What is it that makes people get up at the crack of dawn on a weekend to go to a garage sale?

It may be that there's still a trace of the adventurer in all of us — a curiosity about others and what their artifacts reveal that prompts us to "dig" for treasure in unexpected places. Garage sales are like little voyages of discovery. And just like the early explorers, there's serious competition, a sense of excitement and anticipation.

While some people drive past a handmade sign and make a spur-of-the-moment decision to follow that arrow, others methodically plot a course using the latest media tools — CraigsList.org, Google, GPS, and a variety of websites dedicated to listing yard sales.

Avid yard sale shopper and Eastside resident Rene Foppe relied on newspapers for many years to tell her where yard sales were, but says she now uses a combination of newspaper listings and Craigslist. She says she started in 1983 when she was pregnant with her first son and looking for baby items. Now, she's hunting for baby items for her first grandson, due in June.

"On Friday night, I write down the sales and map out my course," she said. "I know most of the streets in Petaluma, so there are few that I need to look up."

Foppe is typically out the door by 8 a.m., ready to look for the best deals.

"While I'm out, I always look for signs that either direct me to a sale I'm going to, or direct me to a sale that I hadn't known about," she added.

At a recent yard sale on Bungalow Lane, one woman was selling a large selection of Boyd's Bears, a collectible line of teddy bears.

It was one of about a dozen sales in Petaluma advertised online for that day, illustrating that it is officially yard sale season in Petaluma. Nationwide, yard sale shopping is generating buzz, with two reality television shows set to air on the topic on Home & Garden Television this fall.

At a recent yard sale on Bungalow Lane, fuzzy collectibles known a Boyd's Bears, still in their plastic bags, made it into the minivan of collector Virginia Caldwell and her friend. Caldwell zeroed in on the bears she wanted, and ended up spending over $200 on her cache of Boyd's Bears.

"The prices are so good here, I can't resist," she said. Asked how many she had at home already, she calculated around 500.

"I put them out seasonally and for holidays and other events," she explains. When asked if her spouse minded the hobby, she replied, "He says if it makes me happy, go ahead."

Knowledgeable collectors will need no explanation: when you find something you love, and you can get it for a bargain price, life is good.

Many artists find it difficult to sell their works in a gallery, so an occasional outdoor sale exposes their art to a wider audience. Julie Mills, an artist and teacher, put her pieces on display as part of a larger "barn sale" on Bodega Avenue that a friend was having.

The "Barn" Sale was indeed in a barn and spilled over to the driveway and gardens of the comfortable home on the hills west of town. The owner of the property, Bobbi Selbert, is a wholesaler and retailer who specializes in housewares and equine-related products.

"We travel all the time, doing booths at horse shows and rodeos, but we had some excess items and I thought it would be fun to offer them to the people who were neighbors or horse-lovers, or both," said Selbert. Among the browsers were "two men and a baby," as they described themselves. Friends for 20 years, Kris Nelson and Michael Hicklin, along with Hicklin's 6-month-old daughter Susanna, had taken a leisurely jaunt to look for tools, fishing gear and things that might be useful for the charities that they volunteer for. "We check for items like industrial cooking pots and things we can donate to nonprofits," said Nelson.

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at dyann.espinosa@arguscourier.com.)