Geocaching combines treasure hunting and exploring new destinations

Chelsea Decker points to a micro geocache. (Courtesy of Chelsea Decker)

Those well-versed in the art of geocaching know that it’s both the destination and the journey that have value.

Simply put, geocaching is a treasure hunt that takes its participants off the beaten path to find not only trinkets and “swag,” but locations and landmarks they might not have otherwise discovered. Case in point: The activity has allowed Chelsea Decker, a former Albuquerque teacher who currently resides in Farmington, to find a couple areas of historical significance.

“One cache took us to a remote grave site of several people who were killed by the Stockton Gang in 1896,” Decker said. “And another took us to a Native American (burial ground) of unmarked graves that died during the Spanish Flu epidemic.”

Geocaching dates back to 2000, when it originated in Portland, Oregon. The phenomenon has grown exponentially since then, with millions of hidden caches and active participants worldwide. And where once a GPS device was needed to get started, the game is much more accessible now thanks to the prevalence smart phones.

“There’s geocaches all over the world and people don’t even really know that they’re there,” Decker said. “To me, it’s the thrill of the hunt.”

Anyone can get started by creating a free account and using or the Geocaching app to search for caches. That’s where the fun begins. The caches themselves come in all shapes and sizes – sometimes cleverly disguised – and the process of finding them can range from fairly simple to extremely challenging, depending on one’s acumen. Once a cache is discovered, the player signs the log book and if a trinket or prize is inside, trades it for an item in their possession. Then, the geocache is returned to its hiding place.

“There are some that they called tradeables and those are just little trinket-type things. They call them swag,” explained Decker. “Those are ones where you can bring one and take one. It can be anything from a sticker to a quarter to a little toy. We used McDonald’s toys a lot, an eraser, just something fun. The kids enjoy that part of it.”

A geocache hidden in a cactus and painted to camouflage it. (Courtesy of Chelsea Decker)

The beauty of geocaching is that it transcends age, and it gives virtually anyone an excuse to get off the couch and get outdoors, which made it a popular activity during the height of the pandemic. There are groups to join – Decker is part of a the Four Corners Geocachers on Facebook – or it can be an entirely solo endeavor.

“I’ve done it with my kids, I’ve taken my teen siblings out whenever I visit them and I’ve shown my in-laws … they’re in their 50s and 60s. They’ve actually done it way more than me and found way more caches than I have,” Decker said. “It’s definitely a hobby for all ages.”

It’s recommended that a player find at least 20 geocaches before hiding one of their own. According to the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division, a geocaching container must adhere to the following:

• Blend in with its surroundings.

• Be properly labeled with cache name, contact information and log location.

• Have a letter inside explaining the nature of the contents.

• Be located in a spot that doesn’t negatively impact the environment.

“There’s a lot of different containers out there that are geocaches,” Decker said. “I think having found a lot you get a better idea of the best way to hide, and the best way to make the container with the cache.”

A geocache hidden inside a piece of wood. (Courtesy of Chelsea Decker)

There’s also a certain amount of etiquette involved. For the uninitiated observer, it can be confusing to see a geocacher scouring an area. Decker says once she explains the nature of her pursuit, there are no issues. It’s also imperative to let the appropriate parties know before a cache is placed.

“I do know that when you place a cache, you are supposed to inform the neighbors. You always have to get permission to place a cache on any sort of property that is owned by the city or that sort of thing,” Decker said. “If people play by all the rules correctly, everyone around the geocache should be OK with it.”

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