Oldest Geocaches in US: An Intriguing Look at Where and How it All Began

Oldest Geocaches in US: An Intriguing Look at Where and How it All Began
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Origins of the Geocaching Species

The oldest geocaches in US territory date back to the time when the U.S. government first turned off the switch that made GPS technology the exclusive purview of the military, and thus allowed the general public to make use of handheld GPS devices for navigation. Almost as soon as that happened, someone decided that it was a good idea to hide a container, with stuff to give away, somewhere on public lands, in order that other interested people could use their navigational skills, with the aid of their GPS devices, to find them. So now we need to travel back to the place and time where that occurred. But first, if you would like a more in-depth, but concise, account of the beginning of this hobby, read A Brief History of Geocaching.

Folks in Oregon blazed the geocaching trail by placing the oldest geocaches in the U.S. A guy named Dave Ulmer stashed an item for what he called a “GPS Stash Hunt” near Beaver Creek where he lived. He posted the coordinates on an a website dedicated to GPS users just three days after the government flicked the switch on for the public to use GPS technology. It was May 3, 2000. Among the items in the black bucket he hid (found by the first geocache seeker) was software, books, videos, and a trusty slingshot. The rule “take some stuff, leave some stuff” was there from the beginning. The name, “GPS Stash Hunt” obviously didn’t stick, maybe it sounded too much like people were out there searching for mustaches with their GPS devices, or closer to the truth; people thought stash was associated more with the drug world. Three months later on September 3, Geocaching.com, the premier geocaching website, was launched and it listed 75 caches.

The guy who found the first stash, Mike Teague, then planted the next two on Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Then, one appeared in Salem, Oregon and Carson, Washington (both planted by Mike Teague as a great example of passing it on). From there, geocaching spread from the Pacific Northwest like wildfire to places like Los Angeles; Colby, Kansas; Woodville, New York; Manistee National Forest in Michigan; and all the way to Rotorua, New Zealand. Once it started gaining momentum, and media outlets from the New York Times to CNN picked up on it, there was no stopping it. Techies became outdoor enthusiasts, and vice versa, until anyone with a handheld GPS and a little modicum of internet savvy was able to get in on the game. For a complete list of the first 100 geocaches, visit this external link.

How to Find the Oldest Stashes Where you Live

All this history is intriguing, but you might be the type of geocacher who wants to find the first caches in the places where you live. Fortunately for you, there is an easy way to find them. Here’s a quick way to do it. On your Geocaching.com Account page, select the “Build Pocket Queries” option and then simply click “Create a New Query”. (It’s interesting to note how these clever original geocachers picked words with double meanings like “queries” and “cache” that are relevant to the computer side and the real world too.) Next:

  • “Within States/Provinces” you of course choose your country and state.
  • Choose your desired radius in terms of miles (500).
  • In “Placed During” field, choose Between September 1, 2000 and December 31, 2000.
  • Click on “Submit Information” then on the next page click “Preview the Search” and the list you seek will appear. If nothing pops up, it means that no geocaches were planted in your area until after that time frame, so you’ll have to extend the date to find the first.

If you’re really looking to up the ante and test your geocaching skills, perhaps you should read the series beginning with a piece entitled The Most Unusual Geocaches to Engage your Mental Faculties. Three subsequent articles then go on to document and detail some of the most challenging geocaching sites (both mentally and physically) in the world.

So that’s how it all began, from people placing their cache coordinates on their own personal websites to the more organized and inclusive methods of listing caches, along with helpful forums, that are on geocaching.com. It’s a tribute to the human spirit that it only took three days for someone to formulate and implement this idea in the field, once the technology was no longer available exclusively for practicing and engaging in warfare. It was a great idea that involved sharing and giving. Score one for the kindergarten teachers in Oregon!