Les and I have discovered a new past time and I thought I’d share. It goes a long with our other hobbies of geocaching, taking photos, Ingress, and just generally going places for reasons other people think are crazy, we’re benchmark hunting. We started out just finding them in passing and thought they were cool.
But lately we’ve been going out with the express purpose of finding them, and since we live in such close proximity of historic Route 66 they’re pretty numerous and it’s been fairly easy. I found an app (I can’t even remember how, it may have been recommended for me) called Benchmap, and it’s worked really well for us. We started out using geocaching.com/mark but, while groudspeak obviously saw an interest in benchmark hunting, they don’t have the best interface for finding markers. Eventually I hope to get all of our benchmarks logged into that system, but again, they don’t make it easy when you’re actually out and about finding benchmarks. The integration with Benchmap has been helpful a few times when we needed to see a photo of an area or a benchmark and it had previously been found.
I’ve read a few articles and blog posts (the WSJ did a piece about a year ago) and I’ve discovered from the comments that most people thing benchmark hunting is the most boring thing on the planet. People who don’t have an interest in games like geocaching or Ingress think it’s insane to drive around and look for a bit of history, and people who are into geocaching seem to find it boring either because the marks aren’t deliberately hidden or because finding them doesn’t count toward their found count on the website.
But I think it’s actually more fun than geocaching. Some of that may be the quality difference between the caches here vs. in New York where we used to play, the descriptions on most of the caches we’ve tried to find locally have been very unhelpful. With benchmarks you have an exact description of what you are looking for and where it is located. Because most of them were placed so long ago, the gps coordinates are approximate, so you have to read the description and decide if the fence has moved, or if that juniper tree is still there rather than just staring at your phone until it says you’re close. While I still enjoy geocaching, finding something that was used to build the infrastructure of this country, some of which haven’t been found for 50 years or more, is more exciting than finding a box with doodads in it or a matchstick container in a signpost.
And maybe it’s boring to some people, maybe we don’t rack up smileys or AP, but it takes us to places we wouldn’t go otherwise and we get to see some amazing things while having fun.