Does your little student have those back-to-school blues? Take that little learner on a fun and educational adventure through Naples in search of geocaches.
So, what exactly is geocaching? Essentially a high-tech treasure hunt, explorers, armed with GPS-enabled devices or smart phones, search out small (or large) caches using GPS coordinates. The caches can be small or large, containers, or even artistic objects, and are hidden along nature trails, in parks, or other public places—some are even in plain sight, as inconspicuous as possible. The goal is to search out these caches, open them up, sign the logbook, and complete a little survey in your own geocaching log marking that you have completed the mission. Sometimes the caches contain small items left by previous geocachers, a reward for the find—just be sure to leave an item if taking one, it’s only fair.
Geocaches can range from the obvious, as seen in the left, to the obscure, such as the bolt geocache seen on the right.
The adventure is truly a learning experience for hunters of all ages, but especially younger geocache seekers. Not only does the activity encourage a little outdoor fun (there is quite a bit of hiking while on the hunt), geocaching also teaches kids about geography (geo is in the name after all); how to use a map and GPS coordinates; instills an appreciation for nature and the environment—often times caches are difficult to get to, needing deliberate movements and a plan to make the find; perceptibility skills—many caches are hidden, some quite cleverly, so a keen eye is a must to spot these small treasures; and patience—the search is not instantaneous, so if you have small children in tow, make a small game out of the search.
Geocaching can be a family-fun activity, with easily accessible caches and plenty of learning opportunities, to difficult, man vs. wild experiences in the heart of the wilderness.
Groundspeak, the minds behind Geocaching.com, is one of the world’s leading geocaching and location-based games organizations and has been leading the treasure hunt since 2000. With nearly 3 million active geocaches in its catalogue and more 6 million geocachers worldwide, it boasts one of the largest libraries of caches and communities of cachers on the planet, with hundreds of tresures to be found right in our own backyard. And getting in on the action is easy: Simply register a membership at geocaching.com and enter your zip. A number of geocaches will pop up with varying degrees of difficulties. They are rated on five-point scales in terms of difficulty and terrain (D/T); if you’re up for a challenge, the higher the numbers, the tougher the chase, the sweeter the reward. Just be mindful, some caches may require special equipment to make it to the goods. When you click on a cache, there is usually a short description of what the cache is, a general description of the area it can be found, and sometimes why the cache is there, as well as what you may need to find it and a decrypted message. Once you’ve decided on your cache, get the GPS coordinates, plot them in your device—there are plenty of apps; Geocaching offers a free and premium one for Android and Apple devices—and get on the trail.
For beginners, try the North Collier Regional Park geocaching course. Maintained by the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, there are currently five, ranging in difficulty from 1.5/1.5 to 2.5/1.5 and are always packed with plenty of geocaching goodies. C’MON’s geocaches range in size, from as small as a film canister to as large as a tackle box. Geocachers can either search for one, or “link” the caches, offering plenty of opportunities for the whole family to flex their explorer muscle.
For more advanced exploring, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve offers a number of geocaches within its 110,000-acres preserve. For landlubbers and beginners, four caches have been places around the preserve’s nature trails, not just giving guests a chance to explore the reserve, but also teaching them about the ecosystems Rookery Bay aims to protect. The four on-land caches (RB Learning Center, Pioneers in Paradise, CatBird Loop, and Slash Pine) are available on Geocaching.com’s free membership—just remember: there is no bushwhacking necessary; all caches are located just off the trail.
If the family is up for a high seas adventure, Rookery Bay’s Shell Point Canoe Trail offers 25 caches to be located. Available on Geocaching.com’s Premium membership, this cache trip will take paddlers on a nearly eight-mile trek. It is best to follow the cache numbers in order, or there will be significant backtracking extending your paddle. If you are really up for a challenge, there is a Mystery/Unknown cache hidden along the trail. To find the secret cache, guests must find 15 of the marked caches, each containing numbers and letters for the corresponding coordinates. Once you have them all, you’re on the hunt. Rookery Bay’s geocaching is free with admission to the reserve; admission costs $5, $3 for children. For more information, visit rookerybay.org.
Images courtesy of Geocaching.com