Point of Beginning

Training Ground

August 31, 2011
A panoramic view of the Barry M. Goldwater Range in southern Arizona.


The Barry M. Goldwater Range, located in southern Arizona, is a state-of-the-art training range used by the Air Force and Marine Corps to practice aerial gunnery, rocketry, electronic warfare and tactical maneuvering. Nearby Luke Air Force Base in Glendale is home of the 56th Fighter Wing, which trains aircrews in the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Although the land has been used for 70 years as a military reservation, a boundary survey of the entire range had never been performed.

In 2010, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Mobile District, embarked on a comprehensive project to survey the region. The survey would include 215 perimeter miles and a little over 1.7 million acres of bombing range currently in use. The project would also include establishing a 5.5-mile exterior boundary for Luke Air Force Base Auxiliary Field No. 1 and a 9-mile exterior boundary for Gila Bend Auxiliary Field in nearby Gila Bend, Ariz., which is used by Luke Air Force Base aircraft and units from other nearby bases as an emergency landing facility.

USACE retained Merrick & Company to perform the survey work. It was the largest boundary survey ever handled by the firm and one of the largest boundary surveys in the United States.

An overview of the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

Research and project planning started in mid-September 2010. The first step was to contact the BLM Arizona State Office to acquire all existing original, dependent, and resurveys of the project boundary. This research revealed that a three-mile portion of the boundary--land within the Public Land Survey System that can only be surveyed by the BLM or someone under BLM authority--had never been surveyed. Without documentation of those three miles, the project team would have to coordinate with BLM to survey that portion of the project.

The range included target areas, battlefield simulations, buildings, towers and transmitters. Additionally, a highway and a railroad both ran north-south through the range; information from the federal registry provided some of the needed data to document those locations. Research for historical surveys was performed in each respective county along with research of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) right-of-way and the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way at the northwest corner of the boundary. Highway and railroad right-of-way maps that were found during the research were of no help in determining the ownership of the railroad. Historical documents in the railroad museum in Ajo, Ariz., revealed that it was owned by a mining company; however, the current railroad owner was unable to provide deeds or right-of-way maps. An as-built field survey was necessary to define the right-of-way location. Maps and documents that were not filed at county offices were obtained from the engineering department at Luke Air Force Base.

A Merrick survey crew hits the trail. From left: Justin Abrahamson, EIT, party chief; Kevin Kenna, PLS, party chief; and Adam Pringle, instrument operator.

Of considerable value to the project team during the research phase was the determination of the vintage of the surveys (original, dependent or unsurveyed) because original or dependent surveys in the past were done by the BLM. The west boundary line, which is the subdivisional line between the Luke Air Force Base of the Barry M. Goldwater Range and the Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma County, is described as being along the eastern line of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Special Use Airspace area, designated as R-2301W Ajo West, Ariz. This line is controlled by a point inaccurately described as being along the Union Pacific Railroad and the U.S. highway at latitude 32o44’15”N, longitude 113o41’08”W (NAD 83). The geographical position of the latter point actually falls 15.85 chains south of the southerly right-of-way line of the existing Union Pacific Railroad. Therefore, the subdivisional line was determined by extending a line from the point on the United States and Mexico border through a point determined at latitude 32o44’15”N, longitude 113o41’08”W (NAD 83) to the intersection of the southerly right-of-way of the existing Union Pacific Railroad. The subdivisional line was surveyed by the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. The dependent resurvey commenced on Oct. 24, 2006, and was completed on Aug. 14, 2007.

Portage was necessary to reach some of the project locations.

In October 2010, two two-person survey crews from Merrick arrived onsite to begin the survey work. The rough terrain and distances to be traveled mandated the use of a variety of transportation methods. Although the crews mainly relied on ATVs and trucks, a helicopter was rented to access two to three miles of very steep, rugged terrain in the southeast area of the range. The helicopter transported the field crew and equipment close to the boundary monuments, and then the crew went in on foot to survey each monument. In addition, horses were rented from a local ranch owner to access a small portion in the southeast area where ATVs couldn’t be used. The horses transported both the field crew and equipment to the otherwise inaccessible areas.

Geographic Coordinate Database (GCDB) coordinates were used to provide initial monument search locations, with the coordinates uploaded into GPS controllers for daily searches to keep field personnel on track. Autonomous positions typically got the crews within 25 to 50 feet of the monument locations. Overall, monuments from 1892 to the 1940s were recovered over most of the project, and a combined effort with the BLM set the three miles of boundary that had never been surveyed.

A BLM monument set for the unsurveyed portion of the project.

Throughout the course of the field work, safety was paramount. To ensure communication with an outside source could be maintained at all times, the crews used a satellite phone and worked in close proximity to one another so that assistance could be rendered quickly if needed. Besides unexploded ordnance (UXOs), additional safety concerns on the unpopulated bombing range included drug trafficking, illegal aliens, snakes, scorpions, and the harsh, dry desert climate. Base personnel maintained detailed information on survey crew location, and appointed check-in times were mandated. The base also provided safety training for the survey crews to ensure they understood the protocols required for encountering UXOs. The ATV transportation gave the survey crews the ability to carry necessary safety provisions as well as an ample supply of water to stay hydrated.

After the boundary monuments had been surveyed, the next step was networking National Geodetic Survey (NGS) “0” order control over the expanse of the project to develop convenient project control for regular base station occupation. The NGS horizontal control chosen yielded very good relational accuracy. A primary control point was occupied daily in conjunction with a secondary control point to promote efficiency and maintain tolerable loop closures.

Field surveying the bombing range.

Static occupations of each found or set monument were accomplished to ensure precision of coordinate values. The length of these sessions varied depending the distance to the primary base, but each point had a minimum occupation time of 30 minutes. Calculations to set missing monuments and center quarter corners were provided to the field crews and were set using a base station setup with an RTK and data logging survey style. Long stretches of roadway and railroads required a post-processed kinematic style and sometimes continuous RTK. Handheld GPS was also used to navigate to monuments by foot.

Access to these points provided a challenge. Large portions of the area are actively used for military training. Coordination with bombing range personnel on a daily basis was imperative. Satellite phones, radios, and a leapfrogging style kept both survey crews in contact with each other and allowed efforts to be coordinated to accomplish the survey.

Access into many areas was difficult, and daily strategies were developed to help maintain efficiency. Using a combination of field methods along with a variety of modes of transportation ensured the success of the project. Monthly progress reports were sent to the USACE Mobile District.

Back in the office, the required tasks were also daunting. Each night, the surveyors in the field scanned and electronically transferred their field notes and photos to Merrick’s Colorado office. Evaluation of the boundary data had to keep up with field progress. As the field data for a complete township was received, the survey technicians began building the AutoCAD files for each respective township. Skeleton drawings detailing the as-measured monument relationship to the record measurements were evaluated by the professional land surveyor (PLS) to determine acceptance. Additional evidence was needed in some instances to determine positions. Many locations were represented by found General Land Office (GLO)/BLM monuments, state highway right-of-way monuments and/or Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way monuments. Found evidence included stones with grooves on the faces or notches on the edges, remnants of wood stakes in or around mound of stones, 4 x 4-inch wood posts with markings, and bare mounds of stones or rebar/pipes with wired brass/aluminum washers attached with respective registered land surveyor numbers.

A variety of conditions added to project complexity. Pictured here is Justin Abrahamson, EIT, party chief.

One requirement for the boundary survey was to document all abutting land owners surrounding the bombing range. Large portions of adjoining lands are owned by other federal agencies--the BLM to the northeast, northwest and to the south; the State of Arizona to the north; the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma County to the west; and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to the southwest. In addition, a large portion of the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation abuts the bombing range in the southeast area. All private lands adjacent to the bombing range were thoroughly researched in Maricopa, Yuma and Pima counties.

The geometrical layout for State Highway No. 85, which transverses the bombing range, was designed from highway right-of-way maps. Due to different and multiple generation highway right-of-way monuments found during the field process, certain areas along the highway right-of-way geometry conflicted with these monuments. The team coordinated with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and was able to make decisions and resolve conflicts.

Requirements on the deliverables from the client included a report of survey, record of survey plats, digital survey mark forms (monument record with photos) for all monuments found or set along the boundary, scanned or digital field notes, Excel spreadsheet digital files on all boundary corners and control points, metadata files adhering to current FGDC standards and GIS shape files of the boundary and corner point entities, scanned or digital copies of all reference documents that support the survey process, and evidence of recorded survey plats at appropriate county clerk and recorder offices. Data acquisition was completed in mid-April 2011, with electronic deliverables sent to the client in early May 2011.

An original GLO decayed wood post monument in a mound of stones.

With so many factors to consider, from inhospitable terrain to coordinating with military training operations, this project required considerable planning, the ability to be flexible in accomplishing objectives, and a willingness to adjust approaches every day to accommodate the requirements for the project. Clear and constant communication between the office personnel and field crew was vital for managing and developing strategies to complete the different tasks associated with this project.

“So many things [could have gone] wrong due to the location (active bombing range, potential for unexploded ordinance) and natural environment of the survey,” says Mike McBurney, PLS, CFedS, contracts administrator for surveying and mapping within the Spatial Data Branch of the USACE Mobile District. “Merrick’s crews were able to complete this survey in very challenging terrain without any significant problems.” He was particularly impressed with the team’s coordination with the adjoiners, calling it “exceptional,” and he pointed out that although the sheer number of monuments set and documented (every half mile) was a challenge, Merrick “did very well accomplishing this task.”

The overall success of this boundary survey was due to the daily strategies in the field and in the office for achieving and maintaining high efficiency during production.

Project Scope

Barry M. Goldwater Range, Southern Arizona

• 215 perimeter miles and a little over 1.7 million acres of bombing range currently in use

• On the western side, the range is within 20 miles of the Mexican border

• The area is a diverse desert terrain ranging from sandy flatlands to basalt covered mountains

• The site involves three counties (Maricopa, Pima, and Yuma Counties)

Gila Bend Auxiliary Field, Gila Bend, Ariz.

• 9-mile exterior boundary; 2,002 acres

Luke Air Force Base Auxiliary Field No. 1, Glendale, Ariz.

• Exterior boundary of 5.5 miles; 1,060.5 acres

Overall, the Project Required:

• Discovery of and placement of monuments at 840 locations for all three areas

• Coordination with multiple entities and individuals including:

– Michael McBurney, USACE, Mobile District

– Charlotte D. Bailey, Chief, Major Command Transaction Branch, US Air Force

– Luke Air Force Base representatives

– Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Office

– Bureau of Land Management, Yuma District Office

– Arizona Department of Transportation

– Union Pacific Railroad

– Ajo Railroad Museum

– Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, AZ

– Federal Aviation Administration

– Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge