By Michelle Riggen-Ransom
My family is caught up in the latest craze that’s sweeping the nation: geocaching! Well, okay, maybe it isn’t sweeping the nation but it is pretty cool and it’s also a great way to keep us going on outdoor adventures as the temperature drops and the couch seems more and more inviting.
Geocaching is a relatively new activity that involves finding hidden loot (called caches) in various locations using global positioning coordinates. It sounds techie but it’s really pretty simple: Go to a website like geocaching.com and enter your zip code to find a list of nearby hidden caches. Then, using a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) and maybe a good map, head out to hunt for real-life treasure! My husband has a small GPS he uses for fishing made by Garmin: A good unit can be purchased online (check Amazon.com) for roughly $100 to $350. They’re great for anyone who enjoys hiking, fishing, or just taking walks in the woods. Hello, Santa?
We found about fifteen caches listed in our immediate area and started out by seeking two of them: the Haines Park cache and the Walker’s Farm cache, both in Barrington. Most caches are small boxes or hollow tubes containing a logbook where you enter your (team) name and the date you found it, as well as some little trinkets that you trade for trinkets you’ve brought with you. Each geocache has two ratings listed on the geocaching.com website: difficulty and terrain. These are based on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest. For families, I would recommend starting off with ratings of 1 or 2 – you’ll find these are plenty challenging in most cases. Also on the website are scrambled clues and notes from other folks who have searched for the caches. The website is a great source of information for newbies like us.
Caches can be hidden anywhere from urban areas to parks and woods. We’ve been selecting caches where we can get a little hike/walk in on the way, combining desperately needed parental fitness with an energy-combusting preschooler activity (win-win!). Use common sense when embarking on these trips as you would for any hike: Make sure everyone is bundled up accordingly, bring snacks/water, stay together, and always let someone know where you’re going.
Another cool thing about caching is the idea of “cache in, trash out.” As you explore these various outdoor places, it’s really easy to pick up any trash you see along the way, stick it in your bag and toss it out or recycle it when you get home. Not only are you finding treasure, but you’re helping the environment. Another win-win!
The found treasures tend to be small things like golf balls, plastic animals, sparkly pencils and the like, so throw a few similar things in your bag for swapping before you head out. My son has slept with his new treasures for three nights in a row. To him, our first find was as precious as gold.
Nature/Nurture, written by Michelle Riggen-Ransom, is an occasional column with ideas and information to help kids and their families engage with the natural world in fun, interesting ways. Share your thoughts and explorations by adding your comment below, or contact us with your story ideas.