Geocaching — Our first attempt

I must have been a good boy last year: Santa brought me a GPS for Christmas. It’s a Magellan eXplorist 400 with mapping capabilities and a 512-MB SD memory card. Wow! I’d been looking at GPS units, but was considering the more basic models. Thanks, Santa, uh, Suzi!

Jamison and I had fun using the GPS on the drive back from Sacramento on New Year’s Day. It’s amazing how quickly the elevation changes. Around Red Bluff, I handed it back to keep Jamison quiet and occupied. Well, at least occupied. From the back seat, “Dad, what’s the speed limit, ’cause you’re going 73.8 miles per hour.” And I thought I was doing good, staying within 5 mph. I guess not…

Anyway, today I decided we would try geocaching. I’d downloaded some coordinates on local benchmarks and geocaches. We had looked a little yesterday while we toured the local parks to see the flooded creeks. Today, we would be serious geocachers, taking pictures and everything. Or so we thought.

It made sense to me that we should start by trying to find surveying benchmarks. They’d be easier. After all, benchmarks are not intentionally hidden. We had a lot to learn.

We started by looking for benchmark RD0391. Rather than read the hints, we were just going to use the GPS to find it. No such luck. We couldn’t find it after looking for about 15 minutes. All we found were paths of others who had tramped through the ivy, probably looking for the same benchmark.

On to the next benchmark, RD0392. Even though my GPS said it had 16-foot accuracy at the time, I couldn’t find anything.

I knew I was failing big time in my son’s eyes, but he was polite, saying “At least we’re having fun, dad.” And we were, but I was getting frustrated. Was my GPS lying to me? Did I have it configured in the wrong units?

So we gave up again and went in search of benchmark RD0384. I had looked at the hints for this one and had seen the pictures of the benchmark in its setting. We were going to find this one. This benchmark is set in the steps by a door at a local school. I parked in the parking lot near where I thought it was and pulled out my GPS. Hmm, I must have been wrong, because my GPS was sending me away from where I thought the benchmark was. In fact, it sent us over into the bushes on the south side of the school After walking around, trusting the GPS, I gave up and walked over to the steps and found a benchmark, shown as the “X” in the overhead picture. I was ready to go home and read my GPS’ documentation.

We’d try one more, though, RD0396. We could find this one. It has a sign marking its location. Success! We ignored that, once again, the GPS had us looking about 100 feet away.

We were going to look for a real geocache, and drove to Dog Log #2. From reading its online log, we were there at the same time yesterday as Hoo T. Owl, who found it after waiting for some people taking pictures/movies to leave. Today, right near where the cache (probably) is hidden some people were rehearsing a sword fight with plastic swords while a mini DV recorder sat on a tripod nearby. We waited a few minutes, but they were clearly there for the duration, so we left for home where I jumped online to see why we had failed so miserably.

It turns out that the coordinates for surveying benchmarks don’t appear to be that accurate. Huh?! Using the mapping capabilities at, reading formal location descriptions, and then going once again to find the benchmarks, we found considerable distances between the supposed locations and the real locations. In the overhead pictures below, the Google call-out shows the supposed location and the red “X” shows the actual location.

It looks like we can’t go just by the coordinates for survey markers. We’re hoping the coordinates for geocaches hidden by people with GPS are more accurate.

Regardless, when I look at Jamison’s face when we finally found the benchmarks, I know it was worth it. Next time, we’ll be a little better prepared and will look for geocaches. Maybe we’ll even find a travel bug.