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Middle School Letterboxing Quest

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By Jim Heidenberger, Earth Science, Pre-Algebra and Letterbox Club

Letterboxing is a 150-year-old hobby that began in Dartmoor, England, and in its modern-day form involves artistry through hand-carved stamps, learning while solving clues, and finding hidden treasures in the form of unique stamps and stories.

During a previous visit to Museum Hill, Santa Fe Prep’s 13-member Letterboxing Club found a letterbox at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts (MOSCA) by solving clues posted on a letterboxing website.  Hidden within that particular letterbox were surprise clues to a bonus box which they had time to find but not stamp during that session.  This prompted a request from the group for a day-long field trip to enable them to fully enjoy the experience of not only solving clues and finding letterboxes, but to also enjoy some of the special history and treasures both in plain sight and hidden around Santa Fe.  The group petitioned for a field trip, and it was graciously granted.

On Monday, October 21st, the group began their day’s quest by going back to the bonus box and stamping it in their logbook while also stamping their individual signature stamps, which they hand-carved during previous club sessions, into the bonus box’s logbook.  From there, the group attempted to find a letterbox at Journey’s End, a collaborative artwork that commemorates the struggle, drama, and history that was and is the Santa Fe Trail.  This letterbox, however, was amiss.  Perhaps someone had previously seen a careless and inconspicuous letterboxer replacing the box and removed the “suspicious” box, not understanding the hobby.  This is exactly why letterboxers are encouraged to place letterboxing info in the boxes just in case they are accidentally found.  The group notified the planter of the box of its missing status through one of the two major letterboxing info sites on the internet, www.atlasquest.com.

The next stop was Amelia White Park, one of three Santa Fe sites granted National Historic Trail certification status by the National Park Service, and whose namesake played an integral role in Santa Fe’s history.  The School for Advanced Research (SAR) was deeded the estate that Amelia White and her sister Elizabeth lived in after their passing.  The group previously found two letterboxes in the park and was surprised when yet another was discovered.  This particular box contained two stamps, one of which commemorated the 50th wedding anniversary of its planter (learned only after logging in their find online).

The vicinity of the old PERA building was the next stop.  There, the club found Lepita, the pet pig of the character Amarante in the novel and film of the same name, The Milagro Beanfield War.  It tells the story of a man’s struggles against development in his small New Mexico hometown.  Filming was done in New Mexico and was directed by Robert Redford.

The group walked to La Casa Sena and found a letterbox planted by a visitor who appreciated the history of the estate once owned by Amelia White and her sister.  Clues directed the group to stop and look at the display in the entrance.  It detailed what was found under the plaza during an archeological dig sponsored by the SAR.  This particular box was hidden where the stables once were.

While enjoying a coffee from Starbucks, the group found letterboxes in a few plaza locations (a toy store and a pizzeria).  The toy store letterbox held a surprise…a hitchhiker!  These are smaller “mobile” letterboxes planted by other letterboxers that visit the area.  Hitchhiker letterboxes are often never recovered by their carver, yet sometimes enjoy worldwide journeys.  Planters can track their creations online to see who found them last and where.

From there, the group tried unsuccessfully to find a letterbox hidden at the Railyard Park.  Either the letterbox was missing, or the group unsuccessfully interpreted the clues.  This happens occasionally and all one can do is try again on another day.

The group then stopped at Fort Marcy and found/stamped in to a particularly large letterbox with a Game of Thrones theme.  This HBO series is based on the books written by Santa Fe’s own George R.R. Martin.  This letterbox held the entire Night’s Watch Oath carved by hand!

From there, the group found a letterbox on the Burn Trail (the location of a wildfire some 20 years ago) off Hyde Park Road.  This box honored, appropriately enough, the 19 members of the Prescott, Arizona-based Granite Mountain Hotshot Interagency Crew who lost their lives in an Arizona wildfire this past June.  The find was particularly special as the GMHIC assisted in fighting wildfires here in New Mexico earlier this summer.

An attempt was made at finding two more letterboxes at the Santa Fe Ski Basin.  Both attempts were unsuccessful.  Road construction occurred between one letterbox’s last find and the present attempt (although one group member found a geocache in the vicinity), and the other occurred because an uprooted tree had buried the letterbox making it inaccessible.

The day’s journey concluded with a search and find at the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve (which used to serve as the water source for the city of Santa Fe).  Members stamped in and hiked back out of the Preserve to board the bus back to campus.

We would like to thank the administration and teachers for allowing us to explore the uniqueness and history of Santa Fe in such a new and fun way!  For more information on letterboxing, check out www.atlasquest.com or www.letterboxing.org.