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Metropolis / So SoCal

Ahoy, Palm Pilot Pirates

October 26, 2003|DOUGLAS PAGE

When not being used to measure yardage to the green or to track philandering partners, the consumer GPS (global positioning system) may get its heaviest workout as conduit for the Tech Age scavenger hunts known as geocaching. For stick-in-the-muds still mired in the dark ages of the 20th century, GPS gizmos use satellite signals to determine a user's precise whereabouts within a range of several feet. In geocaching, players hide oddball treasure troves anywhere on the planet, then post latitude and longitude coordinates online at sites such as www.geocaching.com or Southern California-based www.scgeocachers.org. Geohunters punch coordinates into their GPS units (hand-held devices start at about $100) and the chase is on. Booty often takes the form of simple surprises: a spectacular vista, gag artifacts, clues to another stage in the quest. Depending on the game, cache visitors may take items, deposit items or record quests in online logbooks. More than 70,000 caches are currently listed in 187 countries, with more than 2,200 near Los Angeles. It helps to be clear on the concept when stashing your cache, of course; a La Jolla stash rumored to hold diamonds and a Rolex didn't last long. Below, a few challenges for local explorers.

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The "Ex-Ex Libris" cache, accessible only when the downtown Central Library is open, is a painted mint tin located by following a clue found in book section 526.7. Geohunters are cautioned not to ask librarians for directions.

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This 35mm film cannister stashed in Union Station is a foreign coin exchange. Among original geocoins: 50 centavos (Mexico), 1 peso (Philippines), 2 pence (New Zealand), a mystery silver coin, a few francs and pfennigs, and a carwash token from Wyoming.

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Stashed near the large "LMU" letters on a Westchester bluff, this cache is used to trade small pins. One visitor swapped a 10-year Automobile Assn. of America pin for a rare Venice Marina Lions Club pin.

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The "Eternal Fame-Forest Lawn Glendale" cache is actually a quiz tour of resting places for celebrities reposing on the premises. Sample: "This swashbuckler (N34 07.369 W118 14.110) made 53 films in his colorful, scandalous and abbreviated life."

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No surprise that at least one cache is a drive-through business, 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.

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Hidden in CityWalk at Universal Studios, this spot provides a tip to avoid the $8 Universal parking fee.

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Bring a snorkel to find the "Swimmer's Cache" 6 feet to 10 feet under Alamitos Bay, depending on the tide. Original contents: one Maglite flashlight, one compass, one rubber angelfish, some shells from Hawaii and Baja, and a Long Beach Junior Lifeguard patch.

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What would geocaching in Los Angeles be without celebrity spotting? The "Big Brother" cache along Tujunga Wash offers a view of the set of CBS' "Big Brother" reality show.

Another geocaching gambit for celebrity hunters are items known as "travel bugs." Often in tag form, travel bugs are attached to cache contents and "hitchhike" with players from one cache to another according to instructions on the bug. One North Carolina fan is sending a travel bug called "Caching Barefoot (to Wil)" via cache fans to Pasadena in pursuit of an autograph from actor Wil Wheaton, a high-profile geocaching fan.

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