What is geocaching, you ask? It’s a modern adventure treasure hunt, using GPS to find containers left by other geocachers, and to hide your own containers for other geocachers to find.
GPS (Global Positioning System), developed by the U.S. Department of Defense for military purposes, was scrambled so the public couldn’t read the signals … until May 1, 2000. To celebrate the accessibilty of GPS to the public, Dave Ulmer hid a bunch of small items in a bucket near Portland, Oregon, and announced what he had done on a USENET newsgroup. He laid out what are still the rules for geocaching: find it, take something, leave something, sign the log book. Within days, buckets and boxes of small items with logbooks alongside were being hidden in locations around the U.S., their GPS locations announced on the USENET group.
Though Dave Ulmer invented geocaching on that day in 2000, in reality it was a twist on a much older game called “letterboxing” in which the rules are basically the same, but one follows low-tech directions rather than using high-tech GPS systems to locate the hidden treasure box. In 1854, a guide named James Perrot hiked to a difficult location near Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, England, and left his calling card in a bottle for future hikers to find. For thirty years, the few hikers who made it there would leave their own calling cards. Later, someone left a tin box with a self-addressed postcard; the hiker who found it would write a note on it and mail it to its owner, then leave his own postcard in its place. By 1905 a logbook was added, and a few years after than a rubber stamp was included, so that visitors could stamp their personal logbooks with the stamp they found inside. Unlike geocaching, letterboxing took a while to grow. It was forty years before another letterbox was hidden and announced, and another forty before the third appeared. It remained a Dartmoor phenomenon until a 1998 article in the Smithsonian and the fledgling internet enabled it to spread worldwide.
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