By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Everyone loves a treasure hunt. Hunting for something that has been hidden is just plain fun. But you might not know that there’s an ongoing world-wide treasure hunt that you can be part of. It’s called geocaching, and it’s one of the best games that you can do alone or with others.
In a nutshell, geocaching is an outdoor activity that requires the use of a GPS receiver and your own sleuthing skills to find containers, called geocaches. The geocaches have been placed in specific locations, and with the help of GPS coordinates, you will be on your way to finding them.
To get started, all you have to do is register at geocaching.com and sign a disclaimer that you won’t disturb or damage property in your quest for a geocache. You can then select a geocache from a list, plug the coordinates into your smartphone app or another GPS receiver and set out for your first adventure. When you find the hidden container, you can open it and sign the log inside and return it to its position for the next geocacher.
Geocaching began 16 years ago in Oregon when Dave Ulmer put some software, videos, books, food, money, and a slingshot inside a bucket that he partially buried near Estacada. He then posted the coordinates of its location on a Usenet newsgroup and challenged readers to find it. Since that humble beginning, geocaching has turned into a world-wide phenomenon with more than 2 million geocaches and members in more than 200 countries.
Like many other geocachers, Alameda resident John Butenschoen – who also takes photos for the Star News – was introduced to the game through a friend.
“At first I thought that I wouldn’t like it, but then I fell in love with it,” recalled Butenschoen. “That happens to a lot of geocachers.”
For Butenschoen, geocaching is loaded with positive benefits.
“Probably the best thing about geocaching is that it gets you out of the house,” said Butenschoen. “You can be an urban cacher or you can get out into the countryside. There are caches in the Columbia River Gorge and out on logging roads. You can spend a lot of time in nature. When I first started, it was a numbers game and then it became something other than that.”
As of today, Butenschoen has found 2,400 geocaches. He has found caches all the way from Quebec, Canada to Hawaii.
“Geocaching is great fun for a family,” remarked Butenschoen. “It’s wonderful to watch the excitement of a family that has been searching and then hearing one of them yell ‘Got it!’”
Every geocache has a name, and all are ranked on the website in terms of difficulty from one to five, with a one being wheel-chair accessible and a five designating challenging terrain. There are a dozen different types of geocaches, including an earthcache that will take you to a special geological location where you can learn about a unique feature of the earth. A mysterycache or puzzlecache might involve extra sleuthing, such as solving a binary code.
Butenschoen enjoys the creativity involved.
“There’s one that tells you to bring 67.5 ounces of water,” recalled Butenschoen. “When you get to the location, you’ll find a PVC pipe. You have to unscrew the cap and pour the water into the pipe so the cache floats to the top. Another cool cache involves a phone booth on a street in Southeast Portland near an auto parts store. The phone is out of order to the general public, but if you dial the number as per the instructions from the website, the bottom of the phone drops out to reveal a geocache.”
You also can go to the geocaching.com website and get a tag that has a tracking number. You can leave the tag in a cache so that other geocachers can find it and take to the next cache that they find.
The movement of the tag gets tracked on the website, and you can watch it move around the globe. One of Butenschoen’s tags has made it to Germany and Spain.
“What I often hear over and over again from geocachers,”says Butenschoen, “is that geocaching has taken me to places I’ve never been before, and I never would have seen what was there.”
Note: After writing this article, reporter James Bash thought the game sounded so fun that he logged into geocaching.com and tried it himself. “It actually is fun,” Bash said. “I understand how this would easily become an addiction.”