Across the world, in more than 2 million locations, trinkets and baubles are hidden away in the roots of trees, under benches and on the sides of buildings waiting for someone with a stealthy eye and a knack for a little sleuthing to locate them.
The name of the game is geocaching and it’s a modern day version of a treasure hunt, with more than 6 million people in the mix.
“It’s like being a detective,” said local geocacher Annemarie Sanfilippo. “You get clues, and then you just go out to look for the cache, which can be hidden anywhere, in any thing. It just takes some work to figure out where it is.”
The bubbly 15-year-old began geocaching with her uncle Joey when she lived in Florida and said that the adventuring has continued to be a family affair since then. “We all go. It’s a lot of fun and you never know what you’re going to find,” she said.
“One time, I was geocaching with my grandpa and I found a fake hand, like one of the Halloween hands, inside a tree trunk.
He thought it was funny, but I nearly screamed.”
The shock has not deterred her, though. Using a geocaching app on her smartphone, she routinely checks to see if there might be treasure nearby, particularly when she’s feeling a little bored. “It’s something that you can do anywhere,” she said.
Her older brother Tim Sunfilippo is also a fan of the hunt, and they even bicker a little about who was the first to get into the hobby. “I was the first to go,” he said. “My friends and I used to go all over and find caches, but that was before I had a car. It was easier when I was on a bike.
“There’s some really cool stuff out there, and stuff from all over the world,” he said. “We’ve found treasure boxes with coins from Europe, erasers from Japan, papers, receipts. You can find just about anything when you search for a cache.”
According to Geocaching.com, the global game of hide and seek found its footing in 2000, when the government enhanced Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and allowed users across the world access to satellite streams that enabled them to precisely pinpoint their locations with a GPS receiver.
The next day, GPS enthusiast Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, decided to put the accuracy of the satellite signals to the test. Calling it the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt,” he hid a black bucket in the woods with a few prizes inside and posted its coordinates in an internet GPS user group. Within two days, his stash had been found. Within a week, other users had caught wind of the game and started setting up their own geocaches for people to find. It spread like wildfire.
A geocache can be made of anything, and ranges in size from micro to large. The sizes are noted on the website or app along with the coordinates and clues so you have an inkling of what you’re looking for when you’re out and about.
“The biggest one I’ve ever found was literally a treasure chest,” said local geocacher Pam Hanson. “There were beads, charms, candies, everything.”
Hanson said that she routinely searches for geocaches when out walking her dog, Jaxson, but that they’re not all easy to spot.
“Sometimes it takes me multiple trips to find where it’s hidden,” she said. “But sometimes, it’s right away. I’ve crawled on the ground and searched and searched. You just have to be patient and keep looking. Most of them are kind of disguised.”
Hanson said that she carries a backpack filled with goodies from the dollar store with her on her walks so that she can leave something behind for the next seeker to enjoy. “It’s just a big treasure hunt,” she said. “It gets kind of addicting.”
To find out more about geocaching, visit geocaching.com.