Finding the cache: Treasure hunting in Plumas County

Geocaching enthusiast Valerie Grammer finds a cache located in Meadow Valley. Grammer used a GPS to find the general location, then followed clues to locate the cache inside a fence post. Caches are hidden all over the county. Photos by James Wilson
James Wilson

  As a former gold rush area, it’s fitting that Plumas County has become such a popular spot for geocaching. In the same way that forty-niners caught the fever, so have modern day geocachers.

  The recreational activity is gaining more and more popularity in Plumas County, with additional caches popping up all the time. Currently, there are more than 3,000 caches in Plumas County just waiting to be discovered.

  “It’s really a blast,” said Valerie Grammer, geocaching enthusiast. Grammer started geocaching about six months ago and now does it nearly every weekend. “It’s really addicting. Once you find your first cache, you’re hooked.”

What is geocaching?

  Geocaching began when selective availability on Global Positioning System (GPS) was removed May 2, 2000. Selective availability was a feature on GPS that added intentional errors to locations of up to 100 meters. It was meant to protect the United States from enemies using GPS for weapon guidance.

  It was removed from GPS due to the inaccuracy it allowed. The day after it was removed, May 3, 2000, the first cache was set up and geocaching as a recreational activity began.

  Geocachers will hide a small cache, usually containing a little prize and hidden from sight, in a public area. The geocacher will then save the coordinates and put them online for others to find.

  The recreational activity quickly blew up and there are now more than 5 million geocachers searching for more than 2 million caches.

How it works

  There is one specific website geocachers use to gain access to cache locations: The site offers information on all the caches that are scattered around.

  Along with the GPS coordinates the geocachers upload to the site, most also provide clues and often pictures.

  Users search for caches they want to find based on the area they want to search. A list of different caches pops up with details about each cache. Caches are rated based on the size of the cache itself, the difficulty in finding it and the difficulty of the terrain.

  Once a user picks a cache to search for, he or she downloads the coordinates to a GPS or smartphone. A GPS system is more accurate than most smartphones, but either can be used based on the location and difficulty of the cache.

  If the cache is hidden out in the middle of the forest, it’s unlikely a smartphone will have the service needed to work, and a GPS would be more helpful. In downtown areas, smartphones work perfectly fine. In Plumas County there are plenty of caches for users of both devices.

  The GPS will give the location of the cache, accurate to between 20 and 30 meters. Once the geocacher gets to the area, it takes brainpower to find the cache.

The hunt, the journey, the treasure

  “Geocaching really is like a giant Easter egg hunt for adults,” explained Grammer. “It’s more about taking the journey than it is about the prize.”

  Grammer will plan an entire day around finding different caches. She programs her GPS with several cache locations and she and her family go from one spot to the next finding them.

  “We do it as a team, but it’s competitive as well. It’s also a great way to get in shape. It gets you outside, hiking around and scaling mountains and you don’t even realize it. You’re focused on finding the cache and end up getting in a great workout.”

  Since the GPS only points the user within 20 – 30 meters, the real hunt begins at the location. The cache is often extremely well-hidden, and geocachers have to read the clues to find it.

  One cache right outside Quincy is named “Covert Mission,” for example. It takes most geocachers a while to be able to find the cache, which is located in a culvert on the side of the road. The cache itself is tough to spot, as it’s attached with a magnetic bolt to the inside of the culvert.

  The bolt then unscrews to reveal a little secret compartment with a log sheet inside. Each team of geocachers signs and dates the log once it’s found.

  Many caches are multiple clue caches. The first clue will lead to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so forth.

  A cache in Meadow Valley gives you a clue as you start to get closer. “If you can’t find the cache, try going postal.” The cache ends up being inside a fence post, a spot one would never look without the clue.

  Usually these caches include a larger variety of prizes at the end for geocachers to choose from.

  The prizes range in size and content. Usually they are trinkets. Foreign, old and fake currency, little plastic animals, jewelry, personal notes and business cards are popular prizes in the caches around Plumas County.

  Once a geocacher takes a prize, it is customary to leave one in its place. Geocachers never take the cache itself, as it can be rediscovered over and over again by different searchers. Since the prizes aren’t worth very much, the true prize is in the hunt itself.

  “Every time I pass by a cache that I discovered, I can’t help but think of searching for it. There are all these little secret, hidden treasures I pass by every day now, and get some satisfaction in knowing that I know where they are,” continued Grammer.

  Geocaching can be a fun activity for families, though some precautions are necessary. It is suggested to bring a backpack that includes a first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray and water.

  Also, geocachers must be mindful of where they are. Caches are supposed to be located only on public property. Trespassing while geocaching is still trespassing.

  With a little common sense and a strong dose of curiosity, geocaching is a great way to bring families together and have a lot of fun.

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