It is fair to say that Longmont is known as a family-oriented city, but what’s left when the excitement of the bowling alley and the cinema begin to wane? If you’re too accident prone for Twister and all your board games are missing pieces, maybe it’s time to consider a new pastime. Geocaching and letterboxing are outdoor activities that integrate modern technology, nature, exercise and treasure hunting, and your family can start enjoying either or both of these immensely fun hobbies today!

Navigating GPS coordinates to find a geocache.

Sleuths with Smart Phones

Geocaching is a global phenomenon whereby players find hidden containers, called geocaches, using smart phones or GPS devices and report it online. According to the game’s official website, geocaching.com, there are close to two million geocaches out there somewhere and more than five million people trying to find them. Geocaching dates back to May 2000 when an Oregon computer consultant named Dave Ulmer wanted to test the accuracy of the latest satellite GPS technology. He tromped into the woods with a bucket full of goodies and posted the coordinates in an online forum. His lone rule for the finder was, “Take some stuff – leave some stuff.”

The quantum leaps in GPS-enabled smart phone technology since the game’s inception means it’s easier than ever to play. Participants navigate to a set of coordinates found on the website and then try to find the geocache hidden at or near that location. When they’ve found it, they sign the logbook and return the item to the exact location where they found it.

If you’re new to the game, remember these three simple rules:

1) If you take something, leave something of equal or greater value;

2) write about the find in the cache logbook;

3) log the experience on the website. As for placing a cache somewhere yourself, there are various guidelines to follow and it is recommended that you first find several local caches to get some sense of what makes finding a great cache so exciting.

 

Stamp of Approval

Letterboxing is similar to geocaching with a few key differences: Play is not necessarily tracked through a lone online source, the letterbox contains an often hand-carved rubber stamp, and compasses, instead of GPS devices, may be used if necessary. Like geocachers, letterboxers hide small weatherproof boxes in publicly accessible places. The logbook inside contains a personalized rubber stamp. When you find it, you stamp your logbook with it and stamp the official logbook with your personal stamp. There are approximately 20,000 letterboxes hidden in North America.

The origin of letterboxing is commonly attributed to an English national park guide in the 19th century who left a bottle in the wild with his calling card inside. Others were invited to leave theirs, too. In time, users left self addressed envelopes and notes inside, hoping the next user would put them in the mail. (“Letterbox” is the British term for a mailbox.) A hallmark of this game is the use of hand carved rubber stamps. Letterboxers enjoy this personal touch.

Longmont’s Old Town Outfitters offers introductory classes in both geocaching and letterboxing. “The kids love it,” says instructor Emily Carroll, “and families are welcome to take the classes together.”

Carroll’s classes find students searching for clues in the Old Town area, practicing GPS skills and carving their own stamps. “Half the fun,” says Carroll, “is what the students learn about Longmont along the way.”

For some fun family treasure hunting in the natural world around us, give geocaching or letterboxing a try. You may enjoy beginner’s classes at Old Town Outfitters or these websites – geocaching.com and letterboxing.org – will point you in the right direction.

– Story and photos by Darren Thornberry

 

A letterbox is found in the knotty bend of a lakeside tree.

With a little bit of research and the right equipment, Geocaching and Letterboxing can be a family activity to carry on over many locations and years. Caches and boxes are continually added and removed, so there’s always something new to find. Geocaching and letterboxing are activities that can be pursued locally, nationally. and even internationally.  Many families see it as a way to truly explore a location while traveling.

Geocaching Colorado – www.geocachingcolo.com
Connect with other local geocachers through forums and events.  Find tips and locations for finding notable caches as well as land management rules, regulations and necessary permissions for placing Caches.

Geocaching Internationally- www.geocaching.com
This website provides links to official geo-tours for various locations arount the US, as well as links to both national and international geocaching groups that may be able to recommend the best locations for your time frame and desires.

Letterboxing Internationally – letterboxing.org
Contains a searchable database of box locations and clues by state and by country, as well as a glossary of terms, and other helpful information.

Terracaching- www.terracaching.com
Geocaching with a competitive spirit.  You must be sponsored by a current member to join the terrachaching community.

– Misty Kaiser