The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Geocache builder Michael Noetzel’s “Cheshire Cat” cache. Courtesy photo. ​

Go geocaching 

Geocaching information and local caches and events are posted on the official geocaching website, A basic membership is free and grants access to basic caches. A premium membership grants full access to all caches, search features and user messaging for $29.99 a year or $9.99 for three months. 
Find geocaching supplies at New Hampshire’s only geocaching store, Gone Cachin’, 15 Taylor St., Nashua. Regular hours are Monday and Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., and Tuesday, 5 to 8 p.m. Visit or call 438-2718.

Get a clue
Explore and solve puzzles with geocaching

By Angie Sykeny

 The art of treasure hunting is alive and well and tech-enabled with geocaching, an ongoing hide-and-seek game in which participants plant containers, or “caches,” in secret locations for others to find using GPS coordinates. There are millions of caches set up throughout the world and more than 11,000 logged in New Hampshire. 

“Say you go to Olive Garden for dinner and there’s a 30-minute wait. Chances are, there’s a geocache around there that you can find before your table is ready,” said Calador Cala, a geocacher and owner of the Gone Cachin’ mobile geocaching store based in Nashua. 
Each cache has its own page on the official geocaching website with the cache’s coordinates and other clues about how to find it. They typically contain a physical logbook inside as well as a logbook online that geocachers can sign and date to prove they have been there. Larger caches may have larger logbooks with information or stories about the cache and space for geocachers to write about their experiences finding the cache, as well as small toys or trinkets for geocachers to take, so long as they leave another one in its place. Another common item found in geocaches is a trackable or “travel bug,” a small tag with a code and its own page on the geocaching website which cachers take and drop off at another cache. 
“You can vicariously travel through them to different cities or states or countries,” Cala said. “I actually have one that has gone through most of Germany and other countries in that area. It’s traveled over 40,000 miles. Other people’s have gone even further than that.”
The caches themselves may be any kind of waterproof container, such as an ammo can or Tupperware container, and they vary in size. Some cachers build complex caches with miniature scenes and fun stories attached to them. Master cache builder Michael Noetzel of Nashua has built about three dozen caches, including caches with magnetic and electronic features like solar powered lights. His first cache, which he built in 2008, can be found on his porch (cachers have permission to go on his property) and remains one of the most popular caches in New Hampshire. The scene has three pirates trying to get into a treasure room, guarded by a watch-parrot, so they can steal the gold and place them in caches throughout the area. Caches have to solve a puzzle and help the pirates open the treasure room door in order to complete the cache. 
“Everyone wants something entertaining and different, but most caches aren’t very memorable unless they’re at a really cool location,” Noetzel said. “So I wanted to do something that was out of the ordinary and something that no one had ever seen.” 
Noetzel’s first cache is an example of a mystery or puzzle cache, a type of cache for which the geocacher needs to solve a puzzle in order to get the GPS coordinates, or a puzzle to open the cache itself. There are many other types of caches, such as a multi-cache, a cache with multiple locations, each containing a clue about how to get to the next cache, eventually leading to the main cache with the logbook inside; and an Earth cache, which is hidden at a location of geological significance and requires the cacher to learn about the area and answer questions about it before logging it. 
Caches can be placed in rural or urban settings. Anyone can create and place a cache provided that it passes the review process, which ensures that it’s to be located somewhere that’s safe to get to and unintrusive to the general public. 
Each cache has a difficulty rating for how challenging it is to find, depending on the size of the cache, its level of concealment and the kind of terrain the cacher needs to cross to get to it. Easy ones may be hidden at very accessible locations, such as a park, a park-and-ride or a highway rest stop. For the hard ones, Cala said, cache planters get really creative. 
“I’ve literally had to pull out a tree branch from a tree and the cache was hidden inside the hollowed out branch,” Cala said.
“One was built into a pine cone and hung on a tree with a million other pine cones,” Noetzel added. “It took forever to sit there and try to find the one pine cone that was different from the others. ” 
Many geocachers work toward personal milestones, which may be reaching a certain number of caches found or a number of states or countries where caches have been found. They may celebrate those milestones by finding an extra special cache: To celebrate Noetzel’s 5,000th cache, Noetzel and Cala traveled to a rainforest in Brazil to find a cache called Project Ape, which was placed by the production company of the film Planet of the Apes. Noetzel is now working toward his 6,000 mark, and Cala is trying to find caches in all 50 states. He’s gotten 30 so far. 
While geocaching could include traveling, it doesn’t have to, Cala said. In fact, many people pick up geocaching as a way to explore new places within their own area. 
“Before [geocaching], I knew of three parks in Nashua,” Cala said. “Once I started geocaching, I learned that there are 43 parks in Nashua, because it takes you to so many places that you didn’t even know about in your local community.” 
“People put them at historical points of interest, at a hidden waterfall, on top of a mountain, all these beautiful places that you didn’t know existed or that you would have never gone to on your own,” Noetzel said. 
While the geocaching community engages mostly online, there are sometimes events where cachers can meet others in person to talk about their adventures and beginners can get help and advice from experienced cachers. An event may even be considered a cache itself, with GPS coordinates being the only way that cachers can learn its location. 
“At first I didn’t know anyone in the community, but people would see my name in log books and online, so when I started going to events, people welcomed me personally because they could put a face to the name,” Noetzel said. “Then I started to form real friendships, and I enjoy [other cachers’] company as much as the caches themselves.” 
Cala, who engages with geocachers on an almost daily basis at his geocaching store, said the hobby “has completely changed my life” since he took it up in 2011. 
“I’m getting out more socially. I’m getting more physically fit and exploring new places,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to take over so much of my life in so many positive ways.” 

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