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Why Are There So Few Geocaches in Boston?

We received an e-mail from a business colleague who’s moving to Boston. She asks:

My husband and I are moving to Boston at the end of the year;  We will be living in the city,so I was hoping that I could use geocaching as a way to explore the place.  But I found very few caches in the city.  Do you have any idea why that is?

We’ve noticed this disconnect as well and,as residents of the Boston area,it troubles us.

It’s especially perplexing given that geocaching has a sort of geeky appeal and Boston,with its more than 60 colleges,has more than its share of techies. We wish we could provide you with a better answer,but all we can do is speculate and quote a passage from The Joy of Geocaching below that delves into regional variations.

There’s no question that geocaching is more popular in warmer regions of the country. In contacting the most prolific geocachers during our research process,we learned that nearly all of them live in temperate climes. This isn’t surprising for a game that is played entirely outdoors and where space is an asset. The vast open areas of Arizona or Nevada simply provide more options for placement.

Urban caches need to be smaller by necessity and the challenges of snow limit hiding places. Still,micro and nano containers aren’t all that difficult to conceal.

There are two possible explanations we can come up with for the paucity of geocaches in Boston. One is that the city has a rich and diverse range of activities available to residents,which could reduce the popularity of geocaching – or any special interest –overall. There simply are a lot of choices for things to do. Boston is an outlier to much of the country in several respects,such as the near total lack of interest in college football.

Another possibility is that the college-age population tends to be transitory,which means it’s more difficult for people to maintain caches that they place.

We hope that as the game continues to spread,Boston’s geocaching deficit will be alleviated. The good news is that there are plenty of options available outside the city,and that’s where the interesting variations in cache types comes into play. Read below for the conclusions we presented in the book:


There are clear differences in the types and hiding places of caches that owners place in different parts of the U.S. For example,the Southwest has lots of parking lot caches because of the large number of sprawling shopping malls in urban areas. Containers tend to be smaller in that region because there’s less vegetation in which to hide them. Floridian InfiniteMPG notes that crevices inside palm tree trunks are such popular hiding places that cachers refer to them as a “typical Florida hide.”

California has “lots of grab-and-gos and puzzles that end at a street lamp,” says dgreno. When hiking through the California desert or elsewhere,look for containers placed under rocks or inside cactuses.

In the rocky,hilly Northeast,geocache density tends to be much lower. It’s harder to run up big numbers there,but searchers are rewarded with long hikes through beautiful wooded areas and a preponderance of multi-caches. Owners are fond of placing containers in the stone walls that snake through the region and caches tend to be placed higher off the ground for accessibility during the winter.

Canadians are fond of burrowing containers into the dense branches of the region’s many fir trees.

We’ve observed anecdotally that there are regional differences in geocache types and styles around the country,but we wanted to test our hypothesis. We ran pocket queries in four areas of the country:Phoenix,Chicago,Knoxville,and our hometown of Framingham,Massachusetts. A search within ten miles of each city hall returned 689 caches in Phoenix,432 in Chicago,332 in Knoxville and 340 in Framingham. It’s clear that if you’re looking to run up your numbers,Phoenix is a good place to go.

We then ran the results through GSAK and analyzed the cache types. We found some striking variations.

Phoenix

Framingham,MA

Knoxville,TN

Chicago,IL

Traditional

86%

57%

92%

80%

Multi-cache

6%

22%

4%

9%

Puzzle

4%

24%

2%

9%

Small/micro

67%

40%

68%

84%

Large/Regular

19%

54%

23%

7%

Phoenix and Knoxville have similar characteristics,although Phoenix has twice the cache density. Chicago has a much larger population of micro caches,which isn’t surprising given its dense urban environment. Our hometown is the outlier:Searchers are much more likely to encounter multi- and puzzle caches,which take longer to find. However,the reward is much more likely to be a large container overflowing with goodies.

Dgreno notes that difficulty and terrain ratings vary by region,too. “Three-star terrain in Utah is what Mt. Everest would be in California,” he says.

Given these facts,it’s not surprising that the most prolific geocache finders tend to live in the southwestern U.S.,while the outward-bound extreme cachers cluster in northern and mountainous regions. Keep this analysis in mind when you decide how ambitious you want your own adventure to be.

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