Bridget Belardi on Geocaching: Where You Are the Search Engine

Geocaching is the experience where you become the search engine. Bridget used Glogster to create a geocaching image for her wiki. GPS requires you to have the latitude and longitude coordinates in order to search for something somewhere in your world. Garmin and Magellan are the most popular and you can download cache information/coordinates into the receiver if it is properly equipped.

Do all handheld machines have the GPS ability? Yes, if you have the extra cable. If you are not a fellow geocacher, you may not need/want a GPS. You can use iPhone as your GPS navigator, or your Blackberry if you have web access. Generally speaking, the GPS works by identifying 3 satellites to locate your exact position on earth. If you lose connection with one of the three, you lose the option to continue, so atmospheric interference can impact the ability to search.The GPS receiver is only as good as what you paid for it. The ability for the receiver to read the satellites increases with the ability of the equipment, but you still need some geocache sense.

The best place to build an account is Then, you can search by city, zip code, state, driving route…. Bridget usually searches by zip code, but you can also search by state or driving directions (great for a long ride or a vacation drive). Record the latitude and longitude coordinates and save to your receiver. You can also search by your address to see what is in your immediate area.

When you create a geocaching account, you need to pay attention to the difficulty rating (1—5) and the terrain. Bridget has been geocaching, and she said the hardest one she encountered was a 3. Clicking on the link you have found will tell you who hid the cache (it could be absolutely anything, small to large), when it was hidden, and the North and West coordinates. Bridget prints the coordinates so she can add it to her receiver later. Without the coordinates, you have no geocache. Caches are often hidden in off-the-beaten paths, and often when you find the cache, you find something else that is interesting as well. What Bridget likes best is the decryption key to decipher the code, but if you hit “decrypt,” the decoding will be done for you. In adition, you will find a list of all the people who have searched and found (or not) the cache. Bridget suggests that for the good of the sport, you go back to the site and log in your results. If you were using this activity for students, you get a valuable writing activity after the fact.

In geocaching, you always get a Google map, and you can use your GPS to try to find it. When you click on the map, however, you will find if there are any other caches closeby. Tomorrow Bridget will host a geocaching event so we have more hands-on search time. Sometimes you have to answer questions, “The Original,” to prove you had been there, done it. You can email the owner of the cache and s/he will tell you if you were correct. Sometimes you get fake coordinates and you find the cache, which gives you new coordinates to get to the real cache.

How do we know that the people who plant the cache replenish the cache? That’s where responding on the site where you got the coordinates becomes really important. Searchers need to input data so that future geocachers will find the site viable. You can flag any potential problems you encounter online, so that owners can replenish/fix the site or remove the cache (just in case a tree was cut down and your cache was a part of that tree).

So after you choose the cache, then what? After inserting the coordinates into the GPS, you need to follow the compass until it gets to a within 10 feet. Then, you use your geosense to see if something “isn’t right.” Where could something be hidden within a 15 foot range. But it is always helpful to know what you might be looking for. Some examples are a container (they are always labeled; tin, plastic, glass), something waterproof. Ammo cans often have trade able items, trinkets, toys, stuffed animals, something that could/not have a value.

So, rule of thumb: if you find something, leave something. Leave something of equal or greater value, and that is the first rule of geocaching etiquette. Sometimes containers are so camouflaged that find the cache is difficult. The nanocaches are often magnetic and are “evil” because they are nanosized, making them really (almost) impossible to locate. The space to write your name and date are often microscopic, so there is definitely a challenge to geocaching. (I finally know what Michael Chicocki was prepping for one day when he Twittered…)

Here’s the good part. You go through the pain and suffering of finding the cache, trade the items (find something, leave something). Travel bugs and Geocoins are valuable. Travel bugs are often attached to a dogtag with a track able number. That number allows you to track it online. What makes it interesting is that you can repurpose the cache by adding directions. A cache can actually travel a path across the United States and the world (very popular in Germany).

You can buy geocaching coins online (“Queen of Caching”). You can even marathon geocache within a contest to find the most caches and collectibles within a time period. Trillions of designs exist online, and geocache coins make a great trade for the find. Responsible etiquette asks that you leave a message when you find the object of your search, both on site and online. You need to re-camouflage the cache if you are asked to leave the cache after you find it. Jeep even does geocaching, so if you find the Jeep coin, you get to enter into a lottery to win a Jeep.

Geocaching Lingo:

Muggles: those who are not geocachers
TFTC: Thanks for the Cache
TFTF: Thanks for the Find
TNLN: Took Nothing Left Nothing.

Educaching: (a great book about lesson plans and geocaching; has black masters, handouts; $32)

Educational Benefits:

Reading latitude and longitude
Map skills
Using a compass
Can add research to the caching
Cross-curricular connections
Letterboxing Hybrid: done with a compass not a GPS.

Geocaching ListServ (check the link on Bridget’s wikispaces)

Check out Bridget’s resources (and other STAR DEN presenters) here. (a family that podcasts geocaching)


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