Guest Column: A Cartographer's View of the Weird and Wacky
A view of the twisted world, but distinctly from the perspective of a cartographer
I have been a licensed land surveyor for almost 40 years. As with any of us “old farts” who have been in the game as long as I have, we’ve seen tremendous changes in the profession over the years.
In Arizona where I’ve lived for the past 38 years, there is no degree requirement to get licensed, nor is there a continuing education requirement in place at this time. Both of these issues have been hotly debated on and off for many years, and the discussions, both for and against, seem to come and go like ocean waves.
Some of the arguments against continuing education get very heated, and often rise to the level of (and paraphrasing a line from a movie), “We don’t need no stinking education!” But, this is a topic for another article.
I currently work as a cartographer in the GIS Department for Yavapai County. In conjunction with my job, it’s not uncommon to have people come in with questions or concerns about their property.
Some of the more common things I hear range from, “How can I find my property corners using the GIS maps?” to “I’ve got a GPS handheld. Can I get coordinates from you so I can survey my property?” Sometimes it’s hard for me to take off my “land surveyor hat” in favor of my “cartographer hat.” At some point, I will likely need to get my tongue surgically reattached due to biting it so hard when I hear some of these requests.
Each year, the Darwin Awards come out covering things such as the top 10 most stupid things criminals do and the ridiculous stunts people have killed themselves trying. I would like to add a category to the awards that covers the dumbest things property owners have said. The beauty of this list is, as with all Darwin Award lists, there is a neverending supply of candidates.
A Strong Contestant
A lady came in and was concerned that, although she owned four separate pieces of land (contiguous parcels), she could only find descriptions for three of them. She was looking to get everything set up in a trust and apparently was going to try to do the legwork/ paperwork herself.
After doing a quick check, I informed her that when the land was split (by her mother, now deceased), each parcel was cut off a parent parcel at different times. Her fourth parcel was left as a remnant piece. As such, there had never been a separate description written for it (at least we had nothing on record for it).
She asked how she could go about getting a description for the parcel. She was heading up to the County Recorder’s Office as her next stop to get everything recorded (yes, we see a lot of “Do-it-Yourself ” title and legal experts). I suggested the easiest way would be to have a land surveyor review everything and prepare a description. She glared at me, and hissed, “I’m not wasting money on something like that!”
I wished her the best of luck and gave her directions to the Recorder’s Office.
Another Prime Contender
A few days ago, a young couple came in with a list of six different parcels they owned. They wanted to know if I could produce a map of each parcel. I assured them I could and asked them how much detail they needed. They said they wanted to see not only their property, but several properties surrounding their land. They also wanted to see dimensions on their boundaries and aerial imagery. They told me they were going to take the maps out in the field to locate their property corners.
I cautioned them that our GIS maps were approximations of the boundary lines and could not be relied on for survey-grade accuracy. I suggested they at least consult with a land surveyor. They laughed, and said they could see no value in this. After all, they had the maps I had just produced which showed everything they would need. They assured me a land surveyor would be a complete waste of money!
And the ‘Darwin Award’ Winner Is …
It was a Friday afternoon around 4. This gentleman calls, and says he’s looking for information on a parcel of land in the Prescott area (he was calling from Phoenix). I asked him what kind of information he was looking for. He replied, “Anything you have. I’m heading up there this weekend and don’t have a clue where the site is.”
I asked if he could be a bit more specific, as that would help me focus my search. He explained that he was looking for something that showed parcel lines, any maps that might be available, legal descriptions, things like that. I told him that if he could tell me what he needed the information for, it would help expedite my search since it was late in the day and time was tight.
“I’m heading up there this weekend to do a survey,” he replied. “A boundary survey?” I asked. He acknowledged that, yes, it was a boundary survey.
At this point, I wondered if he was serious, but told him I’d check out a few things and promised I would call him back before 5. I did a quick search and first found a description on the property. It was described as all of an aliquot part (down to roughly 330 feet x 330 feet) lying easterly of the center of a gas pipeline easement, and excepting any portion lying within a platted subdivision that abutted it on the south side.
Out of curiosity, I also checked the State Board of Technical Registration’s site and found that this guy’s surveyor’s license had expired three months earlier.
When I called him back, my first question was, “Do you realize that the land you’re going to survey is an aliquot part?”
“Are you kidding me?” he replied, followed with, “Oh, man. This one is going to be harder than I thought.”
I asked how he had planned to survey the parcel if he hadn’t done any research to know what he was dealing with or even where the site was. He replied, “I thought I’d just wing it and figure things out once I got there.” I told him what I found, gave him instructions on how he could pull the information from the county website, and wished him luck.
Ironically, I received a call from the State Board of Technical Registration about another matter the following Monday (I serve as a member on the Board’s Enforcement Advisory Committee). I mentioned my conversation with the surveyor on Friday to the investigator who had called me, gave him the surveyor’s name, and asked if he was familiar with the guy.
The investigator put me on the speaker phone and had me repeat the story for the benefit of two other investigators in his office. I heard chuckling in the background, then the investigator said, “We are very familiar with that surveyor here. You might say he’s a ‘Frequent Flyer.’”