Geocaching Your Way Through Black History

What exactly is Geocaching, you ask?

“Geocaching can be a fantastic way to spend some time outdoors, discovering and learning more about your world, in places both near and far, alone or with family and friends. It’s like treasure hunting, but the treasure is the experience.”

Guest Blog by Cat Clark tells us more about it!

When the weather in the Washington, DC area is mild, it allows me to enjoy one of my favorite outdoor activities: Geocaching!

Geocaching is a kind of high-tech scavenger hunt. Participants use handheld GPS receivers to find hidden containers (geocaches) of varying sizes all over the world, sign the logbooks inside, and share their adventures on websites such as Geocaching.com. And geocachers hide caches everywhere– from national parks to the city streets. Chances are good that you’ve passed within a few feet of several geocaches without ever realizing it. It’s a fun, family-friendly way to spend some time outdoors wherever you are.

Check out this video that explains more:

One of the things I love most about geocaching is that it’s so much more than an outdoor game to play with family and friends. Geocaching leads me to amazing places I might not have otherwise visited or noticed. I’ve found caches in exquisitely beautiful small parks and in curious locations such as a mausoleum in a hotel parking lot (true story!). But some of my favorites are the ones that lead me to historic landmarks. Just recently, my geocaching adventures sent me to some local Black history sites.

The first cache was hidden near Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, DC, the famed restaurant frequented by Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr., Donny Hathaway, Roy Ayers, and Bill Cosby. During the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. King, Ben’s was allowed to stay open after curfew to provide food and shelter for activists, firefighters, and other public servants. Visiting Ben’s is a must for all DC tourists, and the food is fantastic. I’d eaten there before, but I was grateful that geocaching gave me yet another reason to grab a chili half smoke! The amazing history of Ben’s Chili Bowl is summarized on Ben’s website:

The second Black history cache I visited was at the home of educators and civil rights activists Dr. Edwin B. and Mary Ellen Henderson in Falls Church, Virginia. Dr. Henderson was the first African American to be certified to teach physical education and argued passionately for equal opportunities in thousands of editorials. Mrs. Henderson, an educator in Falls Church’s segregated school, fought for 29 years to have a new school built for Black students. Falls Church’s current middle school is named for her. The Henderson House was recently nominated to the National Historic Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register. Check out the Henderson House on Waymarking.com

The third cache, very close to the Henderson House, was hidden at a granite arch I pass frequently in my car but had never stopped to investigate. It turned out to be a monument honoring the men and women of Tinner Hill. In 1915, local Black citizens– led by Dr. Henderson (see above) and Joseph Tinner– formed the Colored Citizens Protective League (CCPL) to fight housing segregation ordinances. This group became the first rural branch of the NAACP in the nation. You can read more about the inspiring monument and other local history sites on the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation site.

Previous geocaching outings have taken me to the Freedmen’s Cemetery and African American Heritage Park, the latter quite close to a beautiful sculpture of abolitionists Emily and Mary Edmonson, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Geocaching can be a fantastic way to spend some time outdoors, discovering and learning more about your world, in places both near and far, alone or with family and friends. It’s like treasure hunting, but the treasure is the experience.

Want to give it a try? First, visit Geocaching.com to read Geocaching 101 and set up a free account. If you don’t have a handheld GPS receiver but have a smartphone, some great geocaching apps are available. I’d also recommend investigating some online tutorials and tips posted by friendly geocachers around the web, such as HeadHardHat’s “Geocaching Basics and Geocass’ “GeoCaching with the iPhone: Preserving Battery Life“. Don’t be intimidated, just start with some regular-sized, traditional geocaches with easy difficulty and terrain ratings (1 to 2 stars). After you’ve found a few caches, you will get the hang of it!

If you get hooked and you’re thinking about investing in a handheld GPS receiver for geocaching and other outdoor activities, don’t forget to ask about GPS navigation classes at outdoor sporting stores such as REI.

More interested in finding the history than the geocaches? There’s another option for you! Visit Waymarking to get the coordinates for millions of interesting locations. Just plug in some keywords and a location and you can custom-design a tour you’d never imagined possible. Did you know about the Glen Echo Park Civil Rights Protest? You can visit the restored carousel yourself!

Happy hunting!
Cat Clark

Outdoor Afro Contributor for Black History Month

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