There’s so much more to learn about Acadia National Park than what you can read on the front of a kiosk. That’s why the ranger-developed EarthCache program takes visitors through a self-directed program to five park locations that have geological significance. It is equal parts geology lesson and treasure hunt, using a mobile phone app – or a compass and paper – to navigate using clues that lead to the next stop.
An EarthCache is a location on Earth that has a notable geological feature. In this treasure hunt, the treasure is the location itself — there are no hidden boxes. Finding those locations combines GPS technology with an outdoor adventure to experience the wonders of our planet in an new way.
Figuring out the clues to get from location to location requires reading about why the geological features are significant not only to the park, but to our Earth, and completing simple math to find the next coordinates. The Geological Society of America is involved in the listing of EarthCache sites around the world and the park service’s program is part of a much larger initiative to educate the general public about Earth science.
Stuart West, chief ranger at Acadia National Park, said this was the first EarthCache specifically developed by the park service. It was launched about 10 years ago with the idea that people visit the park on their own time while developing a deeper understanding of Acadia’s geology. It gives visitors an inside look at the park and takes about four hours to complete, although many folks spread it out over a day or two because it covers a lot of ground. This program has been so well received that it has been used as a model for the development of other park service EarthCaches around the country.
Without giving away too many secrets, the search includes a couple of interesting glacial erratics – large rocks and boulders that were transported a great distance by a glacier and don’t look like other rocks in the area. Visitors can also learn about how a fjard is formed and uncover an excellent lesson about Mount Desert Island’s sea level before the last ice age changed it. There is nothing like climbing a mountain and finding a landmark demonstrating the dramatic geological change that created that very mountain.
Once the five locations have been found, visitors will need to check back at a ranger station (figuring out which one is a part of the game) to confirm your findings. A ranger will pull out the special hand-carved park stamp to make an imprint on your favorite park map, logbook or keepsake. It’s a great low-tech reward for a fun, and educational, outdoor adventure.
To start the hunt, go to nps.gov/acad/earthcache.htm to read the park service’s introduction to the self-directed program and get the first location clue. The park service suggests using a compass but a mobile app is likely easier for many folks. Search your device’s app store for a “geocaching” app. Many are free. Once downloaded, search the name “Acadia: Mind-Blowing Geology” or geocode GC11M7T to get started.