Thursday, July 15, 2010

Adventures in Geo-Caching

Last weekend, hubby and I set out upon our very first geo-caching adventure. What a blast! A Sunday drive and hike has never been so much fun...even though it meant rising pre-dawn so we could get our trekking done before the worst heat of the day.

We had been looking for some other purpose for our hikes aside from foraging. Then we discovered geo-caching in this region. If you haven't heard of this activity before, it's a treasure hunt. Cache boxes are hidden in various places and it's up to you, the hiker/mountain-biker/adventurer, to find them. GPS navigation is most often used, but some regions offer traditional positioning clues – directions to the location providing compass headings and pace measurements. Once the cache is found, you sign the cache log book and take a site-sticker for your record of sites visited. While you're at it, check out some of the other people who were there before you. Geo-caching is a global activity, so you may discover entries by visiting hikers from faraway lands. The cache-boxes contain nothing of any substantial value, but inside you'll likely find trinkets left behind by other hikers. You can take one IF you leave a trinket of your own in its place. No food, though, as it attracts animals.

By far, the greatest reward is quality time spent with loved ones. But there are other intangible treasures: the discovery of new places, the nuggets of learning gleaned from local legends, and a bounty of exercise in exploration. Bring a picnic lunch and your prize can include some much-coveted relaxation gilded by a dazzling vista.

A day away from holding down the couch couldn't be better spent! And, it's FREE! The only cost is fuel and, depending how far your chosen cache sites are, that is relatively inexpensive compared to other activities. A field guide is sold locally, but we downloaded and printed relevant pages, free of charge, off the Internet site.

Here in "Gold Country" caches are distributed widely and near sites of interest. Our local field guide (Gold Country Geo-Tourism) not only supplies GPS co-ordinates and "letterbox clues" to each location, it also provides interesting synopses, providing historical and anecdotal information for each site. The sites themselves are divided into various categories: Pioneers & Early Settlers; Gravesites & Mystical Places; Geological Wonders; Historic Churches; and, Views & Vistas. Some sites are clustered in close proximity to each other, while others are singularly placed and take you farther afield. Once stickers for twenty-four sites are collected, we can send away for a souvenir-prize pin. Who knows? Some day it might just end up traded in a geo-cache in some other part of the world.

On our first expedition, we hunted for two caches. We don't own a GPS, so we followed the "letterbox clues" and thought it was very entertaining. The first cache, up Scottie Creek road, we found with relative ease. The second one, at Downing Lake Park, eluded us. But the hike wasn't wasted. Our circuitous route took us to new and beautiful places, and we took every opportunity to forage a little as we hiked through those newly discovered territories. Hubby also scouted promising hunting areas which he'll likely return to in the fall. As the blistering summer sun climbed the sky, we meandered back via a lonely country back road, arriving home thoroughly sated – body mind, and spirit – with 84 pictures of stunning natural beauty as proof of our first journey.

Most geo-cache guides are posted on the Internet so, if you're looking for inexpensive adventures, quests which guide you in a more intimate exploration of your region, check out local geo-caching opportunities. You're sure to discover your own priceless treasures!