Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Harrisburg / Geo-Caching Adventure


In this episode of Camp Martin Travels, my friend and colleague, Ruth Gallagher and I were off to Harrisburg to visit an old friend.  Following our visit, Ruth promised to introduce me to a new high tech method of orienteering. She was introduced to the hobby in college and got hooked... It's got some geography/social studies like elements and she wanted to show me how it works. Forget the map and the old fashioned compass... this is the modern techno geek way to navigate and find your way to hidden check points the world over. Ok, maybe it's a sport for nerds but hey... this is the kind of stuff that made Bill Gates a gazillionare!  Let's play!

Map showing cache locations in my hometown

Geocaching is an outdoor activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container (usually a Tupperware or military ammo box) containing a logbook. Larger containers can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value. Geocaching is most often described as a "game of high-tech hide and seek", sharing many aspects with orienteering, treasure-hunting, and waymarking. Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and are located on all seven continents, including Antarctica.  As of September 20, 2009, there are over 904,000 active geocaches over the world. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ruth found some cache sites in the general vicinity of where we planned to be using the official Geocaching website...


We started out with our first target somewhere in a park nearby.  Ruth entered in the latitude and longitude coordinates from the website into the specially designed hand held GPS geocaching device. The GPS device shows a compass on the screen pointing in the direction you should travel. The distance is displayed in miles and counts down, as you get closer.  If the distance increases, you need to backtrack and reroute your path. Sometimes the roads cooperate and sometimes you have to patiently navigate your way around barriers in your way.  When the device starts to count down in feet, you know you are getting close!

Our first site was easy to find but turned out to be our most challenging task.  The cache was hidden somewhere within the chain link fence.  We spent about fifteen minutes scouring the fence and surrounding space unable to locate the cache.  Fortunately there are hints online and help was just a phone call away.  We needed to call Ruth's husband (twice) to look up clues posted on the website to help guide our search.  The clue phrase was fish line. We eventually found the item that was located within the fence post shown next to Ruth.  It was deep inside the post, creatively attached to a three-foot piece of fish line anchored to the top of the fence.  By the way, the word cache is a French word meaning storage or hiding place.

This cache was very small, they vary in size and are described on the website so you know what to expect.  Inside was a small journal where Ruth recorded our find.  Some locations you can drive to, others can involve a challenging hike.  You can determine what you feel up to in advance as each cache description provides insight on what each task involves. You later log your find online so you can track all the caches you have located. Ok, this was really fun and I was already hooked... Let's see what else we can find!

Our next target took us to a small historic cemetery hidden just off the road.  We ran into a young family who were also seeking the same cache.  The site is the New Side Church Yard where local heroes of the French and Indian War, American Revolution, and the War of 1812 were laid to rest.  The church building is long gone and the foundation of the original structure may exist within the wooded area behind the cemetery.  Hundreds of cars drive past this spot every day and most have no idea this historic landmark exists.  The geo cache container has brought hundreds of people to this location to find the hidden ammo box but it has also brought people here who will take the time to examine the grave markers and accompanying monument.  The old cemetery was in excellent shape and showed few signs of neglect.  So far I'm liking this activity more and more with each stop and maybe I'm not too cool to be a geo-nerd after all!  

I was a bystander on this one watching Ruth search through the ivy with the help of a cute little girl who was offering her own little hints.  Ruth found the large cache hidden under a log within a patch of ivy about ten yards behind the cemetery in the woods. With the little girl's help, we didn't have to call / bother Ruth's husband (Command Central) again for a website clue.

Inside the army ammo box were some interesting items.  There were all kinds of items inside including trinket toys for kids, a special traveling horse, and a journal to log your visit.  You never know what you will find.  They are always hidden so people who are not geocachers don't take or move the caches or their contents.  People who are not geocachers are officially known as Muggles.  After learning this, I was just hoping we wouldn't be running into Lord Voldemort, other dark wizards, or rabid hillbillies roaming the woods.  I thought for a few seconds that I heard a banjo playing in the distance but I think it was just my imagination.

The small horse wore a special tag to identify it was being tracked, trying to make its way across the country by ending up in a cache at least once in all 50 states.  So far, about half of the states had been checked off.  You can track the horse's journey on the website. The horse had not been to the state of New York yet and Ruth was soon making a trip to the Big Apple.  She decided to take the horse with her to deposit it in a cache somewhere within the Empire State.  Ruth often looks for caches when she is out and about and even found several while vacationing in Aruba last year. 

After logging in all the necessary information, Ruth carefully refilled the box, sealed it from the elements, and placed it back in it's hiding place for the next person seeking the cache spot. Our next target was not far away but would involve leaving the car for a mile and a half hike through the woods.  We drove to the tree line and spotted an opening that appeared to be a pathway.  We parked the car and proceeded on foot through the opening but we soon ran into a freight train.  Inaccessible railroad tracks cut us off as far as we could see in both directions so we headed back to the car.  Following a few strange looks from local residents cutting their lawns, we were back on the road looking for a safe way across the tracks.  However, after several failed attempts and wrong turns we were lost and decided to reroute to our final cache destination. 

Our final cache was the easiest to find on the campus of Penn State Harrisburg.  The box was directly hidden in the bushes behind the famous lion statue.  This was a popular cache and had a large journal filled with visitors.  This cache box was located right in front of the library and contained clues to other smaller caches found within the building.  It was Saturday and the library was closed so we decided to call it a day and headed for home.

Overall this was a great time and I would like to explore how many cache boxes exist at historic spots in my local area.  It is a fun thing to do to compliment other activities that you normally have to do... like when your wife drags you kicking and screaming to King of Prussia Mall for a full day of shopping... for example.  You could sneak out the side door of Macy's while she is trying on a dress and see what you can find in and around the Valley Forge Battlefield nearby.  You might wind up sleeping on the couch for a week but hey, it might be worth it...

The best part about geocaching is that you never have to worry about trying and then failing, to refold an old school map!  The thirty-minute process it usually takes to refold a map has got to be in the top ten list of things that make people look stupid.  I have a theory that this might be why my father always refused to use maps and why we consequently always got lost trying to navigate through Philadelphia on our way to the Jersey Shore.

Apparently the Spring Garden Street exit was not correct. Although, we seemed to always wind up driving on it year after year.  I always wondered how it got its name since there was never anything close to a garden, let alone a blade of grass to be seen... anywhere?  Mapquest was a giant step forward in helping avoid map folding since the map is printed out on regular paper and is disposable... I mean recyclable.  I wonder how far away we are from having a GPS device implanted in our brains so that physical, foldable maps and getting lost will be a thing of the past?

Until then, as Bilbo Baggins once observed... "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." (J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings)


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