Family Travel, Outdoor fun

Family Friendly Geocaching


Michelle Maggiore of Uptown recently took her family on a modern-day treasure hunt. There were no hand-drawn maps or swashbuckling pirates; instead, like-minded adventurers armed with special apps on their phones met up in Audubon Park to try their hand at geocaching.

The “low-pressure vibe” appealed to Michelle, as did being outdoors with her family. “My kids loved exploring around the park and finding the caches, poking in all the holes and bushes and looking in trees,” she says. “They even dug through piles of hay on the ground. They liked all the foraging. There are no time constraints, so you’re free to just wander around.”

Caches, trackables, and hitchers

Geocaching and GPS began hand-in-hand. After global positioning technology became widely available to the public, people on forums dedicated to the topic quickly began to explore its possibilities. One was Dave Ulmer, who posted the coordinates to a stash he created in the Oregon woods to the forum with the instructions, “take some stuff, leave some stuff.” In three days, two people ventured out to Ulmer’s stash using their GPS, and the practice began gaining popularity on the Internet.

Eventually, enough people participated for the “GPS Stash Hunt” mailing list to be created. It documented all the new stashes being made and posted to the forum. In 2000, the word “geocaching” was used for the first time to describe the activity. It was a combination of “geo” for Earth, and “cache” for both a hiding place and a computer’s storage.

Growth was slow at first; because GPS units were new, there was a learning curve. Jeremy Irish, a web developer from Seattle, created to be a “hobby site” for other geocachers. Like the mailing list, it included new caches, but there were also helpful additional features, like being able to search the caches by zip code; that search option remains on the site today.

Geocaching has greatly expanded since its humble beginnings. There are now 20 different types of geocaches. The most common is called a traditional cache, where there is at least a logbook to record finding it. Some of the larger caches also have items, like small toys or trinkets, to trade. The multi-cache involves finding clues in several locations before reaching the actual cache. Puzzle caches involve solving a puzzle or riddle to get the coordinates.

There’s also another item called a trackable, which is a small tag or coin with a code that can be tracked online. It becomes a “hitchhiker,” and you and your family can add to its adventures. Sometimes, the owner of the trackable will give it a task, such as traveling to the mountains. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t hold on to the trackable for too long, so it can be moved from cache to cache to achieve its goal.

Geocaching near and far

There are a few different ways to get started in the geocaching community in New Orleans. There is a Henry Leissinger of Metairie sponsors a meeting on the second Wednesday every-other month at Cafe du Monde on Veterans in Metairie (they’re meeting there at 7 pm on March 11). Henry has been involved in geocaching since 2003, after he read a story about it which included a picture of people standing in the woods talking about a treasure hunt using a GPS. “It was kind of love at first sight,” Henry says.

Henry and his wife have found about 13,000 caches together over the years. He has also hidden about 400 caches on his own; his wife doesn’t enjoy that part as much. Their vacations are “geocaching vacations,” meaning that the couple incorporates seeing different things with geocaching. “We like having things to do and caches to find,” he says.

The two have now found geocaches in all 50 states. It’s taken them all over, from mountaintops to deserts to swamps. It’s also become a very popular activity abroad. Henry has gone geocaching in several countries, including England, Austria, Switzerland, France and Germany, where “it looks like the whole country is wallpapered in geocaches.”

Michelle says she hopes to try geocaching the next time her family is on vacation. For now, she says that geocaching in New Orleans is a great opportunity to make new friends. There’s a strong geocaching community here, she says, adding that she saw plenty of comments from other geocachers who had been in Audubon Park recently.

Michelle is planning a geocaching birthday party for her son when he turns eight. She says all a first-time geocacher has to do is “keep your eyes peeled and have fun.” What eight-year-old doesn’t love a treasure hunt party?

Lora Ghawaly is a freelance journalist living in Metairie.

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