Calabasas has numerous hiking trails throughout the surrounding mountains, but did you know those paths and hills house many hidden treasures?
If you've ever hiked these local trails and noticed individuals outfitted with backpacks and water canteens while holding global positioning satellite (GPS) units, you may have thought to yourself, "That's overkill. This isn't the Serengeti."
But these are not your everyday day hikers.
They are treasure hunters, adventurers and, yes some of you may have guessed it, geocachers.
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game in which players look for canisters or containers hidden in the surrounding environment.
I will never forget the first geocache that I discovered, although it was by accident.
It was a sunny day with mild temperatures, about a month or so after spring rains had nourished the San Fernando Valley, and I was gazing from atop Summit Mountain Way.
The scent of chaparral wild flower was floating through the air, its sharp, wild and strong aroma biting at my nostrils.
"Let's go off the main trail a little," my fiancee, Shawna Burreson, said.
After awhile I noticed a pickup truck sticking out of the earth that had probably been crashed and abandoned during some youthful drunken escapade that ended badly. It looked an alien monolith, a stranger to this land.
Deciding to investigate, I asked Shawna to wait for me and I hiked down the hill. After 10 or 20 feet, I noticed an unusual looking box.
It was camouflaged and had strange graffiti on it.
"I found something!" I yelled.
After a few minutes of trepidation—and deciding that the box wasn't some sort of death trap—we excitedly opened it and by doing so discovered a whole new world of treasure and games.
Geocaches can be found concealed beneath rocks, behind boulders, underwater, and even hanging from the trees camouflaged as little treasure boxes.
The boxes vary in size from large ammunition ones the size of a briefcase to tiny film containers, what treasure hunters call "micro-caches."
The caches may contain such items as small toys known as "travelbugs" (which are trackable items placed there by another geocacher), trinkets, coins or head lamps.
I will never forget the look on my son Dante's face on another adventure when I found a little booklet explaining how to do a magic trick that had been placed inside a cache near the point where Stunt Road turns into Saddle Peak Road.
Dante had this glimmer in his eyes when I showed him the prize.
One can never be sure of what a cache will hold. The lucky may discover items of value such as gift cards, airplane tickets or even cash.
So, you wanna play? There are two ways to get involved. First, you could stumble upon a cache like I did and find yourself in the game. Or second, you could buy a GPS unit and then go to www.geocaching.com, the official global GPS cache hunt website.
Download coordinates to your GPS and get started. Can't afford an expensive GPS? There are affordable GPS units designed strictly for geocaching, such as the Apisphere Geomate Jr. that costs about $70 on Amazon.com.
However you get started, the real joy and true treasure arises from the adventure of the hunt rather than the prizes uncovered.
The game offers an excellent way of discovering new trails and interesting views you may never have otherwise found.
It can be educational too. Earth-caches contain interesting geological or natural information about the neighboring area.
One thing all geocachers have in common is a love for the environment, and so they respect the natural surroundings by obeying a few unwritten rules.
One: No one ever talks about Fight Club. Oh, wait, wrong club. OK, let's try that again.
Rule No. 1: Always respect the natural habitat of the playing field. This includes obvious measures such as not littering, not disturbing wildlife and not vandalizing the area.
Rule No. 2: If you take something from the cache, leave something. Bring along a small pack of goodies to replenish the cache.
Rule No. 3: Log your visit by writing your name, which could be a nickname, in the logbook that each cache should contain.
If you want, share your experiences online at the geocaching site.
Of course, respect all laws and do not leave any drugs, knives, explosives or guns in the cache.
Remember, this is a family-friendly game. It's a great way to encourage your children to do something fun and healthy outdoors.
A word of caution: One should always carry enough water, a map and a compass even when day hiking in the Calabasas area because the chaparral, woodland and riparian terrains can be tricky to navigate.
Good luck in your hunt, learn the lingo and watch out for things that bite!