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Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ: http://kjzz.org/science

Geocaching Now Allowed On Arizona Trust Land, Here's How To Get In On The Fun

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt, where people hide an object and invite others to find it using the global positioning system, or GPS.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced Feb. 8 that the game will now be allowed on state trust lands.

If you’ve never been geocaching, then you’re a muggle.

“Muggles, non-geocachers. That’s what we call them,” said Jeff Nicholson, a member of SouthWest Arizona Geocachers or S.W.A.G. The group has more than 200 members in the Yuma area.

Nicholson was my guide to one of the nearby caches. He pulled up a map on his smartphone using a geocache app.

“If you look at my map here, we’re the blue dot. And the red dot is the geocache,” Nicholson said. “Ok, so let’s start heading that way.”

There are thousands of caches hidden in the Yuma area alone. The main website where geocachers track activity, Geocaching.com, estimates there are more than 2.5 million caches around the world. And astronauts have even cached in space.

In Arizona, the state government previously considered the hidden caches on state trust land akin to litter.

This land was granted to Arizona by the federal government at statehood more than 100 years ago.

“The asset, and in this case it’s acreage, dirt, needs to be managed not just for this generation and the next, but for several generations yet to come,”  said Lisa Atkins, State Land Commissioner.

There are 9.2 million acres of state trust land in Arizona. Money generated from sales or lease of that land goes into a fund for beneficiaries including public schools, universities, and the state correctional system.

“The land that the state land department manages is not public land in the sense where an agency is strictly managing for use,” Atkins said.

You need a permit to enter, and geocaching was not previously allowed under a recreational permit that required users to leave no foreign objects behind.

Atkins’ department now borrows a motto from the geocache community: “Cache in, trash out.”

She said the new permits create a partnership with geocachers. They can now cache on trust land, and in return, the state receives help maintaining the large swaths of property.

As we cached, Nicholson said stewardship is part of the culture. He encourages others in his group to take garbage bags for clean up while they cache.

“I’ll tell you this: Geocaching in my opinion is a very libertarian hobby,” Nicholson said. “That is, if you’re playing the game how you want to play it, and you’re not harming anyone or disturbing anyone or destroying property, you’re probably doing it right.”

We find a small metal Altoid container underneath a rusted metal sculpture. We enter our names in the small logbook inside. The names join dozens of others.

“When you find a geocache, it’s a little bit of adrenaline rush because you find something that other people don’t know about,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson shares this rush with his family, and he teaches the sport to would-be geocachers.

And now that Arizona is opening more area to the game, he plans to buy a permit.

You can find information about how to obtain a geocaching permit for state trust land at the Arizona State Land Department’s website.