What happens when an old-fashioned treasure hunt meets high tech? Geocaching! Hikers, bikers, road-trippers, treasure seekers and techno geeks have been talking about this new twist on treasure hunting. Everyone talks about how great it is for all ages…from the little ones to the grandmoms and granddads. Recently I traveled to Washington County, Maryland to see what all the fuss was about and I have to admit, I have found a new travel hobby that I will be introducing to my grandkids.
Located against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains, the picturesque rolling hills of Washington County are laced with stone bridges and quaint towns. This is an area rich with colonial and Civil War history and the gateway to many historical landmarks. Antietam National Battlefield, Harper’s Ferry National
Historic Park, Washington Monument State Park, and The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park are just a few of the many treasures here. Historic Hagerstown is the hub of Washington County and the perfect home base as you explore the Washington County Geocache Trail.
What is Geocaching?
For all of you “muggles” who are unfamiliar with geocaching, let me explain. First, I should explain why I called you a muggle.
Geocachers refer to non-geocachers as muggles – a term taken from Harry Potter referencing those without the magic. I arrived in Hagerstown as a muggle, I found the magic and left as a geocacher.
Geocaching is basically a game of hide and seek combined with treasure hunting. The difference is in the technology. A geocache is a waterproof container containing a log book, pen or pencil, and trinkets for trading. The geocacher who hides the cache records its coordinates. These coordinates, along with other details of the location, are posted on a listing site. Other geocachers obtain the coordinates from the site and search for the cache using GPS handheld receivers. The finding geocachers record their discoveries in the logbook and online. The cache must be returned to its exact location so that other geocachers may find it. Geocachers are free to take a trinket from the cache in exchange for leaving something of similar or higher value.
Apps to Point the Way
One of the simplest ways to geocache is to download the geocache app. There is a free version that provides basic information and locations for each geocache. There is also a $9.99 version that gives more details about the geocache including hints as to its location and details about the place it is located. I figured I needed all the help I could get, so I downloaded the $9.99 version.
Armed with my app I headed out to the Hagerstown City Park for my first geocache experience. The app was telling me there was a geocache in the park near a large tree and a rock. Following the navigation prompt (otherwise known as that blinking blue dot on my iPhone that tracks my location) I walked in the direction of the geocache. Sure enough there was a big evergreen tree surrounded by rocks. I looked around for places something might be hidden and found a crevice in a rock stuffed with tree bark. Moving the loose tree bark aside I reached under the rock and pulled out my first geocache!
Inside was an assortment of small trinkets – a Lego man, plastic lips and a few unidentifiable things. The log was there and I added my geocache name and the date. There was also something special – a geocoin. These coins are purchased and placed in geocaches all over the world. Each coin has a code. If you take a coin from the geocache, you are required to record the code and place it in another geocache. This particular geocoin originated in Germany.The message attached stated it would be home when it reached Ottawa, Canada. And here it was in Hagerstown.
Learning is Fun with Geocaching
Geocaching is an excellent way to get to know an area. As we searched for more geocaches along the Washington County Trail, we visited historic Miller House, Rural Heritage Museum, Antietam National Battlefield and even an old slave block located in the middle of town.
Embarking on a long road trip with the kids? Limit the number of times you have to listen to “are we there yet” by scheduling stops to search for geocaches along your route. It is also a great activity to incorporate into hikes or bike rides. There are geocaches in nature and in urban areas. Some are easy to get to and others are quite difficult – like the one at the tippy top of Mount Everest.
Washington County is the host for GeoWoodstock XIII – the annual convention for the international geocaching community – to be held Memorial Day weekend. There will be geocachers from all over the world. Attendees will have the chance to meet and talk to experts in seminars and training sessions, buy or sell geocaching products and search for geocaches in the area. There will be plenty of food, games and entertainment. GeoWoodstock XIII is open to everyone, even muggles. Check it out, find the magic and lose that muggle title.