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Add Adventure to Your Walks with Geocaching

Hunt for Hidden Treasure with this Family-Friendly Activity
  -- By Christopher Stormann, Ph.D.

There are thousands of treasures hidden in parks and forests across the country. There may even be some lurking near you. All it takes to find one is a little hiking, a little know-how, and a cool gadget that uses our government's weapon delivery system. Sound like a fun way to stay in shape? If you haven't heard of it already, it's called Geocaching.

Geocaching is deceptively simple. Somebody hides a "treasure" and gives you a few clues along with the approximate coordinates (longitude and latitude) needed to find it. Clues can be riddles to solve or landmarks to identify. Getting you close and keeping you on track is a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS). Without going into all the techno mumbo, GPS uses 24 satellites to pinpoint an exact location with great accuracy. You can pick up a GPS receiver at most electronics stores for about $100.

Finding the treasure (called a cache) can be tricky, but the real challenge often lies in reaching the area. To help you prepare, hikes are ranked in difficulty on a 1 to 5 star scale. A one-star, for example, might lead to a cache hidden just off a well-marked footpath and tucked inside a hollow tree (reachable while pushing a stroller). Meanwhile, a five-star can require rock-climbing equipment. That's pretty extreme and uncommon, but the difficulty level is limited only by one's imagination. There are caches on islands reachable by kayak or canoe and then only during a full moon. There is even an underwater cache that requires scuba equipment.

What's in a cache?
Most caches include a logbook so you can leave the date and time of your visit. Common items are key chains, maps, books, pictures, money, jewelry, tickets, games and other inexpensive items. You're usually asked to take an item and leave an item, so the contents are always changing. Most cache containers can handle the elements but it is a good idea to place items in a plastic bag for extra protection.<pagebreak>

What are the rules?
1. Take something from the cache
2. Leave something in the cache
3. Write about it in the logbook

That's it. Avoid leaving any food item. Two words: raccoons and raccoons. Remember also that geocaching is a family event so don't leave anything inappropriate for children.

There is a ton of information about the hobby at www.geocaching.com. At the site you will learn everything you need to get started. Type in your zip code and up comes nearby caches (I found 31 within a 10 mile radius of my zip).

Fall is a perfect time for hike in the woods. Grab the kids, take a friend, and get some exercise in the fresh air with a little geocaching. You just might find hidden treasure as close as your neighborhood park.