Reckless Curiosity: A Practical Guide for the Urban Adventurer --Exploration #2: Geocaching

Where are you right now, reader? Bored?  Sitting around on campus, killing time before your next class? Have a smart phone or GPS-enabled device on you? Well, perk up, because this week I’m going to teach you about a mini-adventure that you can have at any time and almost anywhere.

It’s Geocaching.

Geocaching, which has been around since a GPS enthusiast named Dave Ulmer created it 11 years ago, is a worldwide treasure hunting game in which participants simply plug in a set of coordinates into a GPS system, which guides them to a location where they use clues and their virtual map to locate a hidden container, or “cache.”

These carefully concealed caches range from Altoids tins, ammo boxes, to even larger containers, and can hold anything from a logbook to an assortment of small items that the seeker can swap out for a trinket of their own.

The official Geocaching website says that Ulmer came up with the game on May 3, 2000, a day after the Clinton administration switched off the government-mandated “selective availability” that made the GPS system far less accurate for civilians then for the military.

Ulmer, wanting to test the potential of this updated system, hid a black bucket filled with items in the woods near Beavercreek, Ore., and posted some coordinates on his website along with a simple rule: "Take some stuff, leave some stuff."

The concept began to spread, and by Sept. 2 of that year, a web developer named Jeremy Irish was ready to launch, an online community for geocachers where they could post their caches and log their finds.

Eleven years later, the community is still thriving, and it makes finding a cache near you as easy as pie.

Simply plug in an address or city, and loads of listings will pop up, complete with coordinates, difficulty levels, reviews from other finders, as well as hints and clues.

Anybody can hide and post their own cache, and some hiders set up elaborate “multi-caches” that require seekers to travel to numerous locations, gather coordinates, solve puzzles, and figure out clues to reach a final container.

There’s even a handy iPhone application that can be used to search for and navigate to caches near your current location.

The best part of the whole thing is that the community has grown so large that Geocaches can truly be found anywhere. The idea that hundreds of these secret treasures are sequestered away, waiting to be found, alights the whole city with possibility for adventure.

So, no excuses, explorers! Whip out your iPhones and Garmins now. You’ve got caches to catch!

Exploring tools:

GPS enabled device.

Some Geocaching Jargon:

FTF: First to find. Often written in logbooks or on a cache’s online page by the first person to find the cache. GZ, Ground Zero: The place where your GPS tells you have reached the cache’s coordinates, or where you are “zero feet away” from the cache.

Hitchhiker: An item in a cache that is intended to move from cache to cache. Often has “Travelbug” tags attached.

Virtual Cache: A cache with coordinates that lead to an out-of-the ordinary location as opposed to a container.

Locationless (reverse) cache: A backwards cache where you are asked to find an object or place and then log its coordinates.

(For more information, consult the glossary of terms on

Beginner Geocaches near Santa Monica College:

    1.“Welcome to Virginia Park”

    Coordinates: N 34° 01.297 W 118° 27.960

    Description: Small Ice Breakers container covered in black duct tape.

    Hint: Abg va gur ohfu, va gur onfr bs gur bgure cynag.

    2. Neuron Team Cache Coordinates: N 34° 00.813 W 118° 28.857

    Description: Small black Altoids container affixed with Velcro.

    Hint: Guvax bhgfvqr gur obk. (be haqre)

    3. AlleyCat Cache 1

    Coordinates: N 34° 00.542 W 118° 28.175

    Description: Small, well camouflaged container.

Hint Decryption Key: