Letterboxing; The inexpensive hobby with lasting memories
The first time I ever heard of letterboxing, we were planning a trip to visit relatives, driving from California to New Mexico. Some of the highways which go through the desert can be quite boring. There are long stretches in between towns and we were traveling with young children. Frequent stops are a must for a happy journey. We did a little research before leaving, and found a few letterboxes along the highway and planned our stops to "search for a box" to break up the trip across the desert.
I had heard that letterboxing is a throwback activity from the days of the pioneers, although I can't find any credible source to back up this claim. The story I heard was when our forefathers travelled west in the 1800s in their wagon trains, seeking out land or during the gold rush days, letterboxes were a way family helped other relatives on the journey. A box would be hidden along the trail with rations, like food or money. The family would receive clues on where to find this box, hidden so thieves wouldn't find it.
Today, this tradition continues in a hobby that is found in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and some countries around the world, such as Jamaica, Panama and Bahamas to name a few. It is rumored that some boxes have been hidden in such National Landmarks as Disneyland, but security on these sites is high and boxes don't last here long. You log on to letterbox websites and look for clues in a particular region. Then you follow those clues to a box that contains a stamp. You stamp your "signature" stamp in the letterbox's log book so the people who "planted" the box know you "found" it. Then you stamp their stamp in your log book. Don't forget to go back online and leave "feedback" that you found the letterbox as well. This helps the letterbox community keep track of which boxes are active and which have become damaged or lost.
There are two forms of letterboxing. Those that hide a box and those who seek a box. You can do both! To seek, you need a few supplies.
1.) Log Book. I usually get an inexpensive sketch book from a local art store a place like Target or Walmart because it has no lines on it.
2.) "Signature Stamp." To beginners, this can be a manufactured stamp that you use consistently whenever you find a box. Letterboxers will begin to "recognize" you and your self given "Signature Name." For example, you could get a stamp of a Redwood Tree and call yourself "Coastal Redwoods." This lets the letterbox community know that you are from the Pacific Coast where Redwoods are found. As you advance in technique in the hobby, you can "carve" your own stamp from supplies found at any art store, or get creative and carve something from material like a pink eraser.
3.) Ink Pad. Many of the letterboxes will have an ink pad inside for you to use, but you can't always depend on this, and being in the elements, the ink could have dried up or been stolen.
4.) Pen. In addition to stamping your signature stamp in the log book, you'll want to write you "signature name," where you are from and the date you found the box. This is fun for the placer to read. I also like to provide details of a certain letterbox that I find in my own log book as a sort of "travel journal." For example, we found a box in the middle of nowhere while traveling on Route 66 some years ago. I wrote down next to the stamp in my log book that we saw a lone elk nearby, and that it was deathly quiet out where we were looking.
4.) Incidentals. Like any outdoor activity, letterboxing carries a bit of a risk. Poison Ivy, thorns and bugs are a few of the hazards you may encounter and may want to pack gloves, bug spray or Poision Oak medication in your letterbox bag. It is nice to carry a travel pack of baby wipes to clean ink off stamps after you have used them.
These are my two favorite sites and most reliable. I am sure if you use your web browser, you may find more. Letterboxing is similar to geocaching, but in my opinion is a lot more fun. In geocaching, you rely on instruments such as a compass for orientering and coordinates bring you to the box. Inside the box is small trinkets that I have no need to collect anyway. My log book of interesting stamps is cool enough for me.
Most clues will give you some hints as to how far a trek finding the box is and the level of difficulty. Some will specify that it is a hike on dirt trails, while others are urban and in the middle of a concrete city. Be sure to check out which boxes and clues best fit your route and ability.
The websites also have discussion groups to get your questions answered and to chat with others who share your interest in the hobby.
The success of the hobby of letterboxing is based on an individual's ability to respct the box and the environment around it. Leave an area just as or better than you found it. Don't uproot plants, trample vegetation or vandalize any part of the box site. Be descreet when taking time to stamp the log books and don't draw attention to yourself or to the box's location. Make sure the box is returned to the exact location where you found it, securely sealed to keep out wildlife and moisture, ready for the next hunters to find it.
If you can't find a box, record your attempt online anyway. This will let the "planter" of the box know to check on it, and make sure it hasn't gone missing.
Sometimes when you find a box, you may discover a bonus! A "hitchhiker" is one that travels outside the box where it is found; it is a second stamp. Record it in the two logbooks as usual, but take it with you! And leave it at another letterbox at a different time. Hitchhikers will have their own log books that travel with the stamp, and it is fun to see the miles they cover. I found one in Denver, and re-hid it in Monterey, California. I found another in New Mexico that had originated in New York!
Meeting other letterboxers serendipitously! I found a box while hiking in Red Rocks, Las Vegas, Nevada. There were two ladies discreetly on a nearby bench, and I knew from being a fellow-letterboxer that they were recording the very box I was seeking! When you meet others "on the trail," exchange or stamp your "signature stamps" in each other's log books.
A Microbox is a letterbox that is quite small and found in more challenging locations than regular sized letterboxes. The stamp will be smaller and usually without an ink pad. I found a metal hinged Altoids box that was a Microbox that was magnetically attached to the underside of a park bench.
Mystery Boxes are found when the seeker puts together elaborate clues; the clues online do not give you a specific location of the box. Adds to the challenge.
The Letterbox Community
I have found that most letterboxers are friendly and participate in this hobby for their love of travel, creative side and meeting new people. There are "stamp carving" events that are listed on the clues websites and other social gatherings that give you opportunity to meet the "face behind the stamp."
BYOI - if you see this in a clue it means the letterbox does not have an ink stamp and you should bring your own.
Cat's Eye Inkpads and Pens - compact oval ink pads and colored pens are great alternatives tools to stamp with when you are on the go.
LbNA - stands for Letterboxing North America
These days, amusement parks, gas prices and restaurants are quite expensive for a family of five like us. It was encouraging to find something that we could do together that didn't cost much and was a different adventure each time we set out. As the kids grew older, it became quite a treat to get them to "unplug" from their social media and devices and hit the great outdoors to find yet "another box."
As you hunt and have any more tips, this letterboxer would enjoy reading what you discover and what is documented in YOUR log book. Carpe Diem. We only get today, go enjoy it!
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