A few years ago I was introduced to a fun – many would say addicting – game of high-tech treasure hunting called geocaching. It is essentially a game of hide and seek using GPS devices. Geocachers hide a small container, called a geocache, or “cache”, in a publicly accessible location and post the GPS coordinates online. Others will then load those coordinates into their GPS device and attempt to find it.
Those of us “bitten by the bug” invariably come to realize that one of the most rewarding benefits of geocaching is discovering new and interesting places the search takes us. If not for geocaching, we would never find some of these places. Here is an example:
We began looking for caches in the vicinity of Trail Bridge Reservoir along the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway. We found two caches in that quiet and serene spot. One had been placed there a few days prior and we were hoping to be the first finders – but alas, we were a day late! There were no fishermen about that morning, which made for an easier hunt. If not for geocaching we would not have known there was an access trailhead nearby to a rugged section of the McKenzie River Trail.
Later, we explored the Sisters area to look for a couple of caches in the surrounding pine forests. What a contrast to the thick, green coastal forests we left just five hours ago! One cache was placed by a forest fire fighter and had a Smokey Bear theme to it – an appropriate cache, since we are both foresters.
Over the course of the next few hours our geocaching hunts brought us to a quaint old German cemetery, the spectacular Crooked River Gorge, the Badlands OHV trails and the volcano-marred landscape of the Newberry Crater National Monument. If not for geocaching we would never have enjoyed the breath-taking views of this unique landscape from the top of a cinder cone!
Day two began early as we headed south to the Klamath Falls region. Along the way, we took a short diversion west to find a cache at Diamond Lake. There we were treated to a gorgeous view of Mt. Bailey with lingering clouds on its snow-covered peak – and nearly carried away by mosquitoes!
By early afternoon, we found caches at a wonderful viewpoint overlooking a crystal clear spring with pastoral views of snowy peaks like Mt. McLoughlin. Also in the area was the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge famous for its diverse population of birds and an old logging museum at Collier State Park. If not for geocaching we would never have walked down to the headwaters of Spring Creek and seen that gorgeous blue-green water bubbling out of the ground.
The final leg of our geocaching spree brought us to the heavily timbered Lake of the Woods along Highway 140, in addition to the crossing of the Pacific Crest Trail and ending with a few quick caches in the Medford valley near the unique Table Rock mesa butte formations.
While this particular excursion allowed us to explore a large area of terrain over a short period of time, geocachers can also discover new and interesting places without leaving their hometown. In fact, many have found after geocaching a while, that they didn’t know their local area as well as they thought. I have lived in the Coos Bay area for over thirty years, but had never explored the nearby coastal dunes, until I became a geocacher. But that’s another story…..watch for it!
Mike Davidson is a career forester and an outdoor enthusiast who uses the high-tech treasure hunting game of geocaching to lead him to the great variety of outdoor experiences in Oregon. Keep up with his latest hiking and geocaching excursions on his Geocaching Oregon blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.