In our rural neck of Wise County, there’s not an abundance of places to take the kiddos for entertainment, so its not rare to have to find our own fun around here. Last weekend, that duty fell to my teenager and a couple of his buddies – specialists in fun-finding – who, on a whim, downloaded a geocaching app for smart phones. We were surprised to discover a few true thrills that were just waiting to be revealed right here at home!
What is Geocaching?
Geocaching is the hunt for any of more than 3 million items worldwide that have been purposely hidden by other geocachers. This "treasure hunt" takes geocachers to fun, creative, or beautiful hiding places in the outdoors to search for items of all different sizes and difficulty. With the help of a geocaching smartphone app (Groundspeak has an introductory version for free and a $9.99 version, which we opted for), you can learn about the hobby which can be enjoyed especially with kids (but also without), get familiar with geocache lingo, browse the map and choose to search for endless caches, worldwide. We couldn’t believe there were three treasures in our area! Even more opportunities are found in heavier populated areas on the map.
Our First Adventure
The first leg of our geocaching adventure took us to a local Veteran’s memorial. The kiddos I had onboard (my own 14 year old, a couple of his teen friends and my 6 year old) searched fervently among a well-manicured, patriotic setting and finally located the cache – found with the GPS coordinates displayed on my teen’s phone, but mostly by accident and the only provided clue, “Texas, Our Texas.”. In this instance, the cache was a small box filled with a handful of sharks’ teeth, to my 6 year old’s delight. It included the cache log, which our group was excited to sign – the “proof” that we had discovered the hidden stash. From the collection of trinkets we brought with us (when you take something from the cache, always replace with something of equal value), we swapped a shark’s tooth out with a tiny, plastic lucky shamrock, closed the cache and replaced it just as we’d found it.
A must-visit for the kids: The Aurora Alien Cache
Next on the map, we were tickled to discover the day’s second cache was to be found in a local cemetery - folkloric home to the buried body of the Aurora Alien - so meaningful to our county, a 1986 documentary was actually filmed there. The level of difficulty of “Dude, Where’s My Spaceship," the title of this cache, was higher than the previous one. The GPS coordinates told us we were at the correct location, but my kids never did find Dude, Where’s My Spaceship. We did, however, hone in on a variety of interesting gravestone epithets and, unfortunately, a flaming case of poison ivy a few hours later.
The last cache of the day was a stone's throw from the cemetery. Specifically, “Spaceship Dreams” is tucked away near the rumored crash site of the Aurora Alien’s spaceship, also known as the local baseball park, a place my kids have been familiar with since their earliest years. Its funny how tales of crashing spaceships can transform such an everyday place into a little local piece of fun creepiness. One of our teen buddies found the cache – semi-hidden, hanging on a wire, tightly packed into a shotgun shell. No additional treasures were encased in the petite package but the satisfaction in the kids’ faces that they had discovered something not many know is there made for priceless and memorable weekend entertainment. So, for some fun and fresh air this upcoming, almost-spring weekend, I recommend discovering something new in geocaching.
A couple of things we learned:
1. Don't forget a pen for logging in your name or your group's "cache handle" on the cache log.
2. Its fun to trade out whatever treasure you happen to find with something of equal or greater value.
3. Watch out for potentially poisonous or bothersome plants and animals - a lot of the cache locations are hidden in natural settings which sometimes means you might encounter bees, ants, spiders or other pesky insects. Insect repellent might be a good item to have on-hand. Remember springtime also ushers in the likelihood of a possible snake or skunk encounter, so search carefully.
For more info on geocaching see:
CommonSenseMedia.org's recent article - a few good tips to remember before heading out.
Article contributed by Laura James