Vancouver Rocks! full of hidden treasures for scavenger hunters

Low-tech hunts for painted rocks bring smiles to many faces

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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People love discovering hidden treasure. They also love portable electronic devices.

Put those passions together and you’ve got the latest, hottest digital phenom, “Pokémon Go,” in which your smartphone screen reveals fantasy creatures that are electronically embedded in the actual landscape. Those virtual beings only show up in virtual reality, of course, so eager hunters must keep their eyes glued to little screens, even while traversing the big outside world.

What a surprise: The free game is only days old, but news reports are already pouring in about sharply focused Pokémon hunters faceplanting on sidewalks, smacking into trees and poles, marching into busy traffic — even becoming easy mugging targets in shady places where they wouldn’t venture if they were paying attention to, you know, reality. Earlier this week, The Columbian reported that two brothers sweeping a Hazel Dell field for virtual monsters discovered a nonvirtual, loaded handgun there.

And if all that sounds a bit intense, here’s a straightforward scavenger-hunting pastime that’s also soaring in popularity: Paint a rock and smile. Hide it in some public place and smile. Walk away knowing that whoever discovers your gift of a rock will smile, too. Maybe they’ll pass the rock, and the smile, along to someone else. That’s all there is to Vancouver Rocks!

OK, it’s also true that a photographic clue or two is usually posted on Facebook, and successful rock finders like to post their glory there, too. But none of that is required. In fact, nothing is required in this totally grassroots, informal excuse for an outing, other than painting your rock and leaving it someplace surprising and fun.

“Let’s all have a fun summer,” said Angelique Vines Reagan, who watched Grays Harbor happily get taken over by painted rocks earlier this year. So many of her old friends got busy painting and hiding cheerful little stones all over town, Reagan said, it almost made her want to move back there again.

Instead Reagan launched an appealing Vancouver Rocks! Facebook page with the simplest mission statement you ever saw: “Spreading joy through rocks. This is a community-building group meant to inspire creativity in all ages and energize people to explore the beautiful area in which we live.”

Earlier this week, the group already had nearly 2,300 members.

“It’s all about feeling happy and making other people feel happy,” she said during a telephone interview this week. “You don’t have to be an artist. You can splatter some paint on a rock and hide it. That’s all it takes.”

While there aren’t actual rules, Reagan’s Vancouver Rocks! page urges people not to worry about the quality of their rock artwork — because the finder will get the same jolt of joy whether it’s a miniature masterpiece, adequate rainbow stripes or just splashes and splotches — and to keep decorations positive and appropriate for children. If you write the Facebook address on the back of your rock, more people can get connected to the community, Reagan said.

Reagan, who has been rocking out with her two young daughters, said painting and hiding rocks is naturally popular with children and has already provided a great activity at birthday parties and picnics — but there’s certainly no age limit. Adult sip-and-paint parties have become popular with amateur artists who like wine. Why not sip and paint rocks?

“I really think this is community building,” Reagan said. “People get so disconnected. Everybody is so into their phone. But this is a way to do actual crafts and go to actual places. It’s not virtual. It’s hands-on.”

In the wake of a family tragedy, she added, painting and hiding rocks has seen Reagan exploring and loving the local landscape in a way she hasn’t in years.

“It got me out of my funk. Surprisingly, it has brought joy back into my life,” she said.

The word is spreading. There are already separate Washougal/Camas Rocks! and Battle Ground Rocks! Facebook pages. Battle Ground resident Angela Delasandro said it’s nice to have something positive and creative to focus on as the news lately has been so awful.

“I know it seems silly,” she said. “But I was drawn into it, because everyone was being so positive and so fun.”