Letterbox Treasure Hunting

When my family was visiting one summer from their home in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. I planned many fun outings and activities. Of course, that wasn’t necessary since my son, Eric was raised here in Lake County and still loves all of the usual hikes and field trips here, as does his family.

We had summer fun playing badminton, looking for crawdads in the creek, searching for Lake County diamonds, scouting out river otters on Cache Creek, turtle-watching at Clear Lake State Park, hiking the breathtaking California coast and craning our necks at the awesome redwoods in Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve.

Another activity I had planned was Letterboxing. Have you ever heard of Letterboxing? There are many variations of the outdoor scavenger hunt, which is similar to geocaching. Both are outdoor treasure hunts. While geocaching is a public activity that uses GPS (Global Positioning System) to help find a waterproof container known as a cache with a cool prize of some sort, letterboxing uses an old-fashioned compass and clues to help find it, and the prize is just a small trinket or toy.

Since it had been a couple of years since my California-born granddaughter had visited her home state, I made our version of the letterboxing game with a California theme. It included a homemade California-shaped stamp out of clay and a master list of dozen items which could be sketches or magazine clippings or replicas such as the reproduction arrowhead I hid for her to find representing the First People who lived here, a small piece of our state rock, serpentine, etc..

Each clue also had specific or vague directions then, when she found the item, it was to be logged into a little notebook before going to the next location. When she found all twelve, she was to then locate the letterbox ( a small box I’d saved and decorated), which was her reward for finding all of the items and held a little gold necklace that represented our state mineral, gold.

Technically, these activities should be done at home in the yard, since placing little boxes, or caches in state parks is probably not allowed.

Letterboxing began in England in 1854 when a man called William Crossing created a publication called Guide to Dartmoor. Then, he placed cards in a bottle on a trail along the moors and when hikers found the bottle, they added their own postcards for the next person to find and then mail at the post office. Now there are formal Letterboxing clubs and Geocaching clubs all over the world. Many have themes such as poetry, stamp collecting, mysteries, etc.  

Alas, it turned out that even a weeks-long visit was too short to cram all that we’d planned on doing while my family was here, and we never actually got around to a formal game of Letterboxing, so I gifted my granddaughter with her jewelry before she boarded the plane for her little island off the coast of Africa.

Letterboxing is an entertaining pastime and is great for exploring and learning about the landscape, so I’ll hold on to the clues for the next round of family visits.

Letterboxing adds an extra element to the great outdoors and allows people to learn the intricacies of an area and connect to it in a unique way.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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