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

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 for some more pictures, some are really funny and clever.

(Photos courtesy of

  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 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  (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 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 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, 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 :
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 :
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 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, 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 and log your find!  ( 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  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 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, as well as some of my other posts like Getting Started.