GPS Technology Drives Global Treasure Hunt

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
December 1, 2004

The key to hidden treasure lies in your handheld GPS (global positioning system) unit. GPS-based "geocaching" is a high-tech sport being played by thousands of people across the globe.

To the uninitiated, the sight of people circling methodically around a local woodland or city park, GPS device in hand, is a bit puzzling. But this strange behavior has a purpose: They're people in search of a hidden a cache—one of tens of thousands of hidden treasures planted by other players.

"I go out with my five-year-old and nine-year-old as a family," said geocacher Rich Ness, assistant manager of Bloomington, Minnesota's REI outdoor-gear store (GPS coordinates: latitude 44° 51.6' N, longitude 93° 17.3' W). "I haven't come across a kid yet who didn't think it's the greatest thing ever."

Adults are hooked too.

Interested? There's a cache near you. In fact you might be amazed at just how many caches are near you.

But just what is a cache? The answer is as different as the people who hide them.

The cache, often a piece of Tupperware, might contain only a logbook with some amusing stories of geocaching adventure. Others are stocked with prizes like books, software, CDs, videos, money, or toys. (Food is frowned upon, as are such restricted items as alcohol and fireworks.)

Cache hiders use one of several Internet hosting sites to publish and share the coordinates of their clue sites, or waypoint (see the related links at the bottom of this page for site details). Players choose a target, then set off with handheld GPS units—using the technology to locate a variety of hidden booty.

"People have gotten very creative," said Quinn George Stone, a resident of Rochester, New York, and a founder of hosting site "The first coordinates might take you to a monument or a gravestone with dates on it, where you might have to do some mathematical equations to get the next set of coordinates. Some caches actually have 30 to 40 waypoints before you get to the container."

A few basic rules apply when one successfully finds a cache: Take something from it, leave something in it, and fill out the logbook to document your adventure.

GPS-Driven Outdoor Adventure

Continued on Next Page >>




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