Compass, documenting nature, Hiking, Maps, Orienteering

Backyard Orienteering

03.02.09 | No Comments


Meet Teresa, veteran hiker, space enthusiast, accomplished artist and orienteer.  We invited Teresa to explore our back yard with us for numerous reasons.

1.  She has much better stamina and a much longer attention span than any of the boys we know.

2.  She is pretty quick on the uptake and quite adept at taking care of herself in the outdoors.

3.  She is a whiz with crayons, and quite the engineer.  While she was here today she fashioned Seth a rocket out of a toilet paper roll and some paper – not to shabby.

If you are wondering why I am telling you all this, well it’s because sometimes we do long for the company of little girls.  Since we don’t have girls of our own we make due, and hope that our boys will not scare them away when we invite them to go hiking, fishing and camping.  Teresa surprised me by dressing for the occasion.  Pink chenille hat, pink flowered rain coat, NASA space shirt and her compass flopping around attached to her shirt by a carabiner.


We invited a few of our friends over today for some outdoor fun involving maps, crayons, compasses and our eyes.  We set up an orienteering course in our own back yard.   The main goal  was to practice recognizing natural features, and get comfortable with a compass and a map.


From the start of our course we followed the numbers and walked or ran to each natural/man made feature on our map.   Every time we spotted a feature we looked at our course on the map.  Here is what we did to calibrate ourselves:

1.  We situated the compass till the needle was  pointing north.

2.  We situated the map so that north on the map lined up with north on the compass.

3.  We then set the compass on to the map and noted roughly what direction we were headed in.


The third feature or “control point” on our map had a clue.  A type of leaf was drawn on the map.  Zach and Ellen looked at the leaves of this shrub and decided that this was not feature #3.


We knew from the map that we were going in the right direction, so we pressed on toward the pepper tree.


Yes indeed the leaves of the pepper tree matched the leaves drawn on our map.  The next feature was tricky.  Being almost 6 feet tall it seems obvious to me that the most prominent spiky plant in our yard is the Agave.  However when you are closer to 3 feet tall there are a plethora of spiky plants to meander towards, and frankly who looks way up in the sky when following an orienteering course?  Duh…it’s all about the land and one’s immediate surroundings!


The moment Teresa and Zach identified the Agave as the next feature was awesome.  You could just see it click, they were off and running.



One of the interesting things about this process was how much the kids reffered to the map to plot thier route.  Both Teresa and Zach stayed very focused and much lively discussion was had about directions, our surroundings and were to go next.


The last feature was pretty obvious.  It was time to join Seth and Francis at the play structure.  Time to hang up our pink hats and hang out.  Time to hit the swings an shoot the breeze – Boy’s Almanac style!


Teresa did not hang up her hat right away.  She camped out near by and finished her map.   This was just another feather in her cap, but she played it cool.  Way to make us girls proud Little Tess!



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“That’s our girl! I love it!” – Grammary

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