Letterboxing Archives - Eva Varga

May 8, 2015

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility of our schedule. When Patrick has business meetings out of town, we are often able to accompany him. This works not only to his benefit – he has company on the long drive, we often share in the task of driving so the other can catch up on work, and he can take advantage of the carpool lane – but to ours.

While he is engaged at his conference, we hit the road to explore the city or surrounding area. This is just what brought us to San Francisco earlier this week.

We assumed that we would be staying in downtown or the financial district as we had in the past. Come to discover, this conference took place near the airport in Millbrae. Not exactly convenient for walking. Though the proximity to the BART would have been ideal – our plans for the day provided only a small window of time and we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible.

A las, I made the decision to drive back into SF proper myself and take our chances with parking. Our first destination was Golden Gate Park. In all our previous visits to the city, we had not previously explored this gem. My goal was to locate the Roald Amundsen or Gjoa Monument as well as two historic windmills.

On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netIn October 1906, Roald Amundsen and his crew arrived in San Francisco aboard the 69-foot Gjoa. Previously a herring boat from Tronso, Norway, she had been retrofitted for Amundsen’s quest to discover the famed Northwest Passage. The Gjoa took the small crew up and over Canada, east to west, finally arriving near Herschel Island, in arctic Canada.

To get word back to the outside world of his success, Amundsen left his men behind in the icebound ship and skied some 500 miles into Eagle, Alaska, where he telegraphed the good news home. As he and his crew arrived in San Francisco a few months later, they were hailed as heroes.

This epic quest was not Amundsen’s only feat, however. He led the Antarctic expedition (1910–12) to become the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911, an epic race against Robert Falcon Scott. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

We had visited the Gjoa ship at the Maritime Museum in Oslo. It was exciting to experience this full circle. Not far from the Norwegian granite stele is located a short distance from two windmills.
On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netBuilt between 1902 and 1908, the two historic windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were originally designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset district into the green that it is today.  The ground water inland was insufficient, so the coastal winds were harnessed to pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.  The windmills were in use only until 1913, when they were replaced by more efficient electric pumps.

The North windmill, known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 to fill the artificial ponds within the boundaries of Golden Gate Park. The South windmill, known as the Murphy Windmill, was the largest of its kind in the world, with gigantic 114 foot sails, each cut from a single log. These sails turned clockwise, unlike traditional Dutch windmills which turn counter-clockwise.

While in Golden Gate Park, we also enjoyed one of our most favorite pastimes, Letterboxing – the ultimate scavenger hunt. Hunting letterboxes in San Francisco is always enjoyable – the boxes tend to be well maintained and the stamps are amazing! Often, intricately carved or multiple stamps that “stack” within one another.

We hunted three boxes (Aphrodite, Artemis, and Breathe) and were delighted to find all three with ease. My girl has become quite adept at locating the boxes – often without the complete set of clues .. a real sleuth.

We also picked up a hitch-hiking stamp and hope to be planting it in Ashland next week. 🙂

To learn more about letterboxing, visit AtlasQuest.


October 24, 2012

Upon return from our Roots & Shoots outing last week, the kids were intrigued by the many trials or challenges salmon encounter in their effort to return to their home streams to spawn.  We thereby did a little research on the life-cycle of salmon.  Thereafter, I gave them each a handout I created and asked them to illustrate the salmon life-cycle.

This printable is available for free here, Salmon Life-Cycle Printable.

As they worked on their notebook page, the kids started to talk about creating a letterbox to celebrate the mighty Chinook.  We brainstormed possibilities and settled upon a series of boxes … one stamp for each of the major steps in the life-cycle:  egg, alevin, fry, smolt, migrating smolt or juvenile, and the adult. We printed out some simple illustrations and then set about carving.
We carved two stamps each and then created a simple logbook for the sixth and final stamp (the adult). We then packaged them up in protective tins and made plans to return to the area the following day with their dad.  They were excited to share their salmon observations and equally eager to share the joy of finding a few new letterboxes with their dad.  Coincidentally, he had recently purchased a logbook of his own and registered his own trail name on Atlas Quest.

October 22, 20121
We have been wanting to hunt for letterboxes here at Hog Plateau since we first learned of it in May of this year.  We had attended a Letterbox Gathering that coincided with the Annular Eclipse, but the heat prevented us from – it was over 100 degrees – certainly not ideal for letterboxing. 
Our shadows in the parking lot as we got underway

We thereby opted to wait until autumn, even though we knew that the clues would be more difficult without foliage on the trees.  I am delighted that we waited for another reason as well – back in May, our chief supporter wasn’t really into the sport of letterboxing as the kids and I.  He would tag along and frequently help us to locate boxes – but he didn’t have a signature stamp or trail name of his own.  Since then, he has had a change of heart and has joined the ranks of letterboxers all over the world.


We drove out early in the morning … arriving about 9 a.m.  In this area, there are well over 25 letterboxes.  We hunted for four hours – taking a brief rest now and then to refuel when necessary – still we didn’t find them all.

Buddy enjoying a brief little siesta

Sweetie wins the award for most boxes found … she would run ahead of us and find the boxes before I had even finished reading the clues.  She is quite the treasure hunter.  Dad and Buddy proved to be the most persistent .. finding boxes that even I had given up on.

Sweetie finding yet another letterbox before we even arrived

As per usual, some of the boxes that were originally hid have since been lost. One was believed to have fallen into a hollowed tree trunk.  We thought perhaps we could see it though our arms were not long enough to reach it.  I thereby offered to my husband my survival knife in hopes that perhaps he could poke it and thereby retrieve it.  This didn’t work.  However, as I proceeded to put the knife away, I sliced my right index finger quite severely (not quite requiring stitches, but nearly so).  Funny, as I equipped my day pack earlier this summer, I purchased a first aide kit as well as this knife.  Had I not been using this knife, I would not have had need for first aide.  Ah well.  Live and learn.  Fortunately, it was I who was injured and not one of the kids.

Me … modeling (thankfully) the only injury of the day

We went out for lunch after our adventure and then stopped by the pumpkin patch for our pumpkins.  It was a great day!

May 21, 20122

Yesterday, an annular eclipse of the sun was visible to the United States and a narrow path across the northern Hemisphere. We were delighted to have the opportunity to observe the eclipse – and even better – we did so with an awesome group of Letterboxers.

Featherhead with Green Tortuga as he gives a mini astronomy lesson

We met at Hog Plateau – an area inundated with letterboxes.  However, due to the heat (it was nearly 100 degrees), we opted to save the quest for another time.  Instead, we spent the evening exchanging signature stamps with our new Letterboxing friends, catching up with friends whom we had met previously, and seeking out the special event boxes – some hidden in plain site, others (travelers) required little sleuthing.

Featherhead with Lady Marmalade
A few of us observing the eclipse
Team Academia Celestia – Maersk, Makita, & Featherhead

Solar eclipses happen all over the globe all the time, but this was the first in the continental U.S. in more than 18 years.  An annular eclipse is a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and makes it dark during the day. This eclipse will cover about 85% of the sun leaving a visible ring.

Our dynamic host, Green Tortuga, captured this image of the eclipse through his telescope. Thanks again for putting this together for us.  It was a fabulous evening!

September 16, 20093

A few weeks ago, the kiddos and I invited a couple of friends to join us on a letterbox outing at a local park. There were originally three boxes there – two of which we had scouted out in the past though we were successful only in finding one. A year has past since that first outing and I figured it was a good time to complete the quest and find the third as well as the one that eluded us previously. Unfortunately, when I re-printed the clues I discovered that the 1st box (the one we had found on our first quest) had since been muggled. My goal was to introduce our friends to letterboxing so I really hoped we’d be successful with the 2nd and 3rd boxes.

As the 3rd box begins in the parking lot, we opted to start our quest with that one. We ambled up and over the rocky cliff side along the river. We actually went a little too far and spent some time poking around at the base of the wrong tree. We had almost given up and were headed back when my girlfriend suggested another tree along the path. I moved a few pine needles and leaf litter and there it was!

The kiddos hurried over to open the treasure and revealed not one stamp but two! Mushy the Troll (shown above), a hitchhiking letterbox stamp, was concealed within the original box. What a find! Based on his accompanying logbook, I believe he originated in Ohio. We look forward to re-hiding him when we go on to California in a few weeks. We were all getting a little hot (it was nearly 90 degrees) so we opted to save the 2nd box for another time.

With our Roots & Shoots club, we have done several letterbox quests – most have been successful but a few have not. Each time, we’ve introduced new families to letterboxing and many have pursued other quests on their own. Despite our occasional failure to locate the box, however, the kids always express an interest in hiding our own box. Today, we finally did so.

I designed the stamp to resemble the official Roots & Shoots logo but rather than have a single stamp, I designed two stamps that form a single image. We put one stamp in each of two boxes and provided clues to each box location (both of which are located in the meadow of our subdivision). The kids enjoyed walking out to the meadow. We were surprised by the welcome of hundreds of tiny little green and brown frogs. Most of the kids spent their time catching the little amphibians rather than looking for the ideal place to conceal the letterbox.

We look forward to seeing how many people visit our boxes. In the future – it will be fun to create a graph of the locations from which those who sign the logbook are from. We assume that most will be local but it’s exciting to think tourists may also search for our box. Perhaps even other Roots & Shoots members?!

December 30, 20072

I’ve been wanting to take the kiddos on a Letterboxing adventure for several months now but the pieces have never seemed to fall into place. This weekend, we finally had an opportunity and what made it even more special is that DH was able to come along with us.
Before we headed out, however, we had an opportunity to see a herd of elk grazing in the meadow in our subdivision. Before development, the area was known for the elk and the local elementary school is even called ‘Elk Meadow’. Growing up on the coast, I have had many opportunities to see wild elk in their habitat (there is a preserve along Hwy 58 near Reedsport where elk are present year round). Yet, their magestic presence never fails to impress me.

For our first adventure, I selected a challenge that I hoped would be anything but challenging. I wanted it to be fun and rewarding… so I hoped we wouldn’t have to work too hard to find the treasure box.

I also wanted to utilize the compass as we’ve learned that the first compass was invented in China. However, Iwas only able to find one challenge with clues that included the cardinal directions (Go East of the Weeping Willow). I was surprised. Perhaps, I’ll check into Geocaching and do similar treasure hunts with our GPS…. but that may prove to be too difficult for the kiddos. We’ll see.

One of the unexpected challenges this time was the time of year – many of the clues related to plants and trees in full foliage. It would be more difficult for one not familiar with plant identification in the winter; as it was, I have had some experience.

It was a great afternoon. We are already looking forward to our next adventure and hope to make our own signature stamps soon. I’ll likely organize a small group of other kids to join us on this endeavor. We’ll see what develops.

How about you? Do you Letterbox or Geocache?