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Geocaching with FPAN

Have you ever witnessed a person suspiciously poking around a bush at a state park? Well, if they were holding a smartphone or a GPS device, they were probably just geocaching! Geocaching is a worldwide scavenger hunt game where players try to locate hidden containers called geocaches by using GPS coordinates posted on a website. With over 5 million players, it has become one of the most common outdoor activities over the past few years (besides “planking” and paddleboarding). The rise of geocaching seems to be correlated to the increased use of smartphones with GPS capability. Plus, you know it has been accepted by all social classes in society when there is an “app for that” (and by “that” I mean geocaching). To locate geocaches, players log onto the official website, www.geocaching.com, and use the search query by entering the zip code, city name, or geocache ID. A map with all the geocaches in the vicinity quickly loads with the geocaches’ location and GPS coordinates. From there all a player has to do is enter the coordinates in a GPS device and go wherever the adventure takes them!

Geocaches come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most of them are old military ammunition boxes or Tupperware containers. Some are as large as buildings, others are so small they fit on your fingertip (these are called nanocaches). Regardless of how they look, all geocaches have the same basic components. The fundamental requirement is that they are containers that must have a logbook inside. The logbook is for the geocachers to enter their name and date they found the geocache. Geocaches often have prizes, such as a small toy or trinket, inside them for geocachers to enjoy when they find it (but the basic etiquette is if they take a prize they must replace it with something of equal or greater value). Geocachers also post their find on the official geocaching.com website, just to say thanks to whoever hid the cache or to detail their experience trying to locate it.

Geocaches are hidden almost anywhere outdoors – in cities, parks, beaches, mountains, deserts, plains, and just about any place on earth you can think of. There are even geocaches hidden underwater and at least one orbiting our planet on the International Space Station. Of course, there are rules for where you will find or where you can place a geocache. For example, geocaches can only be hidden with the permission of the property owner or whoever manages the area if it is on public land. Also, and most importantly, geocaches are never buried or placed in sensitive areas that need protection.

You might ask yourself, why would a sensible person use a multi-billion dollar satellite system developed by the U.S. military to find Tupperware containers hidden in the woods? There is no single answer – from my familiarity with this activity, some people like the challenge, others do it for exercise, and some simply do this as an inexpensive way to have fun with their families. Most, however, I would say, do it for the experience of visiting new places.

People generally hide geocaches at places they feel should be experienced by others. They think the places the geocaches lead them to are important and should be shared with others. This brings me to why I am writing this blog post. Here at FPAN we believe that archaeological and cultural sites are incredibly important places that everyone should experience. They are non-renewable resources that should be protected, but also appreciated. That’s why we developed the DARC Geo-Trail.

“Geotrail,” you say? What is that? Well, good citizen, a geotrail is a series of geocaches that are tied together by a common theme. The DARC Geo-Trail is a geotrail we developed that highlights archaeological and heritage sites open to the public across Northwest Florida (DARC stands for Destination Archaeology! Resource Center, which is our museum in Pensacola located next to the Fish House restaurant and is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm – Sorry dear reader, I just had to get that plug in there some way). All the geocaches we have hidden as part of this geotrail are highlighted in our DARC exhibit, “A Roadtrip Through Florida Archaeology” (which you should totally come visit!).

This geotrail, or what I like to call “the most amazing adventure you will ever have,” will take you to all sorts of cultural sites that detail Florida’s history, including ancient Native American earthworks built by civilizations long before Columbus arrived to the Americas; remnants of fortifications from the American Revolution to the Civil War; plantations that once fueled the Southern economy; 19th and 20th-century industrial and agricultural sites that powered Florida’s development; and many, many others (we have 16 caches hidden so far). Participating in our geotrail is about as close as you can get to time travel!

The best part about this geotrail, other than the amazing experience you will have, is that you will visit places you probably did not know were out there. Also, if you find at least 12 of our geocaches you will be awarded the ultimate geocaching prize – an official DARC Geo-Trail geocoin! Geocoins are highly prized items in the geocaching community. They are specially customized metal coins that geocachers collect and trade within the world of geocaching.

We have minted 300 of these geocoins and, so far, almost 50 people have been awarded them. To receive our official DARC Geo-Trail geocoin, you must prove you found our geocaches by completing our DARC Geo-Trail passport book. Each of our geocaches has a secret codeword that you can learn only by actually finding our caches. Some codewords are written on the logbooks or lamented cards contained in the caches, while others are clues that you must find the answer to located somewhere near the cache. Our passport book is available for download on our website or you can pick them up inside our museum in Pensacola.

The sites that make up our DARC Geo-Trail are special places and we hope you will learn a lot about Florida’s cultural heritage on this journey. Most importantly, always remember that this adventure we created for everyone is only possible because these sites were preserved and protected in the first place. So take only pictures (or a prize inside the geocache) and leave only footprints (and the geocache where you found it).

For more info about this project visit: http://www.flpublicarchaeology.org/geocaching.php

Mike Thomin
Director, Destination! Archaeology Resource Center
Florida Public Archaeology Network

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