Skill Builder: Natural Treasure Hunt
Newest state park craze combines technology and outdoor fun.
By Ky Harkey
Did you know that there are specially hidden treasures at state parks across Texas? In fact, you’ve probably walked by hundreds of them without realizing it. Geocaching is a type of treasure hunt using a global positioning system (GPS) unit or app on your smartphone to help you find hidden “caches” placed by people around the world.
Here’s how it works. First, decide where you want to go. Geocaches are everywhere, from just down the street to far away in the most remote wilderness areas. On the website Geocaching.com, you can search for and then download the needed coordinates — the exact location of a cache using latitude and longitude.
Next, travel to the site of the geocache you’re seeking. When you get close, turn on your GPS unit and start following directions toward the cache. It’s important to remember to practice “common sense caching” — your GPS unit knows the shortest direction to the cache, but that may not be the easiest or wisest route. Always use the paths and trails that are safest for you and your family.
Once you’re within 10 or 20 feet of your geocache, it’s time to start looking for good hiding places — maybe under a rock or behind a tree. Caches come in different sizes. They might be in small containers, such as a 35mm film canister, or larger containers, such as an ammo box.
Found it? Great! Remember that hiding places for geocaches sometimes make good hiding places for animals too — tap your cache with a stick first to see if anything crawls out.
When you open a geocache, you can find many different things. Some small caches contain just a small roll of paper to sign your name. Others might include tradable items for kids and adults, or special trackable items that travel across the country. Bring a pen with you to sign logbooks, as well as small inexpensive items to leave behind in place of your new treasure.
Always remember to hide a cache back just the way you found it; this helps to make sure that whoever comes after you enjoys the same experience.
Geocaching turns an ordinary hike into an exciting treasure hunt — a new and inventive way to get kids excited about getting outdoors. Take a look at the Texas State Park Geocache Challenge (www.texasstateparks.org/geocache) to participate in a fun program for caching in your state parks. Cache on!