Just over 11-years-ago I was living in Breckenridge, Colorado, along with three girlfriends. One of my roommates received a package in the mail from her brother. We all watched as she opened it, having no idea what it was even once it was fully unwrapped. The package included a mysterious looking box that held inside a hand-carved rubber stamp, ink pad, note pad, and pencil. The package included a letter explaining that the gift was a “letterbox.” This type of letterbox had nothing to do with mail, and little did we know at the time that this box ultimately held the promise of adventure!
The pastime of letterboxing apparently first found its beginnings in the late 1800’s in England, and by 2001 there were over 1,000 boxes placed across the United States. Today there are over 90,000 letterboxes hidden in North America. According to letterboxing.org, it “is an intriguing mix of treasure hunting, art, navigation, and exploring interesting, scenic, and sometimes remote places.” It is sometimes likened to geocaching, as they both involve finding hidden containers often including some type of logbook. Geocaching is a fairly new activity, which began in 2000 using global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to find the hidden containers. Unlike geocaching, letterboxing uses clues that are either passed on by word of mouth, hand written, or available on the web, guiding you to the box with the use of specific landmarks. A traditional letterbox is often a waterproof container (can be a box, plastic bag, etc.) holding contents similar to those that my roommate’s box included – a rubber stamp (often hand-carved), ink pad, some type of notebook or journal, and a writing utensil.
When you are on the hunt for a letterbox, it’s encouraged to carry your own personalized rubber stamp, ink pad, journal and pen with you. Your stamp is kind of like your trademark – indicating that “You Were Here.” When you find a box, you stamp the box’s book with your own stamp and even add a little note, if you want. You then take the stamp inside the box and stamp your own journal. Your journal serves as your logbook of the letterboxes that you’ve found. It’s almost like a passport in that it serves as a record of your adventures. Additionally, each hidden letterbox has an owner who occasionally checks on their box hoping to see that it’s been found by other letterboxing enthusiasts!
The First Adventure
On a sunny, blue-skied, winter day, my roommates and I decided to launch out on our first letterboxing adventure. Despite multiple feet of snow on the ground, we couldn’t resist giving this new hobby a try. We looked online to find clues for letterboxes in Summit County and to our surprise there were quite a few located nearby! We chose one that involved a snowshoe hike up Boreas Pass in Breckenridge. The instructions took us on a two-hour hike up the pass and then led down a side trail and then up into a patch of trees. After walking the specified number of “paces,” we found ourselves at a large tree with a large rock at its base. We managed to dig through the snow and even dislodge the rock that was frozen to the ground. Under the rock was the hidden letterbox! You would have literally thought we were a group of teenage girls when we found our “treasure,” based on our squeals of delight. We honestly had no idea what to expect and didn’t really think we would find anything.
I was hooked after this first find! Soon after, my now-husband and I started dating and began looking for letterboxes together, not only in Colorado, but also in other states. We always made a point to see if any letterboxes would be located around the areas that we would be traveling. In fact, my husband proposed to me with a letterbox that he hid on Boreas Pass! Yes – he hid the ring in the box. (That’s another story for another day!)
Getting Started with your Family
We just recently introduced letterboxing to our three-year-old daughter. We even found one this week less than three miles from our house, hidden near Eisenhower Park (I highly recommend this one!). Our daughter is just starting to grasp the concept of treasure hunts, and there is nothing better than a real life treasure hunt for children and adults alike! One day, we will also help her with creating her very own personalized rubber stamp. Families sometimes choose to just have one stamp for their family to leave their mark. Of course, store-bought stamps will do the trick, but carving your own stamp can really up your letterboxing game.
I would suggest checking out some of the great resources available on the web (see links below) to help you and your family get started with letterboxing. If you aren’t so sure about fully investing in the “sport,” perhaps try finding a box somewhere near where you live, even without any of your own letterboxing gear. It’s still fun just to find a box, and you can always just write a note in the box’s logbook (make sure to take a pen!). Also, when looking at the web pages below, be sure to also review the “codes of conduct” or etiquette tips, as there are some standard letterboxing practices that everyone should be aware of.
Once you get the hang of the letterboxing hobby, you and your family can even consider creating and hiding your very own box for others to find. If you do decide to give it a go, please come back to this post and include your comments about your experiences!