X marks the spot on the Captain John Smith Trail
Once upon a time, seeking treasure meant following the dubious guidance of a hand-drawn map through grave dangers. Scurvy, mutiny, greed and confusion — not to mention blood-thirsty competitors and territory-conscious wild animals — were perils treasure hunters faced in seeking the spot on the map marked by X.
The Global Positioning System changed all that.
Modern treasure hunters have more in common with Captain Kirk than Captain Sparrow. Where you are — and how you get from there to here — is calculated in seconds by two-dozen satellites orbiting overhead. All you need to plot the path to discovery is a GPS. You’re probably packing one in your smartphone.
It’s so easy a child can do it.
The Boughey family proved that.
Back in 1607, Captain John Smith boldly navigated where no white man had gone before. Four centuries later, eight-year-old Mackenzie Boughey — known as Grumpy since birth by Bay Weekly followers of grandfather Bill Burton — led us in the captain’s wake to preview the Captain John Smith Geotrail, opening to one and all on June 4.
Modern Day Treasure Hunting
The Captain John Smith Geotrail joins 1.3 million caches hidden around the globe over the last decade in a worldwide treasure hunt enabled by the Internet and the minaturation of GPS.
This geotrail follows Captain John Smith’s 1607 to 1609 exploration of the Chesapeake and its tributaries. It stretches over 40 sites throughout Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Laid by the National Parks Service, it lies within the greater Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, covering 3,000 miles over land and water in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Delaware. Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, Maryland Geocaching Society and Chesapeake Conservancy co-sponsor the Smith Geotrail.
Geocaches come in small as well as large, and anybody can lay one. You hide caches imaginatively — on land, in caves, along shorelines or even under water — and log their location on the Internet. The caches can range from a few ounces to pots of treasure.
To find the prizes, treasure hunters follow hand-held GPS receivers (or GPS-enabled smartphones) to geocache coordinates that are the modern version of a treasure map. Get your map by registering an account on a geocaching website and searching your target area for hidden caches. Membership is free.
Eight-year-old Mackenzie learns how to use a GPS from four-year-old Logan Delawder.
The largest of the geocaching websites, www.geocaching.com, shows over 1,000 caches in each of the Annapolis-area zip codes.
The website details the size and difficulty of the geocache and the terrain you’ll cross. Along with GPS coordinates for your target area, you get clues and a description. Some geocaches, like the Smith Geotrail, are multi-staged, with clues you find in each cache leading you to the next one.
Once you find a target cache, program the coordinates into your GPS and get going. The GPS guides you towards the cache. At the spot, you start hunting. Geocaches can be hidden, partially buried, even attached by magnets.
Some geocaches hold prizes. If you take one, it’s geocaching etiquette to replace it with an interesting item to reward the next finder.
Each geocache also holds a logbook. Sign and date it, with comments if you like. Many geocachers log their finds on the website, where they can see and compare their progress with the successes of other geocachers.
On the Smith Geotrail
We Bougheys get around [see
http://bayweekly.com/articles/good-living/article/park-quest-took-my-family-back-nature]. But we’re new to both the sport of geocaching and the John Smith Geotrail. Susan Kelly, husband Mark and four-year-old grandson Logan Delawder — experienced geocachers who go by the tag Calvertcachers — broke us in.
As the Smith Trail geocaches were still being hidden, we practiced on the Star Spangled Banner Trail, the first geotrail in our region to be connected to a National Park trail. The Smith trail is the second.
At Darnall’s Chance in Upper Marlboro, Logan trained Mackenzie, showing her his GPS unit and geocaching backpack, packed with a magnet and trinkets for refilling discovered caches.
Then we hit the trail. A plaque describing the history of Darnall’s Chance gave us a key to the coordinates to the hidden cache — but only after we correctly answered four questions. We loaded the coordinates, and Mackenzie and Logan led us along the path they mapped into the woods.
There we looked under branches and behind trees to find an 11-by-six-inch plastic box. The kids pounced on it. Inside they found headphones, a flashlight, markers and small toys. Each chose an item — headphones for Logan and a camouflage wristband for Mackenzie — and Mackenzie helped Logan write his geocaching name, Lil’ Crab, into the logbook to mark their discovery.
In keeping with tradition, they added a fresh box of crayons to the box, resealed it and hid it again.
Four more caches were hidden within walking distance. The next one didn’t involve a puzzle; we simply loaded coordinates from the website and headed off.
With the children again leading the way, Susan and Mark described finding over 2,000 caches in seven years.
“It’s a great way to discover new things in areas you thought you already knew,” Susan explained. “One of our first geocaches was within two miles of our house. We found a small pond we never knew existed.”
Caches are now part of their vacations. On a recent trip to Maine, Susan was determined to see a moose. So in researching geocaches, she sought ones that promised moose nearby. They found the geocaches, but Susan didn’t find her moose.
Our second geocache was a bit trickier. When the GPS unit indicated we’d reached the spot, no geocache was in sight. After searching both the water’s edge and forest area, the children determined there was none to be found. Susan hinted that they might try searching very close to the ground. With squeals of delight, both children spotted the geocache at the same time, hidden securely under the base of the dock walkway.
Once again, the children took a small treasure from the box, signed their names in the logbook, added a new prize and returned the cache where they found it.
“Now I know how excited and really happy Captain John Smith must have felt when he finally found something he was looking for,” Mackenzie exclaimed.
“This geotrail is a great way to propel people to care and protect our Chesapeake,” said Cindy Chance of the National Park Service. “We have a lot to learn from the past, especially stewardship and how they took care of the Bay, even back in the 17th century.”
Be the FTF
On June 4, National Trails Day, the Captain John Smith Geotrail officially opens. The coordinates for the 40 geocaches on the trail will be published via www.geocaching.com around 11:30am that day.
Join the hunt by downloading a passport, and track your progress at www.smithtrail.net. For each cache, you record a secret word on your passport and upload a photo of the cache. The first 400 geocachers to complete 15 caches on the trail win a collectable, trackable geocoin.
First-to-find, commonly known as FTF, is a badge of honor among geocachers. Often FTF gets a reward.
On the Captain John Smith Geotrail, one geocache in each of the three states rewards FTF with a replica ceramic smart-buoy, a miniature of the six smart-buoys along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
When you near a real smart-buoy, call 1-877-BUOYBAY to hear a description of this point on the Chesapeake in 1608, during Smith’s exploration.
At the official trail opening, 10am to noon June 4 at Accokeek Foundation in Piscataway Park, you can learn to geocache and practice on geocaches hidden for the celebration, some just for kids. One lucky hunter will win a Magellan hand-held GPS.
See You at the Launch
The Boughey family will be following in the wake of Captain John Smith. We set up an account to log our first two caches, and we’ve figured out how to use the GPS app on our smartphone. See you at the launch June 4.
Follow the geocache online at www.smithtrail.net.