The word "treasure" fires the imagination with thoughts of sunken galleons full of gold and precious jewels waiting to be found.
Since most people just dream about finding riches, you vow to be a doer. But being too claustrophobic to dive beneath the waves, you decide to take metal detector in hand and go searching with a real expert, Ventura resident Ed Milota. His treasure quests have taken him from the beaches of Ventura County and Malibu to Greek and Roman caves.
You meet Milota near a Malibu restaurant, and the sight of the metal detector he brings along for you conjures up images of gold and silver coins or jeweled rings. You're glad to learn that most treasure hunters try to return rings and jewelry if there are any clues to the owners. You picture the thrilled expression on someone's face when you return a valuable ring you've found.
"This really isn't the best season to work the beaches because there aren't as many people out this time of year," Milota says as we drive a few miles south to a Malibu public beach.
The very best time is after a Northwest storm washes out about 6 feet of sand and leaves a ledge known as a "cut," he says. Items buried too deep or lost in the sea will be deposited along the cut.
"Some people," he says, "recently found dozens of rings during one day of hunting at a beach after a cut in the sand."
You're delighted to be out communing with nature on this overcast day as Milota shows you how to operate the metal detector and listen for the beep that comes from the loop at the end of the contraption when it discovers metal under the shifting sands. He demonstrates the crisscrossing motion necessary.
Immediately he gets a strong sound, and uses his scoop with a sifter on the bottom. He fills it with sand and then shakes it. There in the bottom of the scoop is a weather-beaten quarter.
"There is as much money in the ground as there is in circulation above ground," he says, handing you the coin. "Two percent of change has been lost every year."
You can't wait to duplicate his feat, so after he straps the detector to your arm, you begin walking along. Milota says the average cost of detectors is about $300, but some are less and others run $900 or more. People can rent them to see if they're going to enjoy this hobby.
Some detectors can pick up the reading for a quarter and others can discriminate between junk such as foil and pull tabs and real valuables, and can find objects a foot or more below ground. Most hunters wear earphones to keep the machine sounds from disturbing others.
It's nice to know that avid adventurers can be so considerate.
Suddenly your detector emits a strong, thrilling sound. Ever the gentleman, Milota rushes to your aid and does the scooping, saving your back from all that bending. You've found a blackened dime, which must have been there a long time.
You wonder who lost it and when? As you scrutinize the coin, you know you're definitely hooked on treasure hunting. Today a dime, tomorrow a silver dollar. Besides, when your friends describe their workouts, you can say you get your exercise by detecting and scooping. Much more unusual.
You're joined by Gordy Lienemann, Milota's friend and an accomplished treasure hunter. The three of you take different sections of beach. In the distance you spot a man wearing blue earphones with several antennas shooting out. He's carrying something and doing an unusual skip along the sand. You comment that he must be looking for treasure with a unique device, but as he comes closer, you realize he's just carrying a radio. A young, blond couple stop Lienemann to ask what he's doing. He learns they are German tourists and speak little English, so he does the best he can to explain.
In the next few hours, you find a total of 85 cents in dimes, quarters and nickels, and have several false alarms that turn out to be beer bottle caps, (expensive brands--after all, you're in Malibu), pull tabs and aluminum foil. Milota and Lienemann also unearth only coins on this outing, so you feel you've kept up with the experts.
Although you didn't find that pot of gold, there has been real excitement in the hunt. And you are proud of all the good exercise you have gotten.
A couple of hours later, though, your right arm becomes numb and you discover that clutching a metal detector for hours has wreaked havoc on your hand, which no longer can make a fist.
With your one good hand, you wash and polish your coins and carefully place them in an envelope marked with the appropriate description of your first treasure hunt. Your only regret is that you can't return your booty--all 85 cents--to its rightful owners.