Cassette tapes, legos and ratty notebooks are considered treasures by few outside of the geocaching world. Geocachers seek more than trinkets, though. For them, the real—and less tangible—treasures include adventure, diversity and community.
Geocaching is a game with one basic goal: go to a specific location using GPS coordinates and either a smartphone or a GPS device. In its simplest form, geocachers drive around until their device shows they are near their target, then leave the car to find the cache—a hidden object, often camouflaged, containing a logbook and maybe some dollar-store trading items. If geocachers choose a more challenging target, they may be asked to figure out the coordinates by solving riddles, cryptograms or sudoku, which can take hours to months. Extreme geocachers have even repelled down caves, donned scuba gear and climbed overhanging rock walls to hide or reach caches.
Lake Highlands is home to an active geocaching community. Kevin Darbe, North Texas representative for the Texas Geocaching Association, says there are easily 500-1,000 dedicated geocachers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Within five miles of Lake Highlands High School, you can find about 400 caches.
“You do what? Why?”
When Darbe hears these questions, he tells non-geocachers they must experience geocaching to understand it. His reasons for his more-than-seven year geocaching career: it’s a great way to exercise, you can find caches for any age or ability (he knows two geocachers who are each missing a leg) and “it gets kids off the damn sofa.”
Part of the attraction is the element of mystery, too. These modern-day Nancy Drews don’t have to be professional detectives to solve a case.
“I think if you ever liked hunting treasure when you were a kid or finding something, it really speaks to that part of you,” says Lake Highlands resident Martin Lollar, a six-year geocaching veteran better known as BriarBoy on geocaching.com—the website where players post cache challenges.
It’s a way to be a tourist in your own neighborhood and a local in unknown environments. Through geocaching in Dallas, Darbe encountered Bonnie and Clyde’s graves and discovered an unfinished park under the intersection of N. Central Expressway and LBJ.
“[Geocaching] takes you to cool spots that even if you’ve lived here your whole life you never knew existed,” says Darbe, geocaching alias kd&prettierhalf. The first time Darbe and his wife went geocaching with their son’s GPS device, “we had no idea what we were doing. That was almost 20,000 caches ago.”
Travelers can bypass traditional tourist traps by searching for local caches. While visiting the Pacific Northwest, Lollar and Paulette Deutman, or GeoMojoGirl, found a cache that took them to an open grassy area overlooking the Columbia Gorge in time to watch the sun set.
“We never would have found that if we hadn’t been geocaching and someone hadn’t recommended that,” says Deutman.
Darbe has found caches in all 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces.
“It is the most diverse group of people you have ever met in your life,” says Darbe. “We know a guy who’s a full-fledged doctor. We know a guy who’s a baggage handler at DFW airport. We know numerous police officers, numerous teachers and ages ranging everything from five to 90.”
Geocachers not only build relationships through the game; they also strengthen existing ones.
“For me, its something that we do together,” Deutman says of her relationship with Lollar. “It’s our little thing that’s part of our relationship.”