Benchmark Hunting

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.

Local survey mark near Land’s End in San Francisco. One we just ran across and haven’t been able to find on any of the databases. But one of my favorites because I love San Francisco and I love the color.

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 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.

USGS marker set in the wall of the City Ballfield in Prescott, we found this one using the geocaching website, but it was a pain. We would discover Benchmap soon after and it got a lot easier.

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.

Les photographing a benchmark in a cluvert on Route 66 near Ash Fork.

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.

This benchmark and been buried by debris and rocks, and marked as not found. But we poked around a bit and found it. We used the snow brush from the car to uncover it.

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.

Route 66
Sunset on Route 66 after a day of benchmark hunting.

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