How to find treasure in the woods with a dork machine

8 07 2011

An amazing sculpture garden I never would have known existed if there had not been a cache nearby.

Yeah, that’s pretty much what geocaching is. And its fantastic. The “dork machine” is a GPS (Global Positioning System) device that, after you type in some coordinates, will tell you which way to go to find your “treasure,” which is the cache (or container holding a log book for those who found it at the least, and full of goodies ranging from a McDonald’s toy to a Gameboy Color my brother once found at the most.)

This activity is FREE. It gets you outside. You can choose to do incredibly easy or incredibly difficult caches, making it great to do with kids or a group of intensely active adults. You might not have a GPS device. The one I have is incredibly basic. Pretty much I can type in the coordinates for the cache and set a marker for my car so I can find my way back. If I really wanted to, I could probably figure out the two other functions that it has. But it works. Have a GPS system in your car for directions or a cell phone where you can download apps? Odds are you can use them to geocache, as well. While most car GPS systems are not so great for off-road hiking, there are a few models that can do both like the Magellan Crossover and Garmin Quest (and Quest 2.) Or, if you have a cell phone, odds are it has a GPS chip in it already. All you need to do is download the Geocaching Live App. So while initial investment can be extravagant, it probably doesn’t have to be.

You go to the official geocaching website and create a FREE account with your email address to find caches in your area. By typing in your zip code, it will find a ton of caches (treasures) close to you. You find one that fits your desired difficulty and goals (there are historical caches, eco caches, themed caches, the list goes on…) and plug the coordinates on the website into your GPS device (if you’re using the app, it’s a different but nonetheless easy process.) A lot of caches will also have parking coordinates so you’re ready to go.

Showing our travel bug some classic Pittsburgh at Primanti's.

Geocaching is a very new and green sport. When you’re visiting the site, leaving nature better than you found it is more than encouraged. When you find the cache (which will be hidden under a rock, inside a stump, inside a crack in the cement, another endless list…) you will undoubtedly find a log to sign. You may also find treasures. When you take sometime out, you MUST put something back in! Trade a pack of cards for a bracelet, a pokemon toy for a batman figurine, whatever. Just try to keep your item equal to what you’re taking. I’ve used McDonald’s toys, cheap little things from tourist shops I’ve picked up while on vacation, and dollar store items to keep my caching cheap. Once you’ve started, you can also recycle items you’ve found but don’t necessarily need to keep.

If you find an item inside with a tag on it, it’s a trackable. These items should be logged into the geocaching website and be moved on to a new cache. My favorites are the travel bugs, which are little toys that you can take pictures with to upload onto the site. Then when they’ve passed on, you can continue to follow them and see where they’ve traveled after you’ve let them back out into the wild. Geocaches are hidden WORLDWIDE so I’ve seen some of the ones I’ve found make it to Australia, Guam, and all over Europe. It reminds me of Flat Stanley from Kindergarten.

Starfish at the Ovens

The best part of geocaching is the adventures. One time we rescued a starfish and saw a seal on a cache. Another time we found a teepee someone had made in the woods. It can also force you to be a tourist in your own town. I’ve been so many places in Pittsburgh that I never would have even known existed without geocaching. One time we were visiting family in Maine, and found a cache in a place called the Ovens, which is a series of amazing rock formations that is covered by the tide during certain times of the day. Our family was amazed that they had lived in the area for 10 years without knowing this place existed.

Example of what a cache container may look like.

I’d love to hear about your adventures and do my best to field your questions or help you get started!

For more information:
Geocaching Website
More Info on GPS Devices

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