a logbook for finders to sign. (So be sure to bring along a pen.) Some geocaches contain small trinkets for trade – such as rubber bracelets, pretty rocks and even money, as we discovered in one container. If a geocacher takes something from the geocache, they replace it with something of equal or greater value.
Geocaches are put back where they were found for the next geocacher. They’re never buried and shouldn’t contain food or dangerous objects. When we found the tiny scroll at Antrim Park, I made a note about the find on our phone, using the Geocaching app. The green dot transformed into a smiley face, signifying we’d scored one of nearly 2.5 million geocaches hidden around the globe.
So, how do you get started? At its simplest level, geocaching requires two steps: You first register for a free, basic membership at Geocaching.com and you then download the free Geocaching Intro app on your mobile phone.
Opening the app reveals a blue dot signifying your GPS coordinates on a detailed map, and lots of green and grey dots that represent hidden geocaches. The geocaches signified by the green dots can be found with the free app, while the ones signified by the grey dots require you to purchase the premium app for $9.99. Reviews of the app seemed to indicate that you then need to pay a
monthly fee for access. We concluded that the free app provided a thorough-enough experience for playing the game.
Geocaching can, of course, get more complicated if you want it to. You can go to great links to hide and find them – in caves or even under water. You can learn the lingo by using words like “muggle” (a non-geocacher) or plot to be the first to find a newly hidden geocache – giving you the right to write “FTF” (first to find) on a geocache log. (Read the glossary here.)
Learn more about geocaching and register to play at www.geocaching.com/play.