Sunday, April 13, 2008

Give Geocaching a Try


“Go a quarter mile east now, Dad,” my daughter ordered. “Take a right. No, go left.”

“Which is it? Right or left?” I asked, glancing at Julia as she stared intently at the screen of the cell phone-sized device in her hand.

“Left. I meant left. Sorry.”

Left took us into the parking lot of a landscaping company. Water bubbled from rock fountains on display.

“Is this the place?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” she said. “It’s about a half mile to the north.”

North was a large, sagebrush-covered hill. We were going to do some climbing in Reno’s Huffaker Hills to find the geocache known as “Indiana Jones and the Fortress of Doom.”

Julia and I were embarking on our first geocaching expedition. Recently, I had purchased a GPS (global positioning system) unit. This electronic device receives signals from satellites and locates geographic coordinates (usually to within six to 10 feet).

In recent years, the sport of geocaching—a kind of high-tech treasure hunt—has cropped up. For those not yet addicted to this sport it works like this: Geocachers hide a metal or plastic receptacle (known as a cache) filled with pens, pins, pliers, and other inexpensive trinkets.

The cache hider gives it a funny name and posts the coordinates for its location on the official geocaching web site, www.geocaching.com, or www.nevadageocaching.com. Cache hunters punch those coordinates into their GPS units and follow the electronic prompts to the site.

Geocaching traces its roots to May 1, 2000, when the federal government relaxed regulations regarding public use of global positioning satellites, which only the military could use previously. Within days, the first cache was hidden near Portland, Oregon, and a new sport was born.

Although geocachers are casual by nature, there is an etiquette that all players follow. If you take something from the cache, you replace it with an item. There is also a logbook inside each cache to record the date of your find and other observations.

No one, of course, goes geocaching for the trinkets. The thrill is in the hunt;
wandering around, following prompts from the GPS, and discovering a half-hidden coffee can filled with nearly-worthless treasures.

When my daughter and I decided to take that first geocache outing in Huffaker Hills, we checked the Web site for caches within a mile of our Reno home.

A dozen sites popped up on the screen. The cache names were intriguing—“I Can See Where I Used to Live From Here,” “The Riddler’s Lair,” and “Indiana Jones Fortress of Doom.”

May daughter thought the “Indiana Jones” cache had the coolest name, so we decided to make that our first hunt.

On the Web site we found a description of the Fortress of Doom, the GPS coordinates, secret codes, and photographs. Geocachers had made breathless comments like: “I got up early and found your cache at 6:15 before the snakes were up. Left a luggage lock & key set in exchange for the electronic football game . . . Cache on!! Abe.”

After we had parked in the landscapers’ parking lot,, we stood at the base of the hill. The GPS indicated that, yes, the Fortress of Doom was straight up, so we began to climb through the sagebrush. The terrain became rockier, dustier, and steeper.

The GPS pointed us up the hill. I wondered if this had been such a good idea. My daughter complained that the rocks hurt her feet, and I saw nothing that resembled the photos on the Web site.

When we stopped to catch our breath, I spotted a wall of dark rocks in a semicircle near the top. It had to be the Fortress of Doom.

With renewed energy, we scampered over the rocks to the stone walls. The GPS told us we were within five feet of the coordinates—but where was the cache?

We searched inside the crude rock walls. We climbed down a series of boulders and scanned the hillside. The view was spectacular, with the south Truckee Meadows spread out below and Mount Rose to the west.

My daughter sighed. After all our hard work, she feared we wouldn’t find the cache. I turned to reassure her and noticed a metal container in the rock wall behind her head.

It was the cache. We pulled out the box and opened it. Inside we found several pens, toy cars, luggage locks, and other gee-gaws. She took the luggage locks and replaced it with a clip-on clock that we had brought with us. I entered our names in the log.

Mission accomplished.

Web sites—The best geocaching Web sites are www.geocaching.com and www.nevadageocaching.com. The former has an excellent section for beginners.

1 comment:

Norm said...

Perfect! You captured the essence of geocaching perfectly! Welcome to the addiction. I look forward to reading more about your adventures. (Your other stuff is good too.) My wife and I have been geocaching for less than a year now, and we have found over 200 geocaches. (The Minnesota winter has kept us inside - or we'd have more.)

Stop by our geocaching blog and say hello. There's a bunch of us blogging, geocachers that stay pretty active on the net. They're a good bunch.

Cache on!

The Northwoods Geocats