They are hidden in plain site. Some are camouflaged and contain tiny trinkets. Others sit in the hollow of a tree and simply hold a piece of paper donning the names of people from around the world.
They are geocaches and they come in different shapes and sizes. Almost two million geocaches are hidden around the world. Many are planted in the Menomonee Falls and Germantown communities in areas you may frequent every day.
Geocaching is a free treasure hunt that waits outside all of our doors.
It's not about what's found inside each 'cache'; rather, it is about the journey and the feeling of success when a cache is found in the most unlikely of places.
The sport is easy. Any age can participate. All you need is a GPS or a GPS app that can be downloaded for free on any smartphone.
To find a cache, people navigate to specific GPS coordinates and attempt to locate the geocache - or type of container - hidden at that site. To find where geocaches are hidden, you have to visit geocaching.com and register as a 'basic member.'
Once you've registered, login to the website using your username and password and click on 'hide and seek a cache,' which is in the 'play' drop down menu. Then, type in a ZIP code or address of where you want to treasure hunt and caches in that location will appear with latitude and longitude coordinates. You can click on 'map this location' as well, which shows how many caches are planted around the area you searched.
Anyone can plant a cache in a waterproof canister.
Some contain spare change or marbles. Some only contain a piece of paper with the usernames of all the people who found the cache, the date they found it and where they are from.
It's been a few years since I hunted caches. The last time I was living in rural Montana. I even planted one on a hillside before I left. As a gift to the person who found it first, I left a free drink token.
That was three years ago and I still receive emails saying someone new found my cache.
When you find a cache, you have the option to log back onto the geocaching.com and say you found it, as well as share your opinion of the hunt.
You can geocache anytime of year. It's a perfect winter activity to get you out of the house. Just make sure to bundle up and wear appropriate shoes. You never know where your cache hunt may take you.
Geocaching in Germantown
Though it had been a while since I went looking for a cache, it's like riding a bike - you don't really forget how it works.
In mid-December, I decided to go geocaching in Germantown. I searched for caches within a 20-mile radius using the Germantown ZIP code '53022.'
The site said there were 3,031 records of caches in that area. This does not mean they are all still active, but plenty of them are.
Once I clicked 'map this location' I saw there was a handful planted in Homestead Hollow Park off of Friestadt Road. That was going to be my starting point. I decided to find one called 'Evan's Cache.' Since I haven't done this in a while, I picked an easier one with specific clues.
Some clues are helpful, some are not depending on the level of difficulty, which the website will tell you. This one gave the clues 'Located in Washington County's Homestead Hollow Park. Not too far from a great sledding hill. Level terrain. Heavy tree cover in the area.'
Luckily, I wore boots because there was a light dusting of snow on the ground. Observation is not my strong suit, so sometimes geocaching can take me longer than most people. This one; however, only took about 15 minutes to find. The GPS will show you how far away you are from the coordinates, so you know when you are getting closer or farther away.
The fun part is finding the hidden cache once you reach the coordinates. This particular cache was stuffed in between two tree branches, in a wooded area close to the sledding hill. Like usual, when I found it, I punched the air, celebrating my success.
The container was wrapped in camouflage tape. Inside was some spare change, an eraser and a piece of paper.
This cache must have been there for a while because some of the entries said it was found back in 2007.
Geocaching is an easy, relaxing (if you find them), family-friendly activity.
I highly recommend it when you're thinking: 'It's winter. What now?'