Remember back when you were a kid and you searched for Easter eggs in your backyard or a local park? And how delightful it was to find those hidden treasures in a clump of grass, behind a tree or carefully placed between a pair of ordinary looking rocks? Geocaching is much like that Easter egg hunt, only with a global, high-tech twist. Maine’s varied topography is perfect for the hiding and seeking of these little “stashes.” Currently there are over 5,500 documented geocaches in the state, providing plenty of scenic treasure hunting fun for both the young and young at heart.
The Basics of Geocaching
Geocaching is a treasure hunting game that lets you enjoy the great outdoors while looking for hidden items placed by fellow geocachers. The coordinates for the caches are found on the Geocaching website (geocaching.com) which has caches listed in almost every corner of the globe. There are even caches in the Canadian Arctic, in places like Igloolik and Resolute Bay that can only be reached by plane, dogsled or snowmobile. It is considerably easier to get to many of Maine’s hidden treasures.
The Geocaching site will let you know how big the cache is, how difficult it is to reach and sometimes provides a list of what’s inside the cache. Registration on the website is free and also gives you the chance to communicate with other geocachers. Members may create their own caches, hide them and then share the coordinates and details online.
Once you have the coordinates, load them into any device that has GPS capabilities, usually by clicking a button on the Geocaching website. Your GPS device could be a separate portable device or a GPS enabled cell phone. The coordinates are the longitude and latitude locations combined. Remember your globe from geography class? The lines going from the North Pole to the South Pole are the latitude lines, bisected by the equator. The lines that circle the globe horizontally are the longitude lines.
For example, if you were looking for a cache in Portland’s Lincoln Park, the latitude would be 43.659818 and the longitude -70.254707. There is no minus on the latitude because Portland is north of the equator. The minus on the longitude means that Portland is west of the Prime Meridian, running through Greenwich, England. Forgetting the minus on the longitude would put you somewhere in Asia. Good to know if you have to load the coordinates manually.
Finding Your Geocache
Once you have your GPS device ready, then it’s off to find your cache. The GPS will get you to the general area, but once there you have to start scouring under rocks, in tree branches, anywhere that is large enough to hide something. Some caches may be underwater, while others placed in cities could be under a bench or in a flower pot. Stashes are usually in small weatherproof boxes, with at least a corner visible to those looking. Unusual caches have been found that include old letter boxes and even webcams.
After you’ve found the stash, open the box. Inside you will find a log book, which you will sign, and trinkets or other objects left by another geocacher. If you decide to take an object for a souvenir, leave another in its place for the next person to find. You can add to the collection without taking anything. Place the signed log book back in the box and put it back where you found it. When you get back to your computer, log back into the Geocaching website and post your find.
Where to Find Geocaches in Maine
In Maine you might find your cache near a lighthouse or along the beaches on Maine’s southern coast. Some examples are caches on Cadillac Mountain at Mount Desert Island, near Bridge Street in Bar Harbor or in a cove on Little Cranberry Island, accessible by boat or the harbor ferry.
More ambitious geocachers might try along the river in the St. John’s River Valley or along the nearby horse trails. Caches have been placed among the rocks on Mt. Katahdin, and at the 100-foot wide Nesowadnehunk Falls on the Penobscot River’s western branch. The GPS, or your ears, will lead you to the waterfall, after that it’s up to your sleuthing skills.
If you don’t want to head out on your own you might join one of the events listed on the Geocaching website. You might combine breakfasting on pancakes lathered with real maple syrup with looking for treasure while wearing snowshoes or doing a bit of dog sledding.
If you happen to be in New Gloucester the first weekend of September, take part in the International EarthCache Event. Learn all about geocaching and get tips on the best GPS devices as well as the sport in general. If you are a seasoned geocacher, this is the place to trade stories about your finds. The event is being hosted at a farm, providing plenty of places that are perfect for hiding and finding stashes.
What to Bring Along When Geocaching
What you need to bring along with you when geocaching depends on where you are looking. Everyone needs a GPS unit in order to play the game. Maine is so scenic that no matter where you go you’ll want to bring your camera. Also bring a pen to sign the log books of caches you find. Bring water and snacks, especially if you will be traveling any distance.
If you are going into a remote area like the back-country of Baxter State Park or the trails in the Aroostook Valley and are looking at a long hike, you will want to bring a backpack with extra food, clothing and emergency supplies to help you get through the night if needed. If your GPS is a separate device, bring your cell phone along for emergencies.
Some geocaches are so remote, such as those in Maine’s state parks that you may want to combine a bit of camping with your treasure hunting. Rangeley Lake and Mount Blue State Parks are just two locales that offer both RV and tent camping. Baxter State Park also offers wilderness cabins and back-country sites that are truly off the beaten path. All of these places have cleverly placed geocaches, just waiting for your clever self to find.