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Monday, July 25, 2011


A couple of weeks ago on the trail, at Harold Parker State Forest Shale, I and our four and two-legged pack met a really nice couple who shared with us that they were “Letterboxing”.   The ongoing joke with the group I hike with is that I talk to everybody, everywhere! So it was no surprise that this random encounter of two groups passing on a side-trail turned into a long conversation about Letterboxing, another idea for an activity to try with our dogs, and a couple of new friends. 

Letterboxing is an intriguing “treasure hunt” where participants follow clues to small hidden plastic containers which contain a rubber ink stamp (generally hand carved) and a log book.  Clue seekers carry and stamp their own log book with the discovered stamp and in turn stamp the cache’s log with their own signature stamp, again this is often hand carved.  According to what I’ve since learned, Letterboxing is an international game originating 150 years ago in England and there are now over 23,000 Letterboxes hidden in the United States.  Apparently Shale and I have been hiking past these hidden Letterboxes since she did her first “hike” at Weir Hill at 3.5 months old.  I was aware of Geocaching, an electronic "treasure hunt" using a hand held GPS or smart phone, but Letterboxing was new information to me. More on Shale’s adventures Geocaching on a future blog.    

Our new friends have searched for and found nearly 800 Letterbox stamps in two years!  Their logbook was filled with beautiful stamped images carefully colored with ink pens.  We soon learned that there a number of websites dedicated to Letterboxing that direct seekers to the hides and have all kinds of information for those just starting out.  Two well-know sites in the Letterbox community are: Atlas Quest: A Letterboxing Community and Letterboxing North America.   Of course there’s an app for this too – check out Clue Tracker on your phone’s app store.  I downloaded it for my iPhone and I like the feature that allows you to search for Letterboxes in your immediate area by using your phone’s GPS.  Letterboxes can be found not just in the woods and parks but in suburban and urban areas too. 

Hand Carved Border Collie Stamp
Shale and I are now new Letterboxers having logged our first find on Saturday at Chebacco Woods. Getting started with Letterboxing is very easy.  Clues to these hidden treasures are posted online and all you need to get started is your own stamp (many start with commercially produced store-bought stamps) a sketch book and an ink pad.  My first inclination was to carve my own stamp after reading instructions online but my artistic capabilities are not the strongest so I decided to compromise and buy a hand-carved stamp online.  Since I would be Letterboxing with Shale (many Letterboxes are dog-friendly and Atlas Quest’s key shows the attributes for the individual boxes) I decided I needed a Border Collie stamp.  My Google search for hand-carved Border Collie stamps led me right to Etsy and Nicole Strasburg’s wonderful online shop. Her Etsy shop hosts a variety of original oils, hand-pulled prints, hand carved stamps and reproductions of original work by the Santa Barbara-based landscape painter. Also check out her blog.  A couple of Nicole’s stamps looked so much like Shale I couldn’t believe it!   Nicole actually carved two of Shale for me from a few photos I provided. 

Our Second Signature Stamp

New stamps, an ink pad, the printed clues, Shale, a friend and her dog set out for Chebacco Woods for our inaugural Letterboxing adventure this past Saturday.  We decided Chebacco Woods would be a great place to start.  The friend I went with and I are both vey familiar with the property, it’s dog-friendly and has lots of water.  As a matter of fact the Box is called, “The Four Ponds”.   With the recent heat-wave encompassing the Northeast we wanted to be sure to select a location with plenty of opportunities for dog paddling as the temperature was expected to be in the high 90’s.  “The Four Ponds” is a series of 4 interconnected stamps each hidden separately that should take about 1.5-2 hours on foot (about 45 - 60 minutes by bike) and would cover a distance of 4-5 miles.  We easily found the first stamp a really nice hand-carved stamp which outlined all four ponds on the property.  The name of the first pond was included on this stamp and the other 3 stamps allow finders to label each of the other ponds with its name.  Stamp 2 posed a big challenge for us new Letterboxes.  We followed the clues, decided we were at the right location, search and searched (while the dogs splashed in the pond) with no luck.  We back-tracked tried another spot and still no luck.  After about 2.5 hours we decided to revisit the clues on another visit to Chebacco Woods. I’m not discouraged.  Our next visit there Shale and I will track down those other stamps!

We’re just starting out but so far I am really enjoying Letterboxing and I’m looking forward to seeking out more Letterboxes with Shale and friends.  Follow Shale's and my finds on Atlas Quest under our trail name: Shale’s Tales. 

1 comment:

  1. THat is very cool, I have never heard of letterboxing, seems just made for things like the internet and iphone. Kathy with Cricket/Liz/Breeze