Children of Terra

A new generation, for a better world.


Explore and learn... with Geocaching!

Posted on January 16, 2018 at 11:35 AM

Back in elementary school, I was really good at math. So good,in fact, that I was selected (along with a few of my classmates) to be part of an experiment of sorts. Our school wasn’t the only one participating in the experiment… I know that this all sounds pretty ominous, but this “experiment” was testing to see how effective a new method of teaching math may have been. Some of my fellow participants loved it. Myself, along with a few others, didn’t. As a result of this “experiment”, I became so disinterested in math that by high school I was placed into remedial classes. I was devastated about the placement at first, but then I met my teacher.

She made it very clear on the first day that there was nothing wrong with being in that classroom. She explained that EVERYONE has trouble learning sometimes. It may be because we had more trouble understanding certain things, or it takes us longer to find an answer than others, or maybe we just weren’t interested enough in a subject to do well.

Her class brought about huge changes in my life, as well as in my views on education. She kept us interested by making learning fun! Every assignment, every project, and every lesson had some sort of interactive component. Actually using what we were learning as we were learning it made a huge impact on my class. One of the lessons that I remember best was during our first week of working with coordinate planes. We walked into class one morning to find a GPS system on each of our desks (before we all had GPSs in our cell phones). We were instructed to turn them on, follow her outside, and from there we went on a coordinate based treasure hunt.

At the time, this treasure hunting game was almost brand new. Our teacher found the idea online, and said it was called “Geocaching”. The concept was simple. There were containers hidden around the school. We had the coordinates to the containers, and needed to map them on the grid. Once we did, we could use our GPS systems to locate them. Not only was it super fun, but we were able to translate the skills we were learning into a real world application!

A decade after high school, I still geocache! My wife is hooked now, too, as well as many of my friends, family members, and coworkers. Through geocaching, we have found so many unique and incredible places, met some truly awesome people, and we can continue exploring and learning about the world.

What is geocaching?

As I said earlier, this geocaching is a sort of treasure hunt, except it takes place all over the world! A traditional geocache container is hidden somewhere special. These containers usually contain a few small tradable items (such as bookmarks, toys, coins, etc.), a logbook to note when and by whom it was found, as well as the information for the cache container (name, ID number, owner, contact info). Once a container is hidden, and its coordinates are released, anyone with a GPS system can look for them! Simply plug the coordinates into the system, follow the waypoint, and keep an eye open!

Where can coordinates be found?

Coordinates can be found in various places! Your local park systems may have seasonal geocaches, whose coordinates are usually posted on their website or their visitors centers. There are specialty geocache websites and forums, where people may post coordinates to their containers or other containers they may have found. The best resource, however, is (operated by Groundspeak, Inc). Through their app or website, you can track geocaches of all kinds, meet other geocachers, and play using your smartphone as the GPS.

Did you just say “of all kinds”?

Yup! There’s not just traditional caches! There are multi-caches, which constitute multiple hidden containers that must be found in a series to find or reveal the location of the final container. Sometimes these containers will contain a puzzle to solve to find the last container.

There are Earthcaches, which aren’t even containers! These are special, often beautiful places with a unique feature (often natural, but sometimes manmade). There tends to be some educational notes about the location along with the coordinates. Sometimes you may need to answer a few questions about the location to receive “found” credit for the cache. This is a great way to bring people to a natural wonder that touches your heart or a place that peaks your curiosity.

Stamp hunter or Letterbox caches may be containers, but may not be. They should always contain some sort of stamp that remains with the cache. Players can stamp a book or other item to show that they’ve visited this location.

There are also event caches, virtual caches, webcam caches, locationless caches, and so much more! There’s always going to be new types of caches or new challenges to older cache styles added by some of the creative minds of the geocaching community! And to think, it all started with one creative mind, an idea, and a huge update in technology.

Who started geocaching?

The idea of hiding containers to be found later is nothing new. The word “cache” is a French word from the 1700’s, which refers to a place you would hide things for later. Since that time, many types of hiding places and containers have been called caches. Miner’s caches (where they stored gold), weapons caches (often used during wartimes), thieves caches (to hide stolen items to claim later), and pirate caches (X marks the spot) are all historical visions that may come to mind when you here the word “cache”. Generally, caches would be difficult to find and often lost. People would rely on crude, inaccurate maps, clues, or even just memory to find their caches. Even with the invention of global position systems, or GPSs, finding a cache may have still been rather difficult… until the millennium, that is.

In May of 2000, the “Great Blue Switch” went active. In the U.S., and many other countries at the time, GPS signals were intentionally degraded for “national security reasons”. At the urging of now Former President Bill Clinton, this “selective availability” of signals had been put into disuse overnight. This new wave of powerful and precise GPS signals opened so many possibilities for so many people! Civilians finally had accurate location technology. A man by the name of Dave Ulmer, who had a career in computer consultation at the time, had decided to test just how accurate the new system could be.

He hid a container in the woods, posted to coordinates on an online forum for GPS users under the title “The Great American GPS Stash Hunt”, and waited. The same week, a couple of other users on the forum used their GPS systems to locate his container, which contained a logbook and some prize items. As is the way of the internet, the idea spread across the world like wildfire. Within weeks, hundreds of containers had been hidden and players were out seeking containers hidden by their peers. After a month of this sensation, another man by the name of Mike Teague realized that so many different coordinates being posted in so many different places was starting to get a bit confusing. His solution was simply to collect all of the coordinates in one place, and start a mailing list for other players to utilize. Eventually, this led to another player creating the website, which is now the most popular central hub for geocachers.

Why should I geocache?

A strong hike is always good exercise, and geocaching usually involves a bit of hiking or walking. Remember, there are geocaches hidden ALL OVER THE WORLD and in ALL KINDS OF PLACES. No matter how able bodied you may be, there’s a good chance there’s some geocache containers out there for you to find. If not, why not hide your own caches for other people with the same issues?

Geocaching has also brought my wife and I, along with many of our friends, to uniquely beautiful and awe-inspiring places. From innovative and strange looking architecture, to waterfalls the size of skyscrapers, or even a hidden oasis, there’s no knowing what you might find when you get caught up in a geocaching adventure!

Give it a shot! Try the worldwide adventure that is Geocaching. See what you might learn while exploring!

To learn more about geocaching, you can visit" target="_blank"> or the" target="_blank">REI Expert Advice page

Have you gone geocaching before? What kind of cache did you find? What did you learn while caching? Let us know in the comments below! We love hearing about your incredible adventures!

CJ @ Children of Terra-NEO



Categories: leafSTEM: Connecting Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math with the Environment

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