Who doesn’t like to hunt for treasure? For decades, tales of the Old Dutchman has whetted the appetite of Valley of the Sun locals for hidden treasure with his cryptic maps and ambiguous directions - but to find that legendary gold mine, you’d have to do it the hard way.
Now there’s an easier, fun way to find treasures in the desert. It’s called Geocaching - an activity that has taken treasure hunting high-tech.
Using a Global Positioning System [GPS] hand-held navigator, enthusiasts around the world - well over 37,000 geocachers in 222 countries - play a treasure hunting game that is catching on in popularity. Why? Because it’s relatively easy and inexpensive, and anyone can do it. Did I mention FUN?!
Here’s the gist of the sport: You enter the latitude and longitude coordinates of a cache [hidden treasure] into your GPS navigator, and the device will tell you which direction to go to find the treasure and how far you are from your destination. Then you simply pack up the family, your GPS unit, a picnic lunch and off you go.
Lists of more than 370,000 caches stashed all around the globe are published on the official website of the sport, www.Geocaching.com. Typical caches contain a small log book for you to sign and date as proof of your visit, and a collection of inexpensive trinkets - called ‘swag‘. If you take a souvenir, you are expected to leave something else in it’s place. The containers might be metal ammo boxes, plastic food storage containers, or even film canisters or pill bottles. Although your GPS unit gets you close to the treasure you’re seeking - within 10 to 15 feet - you’ll still have to hunt for the cache which could be concealed under a pile of rocks, hung in a tree, or stashed behind a permanent object out of site of the ordinary passer-by. This game of hide-and-seek can be played anywhere - in deep wilderness or in the middle of the city. The locations of hidden treasures is limited only by the imaginations of the people hiding them, although some obvious ’private property’ rules do apply and you should familiarize yourself with the “do’s & don’ts” before you begin.
The game gets more complicated, if you want it to. There are special ‘trackable’ items, called hitchhikers, left in some caches that are intended to be moved from site to site. Some ‘multi-caches’ lead you from place to place, sometimes with clues and riddles, until you ultimately locate the ’treasure’. If you really get hooked on the game, you can also stash your own caches for others to find and publish them on the internet. Periodically, there are special events planned for geocachers in the area to get together and compete in a group scavenger hunt. The rules are flexible and the game is constantly reinventing itself.
There are currently 5563 registered cache sites in the state of Arizona, with roughly two thirds of those within 100 miles of Apache Junction and Mesa. They are rated from easy to difficult, so you can plan your adventure according to your own abilities or limitations. Of the dozen or so micro-caches hidden within Apache Junction city limits, several are even wheelchair accessible. Although micro-caches are miniature versions of traditional caches, that doesn’t mean they’re easier to find. Some of the cachers who have placed micros around town seem to have a diabolical sense of sneakiness. And therein lies the fun of the hunt.
What does it take to get started? You’ll need to invest in a good hand-held GPS unit that you can find at some department stores, camping supply stores and electronics stores. You should be able to get a good basic unit for about $100. Pricier units have colored screens, more complex functions, and can download site coordinates right off the internet, but those features are not essential to the enjoyment of the game. Then log yourself onto www.geocaching.com and choose a treasure from the long list to start your hunt.
Taking a family trip this summer? Pack your GPS and log a few finds along the way. Even if you don’t find the cache you‘re seeking, you’re bound to see some interesting scenery or wildlife as you explore. The rewards are endless so get off the couch, get outside and have a great adventure!