GEOCACHING
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A couple of years ago, we read three articles in three different magazines about geocaching. It sounded like fun so we decided to try it. The only equipment required is a GPS unit. We did a bit of shopping and found a new GPS unit for $50.00. In general new GPS units cost from about $100.00 to about $1000.00 so this was quite a deal.

GPS is short for Global Positioning System. There are 24 satellites that are the basis of the GPS system. Each of these satellites transmits a radio. All the GPS unit does is receives the radio signal from some of these satellites and calculates the GPS coordinates for its location. At least four satellite signals must be received for it to calculate a location. The GPS unit will display the latitude, longitude, and altitude of its location. You can enter coordinates for a specific point and the unit will tell you the direction and distance to the location from where you are.

Geocaching is kind of like a scavenger hunt, except you are looking for some kind of cache. You are provided with the GPS coordinates of the cache and perhaps some hints of exactly where to look. There are several different kinds of caches. Most of the caches are either traditional or virtual. Traditional caches have some kind of container that is hidden, typically either a tupperware container or an ammo can. The container will contain little trinkets, and a log book. You are to sign the log book and, if you take one of the trinkets, you need to replace it with another trinket. There are also micro caches, a very small container (usually a 35 mm film can) that only contains a paper log book to log your find. Virtual caches have no physical container, you will be taken to a location and asked questions about the location. Once you find the location and can answer the questions, you send an email to the creator of the cache then you can take credit for finding the cache.

The best way to get information, and cache locations, is from www.geocaching.com. This is a membership web site but, membership is free. Once you join, you can enter a zip code and it will list all the caches within 25, 50, or 100 miles of that zip code. When we started geocaching, we were in Manchester California, a small very rural community on the Northern California coast. Within 50 miles of Manchester, there were over 200 caches listed. So, there are plenty of caches. As of the time this is being written, there are over 389,000 caches listed worldwide! Right now we happen to be in Crescent City California and there are 450 caches within 50 miles.

Geocaching has been a lot of fun. One of the interesting aspects is you will be taken to areas that you would have never seen if it weren't for geocaching. The challenge is always to find the cache, not what you find in the cache.

There have been several very interesting places we've visited because of geocaching. One of them was a Manzanar, a World War II Japanese Relocation Camp in the Owens Valley of California. Now, we have visited Manzanar a number of times; however, not in recent years. In 1992, Manzanar became a National Historic Site. Since then the National Park Service has erected signs, graded a road, developed a self guided tour, and erected a Museum in an old building. The site has really come to life and is fascinating. It tells a sad story about American History and something that should be remembered. Geocaching brought this to life for us.

Another interesting place we discovered because of geocaching is the "Center of the World," in a small community in Southern California. This is a "funky" place that really proved interesting. It's also a place we never would have visited if it weren't for geocaching.

Those are only two examples of places that geocaching has taken us. There are many others. When we have time to explore, we visit the geocaching.com web site and look for caches nearby and try to visit them. it's a great hobby, it's inexpensive once you have a GPS unit, and will take you to areas you never would have normally seen.