If you're looking for a fun and interesting way to spend a few hours — or a whole day — then geocaching is the perfect answer. This internationally growing recreational activity is best described as a high-tech version of treasure hunting. Equipped with a hand-held GPS (Global Positioning System) unit that guides you to specific places based coordinates you enter into the unit, you and your family and friends can hunt for hidden caches located throughout the Parkland and elsewhere.
There are various types of caches that can be involved in this adventure game. Caches placed by local groups such as Caching Riding Mountain in the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve area (the fifteen municipalities surrounding Riding Mountain National Park) are in the categories of traditional geocaches, virtual caches and multi-caches.
The cache found at the end of a traditional geocache hunt is a hidden container with a log book, an information sheet and perhaps small tradable items associated with a theme or with the sites and communities in the area. It is expected that those who take an item will also leave an item. Comments in the logbook are always of interest to those that follow. A code word on the information sheet is used to log the find on the website of the group that created the cache. A virtual cache is a location, usually very unique and interesting. Coordinates, instructions on logging the cache, a list of questions and other information are all on the website. At each location on the way, questions must be answered correctly. Then, on reaching the destination, these answers provide clues used to determine the code needed to log the find on the website.
Multi-caches are very similar to virtual caches with the exception that a traditional cache is hidden at the last stop of the quest. Clues from the virtual caches along the way lead to the final discovery. Again, you must arrive at the final destination in order to receive the information needed to log your find on the website.
Like a traditional treasure hunt, clues to locations are key to finding the “treasure.” However, in the 21st century, using hand-written clues on small pieces of paper hidden in unexpected places is not the way to attract an adventurer equipped with all things electronic. This is where GPS units enter the game.
A handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) device is a small electronic receiver that gathers information from a number of satellites that orbit the earth twice daily. After longitude and latitude coordinates for a location have been entered, the unit can guide the user to that location. Simply follow the arrow carefully. These receivers are able to show navigation routes to within 3 metres (10 ft) of any place on earth. Some units have electronic compasses and voice navigation. With the information from the Internet, a GPS unit, and the curiosity of Sherlock Holmes, anyone can become a successful sleuth.
Looking for a quick way to get started in geocaching? Visit www.cachingridingmountain.ca. Rossburn, Dauphin, Onanole and the Elkhorn Resort in the Biosphere Reserve, and the neighbouring towns of Minnedosa and Russell, have already created caches and posted them on the website. The coordinates, instructions and more information on each hunt can be found there. Download coordinates to a personal GPS unit or rent a Cacher’s Kit from the Nature Shop in the Visitor Centre at Riding Mountain National Park. Each of these kits contains basic instructions, information about the area and a GPS unit already programmed with the “hunt” coordinates for points of interest such as cairns, fabulous views, historical sites, and nature learning experiences unique to the Parkland region.
Some hunts are virtual and some include the traditional container strategically placed to create a learning experience about a particular site or community. For the virtual tours, the fun starts with discovering the answers to clues or questions given on the website. Once the hunt is complete and the riddle is solved, register the answer on www.cachingridingmountain.ca and enter an annual contest for prizes from local businesses. Please remember that there are no geocaches (physical caches) inside the boundaries of Riding Mountain National Park. There will be, however, some virtual caches located in strategic areas where they will not affect environmentally or culturally sensitive areas.