Global GPS game brings out local treasure hunters
It is a game played throughout the world by the everyday adventure seeker equipped with GPS device, in which the basic idea is for players to locate hidden containers called geocaches outdoors and then share their experiences online.
And despite what you might think, it is not just for the overly- obsessed technology junkie; the game has grown to a worldwide phenomenon, with many enthusiasts right here in Lassen County.
Bob Ellis, of Janesville, said he discovered the game about a year ago, when a friend mentioned it to him.
After logging on to the Internet to find out what the game was all about, Ellis said he was intrigued by the concept and purchased a GPS unit on eBay for under $100.
“My wife Loretta and I have really gotten into the game; it is so much fun to go out and track the items. They vary so much; you never quite know exactly what you are looking for, but that is the exciting part of it,” said Ellis.
The idea started in 2000, after the U.S. government placed 24 satellites around the globe to increase the accuracy and availability of GPS technology.
GPS enthusiasts and Internet newsgroups suddenly teemed with ideas about how the technology could be used.
A computer consultant from Oregon wanted to test the improved accuracy of GPS by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the "Great American GPS Stash Hunt" and posted it in an Internet GPS users' group. The idea was simple: Hide a container out in the woods and note the coordinates with a GPS unit. The finder would then have to locate the container with only the use of his or her GPS receiver.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The game now spans the globe, with 705,091 active geocaches around the world, and a quick search of the 96130 zip code lists hundreds of treasures hidden throughout Susanville and the surrounding areas, just waiting for someone to discover them.
Treasure hunters simply have to go to the official geocaching site and create a profile to get started. After logging on, users can type in their zip code and get a list of available geocaches hidden in the area.
Eager treasure hunters can choose any geocache from the list and click on its name, and a list of exact GPS coordinates to the hidden item’s location is given.
The coordinates are easily uploaded into any hand-held GPS unit via the devices’ USB cord, and you are off on a hide-and-seek game specially tailored for adults.
The general rule of thumb for the game is, if you take an item, leave an item of equal or greater value, and always record your activity in the logbook.
After locating the geocache, participants can share their geocaching stories and photos with the online geocaching community.
Ellis said he and Loretta always make sure to look up geocaches to hunt for while on vacation, and the two recently went on geocaching hunts in Fort Bragg, Calif., and along the California/Oregon coast.
“Loretta and I have been places where we don’t really know the area, like when we were on the coast, and we just set the GPS up on the dash and literally follow it directly to the site. It really is a lot of fun,” said Ellis.
He said the couple has also found several caches locally, including a few near Eagle Lake, in an area where he and Loretta were able to get a beautiful view of the lake while on the hunt.
“It is just another great thing about the game, that you get to get out and get a little bit of exercise, fresh air, and get to see a different view on things,” He said.
At an old cemetery near Janesville, Ellis uncovered a small geocache left by a Janesville player who goes by the username “Onlyinaheap” on the geocaching Web site.
Ellis followed the arrow on his GPS, which pointed to a location outside of the cemetery hidden by bushes. He reached under a scraggly patch of brush to pull out a small, green ammunition box.
Inside was an array of unique treasures left by previous visitors, including small toy soldiers and a tiny logbook.
Ellis pointed to the logbook to the last person to find the specific geocache, which was on Dec. 5.
“People don’t always write where they are from, but I wish they would. It is interesting to look at the logs and see where all of the people who found the cache before you are from,” said Ellis.
He explained there are several different types of caches, which involve different levels of participation. An icon indicating a specific cache’s level of difficulty or involvement will accompany the list of available caches on the geocache Web site.
Ellis said he and Loretta usually stick to the traditional caches, or the most basic type, which usually consists of a small container such as a Tupperware container or ammo box and a logbook.
The container can be filled with whatever a player would like to leave, anything from regional souvenirs and trinkets to personal messages.
Ellis said players who find the cache will usually add an item to the box for the next person; he and Loretta will usually leave a bookmark.
Traditional geocaches can also be “tracking items,” which contain items that a player would like to see travel to a specific place. Ellis said he and Loretta found two tracking items in Fort Bragg, one that was headed toward the East Coast, and one with no specific destination, so the two brought the item to Janesville and logged the coordinates and activity on the geocaching Web site.
“You can actually go back and track items on the Internet to see where they have traveled, so it is like you can kind of travel right along with it,” he said.
Coordinates listed for a traditional cache page are always the exact location for the cache, so these are the easiest to find and usually involve just a short, easy hike.
Other types of caches include micro caches, which are too small to contain any items except for a logbook, multi-caches, which involves two or more locations, the final location being a physical container, and mystery or puzzle caches, which involve complicated puzzles you will first need to solve to determine the coordinates of the item you are seeking.
Ellis said he noticed there are more and more geocaches and players popping up around Lassen County. He said he has even helped set up geocache courses for kids and was impressed by how excited the groups got.
“Oh, kids just love it. You show them how to use it once and they are off and going. It is great,” he said.
Since its beginnings, geocaching has become increasingly creative to keep users engaged and create new challenges, and everything from specially themed caches for the movie Planet of the Apes to educational caches like earth caches, where visitors can see how our planet has been shaped by geological processes, how we manage the resources and how scientists gather evidence to learn about the Earth.
But many players, like Ellis, are content to stick to the traditional types of caches and say the excitement and curiosity is always there.
“Hundreds of thousands of these are all over the world, and they are all connected. It is really a cool concept,” said Ellis.
For more information or to get involved in geocaching, visit geocaching.com.
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