A Fun Geocaching Travel Bug

Here's a fun travel bug that I got for DH for Christmas.  This is no ordinary travel bug - this one comes with a blank spot to write your own name, and there are magnets on the back so you can wear this travel bug on your shirt to geocaching events so YOU can be discovered!  Now, if only we had an event to go to... :-D
(Oh btw, if you'd like to pick one of these up, I got this one at the Geocoin Store - I've ordered from them before and I have always been happy with them - here's a link to the above travel bug - Red Name Tag Geocoin.)

Benchmark Hunting

Have you ever seen one of these?  They're all over the place - most likely there are some right in your town, in plain view.  It's a benchmark. 
From Geocaching.com:

What is a benchmark?

A benchmark is a point whose position is known to a high degree of accuracy and is normally marked in some way. The marker is often a metal disk made for this purpose, but it can also be a church spire, a radio tower, a mark chiseled into stone, or a metal rod driven into the ground. Over two centuries or so, many other objects of greater or lesser permanence have been used. Benchmarks can be found at various locations all over the United States. They are used by land surveyors, builders and engineers, map makers, and other professionals who need an accurate answer to the question, "Where?" Many of these markers are part of the geodetic control network (technically known as the National Spatial Reference System, or NSRS) created and maintained by NOAA's National Geodetic Survey (NGS).
Some Geocachers enjoy hunting for benchmarks as sort of a side hobby, since often times in our treasure hunting we bump into them anyway.  You don't actually even need a GPS in order to find benchmarks.  You can go to the Geocaching.com page on benchmarks HERE and on the right hand side at the top, plug in your zip code to find benchmarks close to you.  You can click on a particular one and read the datasheet for it, which gives coordinates, as well as written directions for finding the benchmark.  The datasheets themselves are very interesting - they document attempts over the years to check on the benchmark.  Some benchmarks are very old and the written directions might consist of something like, "10ft east from large oak tree, 100 yards south from Mr. John Smith's stable, and 18 paces north of a large rock outcropping" (but there should be more modern directions documented as well).  Even if you don't hunt for any, the datasheets can be fun to read!  Go take a look and see where there are benchmarks that you never noticed!
There is much more interesting info about benchmarks - if you want to learn more, be sure to check out Geocaching.com's page on Benchmark Hunting.  If you can find any benchmarks, Geocaching.com will even let you log them.
Yes, we've found lots of benchmarks. :-D

Yet Another "Boardwalk" Trail

Wow, we came across yet another one of these.  This one is in Kettletown State Park in CT.
Now that we're expecting a winter storm to arrive tomorrow and dump a bunch of snow on us, we're suddenly going to be limited to those "Available in Winter" geocaches only - geocaches that are at least a few few off the ground....like for example, this one:
Snow doesn't stop serious geocachers!  Stay tuned...

What Happens When You Don't Use a Waterproof Container - "Needs Maintenance" Attribute

This is a log that we took out of a micro geocache that had gotten waterlogged.
Here it is unfurled.  
Film containers and hide-a-keys are commonly used for micro geocaches, but depending where they are hidden, they aren't always very watertight.  Probably the best thing to do if you're going to use this type of container is to put the log in a tiny ziploc-type bag (I don't know where to buy them, but we often come across them included with other things we purchase containing small pieces or parts and we save them for geocaching).
When a geocacher discovers that a log is wet they can add an attribute to the geocaching page indicating that the geocache "needs maintenance" - it looks like this:

A responsible geocacher owner should then go out and retrieve the old log and replace it with a new one.  However, for whatever reason, sometimes the geocache owner doesn't replace it, and sometimes another geocacher will take it upon themselves to replace the log after giving the geocache owner a chance to do so.  (Ususally a geocache owner enjoys having the log to look over, so it's polite to give the owner a chance to come get his own log and replace it.)
On our recent trip to the Yankee Candle flagship store we came across this geocache that had "needed maintenance" for quite some time and being the benevolent geocachers that we are, we happened to have some new logs with us.
So we replaced the old waterlogged log and put in a nice, new, dry one.
DH was very nice and after we got home and dried the log out, he photographed it and emailed it to the geocache owner.
Moral of the story: try to use a small ziploc bag to hold the log if you're using a geocache container you know isn't watertight, and, it never hurts to carry some spare logs with you!

Second Time's the Charm!

Can you blame DH for DNF-ing this the first time?  The geocache owner did a great job with this geocache - see how he hollowed out a hole in this log and fit the geocache in it?  (That's the inside of the lid laying next to it in the leaves with the green "Official Geocache" sticker in it.)  When "hidden" this log would be turned over, so it would look like any one of the other, oh, HUNDRED other sticks and logs that were around.  We were relieved and happy when DH discovered it, this was a tough one, but fun!

"Available In Winter"

Have you ever seen this icon on a geocache page on the right under "Attributes"?  This icon signifies that this geocache is "available in winter".  A lot of geocachers would call a geocache with this attirbute "winter friendly".  This is to me one of the most helpful attributes for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the obvious - this icon indicates if the geocache can be found easily even if there is snow on the ground.  If you live in a climate where you have snowy winters (like here in NY), a geocache that, for example, is hidden at the base of a tree might be very difficult, if not near impossible to find if there's a foot of snow on the ground.  On the other hand, a small geocache that is hanging from a tree branch would still be easily findable even in deep snow or ice.  Cold and snowy weather does not stop serious geocachers, so this icon is incredibly helpful for planning winter jaunts.

There's another really handy thing about this icon though that is helpful all year round.  You see, it gives you a big hint - if a geocache has the snowflake icon, then you automatically KNOW the geocache is NOT hidden on the ground - it's got to be at least a couple of feet off the ground in order to have this attribute!  Cool, eh?

Sometimes if we're having trouble finding a geocache first I'll read through the logs to see if anyone gives away any hints as to where it might be. Then I look at the attributes and see if I see that snowflake.  Sometimes all you need is just one little hint for the lightbulb to go off in your head and score a find.

Of course you can always resort to decoding the hint, but sometimes even with the hint that find is elusive.  Gotta use every clue you can get! :-)

Speaking of that, we're heading out today to try again for a geocache that DH DNF'd last week.  Despite all his tricks to extract hints from the geocache page, he still couldn't find it.  He was out by himself (well, the dog was with him) and he called me from the trail to look at the page on Geocaching.com to see if I could come up with any ideas - we call that "phone a friend".  We'll see if we can find it as a team today...

Holiday Use for Your GPS

If you like to go chop down your Christmas tree each year like we do, you probably know how difficult in a field of Christmas trees it can be to find just the right tree.  Especially if you go as a family, one person might find one good tree over here that he/she wants everyone to look at, and someone else might find a tree over there for everyone to consider...but then how in the world will you find that first tree again, after you go look at the second tree and you decide you want the first tree after all?  I mean, after 5 minutes at the Christmas tree farm, all the trees start to look the same.
In years past we've tried a few different methods - we've used the "find-a-stick-and-stick-it-in-the-top-of-the-tree" to mark it way, we've also used the "you-stand-here-and-wait-while-I-go-look-at-the-other-tree" method as well.  But THIS year, I think you can guess from the photo what we did!
DH had the brilliant idea to waymark the trees we liked using his GPS.  (Waymarking is basically just using the GPS to "mark" and save the coordinates of a location.)  I believe in this photo he is marking "Tree 2".  We eventually ended up getting "Tree 1".  (In case you're wondering, we only ended up waymarking two trees - don't be thinking I dragged DH all over the farm making him waymark every other tree - I didn't!)
Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
(If you're interested in reading more about getting our tree at the Christmas Tree Farm, I blogged about it in way more detail with more pics at my other blog: Carole's Thoughtful Spot.)

Christmas Gifts for Geocachers

I am always looking for geocaching gifts for DH for Christmas, birthday, whatever.  There are some nice things in the Groundspeak store, like geocaching.com t-shirts and geocache containers and stuff.   They even have the "fake rock" geocaches.  I got one of these one year for DH.

Geocoins are also always a fun gift.  (Except my DH never wants to "release" his, he likes to save them, which to me takes the fun out of them, but if it makes him happy, that's all that matters.)
This year I discovered the geocaching stuff at Cafe Press - there are some really great designs for t-shirts or mugs or whatever.  You can check them out here.
There are also some good gift items there in my sidebar to the right, sold by Amazon, that I recommend.  Listed is a beginner's GPS that we think is good, as well as our GPS, which was somewhat pricey but has the features we felt we wanted after having been at this sport for awhile, and it has great accuracy, I might add.  Also in that list is a first aid kit, which is a MUST, a Geocaching for Dummies book, and a backpack.  The first aid kit and Geocaching for Dummies are good gifts for the beginning geocacher. 
Finally, there's always a premium membership to geocaching.com if your loved one is not already a member.  Geocaching.com offers a Premium Membership gift certificate which can be used to upgrade a basic membership to premium, or if your loved one is already a member, they can use it to extend their current premium membership another year (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see that option).  Great gift for the geocacher who has everything!
If you have any other good ideas for geocaching Christmas gifts, tell me!  :-)

Another Clever Geocache Container and "Boardwalk" Trails

Yes, that's actually a geocache!  I love clever geocaches and clever hides.  Even the "trail" was really fun - as you can see, DD is standing on decking.  That's because this part of the "trail" was like a raised boardwalk with railings and everything, and went through a marshland area.  It was really beautiful to walk amongst the tall reeds, and hear the wind rustling the grasses - there were all kinds of bird and frog sounds as well.  Not that these "boardwalks" are common on hikes, but we've come across this type of thing quite a few times before.  In fact, DH was just on a different hike that had a "boardwalk" (though this one is very low to the ground) and he took a really nice picture.  Here, I'll show you:
So anyway, DD thought that "bug" geocache was really cool and asked if she could re-hide it and DH and I said "sure".  So she's fiddling with it and then all of a sudden she says, "Uh oh, I dropped it!"  Yup, it fell down over the side of the decking onto the wetland below.  Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice.  So I volunteered to climb over the railing and down the outside of the decking and lucky, lucky, lucky for me the ground was not super saturated and I was able to step on a log and sort of hang off the railing and retireve the geocache.  That's actually the first time I can remember dropping a geocache.  We've found some geocaches that are stuck to the underside of a bridge railing and if you're not careful it can easily go "kerplunk"!  I've heard of a few geocaches getting lost that way!
So today's lesson is: try not to drop the geocache!  :-)

My American Girl Doll Geocacher

DD and I call this Kirsten's "Geocaching Outfit".  (It's actually the "Adventure Outfit" from the American Girl Store.)  It even comes with the hiking boots, isn't it cute?  
This pic is from the current "scene" we have set up which we are calling "Girls on a nature trail", but I suppose they could be geocaching...  I wonder where I could get a doll size GPS?  :-)

A "Nano" Geocache

Yes, those are geocaches!  (One is open, one is closed.)  
This is a typical "nano" container, and this type is usually magnetic, which is good, because it narrows down the places it can be hidden.  If we are out hunting a nano geocache, we usually look for things that are metal, and search in those places.  Inside is a tiny, tiny piece of scrolled up paper where you can just about barely write your name and the date.  Obviously you have to bring your own pen or pencil when hunting one of these down.   
This type of geocache is good for an "urban hide" because it can be "hidden" on a signpost, a metal bench, etc. in the middle of a busy sidewalk, for example.  (I found one once that was on a leg of a post office mailbox which was clever, but in this day and age of fears of terrorism, and tampering with the mail and such, I felt very suspicious searching around it.  Not a very good spot for a hide, in my opinion.)
But sometimes they sure can be tough little buggers to find!  Some people "pooh pooh" the nano and micro geocaches because they feel geocaching is only fun if it means a hike in the woods, but we like all types of treasure hunts.  :-)

"It's Not About the Numbers"

That's what geocachers like to say.  They like to feel that it's about the sport, the fun of being out in nature, the experience.  That's it's NOT about the number of smilies... (finds)

DH says that no, it's not about the numbers....it's about the ICONS!  Heh!

(You often get new icons for different types of caches found and geocoins picked up.)

But c'mon.  For most of us, sometimes it *is* about the numbers!  :-P

Psst...In fact there's a website - www.itsnotaboutthenumbers.com...

Huckle Buckle Beanstalk!

That's a game we play while geocaching.

You see, a lot of the fun of geocaching is trying to find the geocache.  In our family there are three of us, so when someone finds the geocache, basically the fun is ruined for the other two who now don't get to find the geocache.  So to avoid this, we play Huckle Buckle Beanstalk.  Here's what you do:  when you find the geocache, you don't say anything.  You continue looking around nonchalontly and move away from where the geocache is.  After a moment or two you say, "Huckle buckle beanstalk!"  This lets the others know you've found it.  This way they get to keep trying to find it.  If one of them find it, they do the same thing and call out "Huckle buckle beanstalk!" and the last person can still have the fun of trying to find it.  Or they can just give up and ask where it is.  :-)  But it keeps it fun if you're in a group.

By the way, thanks to MSTzilla for a very fun geocaching event last week!

How to Geocache Without A GPS

DH geocached without a GPS for the first time the other day.  Not on purpose, mind you...

New geocache popped up late in the evening just as DH was driving home.  I saw it and printed off the page, entered the coordinates into the GPS, called him to let him know and I left everything on the counter for him so when he got home, he could run back out.

DH gets home, does a few things, then leaves.  About 10 min later I get a call from him.  I'm thinking, "He found it ALREADY?"   But no.  It's DH calling to tell me HE FORGOT THE GPS.


Well, being the good support crew that I am, I tell him to hold on while I look at the Google Geocaching map.  I bring it up and switch to satellite view.  Turns out we were in luck.  The geocache was in a park and ride and I could zoom in very close on the satellite map and I could at least tell him about where to look.  So he gets to the park and ride, and I'm like, "Ok, count over 9 parking spaces, and head into the woods pretty much starting from between parking spots 9 and 10."  Believe it or not, after a few minutes of searching, he found it!  And got the FTF!!

I would not normally recommend this method of geocaching, but as you can see, it CAN be done!  :-)

Can You Spot the Geocache in this Picture?

Contents of a Typical Geocache

Some time ago a bunch of geocaches along or near the Appalachian Trail were archived.  One of them was ours, and DH went out a couple of weeks ago and retrieved it.  It was fun to open it up and see what was in there, as well as read the comments in the log book.  I would say these are fairly typical contents of a geocache of this size (ammo can).  In fact, I think the "swag" that was in it was pretty good.  Some geocaches are just full of junk.  We try to visit our own now and then and "freshen" them if they need it.  (That's what happens if people don't trade equally or up.)   
DH and I agreed that the best item that was in here, which is hard to see because of the glare of the light, is the "I Fart in Your General Direction" button from the Monty Python Broadway show "Spamalot".  :-D

Broke our "Personal Best" Record

We did some geocaching over the Columbus Day weekend.  Ok, a lot!  We had our personal "best day" with 21 finds.  There's a running joke with geocachers - they say, "It's not about the numbers".  Meaning, it's not about how many geocaches you find, it's supposed to be about the fun and the adventure of it.  But, everybody knows that, at least once in awhile, it IS about the numbers!  :-)  And this was such a day.  The day started out with an FTF attempt (first to find) of a newly published geocache, but alas, we were STF instead (second to find).  But that was ok, because since we were going to be doing a "numbers run", it would still add to our daily total.

If you're going to do a "numbers run", the best thing to do is find easy, quick "cache and dash" geocaches.  While we did do a bunch like this, we also did do some that involved some hiking.  One was hidden near the ruins of an old estate, which was really cool.


Another geocache took us to a hydro-electric plant that was built on an historic waterfall that had not only lovely grounds to walk on (open to the public), but there were some really awesome geological formations easily seen in the rock outcrops as well.  (I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of it.)

There was a geocache here, too - pretty fun, huh?

Probably the two most notable points in the day (besides when we broke our old "caches found in a day" record) were when I found the first stage of a multi - notable because the cache container was designed to look like dog poo!  Very clever geocache container!  The second notable point was at the end of the day it had gotten dark, and we were geocaching in a city.  (The places we were geocaching were public places that were open 24/7, just so you know we weren't doing anything crazy or illegal.)  At a small park where there was a geocache, DH found a man's wallet!  No cash in it, but the license and credit cards were all there, so he called the police who came and got it.  The police even knew what geocaching was, so we didn't have to explain what we were doing, which was nice!

So all in all, a very fun day.

A few weeks back most of the geocaches that were on or near the Appalachian Trail were archived and one of them was ours.  DH went out and retrieved it and it was fun to look through the contents.  In my next post I have a photo of the contents, if you are curious what one might find in a typical geocache.  Stay tuned.

Event Geocache

Another type of geocache is an "Event Cache".  An event geocache is posted on Geocaching.com like a regular geocache, but it's a meet-up of some type.  Some "Event" geocaches can be as small as a few geocachers meeting at a local diner on a specific date and time just to have a bite together and swap stories, or it can be on as grand of a scale as a whole weekend event with people camping over, activities, t-shirts, cookouts, games, etc.  Here is a picture from a fun "Event" geocache we attended over the summer called Tri-State Treasures Two (you can see the actual geocache page here and read more about it if you want) to give you an idea of how many people attended.

At larger events the person who organizes it usually hides some new geocaches and the coordinates are released first to those attending the event before it gets published to Geocaching.com, so there's the fun of finding new caches as well.  Usually at any event, big or small, people bring travel bugs and geocoins to trade and "discover " (you take down the number and log it as "discovered" but you do not actually take the item).  At the Tri-State Treasures Two event there were probably about 30 travel bugs brought for "discovery" and trade. At this event there was also a raffle with many prizes like t-shirts, ammo boxes, geocoins, etc.  There was also a ton of food.  It was a lot of fun!  (Kudos to CaptainMath for a great event.)

Event caches are a great way to meet other geocachers in the area and ask questions, swap stories, and just to put faces to the names.  Geocachers tend to be fun, friendly people, so if you're thinking of attending an event but are afraid to go because you don't know anyone, you should go for it!

Here's an event geocache that is coming up for people in the southern NY - western CT - northern NJ area that you can check out.  It's put on by a well known Hudson Valley geocacher - MSTzilla.  It's called the 2008 Mid-Hudson picnic - it's waypoint is GC1GXEA and it's here.  It's sure to be a lot of fun, and it's at a park with a great playground so it'll be fun for the kids too.  A lot of families geocache, so usually all these events are very family-friendly.  MSTzilla mentions that he had geocoins minted for this event that will likely be given out as prizes or released - so if in your geocaching travels you ever pick up one a coin that says, "2008 Mid Hudson Picnic", think of me!  :-)

Bison Tube Geocache

Here's an example of a somewhat common geocache container - it's called a bison tube.  This sort of geocache is usually hidden by hanging it off something (note the "key ring" loop at the top).  We have occasionally found these hidden hung from branches near the trunk of small pine trees or bushes (though they can certainly be hidden other ways as well).  They blend in really well and can be quite a tough find!  In this picture, the bison tube is (obviously) open (to close it you would screw the two pieces together) and you can see how small the log is - it's all rolled up so it can fit inside.  This is an example of a geocache where you have to bring your own pen or pencil to sign the log.

This is a different geocache, and the container in this photo is not exactly a bison tube (it was a somewhat unique container), but this photo shows how a geocache might be hidden "inside" a tree on a branch, or I think this one may have been hanging from a small hook:
(Sorry for the crummy flash pic - we literally found this one in the very last moments of daylight.  To grab this geocache you literally had to go under the branches and sort of into the middle of the tree to get it, though it doesn't really show it that well in this photo.  You can imagine in a forest how tough something like this might be to find.  It was truly nothing short of a miracle that we found this one practically in the dark as well!  Our geocaching "luck" was with us that day!)

Funny Travel Bug we Picked up in Lake George

We were up in the Lake George area for the weekend and picked up this very unique travel bug!

Why It's Important To Log Your DNFs (Did Not Finds)

Some people are very reluctant to log a DNF (Did Not Find) when they don't find a geocache.  For some people it's an ego thing - they just don't want any of those "sad faces" in their account - they don't want to suffer the embarrassment of admitting they couldn't find a geocache.  For others, it may be that they tell themselves they'll go again another day and try to find it, and they never get around to finding it and never log the DNF. 
Well, embarrassing or not, or whether you plan to try to find the geocache again another day, you should still log your DNF because this is the only way the geocache owner will find out there may be a problem with their geocache!  Sometimes you can't find a geocache because it's not there - sometimes geocaches mysteriously disappear, or sometimes they get "muggled" (non-geocachers find it and trash it or take it).  And other geocachers will continue to waste their time and energy trying to find caches that are not there unless people log their DNFs so that the geocache owner will realize there is a problem and go out and check on their geocache and either come back to the cache page and note that the geocache IS still there and it's just a tough hide, or they can disable the listing if the geocache is missing until they have a chance to replace it.

So please, don't be embarrassed if you don't find a geocache - it's happened to the best of us, believe me (in fact right now there's a geocache we've been to TWICE and still haven't found it - we did confirm though that it IS still there - we just can't seem to find it!).  And hey, it might not even be there to be found, in which case the geocache owner will appreciate knowing there may be a problem and if they see another DNF or two come in, they'll know they need to go out and check on it. 

I hope you never have any DNFs, but if you do, please log it.  As a geocache owner, I thank you!

Red Spotted Newt: A Favorite Critter to Come Across

We always consider it a "bonus" if we happen to come across one of these guys in our geocaching travels.
From Wikipedia: "Eastern newts dwell in wet forests with small lakes or ponds. They may coexist in an aquatic environment with fish, because their skin secretes a poisonous substance when the newt is threatened or injured. They have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years in the wild, and may grow to 5 inches in length. The newts are a common aquarium pet, being either collected from the wild or purchased. The strikingly colored (orange) juvenile stage, which is land-dwelling, is known as the "red eft".
We don't see them very often; we most recently saw one on the Appalichian Trail near Pawling, NY.  The particular species we see is the Red Spotted Newt.  They are easy to spot, in fact they kinda stick out like a sore thumb.  I am astonished their lifespan is 12 to 15 years - I don't know how these guys manage to hide from their predators during their juvenile stage, being ya know, bright orange!  They don't even have a protective shell or anything!  :-O  They're sooo cute though, whenever we are lucky enough to come across one we always stop to check him out, sometimes pick him up.  Even DD will pick one up. 

I never knew that when they are orange it is just their "juvenile stage" and that "after two or three years, the eft finds a pond and transforms into the aquatic adult. The adult's skin is olive green, but retains the eft's characteristic outlined red spots. It has a larger and wider tail and characteristically slimy skin."

I guess if the newt can survive the "orange years", once he gets to a pond he can breathe a sigh of relief!  :-)

Anyway, if you are a geocacher in Eastern to Central United States hiking in an area of some wetlands, pond or lake, be on the lookout for the Red Spotted Newt.

The Travel Bug

Travel Bug "Dog Tags"
Photo courtesy of Geocaching.com

A fun little "side" aspect of geocaching is the "travel bug". A travel bug is an item with it's own tracking number, that a geocacher places in a cache for other geocachers to pick up and leave in another cache. Some travel bugs have a "mission" of where they want to go, or what they want to see, or what types of caches they want to visit. Typically these travel bugs will have a laminated tag attached telling you what their mission is, so that when you discover one in a cache, you can easily see whether you can help it on it's mission or not. There are a lot of travel bugs though that just simply want to move from cache to cache with no particular "mission" and so these can always be picked up.  (Good geocaching etiquette is to drop off any travel bugs you pick up in a different cache within two weeks.)

There are all sorts of items that can be attached to the travel bug tags, here are a few examples but you can also visit the Travel Bug Gallery at Geocaching.com for some more pictures, some are really funny and clever.

(Photos courtesy of Geocaching.com)

  Little stuffed animals and toys (I've seen a lot of McDonalds Happy Meal
 toys as travel bugs) are a popular choice.
It's not uncommon to see items with a hole drilled in them for the chain.

Keychains are a somewhat common item probably
 because it's very easy to attach the tags to them.

  These Jeep travel bugs are a special promotion by Jeep.  A bunch are released at a time and there's a contest sponsored by Jeep associated with them.

This was a special project to increase awareness of diabetes.  You were able to sign up on the Geocaching.com website and could get one of these travel bugs to release for free.
If you visit the travel bug gallery you'll see there's no end to the creative items that can be a travel bug.  However, there are a few considerations.  First, it's probably a good idea to choose something small because otherwise your travel bug is going to be very limited as to what size geocache it can be dropped off in.  Secondly, it's best to choose an item that can survive weather extremes and getting wet - geocaches aren't always watertight (though they should be) and depending on whether your travel bug ends up in Arizona or Norway, it's going to need to be able to survive being very hot or very cold.  And finally, it's best to choose something sturdy because it's going to hopefully pass through a lot of hands, and be stuffed into a lot of backpacks and you want it to stay in one piece.  I remember one time picking up a "Woody" character from the movie "Toy Story" travel bug and he was in a ziplock bag in pieces - I think one arm and one leg had come off, but he was still valiantly traveling on! :-)

If you'd like to have your own travel bug to "release" (when you first put your travel bug in a cache to start it's journey, that's called "releasing" it), you'll need tags with a trackable number that can only be purchased from the Groundspeak store which is part of Geocaching.com.  (People generally refer to the item along with it's tags as the travel bug, however, technically, the ACTUAL travel bug is REALLY the tags, and the fun item attached to it is technically the "hitch hiker", however people usually just call the whole thing a travel bug.)  After receiving your tags, you would then choose an item to attach, decide if it has a mission, and then activate it on the geocaching.com website.  Release it in the cache of your choice and from then on you can track it's progress around the world!

Post-Apple-Picking Geocaching

We traveled upstate a bit last weekend to do some apple picking.  (You can read about that at my other blog if you're interested in that sort of thing: Carole's Thoughtful Spot.)  After we finished up at the orchard we did a little geocaching.  DH printed off some "cache and dash" geocaches (quick to find geocaches) from the Geocaching.com website and so off we went.

Side note:  If you happen to drive a newer Honda Accord, and you just so happen to own the same GPS we do (Garmpin GPSMAP 60CSx), DH cleverly discovered that you can kinda jam it between the dashboard and windshield, and it will stay there pretty well, as long as you don't go over any big bumps. 

(Sometime I'll try to take a picture of the GPS holder I rigged for my truck - it uses the bottom of a McDonald's cup - it's really high tech.)
Anyway, one of the geocaches was a typical guardrail hide on a pretty country road.  Another was a multi-cache.  A "multi" is a type of hide that requires you to find one or more "stages" that give you coordinates or clues to where the "final" geocache is hidden.  We ended up having a DNF (did not find) on it because we couldn't find one of the stages, but I wanted to show you a very clever cache used at one of the stages we DID find that contained the coordinates to the next stage (which I have blurred out).  Check it out - it's a small spice container with the coordinates written on the inside of the lid!
It's always disappointing to have a DNF, but it was a beautiful day and we were out doing something we enjoyed, so I can't complain.  :-)  
I can only imagine what the other clever cache container(s) were that we couldn't find! 

Typical Contents of a "Micro" Geocache

A popular container for micros is a magnetic keyholder.  Obviously there's not much room inside, but as you can see here, there is a tiny hand-made logbook, a tiny stub of a pencil and a tiny ziploc bag (it's still in the geocache with the white paper in it) to keep the logbook dry.  There were actually two tiny trade items in this geocache, which is a bit unusual - there was a shark tooth which is in the cache, and there was a small pin (which is actually in my hand that is holding the cache).  The white paper inside the small ziploc bag is a little paper that explains what the geocache is, in case a "muggle" finds it, this way maybe it won't get thrown away if found by accident by a non-geocacher. 

We found this one this weekend after apple picking and I took a picture to show you.  DH will often look up some geocaches whenever we're going on any kind of a little trip where there might be time for a little geocaching.  Makes for fun and interesting side trips! :-)

Oh no! Bunch of Caches Archived!

Today a whole slew of caches were archived, including one of our most favorite caches.  There was no note explaining why (which is not the norm), however we believe they were archived because they are along the Appalachian Trail, which is NPS (National Park Service) land, and geocaches are not allowed on NPS land.  Which is a bummer!

View from one of our favorite caches, now archived, called Bloop!

Glacial Potholes

 A photo of some glacial potholes to claim a find for an Earth Cache
Some geocaches (like virtual caches and earth caches) have no logbook to prove that you found it, so a common means of proof is to provide a piece of information that you would only be able to get if you visited the spot, or a photo with your GPS in it and post it in your log or email it to the cache owner.

Sizes and Types of Cache Containers

There are many different types of geocache containers.  There are no rules for what type of container you have to use if you decide to hide one, however you want to choose a container that is as watertight as possible.  Ammunition boxes are a popular choice - they're called "ammo cans" or "ammo boxes" for short.  The picture above is of a typical size ammo can, but the little address and mailbox flag are a funny decoration - normally an ammo can is a green color, although sometimes people spray paint them brown or even in a camouflage pattern to make it easier to hide.  Often these are used for geocaches hidden in the woods or other somewhat remote areas that have trees, brush, rock walls, etc. where something of this size can be hidden.  The ammo can is also nice because there's plenty of room inside for a nice size log book, travel bugs and swag.  Other containers can be used however - it's not uncommon to see lock-n-locks, tupperware, gladware, etc., however if you live in an area that experiences cold winters, some plastic containers will crack and let water in.  The lock-n-locks seem to be pretty good at enduring all sorts of weather, for a plastic container.

(On the cache page at www.geocaching.com, under the name of the cache, usually the size of the cache is indicated.  An ammo can of this size would normally be considered a "regular" size cache.  This information is helpful so when you get to "ground zero" and you start looking around, it makes a big difference whether you are looking for a cache the size of an ammo can or a geocache the size of a film container.)

Another popular type of cache hide is what's called a "micro".  This is a very small geocache, and often times a film container or hide-a-key are used (though there are lots of other containers that can be used like a pill bottle for example).  Micros are popular in urban areas (since there are rarely larger hiding spots available) and they are popular for hides along a highway (there are often hides at rest stops) because the hide-a-keys tuck nicely under or behind a guardrail.  Sometimes people will hide a micro in the woods, and geocachers tend to look upon these with disdain - common thinking is that in the woods there should be plenty of room to hide a regular size cache, which is preferable if possible because that leaves opportunities for trades and travel bug and geocoin exchanges.  Also, finding a film container in a forest is a lot harder than finding an ammo can!  However, micro size caches are often used in stages of a multi-cache and for that purpose in the woods, it's considered acceptable.  Generally a micro will only have room for a log sheet and a writing implement - usually no room for swag.  Sometimes a cache page will instruct you to bring your own pen if they were unable to fit one in the cache, so be sure to read the cache page carefully.

Here is an example of a micro that is neither a hide-a-key or film container - it contained only a log sheet and pencil.  The velcro around the outside attaches to additional velcro in it's hiding spot to hold it in place.  There is no end to the clever ideas you will come across.

The last type of cache hide that you will often come across is the smallest geocache yet - a nano.  The smallest size indicated on the cache page is "micro" but often in the cache description it may be mentioned that you are actually looking for a nano.

Here is an example of the type of container often used for a nano:

 Photo from : http://shop.geoswag.com
The website doesn't give the dimensions, but the geocache above is about the size of 3 large aspirins stacked on top of each other.  You might think something this small would be impossible to find, however, these nanos are almost always magnetic, which gives you a big clue as to where it is hidden - look for metal objects. (The white scrolled object on the right in the photo is the log sheet!)

These are common sizes and types of cache containers, but there are no rules as to what can be used, so unless it's specifically mentioned on the cache page, you can't always be sure exactly what you are looking for, however at least the size is usually indicated and that is helpful.  Be warned though - now and then you will come across a really clever cache container - like this:

Photo from : http://www.shop4swag.com
Oh yes, you guessed it - it's a fake rock with a cutout on the bottom for a log sheet.  Be warned - these are not the norm, but you'll come across some really clever and difficult hides - but that makes it all the more fun and challenging.  If you like that sort of thing.  If not, there are plenty of guardrail hides to keep you busy for a long time.  :-D

Getting Started

So you wanna go geocaching?  Well, here are the basics for getting started!

First, I suggest going to www.Geocaching.com and register.  You'll need to pick a "nickname" for yourself, or for your family if you're going to geocache as a unit.  You can get a free account, however, if you find this turns into a serious hobby, be aware that you can buy a premium membership for $30/year which gives you some nice website perks as well as the ability to see information for and log "members only"caches.

Punch in your zipcode and check out the geocaches that are in your immediate area - choose one that is of an "Easy" difficulty and terrain (these are rated with stars just under the geocache name at the top of the page), and scroll down and check the logs to be sure it's been found recently.  (Occasionally caches go missing and I don't want your first attempt to be a failure because the cache isn't even there!  :-) 

Next, you'll need a GPS.  If you're lucky you have a friend or family member who has one you can borrow so you can try finding a few caches to see if you like it before you invest money in a GPS for yourself.  (I've heard of people using Topo maps to find caches without a GPS but I personally have no idea how one would do that.)  If you are unable to borrow a GPS and decide to take a leap of faith and buy a GPS I suggest buying a very inexpensive, low end GPS.  (I usually have one listed in the sidebar that I reccomend.)  This will probably run you somewhere between $80-$110.  You can spend a ton of money on a more sophisticated GPS but a basic hand-held GPS designed for hiking will do the job.  We didn't buy our current pricier GPS until our original one broke after we were a few years into this hobby - by then we knew what features were important to us.  (The GPS we own is also listed in my sidebar, FYI.)

Now you can geocache with just a GPS and a cache page printed off Geocaching.com, but I highly reccomend a few other items to make your geocaching experience safe and fun.

Get yourself a backpack - to get started any kind will do, even if it's got Blues Clues on it or whatever - it's just to carry stuff.  Again, if this becomes a hobby for you, you'll want to invest in a good backpack, but you don't need anything fancy to get started.

Very important - please spend a few bucks and get a first aid kit and some bug spray.  Believe me, if you end up needing either item, you will be SO GLAD you have them!

You'll also need some "swag" if you want to do any trading.  The dollar store is the perfect place to pick up some items.  As you find more caches you'll get a good idea of what typical trade items are, but here are a few suggestions: sewing kit, superballs, pencils, small flashlight, rain poncho, light sticks, plastic army men, etc.  Keep in mind that good "caching etiquette" demands that you trade an item of equal or greater value than what you take.  And there's one VERY IMPORTANT RULE ABOUT SWAG - NO FOOD!  Animals WILL smell it and they WILL try to tear apart the cache to get at it.  We have seen more than one cache with teeth marks!

Another important item is water.  Always err on the side of MORE than you think you'll need - just in case.

And the last important item, if you have one, is a cell phone.  Being able to make a phone call if you get lost, or you or someone in your party gets hurt can be a lifesaver - literally.  Make sure it's charged!

Now you're ready to tackle your first cache.  Print out the cache page.  (Note that often there is a clue if you get stuck, and they key to decode it is right there on the page.)  Check your favorite mapping program (like mapquest or Google maps or whatever) and get driving directions to the cache area, and go find it!  Remember, when you get home to log back in to Geocaching.com and log your find!  (Geocaching.com will keep track of your finds for you so you don't have to worry about remembering which ones you've found.)

Good luck, be safe and have fun!

And remember...if at first you don't succeed - try, try again!  It happens to the best of us!  :-)

Common Abbreviations and Terms

There are a lot of common abbreviations and terms in "Geocaching Lingo" - I'll cover the most common ones here, but if I've missed any, just ask!

Common Terms

Cache = Geocache

Cacher = Geocacher

Caching = Geocaching

Ground Zero = Immediate area where the geocache is hidden
Sig Item = Signature item - sometimes cachers will buy personlized items like pencils, carribeaners, wooden nickels, etc. with their geocaching name on them that they use as trade items

Log = Log sheet or log book

Muggle = Non-geocacher

Coin = Usually refers to a geocoin

Multi = A multi cache - a cache with smaller caches (stages) that provide information to find the final geocache

Swag = Items for trading

Common Abbreviations

TB = Travel bug

TNLNSL = "Took Nothing Left Nothing Signed Log"

TFTC = "Thanks For The Cache"

FTF = First to find

STF = Second to find

DNF = The dreaded sad-face - "Did Not Find"

If I've missed any let me know and if I know it, I'll add it.  :-)

Here are some more abbreviations (suggested by Kevin - thanks!):

GZ - Ground Zero

TFTH - Thanks for the Hide (a derivative of TFTC)

GPSr - Global Positioning System receiver

PnG (P&G) - Park and Grab

CnD (C&D) - Cash and Dash

CITO - Cache In, Trash Out - Refers to an ethic whereby cachers try and leave an area in better shape than they found it by picking up any trash they encounter after finding a cache.

What is Geocaching?

So you keep hearing about this "geocaching" thing and you want to know what it's all about.

Well, pull up a chair.

Geocaching is a sport in which the participants try to find a geocache, or "cache" for short, using a GPS (global positioning system) device (although there ARE a few people that use topo (topography) maps but that is a rarity).

From Mirriam-Webster, the definition of "cache":

Pronunciation: \ˈkash\
Function: noun
1 a: a hiding place especially for concealing and preserving provisions or implements
   b: a secure place of storage

And when I say "GPS" I'm not referring to the type you use for navigation when you are driving a car.  I'm referring to a hand-held, battery powered GPS unit that is designed for hiking use.  I usually have an Amazon link in the right sidebar showing an appropriate geocaching GPS - you can click on it to see an example of what I'm talking about.

Besides a cache, and GPS the third component of this sport is the website www.geocaching.com.  This website is where all the coordinates for caches are listed.  You can go to that website and sign up for a free account, and start searching for caches near your location by punching in your zipcode.

When you are out hunting a cache and you find it, you open the container (the container size and type can vary from a large ammo box down to a small cache that's only slightly bigger than a large aspirin) and inside at the very least there will be a log book or a log sheet for you to sign and date as proof that you have found that cache.  If the cache is large enough there usually are "trade items".  If you would like to take any of these items (often referred to as "swag" and are generally items worth less than $2.00) you would leave an item of equal or greater value as your trade.  Sometimes you may also find geocoins and travel bugs, but I will talk about those later.  After signing the log and making any trades, you would reseal the container and rehide it.  When you get home, you log on to www.geocaching.com and on the cache page for the cache you found there is a button to "log your find" and you would indicate that you found the cache and leave a message for the cache owner.  The website will track your finds for you so over time you can easily see which caches you have found and how many.

This is just a synopsis of what geocaching is about.  If you would like to know more, I encourage you to check out "Getting Started" at geocaching.com, as well as some of my other posts like Getting Started.