Picking up a 100-year old trail
By Kathleen Bean
Farmers and ranchers often say that one of the things they enjoy most about their profession is that every day is different. Today, our Business Manager, Jen, and I had one of those great days when we got out from behind our computers, learned something new, and gained an even greater appreciation for our landscape and its history.
We are in the process of granting a conservation easement on our Upper Fish Creek Ranch to the National Resources Conservation Service, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The property must be surveyed first, and a local firm, Galena Engineering, has been working on it this fall. I would have thought that they could simply use GPS to find property lines, but that is not the case. The area was surveyed in 1913, and in order to be accurate they must find the markers left behind one hundred years ago. The problem is, these markers are typically small notches or marks chiseled into rocks! Finding those rocks, which may have been dislodged, buried, broken, or grown over with lichen or sagebrush, is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. These photos show two challenging examples…
Here, you can see a 40-foot cliff face of rock. The instructions left by the surveyors of 1913 led our modern surveyors here. They spent days scouring the area and cliff face.
This is a closer view, with the surveyor’s stake for perspective. Notice the flat surface just below the stake.
Here is a close-up, showing the markings left behind 100 years ago. It looks obvious now, but in order to find this they had to cut away sagebrush that had grown over it, and then use a wire brush to clean the rock and find the markings.
Here’s another great example of the tenacity required to find these markers. In this case, you see two pieces of rock. The surveyor found one on the surface, but it was too small to be a marker. Working on a hunch, he dug up the frozen ground nearby until he found the other half, which was buried. When he put the rocks together, they were a perfect fit. The rock may have been broken when the area was logged many years ago.
He then used a wire brush to uncover the markings, which were subtle, to say the least! And, as you can see, all this was done with snow on the ground, making it even harder to find the rock monuments.
In order to survey this entire property, we will try to find more than two dozen century-old rock markers. We may not find all of them, but will persevere until we find enough to be confident of the property lines.
Finally, reading the surveyor’s log from one hundred years ago gives us a glimpse into the history of the region. Here’s part of the general description:
We left Galena Engineering with a new appreciation for the art of surveying and for the history that is embedded in the landscape, if you know how to look. We’ll have to wait until spring, when the snow has melted, to finish this project but we’re already planning an all-staff surveying trip so we can experience the search for markers ourselves. Wish us luck!