Hundreds of people walk by a certain stop sign every day without giving it a second thought. However, that stop sign has a secret: it conceals a small, magnetic tube, inside of which is a small slip of paper. Every so often, someone nonchalantly approaches the stop sign, locates the magnetic tube, removes and signs the slip, returns the tube and walks away as if nothing had happened. This mysterious person is a geocacher, and concealed in that stop sign is a small container called a cache.
Originating in 2000, after GPS technology became widely available, geocaching has built a community of participants, including those in the local Twin Cities area. The rules are simple: after selecting a nearby cache, participants use GPS technology to locate its coordinates. The only requirements are a smartphone with GPS and a free Geocaching.com membership, making it easy for anyone to participate.
With nearly 20 geocache sites within a one mile radius of St. Paul Academy and Summit School, the activity is readily accessible for SPA students willing to give it a try. Those who enjoy nature hikes or exploring the city may be attracted to geocaching.
While the cache is a most often a box and contains no actual treasure, participants are encouraged to leave non-food items such as a small toy in the cache for the next person. Additionally, each cache contains a log-book for finders to sign, allowing cachers to see who was there before them.
Part of geocaching etiquette includes not revealing the existence of the cache to onlookers. If the cache is located in a busy area, participants are expected to locate the cache as quickly as possible and sign it before bystanders, known colloquially in the geocaching community as “muggles”, can realize what is happening. This air of secrecy adds to the excitement and challenge of the activity.
Geocaches can be hidden in any number of places, ranging from inside a street sign to underground. Some are located in more secluded nature sites and others are stashed along a busy street. Caches also come in all sizes and type; some simply contain a slip of paper for participants to sign, others are full to the brim with various knick-knacks.
There are more than a dozen different types of caches, including Mystery and Puzzle Caches, for which geocachers must solve a puzzle to determine the cache’s coordinates. Additionally, a type called EarthCaches allow participants to learn about geological processes by including educational notes with the coordinates of the cache.
Although the prizes geocachers obtain may be not be extremely valuable, participants know they serve mostly as mementos to the experience. Of the many reasons people geocache, some enjoy exploring new parts of town or the outdoors; others enjoy the time spent with friends and family; others still simply revel in the thrill of a real life treasure hunt.