Geocaching?! Letterboxing?! Outdoor family treasure hunts turn hiking into a game
Brett said she did it with her nephews in the Sahara. Jody said it was a great way to explore her home state of North Carolina with her 7 and 4-year-old. Zach said his family geocaches whenever they visit a new place.
It sounded intriguing but what the heck is Geocaching? And how does a family get in on the game?
You need a GPS device. There’s one on your smartphone. If you don’t own a smartphone, find someone who does. As soon as you have a GPS you’re in business.
“Do we make money?” the 5-year-old in this writer’s family asked, totally excited by the idea of a “geo-cash.”
He was disappointed to learn that in this outdoor game of find-the-hidden-cache (not cash) no money changes hands. But he was excited about going for a hike. This would be no ordinary hike but a hike with purpose.
What is geocaching?
Geocaching has only been around since 2000, when civilian GPS systems improved. The idea is you use the little compass on the GPS to get within a certain distance of a hidden box (coordinates available on various Websites) but then it’s up to you to find it. Inside the box is swag to trade and sometimes a logbook. You take something, leave something else, sign the log, and you’re ready to look for another.
A good place to try geocaching for the first time is at the Table Rock mesas in Central Point. There are eight geocaches hidden at Upper Table Rock alone, and one specifically for kids. Who knew?
Since most of the caches are on the top, hike the 1.1 miles with a vertical rise of 700 feet first and then start the treasure hunt. Using a GPS tracking system you’ll find the plastic tube wrapped with camouflage duct tape in the roots of a tree on the edge of the trail. The next cache is only about 400 yards away, and well camouflaged by rocks at the edge of a cliff. Inside this large plastic tube, also wrapped in camo tape, are plastic trinkets, business cards, and someone’s baseball cap, all available for trade.
But read the on-line notes of recent seekers before you start traipsing through underbrush: an ammo box hidden at the base of a stump off the trail is not to be found though the search did produce an oozing case of poison oak. On-line was the unheeded warning that nobody had found the box in months.
Lesson learned: pay as much attention to the foliage as you do the clues, read the notes on the Web before you start, wear long pants and socks, and bring along a poison-oak cleanser.
And then there’s letterboxing
Letterboxing is the 19th century form of geocaching that relies on clues and smarts instead of state-of-the-art technology. It started in 1854 when a hiking guide left a bottle with his calling card in it by Duck’s Pool on Dartmoor in southern England. Others left their cards, then later postcards, and started placing their own fiendishly well-hidden letterboxes. Since the late 1990s, letterboxing has become popular in America and the fervor is particularly high in Oregon, especially Portland.
There’s no swag to be traded: this game is all about the fun of the find not the Dollar Store trinkets inside.
Try the letterbox hunt in Lithia Park with clues written in Shakespearean English. Print out the clues from the Web and you’re on your way. These clues will take you from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages in rhyming verse through the park. Expect to puzzle out math problems and oblique references to find more than a dozen landmarks over the course of a mile.
If you start letterboxing with your family, you’ll quickly learn that mum’s the word. The Shakespeare letterbox is buried … well, you’ll have to find that out for yourselves. Worn out from shouting, clue deciphering, and running through the park, your family will find that all’s well that ends well as you stamp your logbooks with a hand-carved stamp of (who else?) the Bard himself.
Geocaching: getting started
A GPS system is included in the iPhone or you can buy a bare bones one for under $70.00. Then go to http://www.geocaching.com/ where you can search for geocaches by zip code. There are 992 geocaches in and around Ashland, Oregon alone.
Letterboxing: getting started
All you need to letterbox is a stamp, a notebook to use as a logbook, a pen, and a family nickname. Some letterboxes require a compass or a map so read through the clues first to make sure. Then go to: http://www.letterboxing.org/ and click on “Search for Boxes” to begin.
Published: November 5, 2009
Last update: January 29, 2020