And that’s the whole point.
Let’s just say you’ve probably glanced over this location one, two, maybe even 300 times. It’s bigger than the miniscule Barnes and Noble in the Legacy West shopping center, but smaller than Collin County.
Still stumped? Good. That means I’ve done my job.
Rule number one of geocaching is to keep it as secret as possible—and the people who do it in the area are experts. That’s probably why I was so shocked to see a number of cache locations peppering a map of Plano when I finally downloaded the geocaching app.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt in the real world. People hide containers in a range of sizes that contain a variety of items and then log them with the geocaching website. The containers are usually “nano,” or about the size of a jumping bean, and contain a piece of paper for finders to record their username and the date they found the container. Other containers contain small items, and finders are expected to take the item inside and leave something else that will fit.
Finding the cache used to require a GPS coordinator and a map, as well as a compass. Cache locations were given as coordinates, which may have included a cipher for extra challenge. But as technology has changed since the activity’s genesis in May of 2000, smartphone applications have become a handy medium for logging, finding and tracking caches.
In a society caught up in the thrill of the adventure movie set in space, or at war, or among parallel universes, geocaching gives people a chance to be that adventurer and to feel victory—and the occasional defeat—in their own community.
Some geocaches feature puzzles or multiple clue-finding steps. Some are even known to require scuba gear. But take note: caches will never be buried underground.
People like Plano resident Blake Pritz wouldn’t be so shocked at the number of caches in the city. He’s been geocaching for about 11 years.
“It takes you to some places, man,” he says.
And he’s not just talking about the Rocky Mountains. He also means places like the tunnel he traversed underneath Collin Creek Mall while searching for a cache.
“You’re hunched over in this little tube, and then after like a half a mile it opens up to this giant cathedral-like room,” he says. “And there’s like two feet of water, and you don’t want to go in there. But it’s like, who would ever think to go down here without geocaching? You wouldn’t even know this place existed.”
Of course, most caches are not located in small tunnels like that. They’ll be out in the open where the biggest challenge next to finding the object is making sure others don’t see what’s being found. Pritz says he likes searching in Plano parks.
When it comes to choosing between caching in the Rockies or in the city, it comes down to how “inventively” hidden those caches are.
“I’d have to go with the city,” Pritz says.
So would the people who have hidden caches in light posts, parking lots and even somewhere around a retired train car. So do the residents and visitors who comment on the activity’s app, thanking the creators for the fun of getting to search for buried treasure in the real world.
So would Plano’s Parks and Recreation Department, which has shown signs of embracing the somewhat covert activity by offering geocaching classes and even placing its own five caches last year in honor of the department’s 50-year anniversary.
De Vickery, Texas Geocaching Association vice president, leads a group that works to show cities how lucrative it can be to accept the pass-time. People who travel to cities to find a cache can also bring profits in local commerce like dining and hotel stays, she says.
“Geocachers, especially if there’s an area that’s dense with geocaches, are going to help keep a local economy going because that’s our hobby. That’s what we do,” Vickery says.
The top rules of geocaching mostly aim to maintain a standard of safety and discretion. Any action that could give the gig away to surrounding “muggles,” or people who don’t know about the cache, is likely to spoil the fun.
It’s also advisable to never go geocaching alone and to avoid private property. Caches won’t be on private property unless the creator has gotten permission. But the activity has a point beyond its rules.
That point is to feel that knowing smile when your fingers finally land on the object you’ve been searching for in the heat of a blazing day. It’s to experience the frustration of looking for something that doesn’t seem to be there and to work through it—with or without the hints provided by the person who hid the thing in the first place. It’s to feel that sense of being part of a fantastic secret when you add your name to the tiny little list hidden inside the same object.