by Heather Bodendieck, photos by David Stonner
I have a confession to make: I am GPS challenged. Still, when the opportunity came up for me to take my boys on a modern-day treasure hunt, I didn’t let that stop me. I had never heard of geocaching before, so I was surprised to find out just how popular it is. There aren’t many family activities that are diverse enough to accommodate a variety of budgets, activity levels and schedules. Geocaching fits the bill on all levels. All you need to participate is a sense of adventure and a GPS unit. Bug spray and sunscreen aren’t a bad idea, either.
In geocaching, participants hide objects to be found by others with the aid of a GPS unit. The latitude and longitude coordinates of the geocache are posted online, along with any additional clues. By typing the coordinates into a GPS device, geocachers are led to the hidden treasure, or “geocache.” Some geocaches are simple to find, while others involve multiple stages and activities such as rappelling or rock-climbing.
Digital Tips and Treasure Trails
First I looked at the Conservation Department’s geocaching page at mdc.mo.gov/node/3379, a good resource for basic information on the game, as well as regulations for conservation areas. Then I visited www.geocaching.com, which allows you to search for caches in your area. I discovered that there were dozens of treasures to be found in my community—and here I’d planned to drive a couple of hours for our adventure!
Armed with two sets of coordinates and a borrowed GPS, my family set out on our treasure hunt. Our first stop was Rockwoods Range, between Pacific and Eureka in western St. Louis County, a five-minute drive from our house. I pass both the range and the nearby Rockwoods Reservation, just north of the range, at least once a week, but I had yet to stop and check them out.
We parked our car at the range and piled out. Excited, a little nervous, and not quite sure what to expect, we entered our coordinates into our trusty GPS and were off on our adventure.
We walked down a pleasant trail, wondering why we had never visited the Rockwoods areas before. They were enchanting and so close to home. Then we reached a point in the trail where the GPS unit signaled for us to go off the trail. I paused, looking into the woods. I am constantly reminding my boys to stay on the path. I knew that I was allowed both on-trail and off-trail access to the area, but I’d spent so much time at parks that I had to give myself permission to break the “rules” in my own head. As silly as it seemed, it was exciting to treat this area as the wild space it was.