Hunting for treasure has been the sport of pirates for thousands of years. Unfortunately, pirate ships are hard to come by these days, and it's even harder to find a trustworthy crew. If you're in the mood for a little adventure—without the scurvy or bloodthirsty associates—you might try "geocaching," a relatively new outdoor activity sometimes described as high-tech treasure hunting.
Before the year 2000, the U.S. GPS system limited the accuracy of personal GPS units. In May of that year, the Clinton Administration removed this limitation, giving civilian GPS units much greater accuracy. Soon after that the sport of Geocaching was born when a GPS enthusiast hid a cache and posted the coordinates on an Internet newsgroup. A few months later, Jeremy Irish created geocaching.com, the major website supporting this new sport. Currently, over 1.3 million active caches are listed on the site.
Participants (a.k.a., "geocachers") use GPS systems to hide and find "geocaches" almost anywhere in the world. (They can even be found in Antarctica.) A simple geocache (or simply "cache") is a small water-resistant container with a logbook and pen in it. You can buy specially designed caches, but a regular Tupperware container will do. Unlike pirate treasure, caches aren't buried. If you can find your way to the GPS coordinates, you should be able to find the cache. Note that the caches listed on geocaching.com may come with clues to help you find them. ("Look for the missing brick in the ivy-covered wall.")
When you locate the cache, open it, sign the logbook to document finding it, and put it back for the next treasure hunter. Sometimes, the cache may have some treasure (coins, buttons, little plastic dinosaurs, etc). If you take one, geocaching etiquette dictates that you replace it with some other inexpensive trinket.
Geocaching with the iPhone
Almost anything with GPS capability can be used for geocaching, including PDAs, smartphones, dedicated portable GPS devices, and of course the iPhone. In fact, there are over 120 geocaching-related iPhone apps listed in the App Store. For the purposes of this article, I'd like to highlight those I feel are the better offerings.
If you're new to geocaching, this is one of the best apps to try. The free version locates the three geocaches closest to your current location and provides you with detail information about them, including a description of the cache, a map showing your current location and the location of the cache, and a compass. It will take you to within a few feet of the cache and provide a hint to help you find it.
After trying the Geocaching Intro app, I was hooked. I upgraded to the full version, which is simply titled Geocaching ($9.99, app2.me/255). The paid version lets users access Geocaching.com's full database of caches and search for any of them. It will also help you set up your own cache, which can be a lot of fun.
Geocaching is a fun way to explore your surroundings. It makes hiking, biking, and even driving around town a lot more fun. If you're looking for a little adventure and a lot of fun, you owe it to yourself to give geocaching a try.