From the Field: Searching for the stone

January 27, 2002
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The time came to load the pickup with the equipment needed to run a random survey line to find a very important corner that had not been located for some 50-odd years.



It was a cold frosty morning when my family and I awakened that first day. We had driven all night, taken a couple of wrong turns, but finally found our campsite. This was to be a working vacation for this flatlander from Kansas, allowing my family some time in the mountains while I did a survey of some friend’s land. I opened the camper door and stepped out into the snapping air. It was quite a shock stepping out into 30 degree temperatures in mid-June when I was used to 80 or 90 degrees!

I looked up at the most beautiful view I had ever seen. The sun had not quite cleared the high terrain to the east of the valley, but looking at Spanish Peaks some 5,000 feet above our camp with the snow-covered caps glistening from the yet-to-be sunrise was like looking at a torch of fire exploding into morning. The dark green valley was shrouded in darkness waiting to be discovered by the first light of day.

It was time to load the pickup with the equipment needed to run a random survey line to find a very important corner that had not been located for some 50-odd years.

This morning my 10-year-old son Billy was going along to help. I wasn’t looking forward to the 20-minute drive on old Jeep trails to get a mile and half west of the camp. It crossed my mind that a couple of horses would be real handy about then. After 30 minutes of bouncing along a deserted old Jeep road, the plateau we were trying to reach came into view. Coming around a hairpin bend in the road I noticed a very large boulder. I told my son to look to the left of it. He was too excited to hold still long enough to see what I was pointing at. When the large brown bear stood up on his back legs and looked at us, my son started screaming, “Give me my BB gun, give me my BB gun.” (Like that would do anything but make the bear mad.) Deciding we were neither edible nor threatening, the bear got bored with us and lumbered down a side trail into the forest.

We drove to the top of the plateau without much more discussion. One of our helpers, Sam, was already there with a large tractor and a brush cutter on the back. We pulled out the USGS quad sheets and decided to cut an area of brush on the edge of the plateau where we could see two found BLM markers and hopefully the location of the corner we were trying to locate. Sam started mowing the area we had agreed on while I studied some of the original field notes, BLM notes and a township map.

Suddenly, I heard Sam yelling at the top of his lungs. I looked around just in time to see the tractor disappear over the edge of the plateau! Horrifying noises followed the progress of the tractor and mower as they went crashing down the slope. Then silence; no sound at all. Billy and I ran to the edge afraid to even think about the terrible sight we knew had to be waiting for us. I knew if Sam was seriously injured he had little chance of survival so far from help. I prayed he was all right.

When the dust had settled enough for us to see down into the canyon, a wave of relief washed over me. Sam was standing by the tractor some 300 feet below, arms planted on his hips with what I imagined was a look of utter disgust on his face. I yelled to see if he was all right. He yelled back up, “Compared to what?” He seemed to be all right except for a bruised ego.

We finally made our way down the rugged slope to where Sam was sitting dejectedly next to the tractor. After examining both him and the tractor it seemed that nothing was broken on either of them. We decided to leave the tractor there for the night and go back the next day to get it back to the top of the plateau.

We climbed back to the top and I started setting the instruments up over a random point. I sent Sam to give me a backsite on one of the BLM monuments and then another shot on the second BLM monument. The area was very isolated with enormous old pine trees and lots of brush. We were lucky that day just to be able to make our shots and run a random line within a hundred feet of the spot where the corner was supposed to be.

I pulled a copy of the old field notes from my backpack and started reading them: “Line running south 40 chains set 4" by 6" by 12" granite stone marked on sides with required marks.” We looked around in dismay; the side of Spanish Peak was nothing but granite stones. I looked back at the notes and read: “Blazed 6" pine tree S45 degrees 50 links, blazed 4" pine tree N30 degrees 30 links, blazed line tree 1 chain 20 links.” One hundred years is a lot of growing time for a pine tree, assuming the blazed trees had not died and rotted.

We searched the area but found nothing of the stone or blazed trees. I noticed the remains of an old fence about 30 feet north of where we were looking. I decided to get the metal detector out and look in that area. (Sometimes survey work is technical and other times it’s intuition and luck.) I worked for about a half-hour when I picked up parts of another fence running the other direction. I followed the remains of this fence to where it seemed to cross the first fence and found parts of an old corner post. We dug around the old post with no luck.

I moved to pick up the shovel and some other equipment and tripped over an old post. I quickly got up hoping no one saw how clumsy I was and grabbed hold of the trunk of an old pine tree to help support me as I regained my balance. Under my hand was a scar on the tree. Could this be one of the blazed trees? I yelled at Sam to come over. We tried to shave the bark off the tree with everything we had, but the bark was ancient and tough. We decided that we needed the larger ax to cut the bark away from the scar.

Our campsite was only 3/4 of a mile away, but we would have to drive many miles to get there. I asked Billy if he thought he could walk about a quarter of a mile down the plateau to the road and then back to camp. He decided he could walk to the camper and bring the ax back.

Sam and I started measuring different directions to try to find more evidence. We finally found one other tree that looked promising. About that time my son came back with the ax. He was as white as a sheet. He said he had tried to talk his stepmother into letting him bring the pistol back with him but she would not agree. He said all the way down and back he was sure that bear was following him. I told him he’d been pretty brave and a lot of help, and sent him to the truck to relax for a while.

Sam and I started shaving the bark from the first tree. After the first 1/2" was shaved off, a faint outline appeared, too faint to see what it was but not like something nature had made. We removed a little more bark and the outline became clear; it was the marking we had been looking for!

We moved on to the second tree. As with the first, a faint outline and then the marking. At that moment a wind filled the tops of the pines as if something or someone was trying to give us approval. We measured the distance from the notes and started digging. We first found part of an old stake rotted almost away. Then a few inches deeper we hit something. We started digging carefully around the hard object. Inch by inch we dug until we could see that it was a granite stone. Did it have the marking we needed? We pulled out our knives and started scraping the sides of the stone. I found one notch and then another. “Yes,” we hollered with great excitement. It was the stone! It had the right number of notches on the east and south.

It was getting late but we were too excited; we had to finish the job. Sam finished running the line to the stone and made new ties for future reference.

The hard part of the job was now behind us. We packed the equipment into the truck and started the long ride back to the plateau to let Sam off at his vehicle.

There was another long rough ride back to camp following the old Jeep trail. The sun fell below the mountains to the west as we drove back. There was total darkness when we arrived at our camp. As we unloaded the equipment, I noticed there was no sound. Total silence. The only light was that of the campfire. I could see the outline of the mountains framed in the fire of the stars. I wondered what it must have looked like a hundred years ago when the granite marker was set. Somehow it didn’t seem it would have changed that much. Timeless and peaceful, the marks of man barely visible. I wondered what it would look like in another hundred years. Much the same, I hoped.

Have a story to tell? E-mail brownl@bnp.com.

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