My benchmark collection

My benchmark collection

Page Type Page Type: Album

Benchmark mania

I really love finding a benchmark atop a peak and almost always make the effort to get a pic of it. I thought an album would be a nice way to keep them together hence, this album.

I've found them on peaks all over the west. They are a unique legacy to those who summit the mountains of the USA. As you can see they come in some differing forms and different colors. Some of the ones placed in the early part of the twentieth century are in good shape while some of the more recent ones have taken a beating. The metal used seems to have made a big difference in how well they stand up to the elements and abuse. In many cases the cenral benchmark is gone or under something but a witness marker with a name on it is
a nice find and many are submitted in this album.

This LINK has a lot of information about benchmarks and their significance. The following is from this link:

What is a benchmark?

"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)."

From the same source, this about Witness benchmarks:

"Triangulation stations usually have two or more reference marks associated with them. Reference marks are for helping to keep the location of triangulation stations from being lost and are not actually geodetic control marks. The triangulation station's description has accurate azimuth and horizontal (not slope) distance to each of its reference marks so that it can be re-set from them if necessary. These marks also have arrows in their centers that are supposed to point toward the triangulation station. A few reference marks are surveyed with adjusted coordinates and have their own PID in the database."

Note: I have attached several pics taken by Dennis Poulin of benchmarks that were on peaks we did. Sometimes my pics were too blurry to use or I forgot to get a picture (yes, that does happen) and it was great to fall back on pics that he had taken.  I've got a few peaks that include both the main benchmark picture as well as a witness marker.  Often that is because one or the other has the name of the mountain stamped on it.  Some central benchmarks do not and that is generally why I included  the witness marker.


Benchmark hunting
About Benchmarks by Richard Carey
Benchmark elevation information
SP Benchmark album

Wall Street Journal article 5-1-2015 by Erica E. Phillips

Forget Geocaching, Bench-Mark Hunting Is the New Nerdy Hobby
Enthusiasts search for geodetic survey disks wherever they may be: cities, country roads, and a man’s front yard.

Across the country, hobbyists are on the hunt for bench marks -- three-inch-wide metal disks that serve as guideposts for surveyors, mapmakers and engineers. Photo: Erica E. Phillips/The Wall Street Journal

By Erica E. Phillips        May 1, 2015        Wall Street Journal

SPRINGVILLE, N.Y.— On an overcast spring morning in this Buffalo suburb, Robert Macomber, armed with a shovel, a hand-held GPS device and a photocopied topographic map, set off into a wooded area near the local country club’s 14th hole in search of quarry that might elude a less determined hunter.

The 62-year-old telecommunications specialist had driven nearly 200 miles from his Canfield, Ohio, home for this expedition. Neither a steep climb nor the surging creek below—high from the snow melt—was going to keep him from his purpose: locating a 3-inch-wide metal disk, pegged to an old bridge abutment and stamped: “U.S. COAST & GEODETIC SURVEY BENCH MARK.”

Before the day was done, he had measured, searched and dug for similar disks outside a Buick dealership, near an old railroad bed, in a friendly man’s front yard and at various spots along a two-lane country road. Of 14 bench marks he aimed to find, he located 11. “Some guys go hunting, some guys go fishing, some guys play golf,” Mr. Macomber said. “I look for bench marks.”

The disks he found that day are part of a nationwide network of nearly 1 million similarly marked points whose information such as latitude, longitude and elevation are maintained in a government database. Data on these points is used for a variety of surveying and engineering purposes including drawing maps and laying roads or sewer lines. The bench marks—many well over 100 years old—were placed by surveyors atop high peaks, along important roadways, on the sides of public buildings, and everywhere in between.

Bench marks “are kind of like a skeleton or basic framework” for designing the nation’s infrastructure, said Malcolm Archer-Shee, a programmer who works with the National Geodetic Survey’s Integrated Database. The NGS is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for earth science research, from tracking the weather to monitoring the environmental health of the coasts.

A few years ago, Mr. Archer-Shee wrote a computer program showing hobbyists and professional surveyors where they can find bench marks. The program pulls coordinates and a description of the surroundings from the national database into Google Earth. But much information in the database he used was outdated and the measurements—recorded before the advent of GPS in many cases—were off.

Now, thanks to the work of volunteer hobbyists like Mr. Macomber, the national database is far more up-to-date. Upon locating, or “recovering,” a bench mark, these admittedly nerdy hunters meticulously record the GPS coordinates, the mark’s current condition and the measured distances from nearby points of interest. They then file a report and digital photographs to NGS—known as “recovery notes.”

According to Mr. Archer-Shee, about 80% of the recovery information in the national database is now crowdsourced in this manner. An avid bench-mark hunter in his own right, he also contributes reports in his spare time. “It’s like a treasure hunt,” Mr. Archer-Shee said. “When you can find one that somebody hasn’t found in 50 years, it’s kind of an ego-boosting experience.” Many in the small community of bench-mark hunters happened upon the hobby via their interest in geocaching—a sort of high-tech scavenger hunt where players hide an object and list its geographic coordinates on the website The site now includes a dedicated page for beginning bench-mark hunters.
Jennifer Galas, who met her husband through geocaching, said several years ago she saw a post on the site linking to the NGS database.     
Since then, the Pennsylvania couple has focused their hunting efforts on bench marks. Together, they have located about 1,000. They even seek them out when they’re on vacation.

“When we go away, we don’t necessarily like to look at touristy things,” Ms. Galas said. “We like to find interesting little spots that people don’t know about.”

Kerry Brady and his wife have taken “at least six vacations where bench marks were either the primary or secondary reason for the vacation,” the Beaverton, Ore., man said. And they’ve been successful—encountering more than 500 marks across 23 states
Mr. Brady says their destinations, among them Eastern Oregon and Northern Nevada, are “not where normal people would go on vacation.” But the couple gets a thrill out of their avocation.
In an online message board frequented by bench-mark hunters, Mr. Brady said he jokes with other users about “filming ‘the happy dance’—where you finally find one you’ve been looking for forever.”

Ken Wachter of San Diego distinguishes that kind of hunting from what he calls “urban bench-marking” or, as he puts it: “the easy ones on the sides of buildings.” Venturing into rural areas with a shovel and a metal detector, he said, is the real deal.
“It involves hiking,” he said. “I’ve dug for bench marks that were a foot and a half buried. That was real exciting.”

Their passion for this obscure endeavor connects them with the nation’s history, many of the hobbyists say. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were surveyors, after all. In the survey’s earliest days, objects like bottles or stone jugs were buried to mark critical spots. Finding those types of bench marks, enthusiasts say, is like finding the “Holy Grail.”

The NGS’s former Chief Geodetic Surveyor, Dave Doyle, has watched the popularity of bench-mark hunting grow in recent years as people “from literally all walks of life” started using GPS devices and sharing their stories online. Mr. Doyle offers expertise to this community, answering questions in the forum and via email. “This is a fairly esoteric science,” he said. “So every time you find somebody who says, ‘I know what that is,’ you get this big smile and you just want to hug them.”
Mr. Doyle still goes out hunting, too. Recently, he recovered a series of marks in North Carolina that had been set in 1838. “After a while, it just kind of gets in your blood,” he said.

Still, not everyone shares the excitement. Mr. Macomber’s wife, Debora, says when her husband found out about bench marks, “he just became smitten with it, he absolutely went nuts.” In roughly 10 years of hunting, he has sent in more than 6,000 recovery reports. He even looked for a few during their honeymoon in Key West. He has recruited family members to go out hunting with him over the years, but rarely gets them to go twice, his wife said. “It’s fun for him,” she said, “but it’s not so much fun for everyone else.”


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-5 of 5

PanamaRed - Feb 22, 2014 7:52 pm - Voted 10/10


This is alot of history you have documented! I find it interesting how they all look a little different. Some have names of peaks and elevations, others don't. Love the album!


Dean - Feb 22, 2014 11:54 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow!

I'm addicted to the benchmarks found on summits. I'm always sad when I find the central one missing or I've climbed a peak that doesn't have one at all. Registers are next on what I look for when I hit a summit, especially on mountains that see few visitors. Another SP member and I found a register on a peak in Idaho that went back into the 1940's. That was cool. Thanks for checking out the album, I'm glad you liked it.


Klenke - Mar 8, 2014 11:45 am - Voted 10/10

Benchmarks in every direction

Hey Dean, I just saw this page. Pretty cool. I'm sure the USGS also appreciates the "visual record."

I have a goal to visit the westernmost, easternmost, southernmost, etc. benchmarks in WA. Some are fairly hard to get to.

Is this page just a personal collection or can others upload to it?


Dean - Mar 8, 2014 11:55 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Benchmarks in every direction

Paul, glad you like benchmarks too. I like putting the state abbreviation in parentheses as it helps in giving a feel for where the benchmark is located. Take care.


Klenke - Mar 8, 2014 1:14 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Benchmarks in every direction

I uploaded one (upload #300, heh heh) for the Red Mountain west of downtown Las Vegas.

As an experiment I retrieved the datasheet from the USGS BM datasheet database. Unfortunately (for us), we can't link to a record in their database. So I pasted it into the caption.

To get the formatting correct and readable in the caption, the following HTML programming was done:

<div align="left"><font size="1" face="courier new"><sup><br /> Paste the Datasheet text here<br /> </sup></font></div>

Ignore the br tags (I can't seem to get them to disappear in this post).

The superscript tag decrease the size just enough to not force any lines to wrap to the next line.

Viewing: 1-5 of 5