Sprinkled around the UCLA campus and the surrounding community are small, hidden containers sought out by urban treasure hunters armed with GPS technology.
Kristina Truong, a third-year history student, has found 99 of these containers, called geocaches, in her time spent searching on campus and at home in Orange County.
Truong has been geocaching since 2009.
“There’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re able to find something,” Truong said.
Geocaching is a hide-and-seek game played around the world with an online community. A player hides a small container, otherwise known as a geocache, and publishes the coordinates where it can be found online at geocaching.com.
From there, members of the free website can view the coordinates, decode a clue and set out to find the cache using a smartphone or GPS device.
Once the cache is located, depending on its size, the geocacher has the option to take a token from the contents, like a coin or small toy. In return, she is expected to leave something behind. All geocachers who succeed in locating the camouflaged cache also sign and date a running log.
Some geocaches contain fun facts or clues about other associated caches. One of Truong’s favorites is an old cache by the Fox Theater in Westwood Village, which told geocachers where to go for a nice view in Westwood.
The most infuriating thing about geocaching, said Jason Cox, a third-year computer science student, is knowing exactly where a cache is located but being unable to find it.
A half-centimeter-wide cache in UCLA’s Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden was camouflaged against a red pipe. He said he could barely see it.
“You might be looking for an hour to two, maybe even three, and you don’t really know what you’re looking for,” Cox said.
He has searched Hedrick Summit for a particularly difficult geocache three or four times with no luck.
Students are not alone in their hobby. And the geocaches themselves are not limited to campus.
“Geocaching is a great way of seeing California,” said Lilia Illes, a UCLA professor of geography and an avid geocacher.
She frequently encourages her geographic information systems students to try it because it is a great way to explore local communities otherwise overlooked, she said.
One of her most memorable finds was in Death Valley. Illes was admiring the spring flowers in bloom until she came across a model of C3PO ““ an allusion to the scene in “Star Wars” where the cyborg gets lost in the desert.
The best geocaches are the ones that people put a lot of thought into, she said.
There are also geocaches in downtown Los Angeles and at nearby beaches. The accessibility of geocaching allows everyone to be a participant, Illes said.
However, geocachers must be careful to avoid damaging public or private property, Cox said.
They also need to be aware of “muggles” ““ a nickname for people who do not know what geocaching is, Truong said. Muggles pose a threat to the hobby because they can unintentionally tamper with the cache and make it difficult for future geocachers to find.
For this reason, Truong tries to avoid geocaching in front of pedestrians.
“They’ll give me strange looks, but you kind of just get used to it,” she said.
After finding her 100th cache, she said she hopes to hide one herself.
Her advice for aspiring geocachers?
“Look for what seems out of place,” she said. “(Geocachers) take advantage of things in the open that you don’t usually pay attention to.”
And sometimes, she warns, you have to do some bushwhacking, so dress appropriately.