Creative Outdoor Activity

The Scavenger Hike

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter

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A Scavenger Hike

It was a balmy spring day when my son Will, 11, and I took to a local trail on our “Scavenger Hike”. We brought with us only a list of things to find, a digital camera, and wide-open senses. Making the list together in itself was great fun. We thought hard about what to put on it. The goal was to make ourselves see with not only our eyes, but also our imaginations. So all of them had a range of possible answers.

Here’s what we hoped to find:

Live in town?

Our Scavenger List

1. Something slimy
2. Something moving on the ground (“Besides us,” added Will.)
3. Something surprising in color
4. A stripe
5. Something left by humans
6. Something that looked like a number
7. A face
8. A hole
9. A sound (not by a bird)
10. Something smooth

Other ideas for your scavenger list

• colors

• shapes

• textures (rough, bumpy, prickly)

• signs of animals

• something speckled

• a nest

• a mushroom

• something that looks like a letter

• something long

• the biggest thing

• something sharp

• something soft

• a footprint

• a feather

Ideas for using
the photos

Whether you take digital pictures like I did, or if you take a little disposable camera, it's good to have a record of what you find. Then you can continue to share the experience.

Put the photos in a little album. Make new ones for each Scavenger Hike. Or keep a book just for the "faces" or "numbers" you see. Or make a book of "surprising colors."

You could make it a group experience, too. Have teams go to different locations with the same list, then come back, get the film developed through "one-hour" and gather together to compare what you found. It would be a great way to spend a Saturday with friends or with visiting cousins!

How did we do? Take a look.

The first one our list we found was the easiest. Holes are all over the woods, in trees, in the ground. That was a cinch.

We also found a stripe in a log, but this rocky stripe we found as we climbed a ridge was more dramatic.

Our hike was in early April, so the vivid color of these hepatica jumped out at us amid the gray and brown of the leaf-litter. A surprising color, indeed!

Something like a face really called for us to use our imaginations. So when I saw this broken rock in the ground, I had to show Will what I saw, then he changed the idea a bit. To see what Will saw, put your mouse over the rock.

We had to lift a rock to find something crawling. (It also counted as something smooth, though we had also found a smooth tree.) Of course, we put it back just the way we found it.

Some time passed before we found anything else, so we focused on listening. At the top of the ridge, we were startled by a deep rushing sound. Will thought it sounded like a waterfall. Listening more closely, we heard it for what it was: powerful wind in the trees. A little later, we stopped again to hear the creaking of two wind-nudged maples. We decided it sounded like two old women complaining to each other of aches and pains.

A duck footprint in the mud was perfect for something slimy.

This trail, Dale's Ridge, is so well-maintained, it was hard to find anything left by humans. What a treat! We did find this bench, and some old barbed wire.

What was the hardest thing to find? The number. Well, okay, if we wanted to count the trail markers, it was easy, but I really wanted to find one in nature. And imagine my surprise when I found this one!

I mean, how often could one find such a clear number 82 on a trail like this? That's right: never. I made this one up. I was doubting that we'd find a number in nature, so I rigged this one for a picture.

But I should have had more faith in us. We found this wonderful number 17 in the bug-dug side of a tree. Cool!


Often when families go for hikes, they look for the big view. Wide vistas are impressive. But so are the tiny details. As you take a Scavenger Walk, you open your eyes to the little wonders that God has sprinkled throughout nature. And you feed your child's imagination!

all material ©2004 Bruce Van Patter
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