It's summer time and a great time to be outdoors. Are you looking for something to do with the kids? Do you want to discover new places in and around St. Louis? Need some exercise? You may enjoy Geocaching. It is a relatively new hobby that is attracting people from all walks of life. It is versatile enough to be enjoyed by families, retired folk, men, women and even the disabled. There is something for everyone!
What is Geocaching? It is a high-tech treasure hunt that utilizes the GPS (Global Positioning System). The only equipment that is necessary for the majority of caches is a handheld GPSr. Members of the Geocaching community hide containers and take the coordinate reading with their GPSr. They will then post a short description of the cache and the coordinates at Geocaching.com. Others can then plug the coordinates in and go hunting! Caches can be as big as a Tupperware container or ammo box, or as small as an altoid container or film cartridge container. Anything that can hold a logbook for the finders to sign will work. Traditional caches are filled with trading items, such as small toys, compasses, keychains, etc. The finder may take an item if they leave an item in return. A common phrase in the geocaching community is "trade up." It is good to leave an item of equal or better value so the cache is always full of interesting things to trade for.
Where are they? Everywhere! Caches can be hidden in the woods, taking you on a scenic hike. They can also be hidden in local parks, or even cleverly disguised on a city street!
One of the best things about geocaching is that it introduces the finder to places that they might never have known about. Our family has discovered lots of new parks and interesting places that have been under our noses, but we never knew about. It's great for learning local history as well, as many caches will take you to historic landmarks, or provide information in the description. I enjoy it also because it helps me exercise with a purpose. There is always a reward at the end of my hike or walk. There are geocaches found in 200 countries of the world. You can go to www.geocaching.com and plug in your zip code to find caches near you. You may be surprised to find that you drive right by a cache every day!
Cachers make the hobby unique by coming up with new and clever hiding techniques, or camouflage. Some make the cache into a puzzle that you must solve before finding the container. Virtual caches take you to a unique location such as an interesting historical marker or an awesome view.
St. Louis has a very active Geocaching community operating under the name of St. Louis Area Geocachers, aka SLAGA. SLAGA has taken an active role in educating the public about the hobby. They offer classes on geocaching through the St. Louis County Parks system, and have worked with various cities, like Crestwood, to place park-sponsored caches. Through an informative website and a newsgroup which can be joined through the website, members plan picnics, group cache hunts, and offer tips and suggestions on making the most of geocaching. Geostl.com and SLAGA are great places for a new St. Louis cacher to start out, as you will find many people willing to help you get started in your new hobby.
There are active geocaching communities in Columbia, Kansas City and the Ozarks as well. The Missouri Geocachers Association website provides information on these groups and on other aspects of caching in Missouri.
GPS units can be purchased at local department stores, electronic stores or marine stores. The Garmin eTrex, a popular unit for caching, can be bought for around $100.
Jen Guyer, known as nyisutter in the Geocaching community, is a wife and a homeschooling mom to three children and lives in St. Charles, MO. She has been geocaching since October 2001.