Letterboxing or Geocaching? What is this?

A new hobby is born, but who cares?

Always on the lookout for a new family activity to engage in, (alright, I drag my kids along...*see earlier blog entries) I fell into a hobby called "Letterboxing" last November.

It's a hide and seek treasure hunt in public places... parks, forests, museums, monuments, national parks, and other public locations.  Clues are posted on a national database (www.Letterboxing.org or www.atlasquest.com), and families search for these hidden treasure boxes in  teams. When found, the family "stamps into" a logbook, and uses the rubber stamp inside to stamp their own logbook.  Part of the fun is learning how to carve rubber stamps yourself, and trading experiences "on the trail " with others.

But there is another group with a very similar hobby, called geocaching.  These people also seek hidden treasure boxes, but instead of stamping in, they leave a trinket and remove a trinket from the stash that awaits inside various disguised boxes... magnetic key cases, ammunition boxes, Tupperware boxes, etc.  They also have a national database or two, that record their experiences but also the latitude and longitude of each box.  They are helped along by 'benchmarks' by the United States Geological Survey marker system.  But an essential item is a GPS system or handheld reader to get you into the immediate area.

The problem comes when these two groups find each other's boxes.  The geocachers sometimes take the rubber-stamps that are essential to the letterboxer's hobby.  And the Letterboxers resent the geocachers placing boxes so near their locations.

I'm sure the door swings both ways, but there's another problem.  Letterboxers follow exact clues to find a specific location.  But geocachers can only get into the general area, and then must search the area.  Sometimes this searching can be taken to be vandalism by those who see over-zealous searching by strangers to the area. Of course, ideally, you'll avoid being observed searching or finding a hidden storage box!

Anyway, despite the drawbacks, the pastime can be a lot of fun... with great mental puzzles, challenges to solve riddles, and follow clues and trails to the hidden location!  Few things can match the excitement of actually finding a hidden box, that no one else knows is hidden there in a public place!  And imagine the thrill of opening a geocache to find some valuable and not so valuable trinkets from which to choose.

It's an easy way to waste a day or some gas, but the family fun can't be matched.

For more information, go to www.atlasquest.com  or  www.geocaching.com  to learn more about these parallel hobbies.
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