The excitement and anticipation of treasure hunting is timeless. It persists in people of all ages, all over the world — the urge to hide and seek, the appeal of “finders keepers,” even when you’re not quite sure what the treasure will be.
In Maine, there are several ways that people treasure hunt while enjoying the great outdoors. In fact, robust communities with rules and etiquette have formed to support different types of treasure hunting. Think of them as pirate crews, if you will, supporting you on your quest.
Here are five ways that people seek treasure outdoors in Maine, and some information about how you can join the hunt.
Maine is home to a wide variety of beautiful minerals, including pink and green tourmaline, smoky and rose quartz, amethyst, pyrite (fool’s gold) and beryl gems of many hues.
Many of these minerals are found in western Maine, where the town of Bethel is home to the “Maine Mineral and Gem Museum.” At the museum, you can learn about recreational mining, an activity in which you can search for these gems using simple tools at designated locations.
Recreational miners in Maine, also called “rockhounds,” often hunt for gems in igneous rock called pegmatite, which is a very coarse-grained granite. Veins of pegmatite are abundant in Oxford, Androscoggin and Sagadahoc counties. Most of them are mined commercially for mica and feldspar, and these mining operations create dumps of broken rock that recreational miners are sometimes permitted to search.
The common toolkit of a recreational miner is a bucket, safety glasses, gloves and a variety of handheld, non-mechanized tools such as shovels, hammers, chisels and pickaxes.
The ocean tosses a variety of treasures on Maine beaches with each tide. Among these items, sea glass is one of the most sought after. Rounded and frosted by the waves, glass pieces of all colors are collected by beachcombers to be made into jewelry or to simply display in a glass jar.
Like all popular outdoor activities, searching for sea glass — or “sea glassing” — is celebrated through online communities that promote proper etiquette and rule following. Maine is home to more than 3,000 miles of coastline, offering plenty of ground to search, but it’s important not to trespass on private property to access a beach.
In addition to sea glass, people often beachcomb for shards of pottery and other interesting objects tossed up by the sea. Due to Maine’s long history of shipping, many of these pieces of glass, pottery and other man-made items are historic and have tumbling around in the current for a hundred years or more.
If you’re interested in buried treasure, metal detecting is for you. The activity involves using an electronic device called a metal detector to find specific metals, which are often buried in the ground. The metal object could be a rare and old coin, a piece of jewelry, cookware, a metal toy soldier — you don’t know until you dig it up.
Detectorists (people who use metal detectors) in Maine often search the sites of old homes, hoping to uncover an artifact that’s been buried for years. They also frequent beaches and other public places where items are often dropped by visitors. But, as is the case with all modern-day treasure hunting — it’s important to gain permission before metal detecting on any property you don’t own.
Compared to some other forms of treasure hunting, metal detecting has a higher upfront cost because you have to purchase a metal detector. These range greatly in price from $20 to well over $1,000, and the cost often reflects the capabilities of the device. Once you get into the activity, you may end up upgrading your equipment to increase your chances of finding that hidden treasure.
Often described as a worldwide, modern day treasure hunt, geocaching is an activity that involves using GPS coordinates to find hidden containers, also known as geocaches. The containers hold log books for participants to sign. And if the container is large enough, it may also contain tradable items.
To take a tradable item from a geocache, you must replace it with an item of equal or greater value, according to rules followed by the worldwide geocaching community. Here are some ideas of recreational areas in Maine where you can hunt for geocaches.
Over the years, geocaching has evolved to include different types of geocaches. The traditional geocache is simply a container hidden at a specific coordinate, but there are also mystery caches, which involve solving a puzzle to find the cache or container. Another type of geocache is an EarthCache, which highlights geological wonders and offers short lessons.
An activity that combines art with exploration, letterboxing involves finding containers and using rubber stamps to log your discoveries. This activity originated in the 1850s in Dartmoor, England, but has gained popularity in recent years, spreading rapidly across the globe.
Each letterbox contains a unique stamp and logbook. In addition, each person who participates in the activity carries their own special stamp and logbook — as well as an ink pad. When they discover a letterbox, they press their stamp in their inkpad and mark the letterbox logbook to record their discovery for the letterbox owner. They also use the letterbox’s stamp to mark their own personal logbook, recording their accomplishment and collecting a new stamp print.
Many letterbox participants create their own personal stamps using simple crafting tools. However it’s not a requirement. Purchasing a premade stamp is absolutely fine.
Whether you’re searching for artwork in the form of stamps or gems encased in granite, treasure hunting is fun for people of all ages and walks of life. It’s an activity that can introduce you to new places and push you to learn more about geology, history or some other topic. So pick up a metal detector or chisel or map. Treasures exist all over Maine, just waiting to be discovered.