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EarthCaches: Let the Earth Be Your Teacher
by Gary Lewis, EarthCache Grandmaster, GSA
 
One of the wonderful things about geocaching for many people is that they get to visit places to which they might not have otherwise ventured. Some of these places are truly special because they are un-signposted gems. Amazing views and amazing places can be shared between cachers. But what if you want to learn more about the site? How did that rock come to be like it is? What are these marks on the ground? Why does a river exist here? When did this mine operate? How old are these fossils?
 
This is where EarthCaches come in. EarthCaches are special because they teach visitors something about the Earth. They provide brief but interesting lessons about phenomena that may not be apparent or obvious. Many EarthCaches spread the light of wonderment on sites that people may just pass by with no glimmer of understanding of what has gone on—or is still going on—right under their feet.
 

EarthCaches were created by the Geological Society of America (GSA) after discussions with Groundspeak, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), and other partners. It was decided that some form of cache should be developed that could teach people about geological sites and yet meet the needs of the NPS and other land managers. The latter criterion meant that there would be no containers, the cache must keep people on trails, there should be high educational standards, etc. The GSA and our partners took on the responsibility of managing EarthCaches worldwide, with financial assistance by sponsors such as Subaru America in the USA.

In January 2004, my daughters Fiona and Jemma and I established the very first EarthCache in Australia. (You can look it up on Geocaching.com under the waypoint name GCHFT2.)  After the GSA and its partners created one more in Australia and three in Colorado, we waited to see how the geocaching community would react. The response was terrific! Within a year, we approved more than 200 EarthCaches around the world. As of early 2008, we have almost 2,200 EarthCaches, and the number is growing every week. These special caches have been visited by over 60,000 individuals and groups.

(Photo: Left) Folded sedimentary rocks at Earthcache GCMZT4near West Lulworth, England. (Photo copyright 2006, David Fairbairn.)
 
Currently, cachers can visit EarthCaches at volcanoes, earthquake faults, mining sites, glacial sites, unusual waterfalls and rivers, fossil and mineral sites, and so much more. You can find the full list of EarthCaches on the EarthCache portal website. Developing your own EarthCache is also simple: just follow the guidelines on the portal site, submit the form to us, and we’ll run it through a quick approval process.
 
One of the issues for EarthCaches has been how to reward people who visit multiple sites. In 2006, GSA started its EarthCache Masters program. Cachers can log their EarthCache finds on the portal site, and be rewarded with handsome EarthCache pins at four levels, starting with as few as three finds in two different states or countries. We’ve already sent out more than 2,000 pins!
 

The latest EarthCache program is the development of an educator’s guide.  With the generous help of the National Geographic Society’s Education Foundation, GSA has worked with teachers to develop curriculum materials about EarthCaching. The extensive guide is available as a free download  from the EarthCache portal. We hope that this guide will help teachers use EarthCaching in their classrooms.

(Photo: right) A glacial erratic rock, Earthcache GC14JT5, near McMinnville, Oregon. (Photo copyright 2007, Thomas Prosser.)
 
EarthCaches are proving to be an excellent educational extension for geocachers. If you just want to learn that little bit more while being involved in this great sport, then check out the EarthCaches near you. You won’t be disappointed!
 
 
 

Gary Lewis is a passionate earth science educator and geocacher who was born, raised, and educated in Sydney, Australia. After working as a teacher for a number of years, Gary became an educator for the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), then for Geoscience Australia. In 2003, Gary started working for the Geological Society of America, which is located in Boulder, Colorado. He moved permanently to Colorado in 2006, where he lives on BluBelle Farm with his geocaching wife Jen and their new daughter (and future geocacher?) Madie. He also makes occasional visits back to Australia to visit his older daughters Jemma and Fiona.

Originally published on March 17, 2008.

 

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