August 21, 2012

Geocaching and Letterboxing

One early afternoon, two girls in sundresses and sandals sauntered through the woods with the sunlight shining through the trees. Talking, laughing and swinging their purses, they jumped over muddy puddles and skipped from big rock to rock. Constantly searching the ground and checking a notebook they stopped at a huge waterfall.

"Maybe it's this tree."
"Maybe that one down near the water."
"Lets try it."

They wandered to various locations, turning up rocks. After a few minutes they stopped.

"I think it's across the water."
 "You're probably right."

Together they climbed the boulders that lead up to the waterfall. They found the narrowest gap and one after the other took running jumps to the other side over the fast sloshing water. Fishermen watched these girls curiously. They were obviously looking for something hidden in the woods, but what?  
A few weeks back, my friend and I got out of a work meeting early.  Instead of going home bored, we decided to go geocaching. Geocaching is an activity that evolved from orienteering and letterboxing. Searchers look for caches placed by other geocachers. These boxes are typically waterproof, and contain logbooks or small trinkets. To find geocaches, searchers are given the coordinates of a box and typically have to unscramble a puzzle to get more clues about where to look. Boxes are typically hidden in wooded areas and many caches take you past an attraction such as a small cemetery, landmark or pretty vista.  Once a box is located, the searchers either sign the logbook or take the small trinket and replace it with another one. Many geocachers keep online logbooks so other searchers can see who found it before them. 

For people raised on movies like The Goonies, this sort of “treasure hunting” expedition really brings you back to your childhood. It’s extremely fun and you’ll never be so excited to find a plastic mouse or toy car. On our trek we met some interesting people including fishermen and two bathing beauties, anxious to get their swimsuits wet to help us look. You’d be surprised how popular this is and how many caches are probably in your area. 

Geocaching evolved out of a sport called letterboxing. Letterboxing, while still done today, started in 1854 in England. James Perrott, placed a bottle in a pile of stones near Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, in which visitors could place their calling cards. Later boxes in the area were established and it became popular for visitors to insert a letter addressed to themselves or a friend. The next person to find the box, would mail the letter found inside and leave their own letter in the box. There is currently over 100 boxes hidden in the moors there.  Modern-day letterboxes frequently include a unique stamp in a letterbox’s logbook to prove that they found a certain letterbox. Letterboxing didn’t catch on in the United States until the late 1980s.

Although letterboxing was unique to England, caches have been used for centuries to protect valuables. Occasionally, we hear of a long forgotten cache being found that contains valuable articles. Some people find searching for a valuable cache much more fun than geocaching where the thrill of the hunt and a day out are your reward.

Geocaching for history lovers: 

-There's a Fredericksburg Battlefield Challenge which involves taking photos of yourself at places in the battlefield according to coordinates and posting them online.
- Better History Through Letterboxing- a Confederate history through letterboxing. 
- Joy and Misery in Valley Forge
- Valley Forge Forgotten Monument
- Honoring our Veterans at Antietam


  1. I've been geocaching for about 2 years and like it, but it's definitely more fun to do it with a friend. You see some really cool spots.

  2. Nice write-up on Geocaching, Stephanie! I had never heard of geocaching until a few years ago when I was Googling my third great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan of Florida. I was trying to find his grave site. were several geocachers, too, as you can see from their logs on site

  3. I have seen historic sites give tours like this on maps but didn't know that there were groups of people who did this sort of thing for fun. We are always looking for new things to do outside and geocaching just might become a new favorite hobby! Thanks!

  4. Never heard of this. Sounds cool though. Thx!


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