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A Brief History of Geocaching

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 9/8/2009

Geocaching continues to grow in popularity with each passing day. Read on to find out more about the history of this modern day form of treasure hunting and why so many people are giving geocaching a try.

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    The Beginnings of Geocaching

    Garmin GPS Device People’s love of treasure hunting and puzzle solving is nothing new, but modern methods of partaking in these types of activities are constantly being created. Geocaching is one of these more recent developments, and the hobby has quickly spread across the globe, being practiced by outdoor enthusiasts worldwide.

    Geocaching is an activity in which one party hides a cache filled with trinkets, coins, or other small items and then records the coordinates of the cache’s location using a GPS device. These coordinates are then distributed in some manner – usually posted to a geocaching web site – for hunters to use as a reference to track down the cache.

    Since geocaching is an activity that depends heavily on GPS devices, its beginnings are tied closely to the history of GPS technology. Up until 2000, only the military had access to the most accurate GPS data and civilians had to rely on degraded signals that were only accurate within 100 meters. This intentional degradation was known as Selective Availability, often abbreviated as SA. Then, on May 1, 2000, President Clinton announced that the signals from GPS satellites would no longer be scrambled and the 100 meter accuracy limitation was diminished to 20 meters.

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    The First Geocache

    On May 3, 2000, only two days after Clinton’s announcement, Dave Ulmer proposed a game that would take advantage of the removal of Selective Availability and gave his idea for creating what would become the first geocache. It only took a day for someone to find that initial cache, and the hobby began to spread like wildfire. You can find out more about this early geocache placement here.

    It didn’t take long for others to start creating and placing their own geocaches. Enthusiasm spread and there were 21 recorded cache placements by the end of May, 2000. Five of these geocaches were hidden outside the United States, making the activity truly global. Web sites dedicated to the hobby began to sprout up, causing more and more people to become interested in geocaching.

    Since that time, the hobby has evolved somewhat, incorporating new challenges and puzzles into the search for geocaches. However, the basic “rule" of geocaching has remained the same – in the words of Dave Ulmer, “Get some Stuff, Leave some Stuff!!!" It’s also generally expected that if you remove something from a geocache that you leave something of equal or greater value. This is to make sure that others who follow you in the hunt have just as much fun as you did when finding the cache.

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    Geocaching Today

    As handheld portable GPS units become more affordable for the general public, it doesn’t look like there is going to be a slowdown in the interest of geocaching any time soon. Geocaching.com alone lists over 800,000 active caches worldwide. With dozens of other worldwide and regional geocaching organizations in existence, it’s hard to guess the true total number of active caches, but that total is likely well over a million. When you toss in the number of private caches and events, the number just gets larger.

    If you’d like to find out more information about geocaching and how to get started, visit a reputable site such as Geocaching with Navicache and find out if there are any caches placed near you. You can start out by reading about some of the adventurers of geocachers and getting advice from more seasoned hobbyists. Then, when you’re ready, grab your GPS and go!