Marriage Peril
Geocaching: You are the Search Engine

When it isn’t being used to determine exact yardage to the green or to trace the tracks of philandering partners, perhaps the most popular recreational use of consumer GPS (Global Positioning System)is geocaching.

The basic idea is that people set out caches anywhere in the world, then post the coordinates online at www.geocaching.com, challenging anyone to find them. Southern California has its own website at www.scgeocachers.org/.

Geohunters then punch in the coordinates on their own GPS units (prices start around $100) to locate the caches, most of which provide the finder with rewards - simple satisfaction, spectacular vistas, or small treasures. More than 63,000 caches are currently listed in 180 countries; over 2,200 near Los Angeles alone.

N 34 02.963, W 118 15.306 - Rule one: every cache has a name. The "Ex-Ex Libris" cache, accessible only during downtown library hours, is a painted mint tin located by following a clue found in book section 526.7. Geohunters are cautioned against asking librarians directions to 526.7. One did and the cache disappeared almost immediately.

N 34 03.321, W 118 14.190 - Rule two: take something, leave something. One Los Angeles cache, a 35mm film cannister stashed in Union Station, is a foreign coin exchange. Among original geocoins: Mexican 50 centavos, Philippine 1 peso, New Zealand 2 pence, a mystery silver coin, a few francs, pfennigs, and a car wash token from Wyoming.

Another (N 33 58.365 W 118 24.993), hidden near the large LMU letters on the bluff above the Spruce Goose cum studio sound stage hanger, is used to trade small pins. One visitor traded a 10-year Auto Club pin for a rare Venice-Marina Lions pin.

Unclear on the concept: a cache in La Jolla, said to contain diamonds and a Rolex, was stolen.

N 33 58.497, W 118 26.008 - Rule three: respect the environment. One beach cache leads to a polluted area of Ballona Creek near Marina del Rey, where geocachers are asked to carry some trash out with them.

N 34 06.748 W 11824.918 - No surprise, at least one LA cache is a drive-thru - a small blessing since the real trick in Los Angeles is not locating caches, it’s finding a parking spot in the same zip code.

The "Universal City Micro" cache (N 34 08.215 W 118 21.104), hidden in the City Walk at Universal Studios, includes a tip to avoid the $8 Universal parking fee: park on Oakley at N 34 07.932 W 118 21.243, a short walk up the hill to City Walk.

N 33 45.166 W 118 07.677 - Another is a dive-thru. Bring a snorkel to find the "Swimmer’s Cache", located 6-10 feet under Alamitos Bay, depending on the tide. Original contents: 1 Maglite flashlight, 1 compass, 1 rubber angel fish, some sea shells from Hawaii and Baja, and a Long Beach Junior Lifeguard patch.

N 34 08.833 W 118 23.356 - What would LA geocaching be without celebrity spotting? The "Big Brother" cache, along Tujunga Wash, features a view of the set of CBS's Big Brother reality show.

Another way to bag a celeb is to use a geocaching feature called ‘travel bugs’, items that hitchhike randomly from cache to cache to cache and then, hopefully, back to the starting cache, a painfully slow progress that can be followed online.

One North Carolina fan is sending a travel bug called "Beatin' a Path to Wil" via the caching circuit to Los Angeles for an autograph of a favorite geocaching celeb - actor Wil Wheaton.

--Douglas Page 2003


For The Los Angeles Times Magazine, August 2003

Comments? Questions? Assignments? douglaspage@earthlink.net
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