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Geocaching 101

Geocaching is a great way to learn how to use your GPS, and an all around fun thing to do even after you have mastered your GPS. And it is fun for the whole family. What better way to justify your purchase than to say "It's for the family!"

Arrgh! Treasure, Mateys! Geocaches are essentially little treasure boxes hidden in the landscape. You download the coordinates of the geocaches from the web. and you use your GPS unit to help you find the cache. The box is a weatherproof container, such as a Tupperware box or perhaps an old army ammunition case. Inside the box you will find a logbook and perhaps some trinkets. The trinkets may be pins, pencils, small toys, etc. Sign the logbook and exchange the trinkets you brought with one in the box, if desired. The trinket exchange is especially fun for the kids to do. Bring trinkets with you if you want to take a trinket back home from the box. It is bad form to take a trinket and not leave something. Never put food in the geocache. It may be weeks until the next human visitor arrives; critters will find it first! Never move the cache from the location where found. But do make sure it is not in plain view to non-geocachers walking by on the trail.

A Little Help? It is also common for geocache hiders to record some hints to help searchers zero in. Remember GPS accuracy can vary. An accuracy of ten feet is the best you can expect under ideal conditions, and even that can make a big difference when looking for something smaller than a shoe box in the woods. The hints are often scrambled on the website so those who don't want them won't accidentally see them.

Caveat Emptor If you download geocache coordinates from the web, check the area to make sure it is not hazardous or private property. For your own safety, don't assume the geocache hider has cleared everything. If there are known problems or special considerations, a good geocache hider will make a note of them in the instructions, but you are on your own if the cops show up.

Report In When you are back home, go back to the website where you got the instructions and record your experience. Don't be embarrassed if you can;t find it. Sometimes geocaches get moved or taken. The person who established the cache is responsible to maintain it. He or she will want to know if there are any problems, either with a missing or damaged cache, or perhaps there is an error in the information.

Roll Your Own When you have developed some skills at finding caches, you might want to hide one of your own. Here is where you can use the waypoint recording function of your GPS. Hide your cache, then record the waypoint where you are standing. TIP: You may want to record the waypoint several times, wandering around a bit between each time. Because accuracy varies several feet even on good days, multiple records will help you get a more accurate average waypoint. It is even better to visit your cache a few times on different days to assure accurate waypoints. Remember to record a few hints to help those who like them.

Johnny, Be Good Carefully consider where you place your cache. Do not place it on private property without permission of the landowner. Many strangers may show up wandering about; make sure the site is appropriate for that. Most caches are on public land, such as parks or state forests. Managers of public lands have varied responses to geocaches. Some tolerate them, others don't. See the geocaching websites for examples and more suggestions for how to choose a hiding place.

You're in Charge When you have your geocache established, upload your instructions to a geocaching website for others to find. Remember that you are now responsible for the cache. Monitor the website for reports of problems. And check on it personally periodically to keep things in good order.