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Dr. Christie's GPS and Geocaching Guide for Educators

Curricular Example: National Park GPS/Geocaching Lesson

The following example illustrates a sixth grade teacher’s unit in which students plan a family vacation. Students, in groups of four, explore one of eight possible vacation destinations. In addition, students investigate expenses for travel and overnight accommodations. Finally, each group creates a brochure advertising their family vacation to share with other class members, other sixth grade classes, and their parents. Teachers can easily integrate numerous technologies, including a GPS/geocaching activity, into this cross-curricular unit.

The teacher decides to introduce students to eight vacation destinations through a GPS/geocaching activity. She/he chooses eight US National Parks because his/her standards-based social studies curriculum specifies that students understand the National Park System in the United States. The teacher then locates/creates clues to be placed in each of the geocache boxes. Clues can take may forms including:

  • plastic, metal, paper, or wooden objects that suggest ideas about each team’s topic
  • pictures from magazines, newspapers, the Internet, vacations, advertisements, etc.
  • sketches, drawings, or any kind of art work
  • verbal clues written on tag board
  • maps, graphs, satellite images, iTunes, etc.
  • online videos (go to this link for an excellent collection of videos on the National Parks)
  • others (let your imagination be your guide).

Teams of students locate the geocaches and then examine and discuss the contents of each geocache to increase their understanding of key curricular ideas. The charts below summarize possible destinations and clues for each sixth grade team participating in this GPS/geocaching lesson/activity on US National Parks:


Team National Park Location
Red Yosemite Sierra Nevada, CA
Blue Yellowstone ID,MT,WY
Green Grand Canyon Grand Canyon, AZ
Yellow Glacier Northwest Montana, MT
Orange Mount Rainier Ashford, Enumclaw, Packwood, Wilkeson, WA
Brown Everglades Miami, Naples, and Homestead, FL
Purple Badlands Southwestern, SD
White Bryce Canyon Bryce Canyon, UT

Clues for Geocaches for Each of Eight Teams

Red Team: Yosemite National Park: Sierra Nevada, CA

Yosemite National Park

  • One of the first wilderness parks in the United States
  • Best known for its waterfalls
  • Nearly 1,200 square miles (747,956 acres) that includes deep valleys, meadows, and ancient giant sequoias
  • 95% of Yosemite is designated wilderness
  • Yosemite receives most of its precipitation in the months of January, February, March
  • Clouds can build up during the summer to produce spectacular thunderstorm activity
  • Highest peak: Mt. Lyell 13,114 feet
  • Park Visitation: 42 visitors in 1855, over 4 million in 1995
Blue Team: Yellowstone National Park: ID,MT,WY

Yellowstone National Park

  • Established in 1872
  • America's first national park
  • Only park located in three states: Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
  • Home to much wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, buffalo and elk
  • Home to the world's most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, including Old Faithful
  • Most of the park is above 7,500 feet
  • The 1988 fires affected 793,880 acres or 36 percent of the park.
  • The largest 1988 fire, the North Fork Fire, started from a discarded cigarette, burning more than 410,000 acres
Green Team: Grand Canyon National Park: Grand Canyon, AZ

Grand Canyon National Park

  • A great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau
  • Achieved National Park status in 1919, three years after the creation of the National Park Service
  • Park visitation: 44,000 in 1919, nearly five million annually now
  • The South Rim of Grand Canyon averages 7000 feet (2134 m) above sea level and the North Rim is over 8000 feet (2438 m)
  • North Rim is much less accessible than the South Rim as heavy snows close the road to the North Rim from late October to mid May of each year
  • The inner canyon is 277 miles long and includes everything below the rim and is seen mainly by hikers, mule riders, or river runners
  • Elk found within Grand Canyon National Park weigh as much as 1,000 pounds (450 kg)
  • The oldest human artifacts found are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period
  • Park in continuous use and occupation since that time
Yellow Team: Glacier National Park: Northwest Montana, MT

Glacier National Parl

  • Established as the country's 10th national park in 1910
  • Established as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in 1932
  • Over 1 million acres including forests, meadows, mountains, and lakes
  • Over 700 miles of trails for hikers that follow routes first used by trappers in the early 1800s
  • If current trends continue, scientists have predicted that by the year 2030, there will be no more glaciers in Glacier National Park due to global climate change
  • Number of glaciers: 37 named; all shrinking in size
  • Largest glacier: Blackfoot Glacier - .7 sq. miles
  • Number of lakes: 653, Acres of lakes: 27,023, Miles of shoreline: 392
  • Largest lake: Lake McDonald (10 miles long; 6,680 wide; 440' deep; 6823 acres)
  • Land: 1,013,594 acres with 500+ in private ownership or 1,583 square miles
  • Acres of wilderness: 963,155, or 1,489.3 square miles
Orange Team: Mount Rainier National Park: Washington State

Rainier National Park

  • Encompasses 235,625 acres on the west side of the Cascade Range
  • Located about 100 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Seattle, WA
  • Approximately 97 percent wilderness and 3 percent National Historic Landmark
  • Receives approximately 2 million visitors per year
  • Mount Rainier is an active volcano that last erupted approximately 150 years ago
  • The 14,410’ Mount Rainier is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range, standing nearly three miles higher than the lowlands
  • Fay Fuller, a schoolteacher from Yelm, Washington, was first woman to climb to top of the mountain in 1890; Susan Longmire (age 13) followed her in 1891.
  • Currently 10,000 men and women attempt to climb to the summit of Mount Rainier each year, about half are successful
  • The park contains 26 named glaciers across 9 major watersheds, with 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams and over 3,000 acres of other wetland types
  • Carbon Glacier (in the northwest corner of the park) is the lowest in elevation of any glacier in the lower 48 states at 3500'
  • The Carbon River Valley has mild temperatures and receives about 70 - 90 inches of rain a year, which has created an inland temperate rainforest
Brown Team: Everglades National Park: Miami, Naples, and Homestead, FL

Everglades National Park

  • Is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States
  • A low, flat plain shaped by the action of water and weather. In summer (wet season) it is a wide, grassy river, in winter (dry season) it is a dry grassland
  • Technically a river, flowing southwesterly at the rate of a quarter mile per day
  • Designated an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance
  • Average Rainfall: 60 inches (152 cm) per year. The rainy season is June - October
  • 156 miles (251 km) of canoe/kayak and walking trails
  • 27 species of snakes, only four are venomous/poisonous: cottonmouth, diamondback rattlesnake, dusky pygmy Rattlesnake, and coral snake
  • Area is home to rare and endangered species, such as American crocodiles, Florida panthers, West Indian manatee, alligator, bobcats, mosquitoes, American White Pelicans, tree snails, and turkey vultures
  • More insects than any other group of animals
Purple Team: Badlands National Park: Southwestern, SD

Badlands National Park

  • Badlands originally proclaimed a National Monument in 1939 and became a National Park in 1978
  • The Badlands National Park is located within what is called the White River Badlands
  • Called the Badlands because it is difficult to travel through because of the rugged terrain and lack of water
  • Landscape within the park erodes at a rate of about 1 inch per year
  • Badlands National Park is 381 square miles or 244,000 acres in area
  • Highest point in the Park – Pinnacles 3247 feet or 1009 meters
  • Contains the world’s richest fossil beds, dating 37-28 million years old
  • Bison, bighorn sheep, endangered black-footed ferrets, and swift fox inhabit one of the largest, protected mixed-grass prairies in the United States
  • The Badlands climate is variable and unpredictable, with temperatures ranging from -40 F to 116 F. The summers are hot and dry with occasional violent thunderstorms. Winters are typically cold with 12 to 24 inches of total snowfall. Average annual precipitation is 16 inches
  • Does not contain any dinosaur fossils, but does have fossils of ancestors of the modern day rhinoceros, horse, pig, and cat as well as early birds, reptiles, and invertebrates
White Team: Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon, UT

Bryce National Park

  • Bryce Canyon is a small (56.2 square miles) national park in southwestern Utah
  • Named after the Mormon Pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, Bryce Canyon became a national park in 1924
  • Bryce Canyon, famous for its other worldly and unique geology, consists of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters and hoodoos: spire or odd-shaped rocks left standing by the forces of erosion
  • Hoodoos are formed when ice and rainwater wear away the weak limestone common to the area
  • Three distinct climatic zones due to 2000 feet (650 m) change of elevation: spruce/fir forest, Ponderosa Pine forest, and Pinyon Pine/Juniper forest.
  • Rim elevation between 8,000 to 9,100 feet
  • Wildlife includes: mule deer, Utah prairie dogs, chipmunks, pronghorn (antelope), gray fox, ravens, Steller's jays, Clark's nutcrackers, and short-horned lizards
  • Park is home to three endanger species: Utah Prairie Dog, California condor, and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
  • In most rural areas of the United States, 2500 stars can be seen on a clear night. At Bryce Canyon, 7500 stars can be seen
  • Bryce has high biodiversity: over 100 species of birds, dozens of mammals, and more than a thousand plant species

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