"Geocaching embodies a spirit of wonder, curiosity, and adventure."
A geocache treasure.
Santa Fe – It’s after midnight on a Sunday morning. Five teenagers match pace as they scurry down West Marcy Street. Through the constant hum of giggles and complaints about the cold March night, a sense of urgency is present. Members of the group take frequent glances at a glowing smartphone in Adam’s grasp, as they survey the quiet surroundings.
Adam hushes the eager group, declaring, “We’re 35 feet away… 30… 24… 16…”
Less than 10 feet away, the group disperses in a determined frenzy around a desolate sidewalk, inspecting a stop sign from the ground up. Others attempt, and fail, to climb a large cottonwood tree in order to get a better view of the contents of the branches.
A black sedan breaks the silence, blasting loud music as it drives by.
After 10 minutes of scouring sidewalk foliage, discouragement sets in. “What does the hint say, again?” Adam looks down at his smartphone: “Barking bison near corner,” he reads aloud.
Looks of confusion are exchanged as the group tries to decipher the obscure hint.
The sedan circles again, slower this time, still blasting loud music – its passengers eyeing the teenagers suspiciously.
A bit more hastily, the group zeroes in on the corner of West Marcy Street and Grant Avenue where piñon shrubs line the building.
The car drives by a third time.
Feeling thoroughly self-conscious and exhausted from climbing unusually tall objects, the group sits down on an adobe wall next to an unassuming decorative garden.
Group member Isaac dejectedly picks up a woodchip.
“Wait…" he observes.
"This is bark!”
Barking bison near corner.
Intent on the goal, group members quietly rifle through the woodchips. “Found it!” Isaac screams, holding a small green capsule that had been cleverly attached to the underside of a larger woodchip. Inside the container is a tightly wound strip of paper with a manifest of scribbled names and dates. Proudly, the kids scrawl their own names onto the log sheet, replace the cap back on, and re-hide the capsule in the sea of woodchips. Victorious, the team scurries back to the car in search of its next adventure.
Thrill of the Chase
This isn’t the stereotypical mischief that teenagers are generally found creating. It’s part of a fast-growing and far-reaching treasure hunting game that involves cell phones, GPS devices and a curious disposition: geocaching.
The premise of geocaching simple, find a hidden container using Global Position System (GPS) coordinates and occasional hints made available online. Since emerging in 2000, geocaching has grown exponentially as more and more cachers purchase smartphones, which have enabled scavengers to download an app that allows them locate nearby geocaches.
“In the last three to five years, people have become more involved by using their smartphones,” said Eric Schudiske, the public relations and social media manager at geocaching.com. “It’s completely easy, and if you find yourself waiting for a bus, or have a few extra minutes before meeting a friend, you can just pull out your phone and explore what’s nearby. It gives you a reason to get out there.”
The relatively simple activity has enticed more than 6 million people to participate, resulting in the placement of 2,075,971, and growing, active geocaches throughout the world, according to Schudiske.
A world of variety exists among these millions of caches. Larger containers, generally hidden in more rural areas, can hold a logbook and trinkets that geocachers can take for themselves -- just as long as they replace the item with something of equal or greater value. Cachers can also take satisfaction in the mere discovery of the cache and simply log their visit in the available logbook without removing anything.
In more populated areas, smaller containers, such as Bison capsules or film canisters, often contain only a log sheet, on which geocachers can record their visit. Although these “Traditional Caches” are the most common, more than seventeen variations of caches exist, including “Event Caches,” “Multi-Caches,” and “Virtual Caches.” Click for a full list.
A geocache discovered near the Santafe.com offices.
Today, geocaching has evolved into a more intricate and extensive activity than when it began. In May of 2000, Dave Ulmer, widely credited as the founder of geocaching, recognized the potential of the burgeoning technology of the Global Positioning System, a satellite navigation system that provides users with calculations on location and time. Ulmer placed the first cache just outside of Portland, Oregon, and posted the coordinates online, encouraging anyone with a GPS unit to find it, according to geocaching.com.
Through the help of the Internet, the idea went viral, and geocaching has been growing ever since. “Geocaching has taken evolutionary steps since the existence of smartphones,” said Schudiske, who spoke to SantaFe.com from the Groundspeak headquarters, which runs geocaching.com, in Seattle. “It’s changed from having to buy a fairly expensive GPS unit, which you then had to plug into your computer and filter through pages of coordinate searches, to an era where there’s no need for downloading off of the Internet. Now, you can download the very well-known and simple app from geocaching.com and suddenly you’re treasure hunting.”
A Global Community
Naturally, members of the geocaching community wonder what the future holds for geocaching. A casual geocacher will likely wish for little more than the placement of more caches to discover. Schudiske, however, has larger expectations. He sees geocaching as a growing global movement. “When you geocache, not only are you finding a treasure, you are also finding other geocachers who have experienced the same adventure. And that’s just as exciting. With more people involved in the activity, the geocaches will become more challenging and more interesting. Increased participation really elevates the game for everyone.”
If the concept of this activity still mystifies, Schudiske reminds us: “It’s difficult to explain sometimes because geocaching is not a real word…we made it up within the past 10 years. We’re defining something that there is not much of a context for.”
For this reporter, geocaching embodies a spirit of wonder, curiosity, and adventure. Although we may feel that our sense of exploration is becoming less accessible in this modern, busy world, geocaching provides a simple and often quick outlet to a deep-rooted human desire to explore. “Geocaching is a real world treasure hunt…,” said Schudiske. “You’re searching for something. There’s an adventure, an excitement to it. And there’s a whole world to explore!”
For more information, visit geocaching.com.
Editor's Note: Allison Stertzer is a graduating senior at Santa Fe Prep and a summer intern at Hutton Broadcasting/SantaFe.com.