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Girl Scouts have fun at Geocaching 101

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Geocaching! A wonderful way to mix the great outdoors with technology, to get ourselves and our kids outside! A hi-tech scavenger hunt, if you will. I wrote an article about my troops first experience a few years ago. We have been enjoying it ever since! (My geocache name is GirlScout4Fun!) Another GS leader, Lorraine Grob and I decided it was time to share the fun with other Girl Scouts in our area, so the Orange Girl Scout Association put on their very first Geocaching 101 Event at Peters Canyon. What a busy and fun day!!!

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What is Geocaching? To quote the Geocaching.com website: Geocaching (pronounced geo-caching) is a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure. A geocacher can place a geocache somewhere in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache's existence and location online. Anyone with a GPS device can then try to locate the geocache. Geocaching is enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.

For our event, we chose a local park that has park rangers that support geocaching. Rangers Raul and Cathi at Peters Canyon Wilderness Park in Orange were instrumental in making this a successful day and we appreciate their acceptance of the game and their help with the event. Some park rangers are not so supportive and I understand why (but I wish they would learn more about it). Geocaching involves hiding containers big and small, under tables, bridges, benches, rocks, in trees, bushes, on fences and buildings, basically anywhere you could hide something. This can cause problems with safety. Spiders, snakes, cars, cliffs, barbed wire etc... all kinds of things can make this game dangerous. As a person who has caches hidden all over and goes on journeys to find others, I try to be as safe as possible and to make the ones I hide as safe as possible too, with warnings of potential dangers. I hope most people who do geocaching think about all safety hazards as well.

We had quite a few things about geocaching that we wanted to share with the 150 Brownie, Junior and Cadette Girl Scouts other than just the caching experience itself- so we set up different stations that taught about the different elements of caching. We had experienced cachers working with older Girl Scouts from Troop 1171 to make the experience interesting for all ages.

At our first station the girls learned the basics. What is a geocache, safety and what a regular container cache can look like. I think that it surprised some of the girls how clever the camoflage is on some of the caches out there. We had a wonderful display of sample caches, all shapes and sizes. Caches can be hidden to look like a rock, plant, bird, food, tree, bolt, fence post or even a piece of chewing gum. There is no limit to the creativity of the cachers placing them out there. For me that is what makes it fun. I love thinking of different kinds of "hides" to make and I really love finding creative ones too. For me it makes the hike or drive worthwhile if someone put some time and thought into the cache. The girls got to see what a cacher takes with them in their backpacks. You need to be ready with TOTTS (tools of the trade). You always need water- period. You may need a flashlight, mirror, tweezers, a long stick, glove, new logs, screw driver, wire coat hanger (for the wire), magnet, umbrella, suncreen or even a step stool if you are vertically challenged. Most cache descriptions give you an idea if you may need a tool, but not always. Most caches don't need anything special except a pen to write with, but it's just a good idea to be prepared.

We covered a bit of geocache history and information on Geocaching.com- where it all happens. Geocaching, first coined in 2000 was the joining of two familiar words. The prefix geo, for the Earth, was used to describe the global nature of the activity, but also for its use in familiar topics in gps such as geography. Caching, from the word cache, has two different meanings, which makes it very appropriate for the activity. The original definition referred to a hiding place someone would use to temporarily store items. The second use of cache has more recently been used in technology. Memory cache is computer storage that is used to quickly retrieve frequently used information. The combination of Earth, hiding, and technology made geocaching an excellent term for the activity. In this station the girls also learned how to use their technology to locate a cache. There is a choice of either a traditional GPS unit or to use the GPS capability on your smart phone. There are different schools of thought on each, but whatever works for you is what you should use.

Another station went over geocoins, trackables, benchmarks and SWAPS. Geocoins and Travel Bugs (trackables) can be purchased and you can send them out to travel around via caches. Each trackable has its own unique tracking number stamped on it. This tracking number is used as proof by the user that they found the item. It also doubles as a way for the user to locate the personal web page for the bug or coin. Trackables are tracked with the help of users who go online and 'grab' them from caches, or receive them from users. The idea is by picking up and dropping off trackables into a cache on the web site, you are mirroring the trackable real world adventures. Each trackable has its own 'diary' on the website that follows its movements.We also talked about SWAPS which are the fun little pins we Girl Scouts make and trade at events. We put some in our cache that stayed permanently in the park and the girls all made one to remind us to love our Earth and always Cache In -Trash Out (CITO). The girls got to sign the backs of our three travel bug teams that are going to be sent out on a quest to get the the Girl Scout headquarters in New York City. I wonder which one will get their first?

Other stations went over geocache acronyms, the dozen other types of caches you can do and more about CITO. They made a small container with a trash bag and a glove to put in their bags, so they can be ready to clean up an area. Remember Girl Scouts always leave a place better than they found it! I can't list everything we went over here, but it is all on Geocaching.com. Please go there and get all the info you need.

The final thing to do was of course- go out and find caches. We placed 10 caches in the park. All types of sizes and all clever camouflage so the girls could get the fun of thinking out what a cache can look like. Lorraine and I had a great time creating some fun and we thought cute caches to challenge the girls. One cache is there for good (Girl Scout Tavel Bug Hotel) and is listed on the geocaching.com website.

So just to sum up Geocaching at Geocaching.com. At its simplest level, geocaching requires these 8 steps:
1. Register for a free Basic Membership.
2. Visit the "Hide & Seek a Cache" page.
3. Enter your postal code and click "search."
4. Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.
5. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS Device.
6. Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden geocache.
7. Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location.
8. Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

There are many other levels to the game.
1. If you take something from the geocache (or "cache"), leave something of equal or greater value.
2. Write about your find in the cache logbook.
3. Log your experience at www.geocaching.com.

What do I need to go geocaching? The only necessities are a GPS device or a GPS-enabled mobile phone so that you can navigate to the cache, and a Geocaching.com membership.

Where are geocaches located? Geocaches can be found all over the world. It is common for geocachers to hide caches in locations that are important to them, reflecting a special interest or skill of the cache owner. These locations can be quite diverse. They may be at your local park, at the end of a long hike, underwater or on the side of a city street. Are there different types of geocaches? Yes, there are currently over a dozen "cache types" in geocaching, with each cache type being a different variation of the game.

Geocaching is the place where the digital world and the physical world come together to create a unique type of treasure hunt. But always be aware of all potential dangers. There are animal and bug dangers. Snakes, spiders and ticks can all do serious damage. Cliffs can be fallen off. Stay off private property. Wear sunscreen and hats. Wear long pants if you can to prevent scratches. Bring lots of water. Bring extra batteries. Put your car location in your GPS so you don't get lost. Watch where you walk, take a first aid kit, know your limits, be prepared ...I could go on and on. Yup- just think it all out ahead of time to make it a fun and safe adventure for all involved. Oh yeah- and watch out for muggles (non-geocache folk, just like in Harry Potter!) You don't want them to see what you are doing. Have fun! We do!

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