Join in the Fun of a High-Tech Treasure Hunt Thanks to One of Earth's Newest Pastimes
The words ''treasure'' and ''island'' are forever linked in the popular imagination-and not just because Robert Louis Stevenson joined them together in the title of his best-known book, published in 1883, a rollicking tale of pirates and buried gold.
Yet you won't find much in the way of treasure legends drawing visitors to Santa Catalina in search of hidden fortune. The island's history is relatively tame, lacking in much lore of privateers and shipwrecked Spanish galleons filled with gold doubloons.
That doesn't explain, however, a recent phenomenon that, since the turn of the new millennium, has sent visitors scurrying around Catalina as if they're on some sort of mysterious scavenger hunt. Consulting cellphones, which tap into a network of satellites orbiting the earth to pinpoint the particular device's precise location in latitude and longitude, these intrepid explorers set out in search of containers hidden at what now number some 50 sites on the island.
The pastime is called "geocaching," from geo, the Latin root for "earth," and "cache," from the French word for hiding or hidden. And what's hidden are "geocaches," small airtight boxes or buckets containing a log book in which the person who hid it and those who find it record their observations on the experience; and an assortment of small, fun but inexpensive keepsakes, from which each new finder takes one as a souvenir while adding a new keepsake to the collection for future finders.
How do you find a geocache, or even create one of your own? The process is simple thanks to a website that has come to serve as the worldwide information clearinghouse for follows of the sport. (See "Getting Started with Geocaching," below.) Jot down the coordinates, or "waypoints" in geocaching jargon, of a cache you hope to find, maybe figure out some clues left by its creator, and off you go! With geocache names on Santa Catalina as varied and appealing as "The Big Smoke," "Purr-fect," "Pirate's View," and "Cherry Woodland," deciding on which adventure to have is half the fun.
The other half, of course, is actually finding the geocache and adding your own personal touches to its logbook and contents. Set out to find several, a couple, or even one geocache during a day or a morning or afternoon on the island, and you'll come away finding yourself more intimately, enthrallingly involved with the Santa Catalina experience than you might ever have dreamed possible.
Getting Started with Geocaching
The best way to start planning a geocaching adventure on Santa Catalina is to visit the official website of the sport, www.geocaching.com. Once there, you can browse through the activity's history, learn some of its terminology, and then register as a new user of the site. It's free.
Then, enter the zip code of your destination (90704 for Avalon) and use the site's search function to find all the registered geocaches in the vicinity. You'll suddenly see before you a complete list, including each geocache's distance from Avalon, icons to indicate the kind of experiences it offers, and a numerical rating that tells you how difficult it is to find and how challenging the terrain is. Click on one that appeals and you'll find a sometimes-lengthy account of the geocache, written by the person or persons who placed it, plus comments from other enthusiasts who have found it.
All you will need is a GPS enabled cell phone.
You might also want to consider hiding your own geocache on the island. You'll find plenty of guidelines at the website. Be very aware, though, of what property is public land and what is private, and take care not to trespass.
Before you begin a geocaching expedition, take the precautions you would for any potentially strenuous outdoor activity. Use sunscreen and wear a hat. Bring along drinking water. And if you'll be walking through rough brush, wear long, loose-fitting trousers. Most importantly, always stay aware of the geocaching commitment not to harm the environment, bringing along trash bags in which to carry out not only your trash but also any other refuse you might find along the way.
Time to Allow: One to several hours.
Reservations are not required.
Prices and availability are subject to change.