They can be as small as a piece of paper and as large as an ammo can.
They’re hidden in plain sight, and more than five million people around the world are looking for them.
They’re called geocaches. Although this outdoor sport involving GPS-enabled devices is pronounced like “cash,” the winners never receive a monetary reward.
At minimum, a cache will include a logbook or sheet for those who find it to sign. There may also be a container filled with interesting items of little value.
Geocachers are allowed to take some of their spoils with them as long as they leave something of equal or greater value in return.
“It’s a global treasure hunt using GPS technology,” said Mike Blackston, a Georgia resident whose work as a tombstone engraver frequently brings him to Walker County.
Blackston became interested in geocaching approximately five years ago.
His family accompanies him on many of his scavenges, but he has also had some solo adventures in a few unlikely places.
One multi-cache, which involves two or more locations, brought him to an old gold mining shaft in South Carolina.
The coordinates that he uncovered in each stage eventually led him to a cave that went 50 yards into the ground.
Blackston didn’t let the bats, the cold or the darkness discourage him from going after the cache.
The game of geocaching began in May 2000 when computer consultant Dave Ulmer placed a black bucket in the woods near Beavercreek, Ore.
The original cache contained a logbook, pencil and prizes such as videos, books, software and a slingshot.
Ulmer posted the coordinates online and invited other GPS enthusiasts to join him in what he called the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt.”
There are currently more than 1.6 million active caches around the world, according to www.geocaching.com.
Blackston said most new enthusiasts begin with the caches that are close to them. The next steps are hiding caches for others to find and geocaching while on vacation.
“When I’m traveling for work, I like to break up the trip by trying to get one every 50 miles,” he said.
The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau recently introduced a geocaching challenge to go along with “Appalachia Civil War — The Home Front in Alabama Passport.”
The passport, which includes the names of 20 of the state’s most prominent Civil War attractions, is available online at www.decaturcvb.org.
Geocachers can bring their completed passport to the Bureau to receive a commemorative coin of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Geocaching.com offers numerous resources on the game, including a database of caches listed by location and ranked by level of difficulty.
The site also includes a how-to video, smart phone applications, a discussion forum and guidelines for hiding caches.
For example, caches may not be placed on any property without permission from the landowner, should not be buried and are not allowed on schools and military bases.
Renegade caches have resulted in the evacuation of cities, schools and businesses, and several have been destroyed by bomb squads.
However, Blackston said most geocachers not only follow the rules but aim to leave the spot around a cache better than how they find it.
The initials CITO found on some of the listings at geocaching.com stand for Cache In Trash Out. Participants who select those challenges are encouraged to bring a trash bag along to dispose of litter in the area.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, Blackston said geocaching is inexpensive family fun.
“It’s not about what’s in the cache as much as it is the adventure,” Blackston said.