Finding the First Geocache

My daughter and I are in Oregon this week, visiting some colleges. She’s a junior, it’s February break, and my Facebook feed is full of reports of my friends with kids the same age doing the same thing, all across the country.

It’s different out west: small liberal arts colleges aren’t as thick on the ground here as they are in New England where we used to live, but there are a few. We’re in Portland (or Clackamas, to be exact) visiting Reed College, Lewis and Clark College, and Willamette University in Salem.

IMG_4859I had been turning the previous day’s UULent word, “difference,” over in my mind, and I noticed immediately that the climate here, the general feel of things, is also quite different from the SF Bay Area. For starters, there is rain here. That one fact may make most of the difference. Everything is green, even the hills. Even things that aren’t supposed to be, like tree trunks and branches. And things that aren’t green are brown. Even things that aren’t supposed to be, like your black shoes when you get back in the car after clomping around in the woods.

The first geocache was placed in these woods around Portland on May 3, 2000, the day after the US Government stopped employing Selective Availability, the intentional degradation of public GPS signals for national security reasons. When Selective Availability was turned off, the accuracy of GPS receivers improved enough to make it possible to locate an object by using only its coordinates and a handheld GPS unit.

To test this idea, Dave Ulmer left a plastic container out here and posted the coordinates, measured with his own GPS, to a GPS users’ group. Mike Teague was the first person to find it. (A more complete article on geocaching history can be found here). The Original Stash Tribute Plaque marks the site of this first geocache.

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It wasn’t actually raining yet when we got off the plane, so, armed with these coordinates and the GPS on our smartphones, we headed off into the woods in our rental car to find it too, before checking in to our hotel in Clackamas.

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The plaque is close to the side of the road and easy to see. The road does not have a lot of traffic, which is good because there isn’t much parking, you just pull off onto the shoulder. My daughter says she doesn’t geocache anymore, but she still spotted the ammo can, which contains the log book associated with this cache, and took this picture of me.

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7 thoughts on “Finding the First Geocache”

    1. GPS technology was conceived by the US military as a purely military navigation aid in the 1970’s. But they were concerned that it could be abused. So, two signals were transmitted: one for military receivers with the full 10m accuracy, and a separate signal for civilian receivers with about 100m accuracy. 100m was considered adequate for aviation and marine applications at the time (but not accurate enough to allow a missile to hit a target). This degraded signal was known as Selective Availability. The less accurate signal for civilian applications was turned off in 2000; now civilian hand-held GPS receive the accurate military signal.

      The old, degraded signal would only get you within 100m of a geocache location, and that wouldn’t be that helpful.

      There is more detailed info available here:
      http://jdesbonnet.blogspot.com/2011/06/day-gps-selective-availability-sa-was.html

      Like

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