Adventures in Geocaching

Imagine if you will someone walking into the woods with no clear idea of a destination, seemingly on a mission to become lost forever in the forest. Following only a notion that others have been there before, accomplished the objective and safely returned.

Have you, the hidden observer, entered the Twilight Zone? No, it’s merely French Creek State Park on the first installment of Adventures in Geocaching.

Geocaching is a game of hide and seek. The hider has been out sometime before the seeker. Instead of seeking a person, you’re looking for an object, usually a box with a notebook for finders to log their visits and a collection of trinkets. The rule is if you take something, you leave something.

To find the cache, you get a set of coordinates from other geocachers. I use geocaching.com. You can get to the coordinates using a map, preferably a topographic one, or a GPS receiver. I went for the latter.

Why geocaching? It sounded like fun, but I didn’t seriously looking into it until a friend of my father’s created a cache as a tribute. The cache (Here’s to Al) is in French Creek State Park, where my dad worked as an environmental educator after retiring from teaching.

My sister had found it last month with some friends. Yesterday was the first nice day where the trails would be somewhat dry and I didn’t have plans. So I loaded the coordinates into the Garmin, packed a backpack like I was going to be gone for hours (lots of water, a Cliff bar, cell phone, camera and stuff) and drove out to the park.

The GPS receiver will show you the direction and distance to the next waypoint – the location of the geocache. It doesn’t show you trails, so I ignored the first compass direction and headed to where I thought it would be. Full disclosure – Penny had confirmed that the quickest way to the cache was to park at the lake and then head to where Dad’s first office had been.

A bushwhack off the trail and up a hill took me within 10 feet of the cache according to the GPS. The receivers are good to within 10 feet or so and then the treasure hunting phase kicks in.

I spotted several likely locations for the cache – a rotting upright stump, a ridge of rocks, several downed trees. After searching for 15, 20, 30 minutes and getting torn up by brambles and attacked by gnats, I called my human GPS – Penny.

With her advice, I found the cache in a hole in the standing tree in the picture above. The hole was covered with branches to make it more difficult to spot.
Really, this is it told you so

The plastic jug was full of stuff people had left behind. Since Ed hid the cache in 2007, 71 visits have been logged on the web site. There were a lot of dollar-store toys, a rubber ducky, several pens and more stuff. I left 2 rock/fossil things that belonged to my dad, putting one in the ziploc bag with the logbook, leaving the other loose in case someone wanted it. I took nothing.

cache contents

The fact that it was Mother’s Day when I was here wasn’t lost on me. And I figured I could call Penny for help since Dad had helped her find it first. And maybe there would have been a beam of sunlight when I needed it if it weren’t a cloudy day.

I had other geocache coordinates in the park but only put a half-hearted effort into getting close enough to hike to them. I had wanted Dad’s cache to be the first one I found and I guess it was the only one I needed to find yesterday. I plan to hunt for more – it’s fun and what Ed wrote about his reasons for setting up the cache are right. Geocaching is something my dad would have been involved with and exploring this hobby is a way of continuing something he loved: being outside and appreciating the little things in nature.

So, give geocaching a try. Or, at the very least, the next time you’re outside in the woods or your back yard, just be still for a few minutes. Look at the hidden things that show themselves if you’re patient.

 

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