Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another diversion?

When I first started Geocaching, I was a very casual geocacher. I went caching maybe once a month and found three or four on that particular trip. My first three years (2001-2003), I found 17, 28 and 32 caches respectively. Then I took off in 2004 and found 99 caches! Woooooo. During the same time period, I found out about benchmarks and checked it out. This looked kind of interesting, so I decided to do some reading before trying to find any local ones. I was familiar with benchmarks, having seen some while camping at Yosemite back in the 1970s, but really hadn’t thought a lot about them. I figured surveyors had put them there for a reason and that was that.

What is a benchmark? From the website,

“A benchmark is a point whose position is known to a high degree of accuracy and is normally marked in some way. The marker is often a metal disk made for this purpose, but it can also be a church spire, a radio tower, a mark chiseled into stone, or a metal rod driven into the ground. Over two centuries or so, many other objects of greater or lesser permanence have been used. Benchmarks can be found at various locations all over the United States. They are used by land surveyors, builders and engineers, map makers, and other professionals who need an accurate answer to the question, "Where?" Many of these markers are part of the geodetic control network (technically known as the National Spatial Reference System, or NSRS) created and maintained by NOAA's National Geodetic Survey (NGS).”

The site also goes on to state that many benchmarks are in plain sight, but mostly ignored by the general population.

Further reading on that page listed above kind of gave me a glazed over look. There’s a lot of technical information on it. I discovered that geocachers could log benchmarks, and could even fill out a form to update the benchmark with the NGS as well. There’s a FAQ page in the geocaching forums dedicated to helping people fill out recovery forms as well. I decided that I’d start small and just try to find and log one. So I printed out a couple of pages and then promptly forgot about benchmarking entirely, at least for a month or so.

Then, on a Sunday morning I was driving my daughter over to her violin lesson and we were stopped at an intersection. My gaze drifted over to the curb and there, painted on the curb, were two letters, BM with an arrow pointing up to the top of the curb. All of a sudden, the light came on. Here was one of those benchmarks, in plain sight, largely ignored by the general population. After I got home, I looked it up in the GC benchmarking database and sure enough, it was there. The next weekend, I went back to that intersection and took my pictures and logged the benchmark.

Now, I guess the big question would be, was I hooked? The next day, I went out and found two more benchmarks in the same general area, but I wouldn’t say that I was hooked. In fact, I find benchmarks interesting, but I haven’t gone out of my way to find them. One of my caching friends, chaosmanor, enjoys benchmarking and has logged over 150 benchmarks in the system. He has also logged over 80 recoveries into the NGS database as well. I’ve logged two other benchmarks since that first flurry of a weekend back in 2003, both were on a caching expedition with him and they were both found because we sort of stumbled over them while hiking as opposed to actively seeking them. In fact, we walked right by another one that was about 50 feet away. Like I said, they’re in plain sight, but usually ignored by the general population. Even two geocachers who were on the lookout for some missed it.

As I’ve continued to take my son out caching, I look for a variety of things at the same time, mostly because if they’re interesting, I like to take pictures of them. Benchmarks are the same way, they’re interesting and they tell a little bit of the history of the area where they’re found. My son has gotten quite adept at finding all sorts of benchmarks while we’re out caching and hiking. Most aren’t in the database, but we check them out nonetheless. We found a beautiful one, right off a trail in Utah that we were caching on, so we decided to take the measurements and pictures and log it when we got back home. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that it wasn’t in the GC benchmark database. We still got a nice benchmark picture to post (the last picture) on the cache log that we found and a nice story to tell. To answer my original question as to whether I was hooked or not, I guess the answer would be no, but it’s a nice diversion that I keep coming back to from time to time.

Profile for Webfoot


Jim said...

There was one day when I went out specifically to find benchmarks, and I'd like to find some more but haven't really made it a priority.

There are downloadable databases of benchmark coordinates available, and a program BMGPX which will convert them into a format suitable for GSAK or your GPSr. I'll post an article about it sometime.

Webfoot said...

I've sort of taken the view of benchmarks that they're going to be finds of serendipity, ones that I just find by stumbling upon them. That was the case with the benchmark on the bridge abutment in one of the pictures. There was a cache hiding at the other end of the bridge. The trail was an old road that was now closed except to foot traffic. As we approached the bridge, I commented to chaosmanor, "That looks like a good spot for a benchmark." And sure enough, as we got closer, we spotted it.

Jim said...

One of these days when I have some spare time (ha!) I plan to load up some of the benchmark databases into GSAK and download the waypoints to my 60CSx as custom POIs. That way, while I'm out looking for caches, I can see at a glance if there's a benchmark nearby.