Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back From Vacation

We just made it back from a fishing vacation at Blue Mesa Reservoir.  I will be posting some more geocache finds shortly, as well as some other tips and ideas.  Keep reading and if you have any ideas for posts, or want to contribute, let me know in the comment section below.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wheat Ridge Greenbelt

A couple days ago my family went to the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt for a bike ride.  The Wheat Ridge Greenbelt consists of 300 acres of open space within the city of Wheat Ridge.  This trail system also connects with trails in Golden and part of the Denver trail system.  This not only provides miles and miles of trails for biking, hiking and horse back riding, but also offers opportunities for fishing, bird watching and wildlife sightings.

While we were there, we had to find a couple geocaches of course.  We had already found several in the area on a previous trip.  If you have been reading some of my previous posts you will recall that was when we saw the peacock that another hiker thought was a wild turkey.

This time, we biked to the west of the parking lot indicated at the bottom of this past.  While traveling along the bike path between caches we noticed a muskrat in a small pond.
Muskrat swimming at the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt

Later we saw three more muskrats in the ponds to the east of the parking lot. 

 If you are interested in getting out into the outdoors, without having to leave the Denver Metro area, make sure you check out the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt for hiking, biking, fishing and just enjoying the outdoors.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Shocking Geocache

Can You Spot The Geocache?  It's In Plain Sight

I posted a few weeks ago that I had found my 200th Geocache.  A lot of the caches that I find and that others find, are very similar.  Certain geocaches, such as the "skirt lift" light pole cache, are almost always the same.  But every once in a while there are some different caches that stand out.  

Here is one that I found the other night.  As you can see on right, it was around a number of electric boxes, but if you look closely the actual geocache is hidden in plain sight, do you see it?

Ah, A Simple Geocache

 Underneath the long horizontal box was this plate at left.  It is an outlet cover that is fixed with magnets to attach to something metal.  I have found several of these, usually attached to a metal pole or something similar.

When I noticed this, I thought I had found the geocache, there would be no other reason for this to be where it was.

The First Decoy Geocache I have Ever Found
As it turns out, this wasn't the cache, but rather a decoy intentionally placed nearby to get your attention.

This is the first time that I have ever seen a decoy cache, but it is a clever idea.  You get excited that you located the geocache, but you have to keep looking.  So I put the plate back and continued the search.

Does That Look Like A Geocache To You?

After looking around for probably 10-15 minutes in the dark, I noticed this box to the right.  It had a conduit that went all the way to the ground, but nothing else was attached to it. 

I also noticed that the paint color was slightly off, and the metal attaching it looked newer than the rest of the metal in the area.  I checked the base of the conduit and noticed that it went into the rocks below, but then stopped.  There were no wires actually going into it.

Locating the Geocache
The next step was to look and see what part detached and might hold a log.  The small piece of pipe sticking out on the left side of the box came out easily.  Inside the tube was a tightly rolled log.
It's always fun to find geocaches like this.  I've only hidden a couple geocaches, so far they have been very simple.  I enjoy seeing how creative people can be when hiding their caches.  Have you found a geocache that was hidden in a surprising location?  Let me know in the comment section below.

Some previous posts on caching:

My 200th Geocache

Looking over Golden from Lookout Mountain
Today I got a chance to do a little bit of geocaching, I have been sitting at 199 finds for a little while now, I was kid of hoping to make my 200th find a little more interesting.  Better for it to have a good story, at least I thought so.  I decided to go after a cache called Annie's Friend.  It is a virtual cache, which means that there is no log book, in this case you get to the general area, then have to locate a certain plaque.  To count the cache as a find you must send the creator of the cache an e-mail with three names of individuals that are on the plaque.
The reason that I chose this particular cache was because of the location.  It isn't just some random location, it is actually on the walkwawy to Buffalo Bill Cody's Grave on Lookout Mountain.  If you don't know where that is, it is just weat of Denver.  Many people that have driven through the area will have seen the big letter "M" that the Colorado School of Mines has near the top of the mountain.  At right is a photo I took last year from near the cache, as you can see it has an excellent view of the denver area.
I hadn't been to Buffalo Bill Cody's grave and memorial in many, many years.  It was something that my parents took me to when I was a kid.  If you haven't been, I would suggest you check it out.  There is a gift shop and small museum there as well, plus there are a few nature hikes that start from the parking lot.

If you are looking for more geocaching in the area, there are several caches along the road from Golden to the Buffalo Bill Museum.  Stop and log some caches while you enjoy the view.  You won't regret it.

Now that I have found 200 geocaches, I am looking forward to the next 200.  Did you reach a milestone recently, or have you hand picked a geocache for a certain time?  Let me know in the comment section below.

Some previous posts on caching:

Hiding Geocaches

Since my son and I got to go geocaching last week, my wife and I decided that we would try to use our afternoon to find some caches with the whole family.  We loaded up several sets of waypoints into the GPSr.  We found some near the school and several at nearby parks that the kids like.  We also found a couple containers and bottles that we could use to make our own caches.  We got some camouflaged tape and covered up the bottles so they would blend in to their surroundings better.  Into each cache we put some paper cut into strips, for logs and the larger bottles got a couple small toys for trade.

Can you spot the geocache?  The first one I hid.
We started off at a park, just down the street from the school.  It has an old tractor next to the playground for the kids to play on.  The kids affectionately know it as the Tractor Park.  We decided that this would be a good location for our first cache.  The kids played for awhile before we placed the cache.  After finding a little over 170 caches, it was nice to finally give back a little and hide something for a change.  So after hiding the new cache and marking it with the GPSr, we headed off to find some caches.
A larger geocache with a label, just in case it is found by accident.
We ended up trying for nine caches spread apart through several parks, open spaces and even next to a couple businesses.  Most of the caches we found were little micro caches that only contained a log book.  Fortunately, we did find a larger cache, pictured at the left.  This one had several toys in it and we traded a miniature soccer ball that we had for a little car.  We also left the geocoin that I had picked up last week.  See the post here.

We found all nine caches that we were looking for.  We thought one was going to be a Did Not Find (DNF), but after looking hard for about ten minutes, our oldest daughter finally found it.  Looking at the size of it, it is pretty obvious why it was so hard to see.  It was one of the smallest size microcaches that you can use.  You can see below how small it was.
When they said micro cache, they weren't kidding.
The kids were tired after the several hour trip.  In all we found nine caches and hid the first two of our own.  I quickly posted our first two hides, interestingly within a couple hours I received e-mail notifications that they had been published to www.geocaching.com, and then found shortly after.  It was another fun day with the kids, any day geocaching and hiking around with the kids is a good day.

Some previous posts on caching:

Geocaching Around Town

Today I had to pick up my son from school, but had several hours before I had to go into work.  I decided that since it would just be the two of us, we might as well do some geocaching.  Geocaching with kids can be a lot of fun, to them it is like a treasure hunt.  My son loved the idea of looking for some caches after school.  We ran home and cooked up a pizza to fuel our hunting.  Once it was done, we set off with eight geocaches loaded into the GPSr to find.  If you want any tips on geocaching with kids, check out my previous blog post here.

Since we didn't have a lot of time, all of the caches we were looking for would be located around the city.  Some where in nearby parks, several of them were right in parking lots.  The picture below depicts a fairly common parking lot type cache. 
A typical "skirt lift" geocache.

Several of the days caches were on or near light posts, as this one was.  But, with plenty of parks located around where we live, there were also a couple caches hidden in or around trees.  These can be challenging, there are a surprising number of ways that a cache can be hidden around or in a tree.  It all depends on the size of the cache and how hard the person wanted to hide it.  This was one that took us a few minutes, but wasn't too difficult, can you find the cache in the picture below?
Can you spot this geocache?

A Geocoin displaying the "Earth Cache" symbol.
One of my favorite parts about geocaching, is find the trackable items.  These are often referred to as Travel Bugs, or Geocoins.  They have a unique code on them that corresponds to a web page on the http://www.geocaching.com/ website.  The code and the web page allow you to log where you found the coin and what geocache you put the coin in later.  I had a Geocoin from before and while we were out we found this earth Geocoin, pictured to the right.  We left the Geocoin we had and picked this one up to take to a new cache.  Ideally you take the new coin as far as possible before placing it.  Always check the web page for the coin to see if it has any specific directions or locations that the owner wants it to visit.  If the want it to go from New York to California, you should probably try to move west, rather than east. 

Overall we both had a lot of fun, one of the geocaches eluded us, so we will be coming back for that one later.  But any day that I can spend outside with my son is a good day.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Not So Wild Turkey

Today we went to Prospect Park in Wheat Ridge for a little time outside.  I was hoping to get to fish a little while we were there, but unfortunately the frozen lakes kept that from happening  We did however, get a chance to do some hiking and find a couple Geocaches.

Prospect park runs along Clear Creek in Wheat Ridge the trail system connected to it starts in Golden and continues through Wheat Ridge, past Wadsworth Boulevard.  We started out near the big camping store near I-70.  This end of the park has several ponds on each side of the river allowing fishing for warm water species.  Since we weren't able to fish we decided to watch the wildlife and look for some caches as we walked the trail. 

We were able to see plenty of ducks floating along the river and geese out on the ice of the lakes.  We were hoping to see otters, which we had seen in the past, but no luck today.  There are also sightings of foxes and coyotes in the park, though we haven't seen them there yet.  We did have a little different experience though.  Just after finding our first cache we were approached by a women who stated that she had just seen a "wild turkey," along one of the bridges on the south side of the park.  We went back that direction and the kids did a great time keeping quiet and watching for the shy bird.  About halfway across the raised walkway, which she had called a bridge, we found what we were looking for. 

Not exactly a wild turkey!  Though I did still think it was odd to see a peacock in the middle of a city park, especially in February.  So we watched this "wild turkey" for a few minutes and as it worked away in the marsh we continued on around the lake.
In all we found three caches on our short walk.  The kids enjoyed finding each "treasure" and I got to slide down a muddy embankment to find one of them. 
As you might guess.  The kids enjoyed seeing the wildlife and had a good time finding their treasure.  If you want an enjoyable walk in the Denver metro area, check out Prospect Park.

Check out my posts on Geocaching Definitions and Geocaching With Children.

Geocaching With Children

As a compliment to my post about Fishing with kids, I figured I would write a similar one about Geocaching with kids.  If you've already read my posts describing geocaching and geocaching definitions you will know that there are many different places you can find caches.  Some are easy  and some are very difficult, maybe even requiring specialized equipment or skills.  How do you take your kids caching and ensure everyone has a good time?

First off, I think geocaching is a great fit for kids.  The very idea of a treasure hunt is something that your kids will most likely get very excited about.  From there you just need to tailor the experience to help them enjoy it.  For example, a four year old may not appreciate a five mile hike to get to the cache, but a short walk through your local park might be something they really enjoy.

If you haven't already I would suggest joining http://www.geocaching.com/.  With a free account you can access over a million caches located all over the world.  You can search for caches near you or near a destination you are going to.  Once you locate some nearby caches pay attention to the terrain and difficulty rating to decide what you want to look for.  The younger your kids are, the easier you will want the caches to be. 

Another thing you will want to pay attention to is the size of the cache.  I like to find any and all caches I can, but your kids might enjoy larger caches that give them the chance to trade items.  If you see a "micro" description for the size you will most likely only find a log.  If you see medium or large for the size you are more likely to have room to trade items.

So what do you trade?  Some people like to pick something that means something special to them, or maybe it is always the same, sort of like a calling card.  When I thought about the kids trading items I figured that they would probably not want to leave many of their toys.  The answer?  The dollar store!  My wife took the kids to the dollar store to pick out items to trade.  As most of the items in caches tend to have a low monetary value this was a great idea.  My son, for example, found a bunch of small rubber snakes.  He was very excited to be able to leave these small snakes for other kids to find.

Just before you start out for the day try to organize your caches to make your trip more efficient.  There have been times that my wife and I have been able to find multiple caches within a larger park.  Being able to find multiple caches without getting back in the car helps keep the kids interested and if there is a playground nearby they can take a break if they want. 

As we approach the cache I direct the kids to the location that the GPS indicates, but stand back at first.  I still look closely to try and locate the cache, but I don't say anything for a few minutes to give them a chance to find it themselves.  If they are having a hard time locating it I may start giving some hints of where I think it might be, then I will look for it with them just before they tire of the search.  Then we sign the log, trade items if we can and one of them gets to hide it where we found it.  We then check that cache off our list and look to see which one is next according the GPS distance.

Make sure you bring snacks and water for the kids.  You want to make sure they maintain their energy during your outing.  Plus a hungry kids is not usually a happy kid.  Also remember to bring sunblock and jackets if it is cold, windy or rainy.  You'll also want to bring a camera to capture the memories and views you are likely to encounter.

I hope this has given you some ideas about taking your kids geocaching.  Let me know how it works out and enjoy!

Geocaching Definitions

Geocaching, like many other hobbies, has it's own set of slang words.  These words are often used when describing caches and might be confusing at first.  Here is a quick list of some of the commonly used words that you may not know.  I will try to update the list if I notice anything missing, or if anyone has any suggestions.

Micro Cache in a Fake Rock
Benchmark-  A benchmark is a physical marker placed by NOAA's National Geodetic Survey (NGS).  These are typically used for surveys and provide a known reference point.  While they do not typically contain a log or items for trade, many cachers still seek these out.
.  This means that the cache that you are looking at does not include a writing utensil, so make sure you bring one with you (which is a good idea anyway).

Cache-  Shortened version of the word Geocache

DNFShort for Did Not Find.  Often marked on online logs to indicate that the person looked for a cache, but did not find it.

Difficulty-  A rating given to the cache to give you an idea of how hard the cache is to find once you arrive at the destination given by your GPS.  Higher ratings may mean that even though you are five feet from the cache it may be so well hidden that you have a hard time finding it.

FTF-  First To Find.  Often written in log books and on online logs to indicate that the person signing was the first person to locate a new cache.

GC Code- A unique code that identifies each and every geocache associated with http://www.geocaching.com/.  Starts with GC followed by additional letter or numbers.

Geocache-  A hidden container that contains at least a log book to sign, but can also include items to trade.

Geocacher-  A term for someone who looks for a Geocache

Geocaching-  A world wide game of hiding and seeking treasure.  Anyone in the world can hide a geocache, then using GPS mark the location of the cache.  Then by sharing the GPS coordinates online anyone with a GPS can try to locate the cache.

Geocoin-  An item that can be purchased through http://www.geocaching.com/ that has a unique identifying code.  When you enter this code on their website it allows you to see what caches the coin has visited and a description of the coin by the owner.

GPSGlobal Positioning System.  A series of satellites that works with a handheld receiver to triangulate a location on earth.  See Garmin's illustrated explanation of how their GPS units work.

GPSrSlang for GPS Receiver.

GPXGPS eXchange format.  A file format that allows you to download coordinates and even cache descriptions to compatible GPS receivers.

Hitchhiker-  General term for an item that is placed in a cache that has instructions to travel to other caches.  Examples of hitchhikers are Geocoins and Travel Bugs.

LatitudeLatitude is the angular distance north or south from the earth's equator measured through 90 degrees.  The intersection of Latitude and Longitude create a waypoint.

LongitudeLongitude is the angular distance measured on a great circle of reference from the intersection of the adopted zero meridian with this reference circle to the similar intersection of the meridian passing through the object.  The intersection of Lattitude and Longitude create a waypoint.

Muggle-  Anyone who is not a geocacher.  Based on "Muggle" from the Harry Potter books, meaning someone that is not magical.  Many caches warn to be mindful of muggles who might misinterpret a cacher's search as something more suspicious.

Multi Cache-  A multi cache consists of two or more caches that are found as a series.  Typically the coordinates first received by a cacher lead to a location that gives them a new set of coordinates.  The final coordinates typically lead to a container.

Puzzle/Mystery Cache-  These typically require the solving of a puzzle, riddle, cypher or substitution to learn the coordinates for the cache.

Signature Item-  A unique item that is left behind to indicate that a specific cacher has been to that cache.

Size-  Geocaches come in a variety of physical sizes.
          Micro-  These caches are very small.  They typically do not include a writing utensil and may require that the log is tightly rolled up to fit right.
          Small-  These tend to be the size of a film canister or a magnetic key holder.  They may include a small golf pencil and could have small tradeable items.
          Medium-  These tend to be Tupperware type containers that can contain a small notebook for a log and typically accommodate a fair amount of SWAG.
          Large-  Large caches are often in surplus ammo cans or larger Tupperware containers.  These have lots of room for SWAG and may contain much larger items for trade.

Spoiler-  A spoiler is a piece of information that may make a cache easier to find, but may also take away some of the fun of searching for it.

SL-  Signed Log.  Often left on online logs to indicate that the physical logbook was signed.

SWAG-  Stuff We All Get.  A general term for any and all trade items located in a cache.

TFTC-  Thanks For The Cache.  Abbreviated thanks to the person that placed the cache.

TNLN-  Took Nothing, Left Nothing.  Indicates that the cacher did not trade any items, but merely signed the logbook.

Travel Bug
 Travel Bug-  A dog tag like item that was purchased through http://www.geocaching.com/.  Like a Geocoin it has a unique identifying number that links to a website showing where it has been and where the owner would like it to go.

WAAS-  Wide Area Augmentation System.  Used to improve the accuracy of GPS receivers.  See Garmin's excellent description.

Waypoint-  A waypoint are the coordinates for a physical location as described by the latitude and longitude.

What Is Geocaching?

Some of you may be wondering what Geochaching is.  Others might have an idea, but have never tried it.  This post is to give you a brief idea of what Geocaching is and how you go about getting involved with it.

Geocaching is essentially a high tech treasure hunt.  A geocache is a container that someone has hidden somewhere in the world and marked with GPS coordinates.  The containers can vary from about an inch long and barely larger than a pencil in diameter and up to plastic totes that can hold numerous items. 

One of the best things about Geocaching is that it is available all over the world and there are an amazing number of them, meaning one is probably very close to you right now.  If you want to look in your area there are likely many caches that you can find within a few miles of your house or where you work.  Or, if you want to get to know an area better you can look for caches in your favorite park, forest, camping area or even near a relatives house.  Be either looking them up before traveling or using a smart phone that allows you to access the internet you can look for caches on a road trip or your next hike.

Most geocaches contain at the very least a paper log.  This is placed in almost all caches and gives anyone who finds it the opportunity to log their find for the next person and everyone else who finds it.  If there is room in the cache a pencil or pen may be left for you to sign, but it is usually a good idea to carry a writing utensil with you, just in case.
Many Geocaches also contain "swag," or items for trade.  These items might have a theme for a certain cache, or may be something significant to the person that left them.  They usually have a relatively low monetary value.  The idea with these items is that if you take one out of a cache you leave something else of a similar value.  Some people like to leave similar items as a sort of calling card.  I have seen wooden tokens with the cacher's name or nickname that show they have been there.

A step up from that is "trackable" items.  These usually have to be purchased before use, but along with the item, you get a website that allows the movement of the item to be tracked.  One of the bigger Geocaching websites (http://www.geocaching.com/), has what they call "Travel Bugs."  A travel bug is a small dog tag type device with a unique code on it.  When you log onto the geocaching website you enter that unique code and you can see the history of that travel bug.  The owner can give the bug a name and express any wishes they have for the bug.  A sample wish might be that the bug travels around the world, or maybe visits as many National Parks as possible.  You can then see everywhere the bug has been and the total distance that it has traveled. 

Is Geocaching hard?  No, and sometimes yes.  Due to the nature of hiding items the difficulty can vary largely and is often up to the person hiding the item.  Fortunately there are many caches that are hidden in parking lots or smaller parks within many major cities.  So for those just looking to get started or those that may not be able to cross rougher terrain there are still plenty of opportunities to find your caches.  On the other hand, if you want a little more of a challenge there are caches on the top of mountains, on technical climbing routes, underwater and some that require you to solve puzzles to figure out the actual location.

To help you decide which caches you want to look for http://www.geocaching.com/ lists difficulty levels for both terrain and how well the cache is hidden.  Terrain can be more difficult because of of rough it is, or as mentioned above, it may take specialized means to reach the location.  Difficulty of the hide can really change things up.  A relatively large cache could be hidden somewhere very hard to get to, but once you do get there it could be easy to find.  On the other hand, a cache hidden near a very popular store might be very hard to find since it has to be hidden well enough that someone doesn't find it inadvertently and remove it.

So what exactly do you need to start Geocaching?  At the very least you need access to the internet, which if your reading this, I would guess you do.  Join one of the free sites, like http://www.geocaching.com/.  Once you have an account you can search for caches using address,zip codes or even panning google maps withing the website to see lists of caches.  Once you pick a cache you need to find it.  My first cache was located using just the google map image from the website, granted that is far from ideal.  One way to enter the coordinates from the website is to use a GPS capable smart phone.  I found a free app for my iPhone that let me enter and navigate to coordinates.  Groundspeak also offers a iPhone app that cost money, but allows you to look up, navigate to and log caches from your phone.  The next option is a GPS unit.  Though these can vary widely in price, they tend to be more accurate than most GPS enabled smart phone.  You have to enter the coordinates from a computer, often typing them in by hand, but you get much more accurate results.  The advantage of accuracy is that it gets you closed to the original location that the item was hidden, making your search easier.

While this was certainly not an exhaustive explanation of Geocaching, I hope it gives you an idea of what Geocaching is.  Let me know your thoughts on it below.