The Great Sage Stone Expedition

September 1, 2004
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A story of history, friendship and determination.



The morning of May 29, 1880, was already warm as William Minto, D.C. Hall, Jonathan Hastings, D.J. Miller and Aloysius Nicholson began to run the line west from the northeast corner of Section 1, Township 8 South, Range 1 West, San Bernardino Base and Meridian. At 37 chains, they came to the top of a ridge running north-south. Three or four chains north, the ridge line descended into an arroyo (a dry wash) lined with sycamore and valley oak, but the hillside the men stood on was bare of all except low brush, reddish stones and soil. At 40 chains from the northeast corner, Minto found a large granite stone to use as the quarter corner marker. Hastings and Miller quickly chiseled an open "4" in the face of the hard granite stone. The big axe man, Aloysius, heaved the rock into place. The chainmen mounded smaller stones around the marker. The crew moved on, leaving the marker standing in the sun. Seventy-eight years later to the day, I was born.

At the beginning of September 2003, a good client of mine, Jim Wilson, called and asked me for a proposal to mark the corners of a 20-acre parcel of land that he was selling in Section 1 of T 8 S, R 1 W, SBB&M, near Sage, California-that same section of that same base and meridian. The parcel was described as the ""¦North half of the Southeast quarter of the Northwest quarter of Section 1"¦" I found that there were no recorded surveys in the entire section since Minto's original government survey in 1880. Jim and I agreed to a price for the survey, although as a new solo practitioner I wasn't quite sure of the actual logistics. Little did I know then that this survey would turn into an adventure.

That's me at the northeast corner of Section 1, T 8 South, Range 1 West, SBB&M with my ProMark2. It was the start of a great adventure.

Off To a Good Start ... Almost

I'd done a few surveys in Section 36 to the immediate north of this new job, so I had the maps that covered the north line of Section 1. I picked up copies of maps for Section 6 to the east, among them a copy of a map by Gurdon H. Wattles from 1951. Jim had done a tract map that covered all of Section 2 to the west. Most of the south line of Section 1 was clipped off by the boundary of the Rancho Pauba. At least I had good references to three of the section corners and three of the quarter corners. I was actually going to get to break down an entire section! Although I was confident of my knowledge of the technical aspects of the survey, I wasn't so sure about the practical side. I even laughed with Donna and Judy at the Riverside County Survey Records counter as we read Minto's initial comments: ""¦ land too broken and precipitous to be surveyed by usual means"¦"

Armed with my maps and some scaled latitudes and longitudes for my trusty Garmin III+ handheld GPS receiver (Garmin International Inc., Olathe, Kan.), I set off to do some reconnaisance. The northeast corner of the section had been marked by a 6-inch diameter steel pole that stuck out of the ground about 6 feet. The point was at the intersection of two dirt roads. I'd been there before in my work in the section to the north, so it was easy for me to find again. I'd also tied in the south quarter corner of Section 36. It was a 1-inch iron pipe set by a local engineer of high repute who had set the monument as a replacement for the original stone that had been lost. The pipe was set on line at the midpoint between the southeast and southwest corners of Section 36. (This is the correct procedure when replacing a monument of this type considered as lost in a Public Land Survey System state.) The latitudes and longitudes for both these points fit my scaled values well.

The east quarter corner proved quite easy to find. It was marked with a 6-inch steel pole by the side of a dirt road, just like the northeast corner. It fit my scaled values perfectly. I remember thinking that this project might not be so hard after all. Looking back, that was the last "easy one" of the entire section. The dirt road to the south was impassable in my two-wheel drive Toyota Tundra; I could not get to the southeast corner by vehicle. I found nothing at the position for the northwest corner. The way around and south to the west quarter corner was more than I wanted to attempt in my truck. I managed to find a way around to get to a point about half a mile from the southeast corner, but came upon a locked gate and a big fence. So, I called it a day.

Colin directs Alex's digging effort for the northwest corner of Section 1.

Getting Better...

I went back to look for the northwest corner the following Saturday, taking my two sons Alex, 15, and Colin, 13. I had picked up some county tie sheets for the corner so I had a better idea of where to look. It wasn't long before we found the tie points, double-taped the corner and had a good buzz on my trusty Schonstedt GA-72-Cd pipe finder (Schonstedt, Kearneysville, W.V.). We ended up digging a hole about 4 feet deep before we found a 5-inch diameter concrete pipe filled with concrete-just as the county tie sheets indicated. Unfortunately, the original tag was missing.

I had just taken delivery of a pair of Thales ProMark2 survey system GPS receivers (Thales Navigation, Santa Clara, Calif.). We set one on the corner we had just uncovered and went off to run static sessions on the north and east quarter corners and the only other section corner I had found so far. The ProMark2s are so easy to use that the boys learned how to use them in just a few minutes. They took turns setting up and keeping an eye on the screen for the hour-long sessions we ran.

Back in the office, I processed the data files with Thales' Ashtech Solutions software. The results were phenomenal and the field values matched record values closely. I even remember thinking that this parcel project was going to be easy with my new blue Thales wonders.

Here's Terry Davis at the well-marked southeast corner of Section 1.

The Internet Plays a Helping Hand (and introduces someone to the field)

Enter Mark Deal's legacy and POB's industry bulletin board, RPLS.com. I "met" (cyber style) Terry Davis, senior title engineer with Chicago Title near San Bernardino, Calif., on the board. We got to chatting on the phone one day and he told me he hadn't had any field experience. I invited him to come down with me to look for the other corners on Section 1. We met face to face a few days later and headed out to the southeast corner of the section. After a bit of stumbling around, we found the corner marked with a 6-inch steel post. This post was just like the other two along the east line of the section; however, it was concreted in with a 4-foot diameter circle inscribed with corner markings. "No mistaking this one, eh, Terry?" I said. I maintain that Terry and I were just sharing our experiences a bit too much that we drove right by the post without seeing it the first time. That day, we managed to find the stone marker for Corner 6 of the Rancho Pauba boundary and the area where the closing corner at the south end of the west line of the section should be. It was a heck of a day for Terry's first day in the field!

The Stories Surveying Is Made Of

A week later, I found the west quarter corner stone and a 5-inch diameter concrete pipe filled with concrete marking the closing corner. I had bought a third ProMark2 unit and ran a series of static sessions that would give me enough data to calculate the position for Jim's 20 acres. The session on the Closing Corner at the south end of the west line of the section proved to be one of the scariest of my life. I set the unit up, got it running and headed back across a dry wash to my truck about one quarter mile away. About 20 feet from the point, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. A few feet further I caught the scent of a cat. As I looked around, I spotted a scent bush still dripping with spray from a mountain lion. On my way back across the wash, I saw a mountain lion paw print on top of one of my boot prints in the sand. I never saw the cat but I'm sure it saw me!

A few Saturday mornings later, after I'd downloaded and processed my static sessions, Alex and I headed out to set the Center of Section and mark Jim's property corners. I had all the math and data I needed. I'd even set a couple of control points with the ProMark2 systems so I could use my Topcon GTS 813 robotic total station (Topcon Positioning Systems, Pleasanton, Calif.) to set the corners. As I got the prism pole on the point I'd calculated for the Center of Section, Alex piped up, "Dad, what's this?"

"This" was a 5-inch diameter pipe filled with concrete. This time the pipe had a brass tag stamped "LS 2821." The pipe was south of my beautiful, mathematical Center of Section by almost 5 feet and west by just more than 2 feet. I stood and stewed for a good few minutes as I tried to decide what to do. We never did set anything that day. We went home so I could think about what to do next...

Stay tuned to the October 2004 issue for the rest of this story.

The Rancho Pauba

Although California is a Public Land Survey System state, land grants issued by the king of Spain and by the Mexican government prior to California being "acquired" by the United States are considered senior to U.S. interests under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848. The Rancho Pauba was a rancho southeast of Temecula that was granted to Vincent Moraga, an official in the pueblo of Los Angeles. The grant was signed and sealed in November of 1844 by California Governor Manuel Micheltoreno. The line from Rancho Corner 7 to Rancho Corner 6 of the Rancho cuts off the southwest corner of Section 1. Although the Rancho holdings have been sold off over the years, the area within the boundary of the Rancho is not subject to the Public Land Survey System.

Click HERE to read Part 2 of this story.

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