Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Letterboxing Adventure

This post is dedicated to Lisa and Valerie, because I had hoped they could come letterboxing with me in Scottsdale, but they both got snowed in and couldn't make it.

Before leaving for Scottsdale I printed out a bunch of letterbox clues for letterboxes located in the Tempe and Scottsdale areas. You can find these at and

I also bought a couple of memo pads, some stamps, and some ink pads for my daughter and I. The idea behind letterboxing is that you go on a bit of a national or even international treasure hunt by following clues to secret locations where you find containers each filled with a stamp, a logbook and sometimes instructions. You place your personal stamp in the log book along with the date and other information about yourself to show that you have been there. Then you take the stamp from the box and place that into your own personal log book along with notes about the date and location you visited to find the stamp.

I knew there was a letterbox really close to my daughter's university dormitory, so I wanted to stop there first before going to the horse show. My daughter was so excited to find the "box", which in this case was a camera film container, that she wanted to look for a few more letterboxes around the university.

Our second attempt at finding a letterbox didn't go so well. It was hidden in a hole in a tree. We found a tree with dozens of holes and dug around knowing very well that we were risking being bitten by spiders. We couldn't find the box, and all these people were walking by giving us odd looks for feeling up a tree. You are supposed to be discreet when searching for a letterbox, but this one was in such a high traffic area that the only way we could get some privacy was to look for it late at night with a flashlight, but that might attract the attention of the campus cops, so we decided to just look like idiots in broad daylight. College students are always doing weird things, so hopefully no one gave us a second look. The campus police did cruise by us a few times, but never questioned us. We pretended to be studying the botany. ;)

We finally realized that we were at the wrong tree. We found the correct tree, but access to the letterbox was blocked by a gnarly spiderweb. With our luck, it probably belonged to a Brown Recluse. The web was so beautifully constructed that I didn't want to destroy it. Plus my parking meter was about to run out, so we made the decision to skip it.

By now it was past noon and the third letterbox was located in an area of campus that doesn't have much parking, so we decided to skip that one too and head for Scottsdale. At this point I wasn't so sure that I was willing to pay full admission for a half day at the horse show, even though going to the Annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show was our original plan, so I kept driving to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, where I knew a bunch of letterboxes were hidden.

I don't know what I was thinking, but in my mind these letterboxes were hidden just a hop, skip and a jump down the trail. I thought, "We'll just take a quick hike, find the boxes, and be on our way."

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked, diligently following the clues until we had gone 2 miles before we found the first letterbox!

Then we noticed that many of these other letterboxes we had planned to find were as far away as 8 miles! I said, "No way! My bladder is full and I don't have the time nor the energy to go that far. We'll look for the next closest one and then head back to the car."

The next closest one turned out to be on the other side of the mountain. It was located slightly off the trail, and all good hikers know you are not supposed to stray from the trail. Of course, some man had to come along and say, "Hey! Look at those billy goats! No, they're deer. No, wait, they're the two-legged kind. I don't think they're supposed to be up there." Oops. Busted.

We climbed back down without having found the letterbox and continued on our way, because we weren't convinced we were in the right location. However, it was the only location that made sense, so we returned when no one was around to scoff at us. Unfortunately, all the stamping and writing takes a few minutes, so several people did pass us along the way, but I don't think any of them knew what were were doing. (Our off-trail trek was on rocks, so no worries about us creating a new, unwanted trail. We didn't destroy any fauna.)

On our way back down the mountain we ran into some trail riders. They were telling us that they were lost. They had ended up on a trail that distinctly showed a symbol of a person riding a horse in a red circle with a red line through it. We suddenly realized that we were lost too. We didn't recognize our surroundings at all. It turned out there were two trail heads, and we all followed the signs to the wrong trail head. Those horses were lathered up with sweat and in desperate need of water, and there we all were stuck in the middle of a desert with no clue of how to get back to the parking lot. We went our separate ways, asking people along the trail if they knew where the other trail head might be. We got teased for not picking up a map on our way in, but how were we supposed to know just how huge this preserve was going to be?

The sun was starting to head for the hills and I began to worry about our welfare. We had nothing more than half a bottle of water between us. We were wearing tennis shoes instead of hiking boots. We didn't apply any sunscreen. My legs were shaking from hiking for several hours when I had only intended to be out on the trail for no more than 45 minutes. I needed to use a restroom very badly, and my hands were swelling up from dehydration.

The good news was that my daughter had her cell phone and there was a cell phone tower on the top of the mountain, so we did have reception if we had to call for help from Search and Rescue. There were lots of bicyclists, joggers and hikers around, so we weren't in dire straights, but no one could help us find the trail head where we had parked, because apparently we took the oddball route that no one takes.

I have a pretty good sense of direction and usually don't need a compass, however each time a trail headed off in the wrong direction, I had to follow it with the faith that it would eventually end up curving into the right direction. My daughter and I kept trying different routes until we ended up on one that felt right. Soon we saw street lights off in the distance and let out a big hurray. The last mile was the hardest, because there were so many rocks on the trail. When we reached the car, I collapsed onto the trunk. All in all, we think we hiked at least 8 miles in over 5 hours.

Once inside the car, I cranked the air conditioning since sunburn had made a home on our skin. I made a bee-line for the hotel where we bought Snapple to rehydrate ourselves. Then we drove around and around looking for food, but all the restaurants were either closed or out of business. We decided to drive all the way back to Tempe for some food and to pick up some of my daughter's things so she could spend the night in my hotel room and save me a trip from having to pick her up in the morning to take her to the horse show. We finally settled in around 7:00 PM, hoping we'd have the strength to walk around WestWorld the next day.

The irony in this is that when I started up my computer in the hotel, I found an email from Valerie informing me that she usually doesn't have the time to go letterboxing when she visits the horse show in Scottsdale. Now I know why. Sometimes you can get lucky and find letterboxes hidden a hop, skip and a jump away from where you are going anyway, like when Lisa and I saw Clinton Anderson's clinic in Reno, but more often it takes a lot of time and effort to reach these secret locations. Despite our lack of preparation, we had great fun and did not regret our decision to keep up the hunt.


lytha said...

i have a question - how can a film cannister be a letterbox, when a stamp has to be inside?

i've only found hybrids, so they were "regular" sized.


fernvalley01 said...

Letter Boxing =wieght loss plan?
Glad you got back to the care safely ,but next time WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN!!!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lytha - This one had a roll of tags of paper that were bound with a twist tie. It was actually out of paper, so we tore off pieces from our notebook, stamped it, folded the paper, added it to the binding, and stuck it back in the film canister. It was a bit of a pain.

fernvalley01 - You just have to walk a mile in my moccasins to understand. My life requires me to move a million miles a minute, even when I'm trying to take a vacation and get some rest. I am soooooo busy that not everything can be planned out to a T. I'm actually glad that I finally got some color to my white skin, even if it is red. Everything moves so much faster now. My parents used to start packing for their vacations weeks in advance so that they wouldn't forget anything. I was still packing in the airport on my way to the ticket counter.

aurora said...

What a fun adventure (even the getting lost part)! I've never heard of Letterboxing. I might have to give it a try next time we travel. Thanks for sharing your great story & pics! Enjoy the horse show.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

ROFLMBO!!!!! *snort* *snort* LOL! Oh my goodness, I know I should probably not be laughing, but this is just too dang funny, my dear friend!

You really had me laughing so loud when you wrote: "giving us odd looks for feeling up a tree" LOL! I know just what what that looks like, too. Been there...done that! lol!

And the last straw was seeing you sprawled over the back of the car. *snort* LOL!

But wow! look like you lost some more weight and are much thinner...or was that just water loss? hehehe!!!

You've surely passed the Letterboxing test now. You and your lovely daughter are hard-core!
I've never even an 8 mile hike to find letterboxes yet and I've been letterboxing for over 3 years. lol!

My kidlets and I did do a very rigorous hike up in Santa Fe last Fall to find an awesome series of 8+ letterboxes, but the hike wasn't that long, just very steep.

I'm impressed and very proud of you, my, too, D!
I enjoyed all the fun photos, too. D is a fun adventurous gal. What a good sport! I hope she'll continue letterboxing after you've gone home. Just make sure she takes along a buddy and WATER, SUNSCREEN, a MAP and a COMPASS! lol!

I love your letterboxing journals. Very cool! Did they have one with an 'L'?

Oh my! What an adventure. I SOOOO wish I could have been there on your first letterboxing hunt.

Tip: In the beginning, try to hunt for 'Drive-By' boxes as much as possible. That's what those boxes were in Reno that we found. Get in....and get out. Easey Peasey! My kind of boxes. Though the longer hikes are fun, too.
Just be prepared next time. Keep a letterboxing satchel ready to go full of those essentials.

I'm glad you had a great time!


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

aurora - It is fun. I hope you do give it a try.

Lisa - I'm sure there was a memo with an "L". I look next time I'm in Michael's craft store. I'm thinking it was water loss. Hee hee. Nah, my weight has everything to do with what I'm wearing. I've had people say I look like I lost a lot of weight when I wear form-fitting clothes. I usually dress in oversized garb, which makes me look even heavier.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I forgot to mention one thing that is really cool. My daughter's stamp is Chinese calligraphy while mine is a Dragon, and we started letterboxing the day before Chinese New Year, which is now the Year of the Dragon.

fernvalley01 said...

I was just thinking , you looked pretty slim draped over the trunk of your car, as for the sunscreen ,I am a bit of a cop about it,I have Lupus and I f I burn it means pain and illness as well as blistering.And there are so many other risks So I do get on a soapbox, at times ,pls forgive

TCavanaugh said...

What a great story and time! I had never heard of letterboxing, but it sounds very interesting.

Sydney said...

Suprisingly theres 10 letterboxes/geocaches within a 5 minute walk of my house. Haven't gone looking yet.

Mikey said...

Oh I did have a laugh! I shouldn't, I know, but the idea of you wandering around in the desert lost... oh my goodness. I'm glad you're ok. Desert adventures, always a good time, but potentially hazardous. Glad you made it!

Breathe said...

LOL! Lost in the desert looking for letterboxes? With little water? Boy, I'm glad you found your way back home!

I hope you had a relaxing time at the horse show the next day.

Leah Fry said...

Glad you made it okay. What an adventure! Hope you get some good photos from the show.

KD said...

I get a little freaky when I think I'm lost...I hate that feeling. Letterboxing must be similar to Geocaching that my sister does around here.

Callie said...

Gee Wiz! What an exhausting read! I cannot phathom it. I think I would have been pnic stricken! Yikes!

Linda said...

This is funny to read after having been there myself. We did grab a map, but it was still hard to decipher. And, we forgot to bring water!