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Annual scavenger hunt traverses Mission Valley

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RONAN — “Honestly, it came to me in the middle of the night,” said Joe Johns about incorporating the Donner Party history into this year’s vehicle-based scavenger hunt in the Mission Valley. 

Johns and Jim Morgan, both former firefighters who serve on the Pioneer Days Committee, started the game back in the mid ‘90s mainly for the Pioneer Days crew and firefighters, but he said that “anybody can play that wants to jump on a team.”

When it comes to incorporating detailed events for linking the game together, “Jimmy usually just tells me, ‘I don’t know, you’ll figure it out,” Johns said, “that’s his blanket statement.”

Morgan chucked and replied, “After two beers we come up with something.”

This year’s theme was “very special,” meaning certain things were going to be very special along the way, and it was up to the teams to decipher the clues placed for them at various locations throughout Mission Valley. Destinations included Ronan, Pablo, Round Butte, Charlo and what Johns considered to be the “mountain area,” anything south of the scenic turnout and/or east of Highway 93.

The hunt itself goes about four hours, and the teams check back in three times at home base on Mink Lane in Ronan. 

Eight teams consisted of three people who clocked their vehicles mileage and gathered up their “ditty bags,” the contents of which included a paperclip in a Ziplock bag, a smiley face, a golf ball, a pen, a blank card with nothing but lines on it, a card labeled “scorecard,” a baseball bat, a garden shovel, a two foot step ladder and an envelope labeled “thank you sir may I have another?”

“Consider your ditty bag like an American Express card. Don’t leave home without it, take it wherever you go because you never know when you’re going to need it,” Johns said. 

Johns and Morgan calculated the game to take roughly four hours to complete, unless teams got lost or misplaced with the clues with numbers in envelopes. 

The shortest time received the points, and anything associated with a clue was supposed to go into the ditty bag to be handed over at the final checkpoint at home base. 

The first four teams started the game. 

Bobbi Stammers stepped on the gas precisely at noon.

“(Joe) probably thought we were the tame team,” said Justine Welker, team four captain, who wore a wooden star on a rope necklace as identification. She opened the first envelope containing the clue that read “half a wagon and two wheels,” and after much deliberation the team determined the Branding Iron in Charlo had to be their first stop. 

White envelopes stapled in the Branding Iron contained clue two, which read “must be nice having a road named after ya — well let’s get this duck chase on the fly.” This led the team to Montgomery habitat near Charlo, where Kelly Morigeau said jokingly, “Don’t run us into any ravines out here. When you get to the the top of the hill just stop.” 

With no luck finding the extra item — the golden egg — the team pressed on having found their clue, “take me out to the ballgame.” 

While at the Charlo Mud Ducks Baseball Fields, they found their next clue referencing the Donner Party that read “during the winter of 1873-1874 a group of immigrants got trapped by an early mountain snow and were forced into cannibalism to survive. Let’s see if we can recreate that experience for you.” 

After some discrepancy, the team found the clue location with the help of yellow streamers indicated in the clue, and made their way east on Cheff Guest Ranch Road to a small shack. 

Welker said she’s not super competitive, and teams do better when they take time to get all the clues.

“My team ended up third last year. We were the last ones in but we got all of our points because we had everything. We didn’t miss any of the clues,” Welker said.” It’s kind of a catch 22; bust your a— to get through all the clues, or take our time to find everything else.”

But if they do make up lost time, “we can go to the yard sale at the Methodist church at the top of the hill,” joked Morigeau.

The next clue was at Ninepipes Museum. That clue led right back to Cheff Guest Ranch Road. 

“This backtracking is for the birds,” said Welker, on deciphering the clues and having to travel the same road they’d just been on. 

After finding their last item for extra points, and having to dig up a mock-grave prop, the team ran back to the car to head for home base. 

Johns said the scavenger hunt is a culmination of about six months of work. He said that Jimmy is the driver, and that they take a pad of notepaper out to places they find might work for a particular theme. 

“It’s a full blown game,” Johns said. “We start planning about mid-January, and we go all the way through the five areas individually, stop and look and see what we have available.” 

While the hunt is meant to be a fun experience prior to Pioneer Days, it’s also a team building exercise for Pioneer Days committee members and firefighters.

“It’s kind of like a treat for them and a blow off before they carry off into the weekend,” he said “to give them a relaxing fun type of thing.”

Each year Johns and Morgan anticipate what might make the game work better the following year, and enjoy hearing the participants talk for hours during the barbecue after they check in at home base.

“I assume it’s fun, but we’ve never played. And we would like to,” Johns said. “Over the past years we’ve had them do really bizarre things.”

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