Treasure Hunting

Treasure Hunting along the Trails

Instead of just hiking along the trail, why not pretend you’re on a hunt
 for hidden treasure? For that matter, why pretend?


Letterboxing is a hobby that combines treasure hunting, scrapbooking,
computer skills, map-reading, puzzle solving, navigation and orienteering.
Someone hides, somewhere in the woods, a sealed plastic food storage 
container which contains a blank notebook, and a rubber stamp. This is 
called a letterbox. The hider then creates a set of clues for finding the 
box and gives it out to friends or posts it on the Internet. Hunters try 
to solve the clues to find the box. The clues can be anything from a 
straight-forward set of directions to secret codes to literary references 
that could take spending a week in the library to solve.

In addition to a compass, maps, paper and pencil and anything else that 
might be needed to solve the clues, a hunter carries their own rubber 
stamp, inkpad and blank book. When he finds the box, he stamps his own 
stamp into the box’s book so the box has a log of all of its finders and 
he stamps the box’s stamp into his book so he has a record of all the boxes
he’s found. There are currently over three dozen letterboxes hidden in
Western New York, a few of them are along Chautauqua’s Rails to Trails.

Letterboxing North America (LBNA) lists over 10,000 sets of clues on their
website ( For more information in finding 
these letterboxes, go to their website and click on the big red map book 
pictured on their home page and then click on the map of New York State. 
Letterboxes are listed alphabetically by county, then alphabetically by 
town within each county. Find one that closest to you and print out its 
clues. Solving the clues may involve working out puzzles with pencil and 
paper, or learning how to use a map and compass. When you think you have 
it solved, go hiking! The website also has several well-written articles on
getting started as well as a means for contacting letterboxers in your area.


Geocaching is a variation of letterboxing. Instead of solving puzzles
and clues to find a hidden box, the hider posts the exact latitude and longitude of the box on a website. Instead of a blank book and a stamp, 
the box contains trinkets such as keychains and fast-food giveaway toys. 
Geocachers will swap trinkets from box to box to show that they’ve been 

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology was originally created by the 
United States military and uses orbital satellites to establish the exact 
location of a transmitter unit. Now, modern cars come equipped with GPS 
units and a hobbyist can buy a hand held model for less than $200 and go 
walking through the woods with it. Most models will track your position to 
the nearest square foot which makes finding geocaches fairly easy, however
for those that need additional help, clues are usually available along
with the coordinates. For the coordinates of geocaches along Rails to
Trails and additional information, including articles on how to get started,
visit  ( or (


And of course, once you’ve mastered your GPS unit, you can go confluence
hunting. A confluence is defined as a flowing together, usually referring
to rivers. A degree confluence is the exact spot where an integer degree
of latitude and an integer degree of longitude meet. An integer degree
reading means that the minutes and seconds portion of the degree reading 
is 00’00”. You’re standing within 49 miles of one at all times. There are
64,442 confluences across the world, however more than half of those 
(38,411) are on the ocean’s surface with no distinguishing features. The
Confluence Project is trying to map the rest of them. Visit your nearest
degree confluence, take a photograph in each compass direction, and send 
them to the project where they’ll be posted on their website 


Prior to the invention of GPS, the United States Government used surveyors
to create benchmarks, geodetic control points permanently affixed at 
various locations throughout the United States. These benchmarks serve
a variety of uses including civil engineering, land surveying, mapping
and building location. The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) 
( is the government branch which maintains the
database. However, a more civilian-friendly website for finding 
and tracking benchmarks can be found at (


If you want something more interesting than government benchmarks to hunt,
how about historical markers? Markeroni ( is an 
online community of people who visit historical landmarks and photograph
historical markers. Most of them keep a journal of their visits, a few
bring a stuffed animal mascot that they try to photograph at as many
historical places as possible. A brief bit of vocabulary; Snarf (n): a 
visit to a historical marker; Snarfing (v): to roam around towns looking
for historical markers; Snarfage: (collective noun): the results of your
snarfing efforts, your journal and photographs. To start you off, there’s
a historical marker noting the date and site of the last public execution
in New York State somewhere along Chautauqua’s Rails to Trails.

The web-mistress of Markeroni has given herself the goal of visiting 
every historical marker in California (her home state) and leaving a 
book-crossing book there.


Bookcrossing is the practice of leaving a book in a public place where it
is picked up and read by others who then do likewise. The term 
’bookcrossing’ was actually added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary
 in August 2004. If you’ve recently purchased another copy of your favorite
book to replace the well worn and dog-earred edition sitting on your shelf,
instead of throwing it out, pass it on. Go to the book crossing website
(, register the book, receive a book
crossing id number for it (bcid) and print out a label that explains 
about book crossing. Attach the label to the book and release it in the
wild; leave it on a park bench or a coffee shop. When anyone finds the 
book, they can go to the website and update where the book has been. You
can see where the books you give away travel to!


High-pointers make it a point, pun intended, of visiting the highest point
in each of the fifty states. If you join their organization, you get a 
quarterly newsletter and assistance with visiting the highpoints that are
on privately owned land. The highest point in New York State is Mount
Marcy in the Adirondacks at 5,344 feet. If you’re just starting out, try
finding the highest point in your town or Chautauqua County. For more 
information, visit their website ( or see the 
registry of the highest points in America 


Orienteering is the art of navigating through the woods with map and 
compass. Enthusiasts have gatherings where they conduct competitions
to see who can navigate a course in the shortest time. Control points
are stationed through the woods. Participants have to use map and compass
to determine the location of the control points, physically cross the 
terrain which can be easy or difficult depending on the course layout,
and punch in at each control point to show that they’ve been there. For 
more information visit the website of either the Buffalo Orienteering Club 
( or the US Orienteering Federation


An up-to-date list of websites about these and other ‘treasure hunting’ 
games can be found at: (

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