Like all children, my kids love to play games. When they were very young, “make-believe” could fill hours just around the house. They dressed up, built forts, created elaborate story lines. But now they are older; their horizons have expanded and their interests have diversified.
Still, they love to play games.
Top on the list for my 11-year-old son and his like-minded buddies: geocaching.
Simply mention the idea, “So, do you guys want to do some geocaching?” and the reaction is immediate and adamant — “YES!”
So off we go ...
First, a little background. According to geocaching.com, the official website of the sport: “Geocaching is the real-world treasure hunt that’s happening right now, all around you. There are 2,478,914 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.”
Indeed, geocaching a big treasure hunt — in places all around the world, including Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, where people have hidden treasures that hunters find through GPS mapping, written clues and sheer luck. Sometimes the “prize” is simply the chance to add your name to the log book; other times, it’s a token. On a recent outing, my boy posse walked away with a dollar bill, a pair of sunglasses and a caramel apple punch card from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. In the spirit of the game, they left behind Starburst candies, a quarter and a homemade bracelet.
Still confused? Don’t be. Just download the app and give it a try (note: there are several levels of “membership” with associated fees and benefits; the free, basic level has kept us hunting just fine so we’re sticking with it for now).
But I understand that a picture — visual and otherwise — is worth a thousand words, so I offer you this play-by-play of a recent afternoon of geocaching in Aspen with Zach, Lucas and Connor.
Our first stop was a cache we’d found before — RKB 1986 (bottom photo, opposite page). This time, though, the “treasure box” was in a slightly different location. Still, it was an easy find. And funny, as some of the treasures we left before remained, while others had been snatched up and replaced with new goodies.
Next on our hunt was a new cache, which the boys heard from a friend had been “muggled” but was recently returned (“muggled” is a geocaching term taken from the Harry Potter books, which means that someone either accidentally or knowingly removed or destroyed the cache). A 45-minute search with no luck had us thinking their friend was wrong.
Discouraged but not deterred, we carried on to “Out at the Inn.” We followed the GPS map to a parking lot just outside of town and began to walk. We circled for a while, homing in on a grove of trees surrounded by discarded construction materials (above, #1). We searched high and low (above, #2) to no avail. We were about to give up — like I said, there are times you just can’t find the cache — when we re-read the clues and the previous hunters’ posts. A clump of trees; a pill bottle wrapped in camouflage. We looked a little harder. And there, tucked deep in the branches and dead wood, was the cache (above, #3).
Success! Together, the boys opened the bottle and dug out its contents (above, #4 and #5). They signed the tattered log book, took a few treasures, and stuffed new ones in. Then, to finish the game, they screwed the cap back on and tucked it back into the branches — not exactly where they found it, but close enough that others who followed the clues could find the hidden treasure.
Excited by the success of finding a new cache, we set out to find others. Apparently, our luck had run dry. “Take a Seat” (right, above) sounded so easy. By the river. “Seat.” A previous hunter had to wait while someone finished their lunch “on top” of it. But its location remained a mystery to us.
But that’s part of the allure — and addiction — of geocaching. You know something’s out there and you know you can find it. And you can do it anywhere, anytime (yes, there are people who take geocaching beyond “hobby” status).
But for us, as I said, we simply ask the question, “Do you want to do some geocaching?” and the kids are in. Really, the adults are in, too.
The reasons are simple: Treasure hunting is cool; being outside is fun; embarking on an adventure that requires little equipment but uses both your brain and your body is a good thing.
As one of my favorite geocaching quotes states:
“What’s your hobby?”
“I search for Tupperware in the woods. What do you do for fun?”