At some point in their lives, all children (and adults) have pretended to be pirates. Everyone has put on makeshift eye patches, stuck a plastic sword through a belt loop, and followed a crayon-drawn map to their own buried treasure. Those were the pirates of our youth and the hidden treasures of the past. Welcome to the treasure hunt of the 21st century: geocaching.
The story of the geocache began at midnight on May 2, 2000, a night anxiously awaited by geeks everywhere. Twenty-four satellites circling the Earth instantly linked, drastically improving the accuracy of GPS devices. Now that a GPS could more precisely pinpoint a specific location, people began pondering new uses for the device.
A computer consultant from Oregon, David Ulmer, came up with the idea of hiding small containers in a nearby forest, allowing others to find it with their own GPS and the coordinates of its location. His idea gained a small following on his website, and within a month, one of the followers, Mike Teague, compiled coordinates of other containers around the world, turning the “GPS Stash Hunt” into a trending phenomenon. The name was soon changed to “geocaching”— “geo” referring to the geography of the game, and “caching” for the act of hiding the containers.
Now there are geocaches hidden all over the world for people to discover. They vary in size — from the size of a film canister to that of a reusable plastic container — and can be hidden in plain sight or in obscure places like underwater. To uncover a local geocache, find the coordinates on the website and enter them into any kind of GPS — one from your car works fine, as long as you’re OK with her directing you in her robotic British accent. But the GPS can only lead you so far; once you get close, you’ll probably have to do a bit of searching on your own.
The constant trading of trinkets means that the contents of the cache will likely be different every time someone finds it.
When you find the cache, sign the logbook to add your name to the list of past finders. Most caches contain a few small items, and feel free to take one, as long as you leave something of equal value in its place. The constant trading of trinkets means that the contents of the cache will likely be different every time someone finds it. And if you really get into it, you can start hiding your own geocaches and become both a hider and a seeker.
Besides hunting for geocaches around your neighborhood, you can also search for them on geotrails, collections of caches linked by a common theme. Geotrails make it easy to explore an area and have fun learning about its history. The Maryland Municipal League Geocache Trail is comprised of geocaches in 78 cities and towns that all celebrate the state’s municipalities. In Montgomery County alone, seven towns are participating, including Takoma Park. Follow as much of this trail as you choose, across as much of Maryland as you want, and you’re bound to find some cool treasures and interesting history to take home with you.
The Star-Spangled Banner Geotrail has over 30 caches throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. commemorating the events that inspired the national anthem. Search for geocaches all throughout the Chesapeake Bay area and visit momentous spots of the War of 1812 that are now essential to our country’s identity and pride.
You can also learn about earlier history of the Chesapeake on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which follows Smith’s journey on the Bay 400 years ago with almost 40 geocaches on five different rivers in the region.
To get started on your own geocaching adventure, log on to geocaching.com and register for a free account. From there, you can access all the coordinates you’ll need to find single geocaches in your neighborhood or follow a geotrail through a historic area. Then you’re completely set to explore your community in a fun, active way that indulges the treasure-hunting fantasies of children and adults alike..