A while back my son and I discovered what is known to muggles as Geocaching. Without getting so technical as to offend my Luddite sensibilities, Geocaching is essentially scavenger hunting with a GPS device. There are websites dedicated to the activity where other geocachers post coordinates of caches that they have hidden (most of the time in a wood, but sometimes in urban settings) and other cachers, GPS's in hand, set off to find them. Now there's all sorts of rules and etiquette that come into play with this activity as there are with anything. But, the main thing to remember is that you always replace whatever you find with something of somewhat equal value, and sign the registryy, if there is one.
Check out Geocaching.com for more info on this relatively new activity.
So, we'd decided that we would do a bit of caching this weekend, and at around 3pm on Sunday we set out to grab as many of the mini-treasures as time would allow us to find.
There are many things about Austin, Texas that make it an ideal city to live in. The live music is always touted as tops on the list, but what isn't as advertised is all of the green space within the city limits that is ideal for just about any outdoor activity that you can think of; especially Geocaching. Within ten minutes driving distance from my house in South Austin there are literally half a dozen or more different preserved tracts of wooded land (most in between neighborhoods) that make for great day hikes, exploring, simple reflection in nature, and sight seeing. This time around we ended up in some park land within the city limits of Sunset Valley (a small berg that is surrounded by Austin) on a heavily wooded, but nicely maintained trail, right in the middle of four neighborhoods. We were on the trail of some booty!
Once we had hiked in about ten minutes from the trail head, we could hear only the sounds of nature, though we were literally walking distance from a Barnes and Noble, a Starbucks, and a Chinese restaurant. We spotted at least a dozen deer (one doe stood on the trail thirty feet from us and lazily checked us out), 1 rabbit, 1 horned toad, 1 squirrel, and many, many wasps. The geographical coordinates that we were aiming for neatly followed the course of the trail, and wound around a bit deeper into the preserve until finally we could hear sounds of civilization again. In the distance we heard the familiar sounds of children playing and the mournful song of a tired ice cream truck floating in and out to us on the breeze. After about an hour, the thicket thinned a bit and we suddenly came out into a small clearing at the edge of a bluff that overlooked Southwest Austin. The GPS device said we were at about 700 feet of elevation, and the view was spectacular! Who would've ever thought this view was sitting here, unmolested, in betwixt suburban Austin?
Well, we'd missed a waypoint and couldn't be 100% positive, but judging by a few of the clues given by the cache poster, we were pretty sure that we were right on top of the spot where the cache should have been. Alas, though, that we could not find the treasure, and as our water bottles were light and our feet were heavy we decided to head back. Back to civilization.
And though we did not find the cache this time, we found a treasure of a different kind. Which is really what Geocaching is about, in essence, for me. To be outside. To reflect. And to gain a different perspective on life. To slow down and see the beauty that has been there all along. And to spend time with a loved one in an unmolested, natural setting. That's a treasure that is free and priceless.
Next time, we bring my wife Kelley and her excellent photographing abilities!