News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Looking for a family-friendly hobby? Try Geocaching

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

By Melissa Wagoner

If you like puzzles, being outside and exploring places you’ve never been then the hobby of geocaching might just be for you.

“I like to describe it as a world-wide treasure hunt,” Carina Leland – a recent high school graduate who started geocaching with her parents when she was only five – said. Describing the world-wide, outdoor recreation phenomenon that allows participants to track down hidden treasure using GPS coordinates.

“There’s a bunch of containers people hide,” Carina continued. Recounting the many boxes – both large and small – filled with everything from collectable coins to dollar store trinkets that she and her family have found over the past 13 years.

“[A]nd often they’re in cool spots,” she continued, listing some of her favorite locations, the backside of a waterfall, an island in the middle of a lake and an underwater location only accessible at low tide.

Differing greatly in location and content, each treasure chest, known as a cache, does have one commonality, which gives the game a cohesive feel – the logbook. Provided as an actual book in the box, as a simple sheet of paper alongside a pen or as a digital registry, these records provide a method of communication between the hiders and seekers and between seekers themselves – an element that can come in handy when a cache gets damaged or misplaced.

“There have been times we’ve looked and looked only to find out the owner wasn’t aware it was missing, or it hadn’t been reported,” Jenifer Hacket, 42, – who discovered the hobby while on the search for an activity to do with her young daughter – said. 

Advising future players, “If you come across this, reporting the missing cache is the best way to help others avoid this situation.”

Because there are caches located almost everywhere – 1,136 in the Salem area alone, according to the website www.geocaching.com.

“We have found them all over Oregon, rain or shine,” Hacket confirmed. “There are plenty of geocaches hiding in places you would never even think about…I drove by one almost every day for years and never knew it was there until we started this hobby.”

That may be because many caches aren’t just tucked out of sight but cleverly camouflaged, hidden even to those armed with the precise GPS location.

“One was a switch cover and it had magnets on the back,” Carina said of her favorite, cleverly disguised find.

“It really looked like it was a part of the building,” her mother, and long-time geocaching partner, Denise Taylor Leland, agreed.

Similar to Hacket, the Leland family also began geocaching as a way to spend time together.

“Carina always liked to be outdoors trooping around,” Denise, who first heard about the hobby from a college friend, said. “Then, as she got older, we thought it would be a good way to introduce geography and math.”

Geocaching was different when the Lelands got their start.

“Before it was more complicated because you had to go online and print out [coordinates] on a paper,” Denise recalled of a time when hand-held GPS locators were not yet widespread.

But times have changed, and now one need only download the free app and a map instantly populates with the available caches located nearby.

“Some even have attributes like wheelchair accessibility,” Carina said of the numerous apps – like Geocaching by Groundspeak Inc., Cachly, C:Geo and Spyglass – that are available, most often for free, and that include capabilities like task difficulty, terrain ratings and records for trackables (registered geocache tokens).

“As others find, log and re-hide the trackable you can watch where [trackables] travel,” Hacket said. Describing one such object which, upon inspection, she found registered, not just in multiple states, but overseas as well.

It’s one more reason geocaching has had the longevity of over 20 years, that and the ability for anyone – no matter the fitness level, age or economic status – to take part. It’s also an activity that can be done solo, in friend groups or as a family with kids.

“The key to being stealthy is to never let a muggle (non-geocacher) see you…” Hacket warned. Explaining that the search strategies change, depending on whether the seeker is solo or accompanied, adding another level of challenge.

“Solo you can get in and out quickly but might get caught looking fishy snooping around by yourself,” she described. “A group has more eyes to find the prize and can help distract others while a small few are locating the cache.”

Both Hacket and Carina recommend trying the game both ways, observing that either way, the end result is a good time.

“It’s fun when you finally find them to see what trinkets might be left inside (if they are large enough), and leave a little something for the next person,” Hacket said. 

“You get a sense of satisfaction when you’ve finally discovered a hidden cache. It’s like putting together a puzzle and getting that last piece put in place.”

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