Amanda and I got a cheap GPS for the cars recently and with that we decided to try our hand at Geocaching. Over the weekend we went out after 3 sites that are nearby and managed to find two of them, though one of those took two attempts. It’s a remarkably fun activity that’s low cost (never mind the billion dollar satellites it requires, that’s a better use of my tax money than the bombs that use the system to blow the crap out of “insurgents” in Iraq. I’ll take a few more smart leaders and a few less smart bombs any day, but I digress).

I’ve you’ve ever thought about trying it and have a car GPS that’s really all you need. It’s a little funky because it’s normal map mode just doesn’t provide useful information, I need to put it into setup mode where it shows the exact coordinates of my current location. It also displays speed and direction if you’re walking, though the accuracy at low speeds isn’t great. We generally pick the cache we want to find on the geocaching website and download the .loc file associated with the cache. Google Earth can import the file which does two things – first it makes it easy to visualize about where the cache is on the map, and since it’s satellite footage can give you a pretty good idea of about where something is unless the tree cover is heavy. Second you can set Google Earth to display the coordinates in the same way your GPS does.

Most handheld displays use the degree, minutes, seconds method which gives you something like N41deg 32′ 48.21″. Confusingly some give you degrees, and minutes only, with decimal minutes, so N41deg 32.8123′. A bit more straightforward, though less common it seems is the decimal degrees method which would just be something like 41.541234deg. Our car unit uses the latter method, but unfortunately only gives four decimal places of accuracy, which, if my calculations are correct, can’t really get you within more than 40 feet of the object. Finding something small and usually well hidden in the woods in a 1600ft^2 area isn’t trivial. Compound that with the accuracy or lack thereof of the hider’s GPS and you may be nowhere near the reported location. Anyway, we’ll probably pick up a handheld unit in the near future and that may help with some of the harder caches.

We’ll probably put some pages up in the near future detailing our adventures, which we’ve been photographing.