March 28, 2008

Google Earth, Part Deux

In a previous post, we talked about how to view geocache locations in Google Earth before you head out on your geocaching adventure. But the fun doesn't stop there. You can also use Google Earth to see where you've been after you get back from an exciting day of geocaching.

As you probably know, while you're busy navigating from cache to cache, your GPSr is doing more than just showing you the cache locations. It's also recording your tracks. And the beauty part is that you can load these tracks (and your waypoints) into Google Earth once you return home to see the exact path you took while out hunting caches.

There are a number of programs, like GPS Utility, and/or web sites, like GPS Visualizer, that will let you download your GPS track and waypoint data, and convert it to a Google Earth (KML) format. You can also import native GPSr file format (GPX) data directly into Google Earth.

Here's a sample of one of my recent bike ride/cache hunts as seen in Google Earth. You can adjust the line color and thickness to suit your needs:

You can also either download your waypoints (presumably, your cache sites) from your GPSr, or turn on the Geocaching Network KML layer we mentioned in a previous post to see all the geocaches you passed, and hopefully found, during your outing:

Google Earth is a great tool for planning your next hunt, and viewing the results of your last one.

Happy Cachin'!

March 23, 2008

WWFM III Is Coming

You may be familiar with the term, "Flash Mob", described by Wikipedia as, a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief period of time, then quickly disperse.

Well, now there are World Wide Flash Mobs (WWFM), which are coordinated geocaching events that take place simultaneously at locations across the globe and only last 15 minutes. The idea is the brainchild of the fine people who host the PodCacher web site and podcast show, Sonny and Sandy.

WWFM II was held on November 10, 2007, and over 4,300 people participated world wide. See this video for a high-energy recap of the event.

If this sounds like fun to you, then you're in luck, because WWFM III is set for May 10, 2008, at 10:00 AM! For a list of the different WWFM III events around the globe, use this search. I expect the list will continue to grow, so keep checking to see if there's an event planned near you.

March 15, 2008

The Oldest Geocaches

Of all the geocaches that you’ve found, do you ever wonder which one is the oldest? Or are you curious as to which is the oldest cache in your town/city or state? We’ll explain how you can find out later, but first, a little geocaching history lesson.

The first cache ever hidden was on May 3, 2000 by Dave Ulmer, a GPS enthusiast in Beaver Creek, Oregon, two days after the United States Government discontinued Selective Availability of the Global Positioning System signals. He hid what he referred to as a “GPS Stash Hunt”, and then posted the coordinates on an internet GPS users’ group and invited people to go and find it. Here's a map of the spot of this very first hide.

Shortly after, more people began hiding these “stashes” and posting the coordinates on the internet. On September 2, 2000, was launched with a database consisting of 75 caches. Today, there are over 500,000 geocaches hidden worldwide. For a nice, concise discussion of the beginnings of geocaching, visit this link.

If you’d like to figure out which was the first cache hidden in your state, you can create a Pocket Query that’ll tell you. Here’s how:

Under your Account page on, select, “Build Pocket Queries”. Then click “Create a new query”, and select the following options:

  • Within States/Provinces (select yours)
  • Within radius of 500 miles
  • Placed During (this is the key field)
    • Between September 1, 2000 and December 31, 2000

Then click “Submit Information” and on the next page, select “Preview the Search”. You should now have a list of the first set of geocaches placed in your state. For example, running this query for California returns a list of 16 caches, the oldest being Phil’s Memorial Cache in San Diego County near Big Laguna Lake, placed on September 10, 2000.

If there isn’t a cache in your home state that falls within this search criteria, try extending the end date of the query until it produces some results.

You can also modify this query to, say, find the oldest caches within a set radius of your home (using the From Origin query selection). Or, of all the caches you have found so far, find the oldest geocache hidden (check the “I have found” box). You may have to play around with the end date a bit to generate results you can use.

Of course, if you use a geocaching database program like GSAK you can simply sort your different cache lists by the date placed field to generate the same information.

For the record, the oldest cache that I’ve found so far was placed on January 20, 2001; but I see that the oldest local (Bay Area) cache, Firestone, was hidden on October 2, 2000. I definitely need to move this one up on my to-do list.

Keep on cachin!

March 9, 2008

Cache Containers

Be they nano, micro, regular or large, I'm always amazed at the variety of cache containers I come across, and the creativity some people use to camouflage them. Just for fun, here are some pictures of different containers I've found during recent outings.

The industrial strength Costco food container.

The always sturdy four-way lock box.

The water-tight green army decon container.

The big pill bottle, safely secured with duct tape.

The small pill bottle, with magnet held in place with duct tape.

The plastic peanut butter jar with camouflage tape.

And the ever popular film canister. Thank you Kodak.

Keep On Cachin'!

March 2, 2008

Geocaching Swiss Army Knife

As you start geocaching more and expanding your search radius beyond the confines of your own neighborhood, you'll begin to find that the pocket queries you download are getting bigger and containing more geocache listings. At this point, you're going to want to use a program that can maintain your GPX files (contained within your pocket queries) and help manage your growing lists of the geocaches you have found or plan to look for in the future. There are a number of free tools available that can help with this task, including ClayJar Watcher, EasyGPS, and GPSBabel. But for my money (free trial/$25 registration fee), one of the best, all-in-one, personal geocache database and GPS file format conversion tools is Geocaching Swiss Army Knife, or GSAK.

I use it on a near daily basis to not only manage my various lists of GPX files, but to also convert those files to Google Earth and Google Maps file formats so I can view the locations of previous finds or upcoming hunts. The tool also lets you sort and filter your data so you can view, and send to your GPSr, just the Geocache listings you want at the moment. It's like an Excel program specifically for GPX (geocache) files!

Here's the official description from the web site:

GSAK is the all in one Geocaching and waypoint management tool. Major features include: Multiple databases, sending/receiving waypoints to GPSr, Google maps, conversion to many mapping formats, PDA output (including CacheMate support), HTML output, extensive searching, macro support, backup and restore, distance/direction from other waypoints (including caches, locations, post codes) and much more.

In addition, the GSAK forum is very active and covers every GSAK-related topic you'd ever need, from FAQ's for beginning users of the tool, to detailed information on writing your own GSAK macros. The GSAK software developer himself regularly contributes posts and responds to questions in the forum.

There's so much more to say about GSAK, but it'll just have to wait for future posts. But believe me, this is one geocaching tool that's worth every cent.