Tuesday, November 21, 2017


… a benchmark activity …

I don’t geocache.  But sometimes, when I’m out hiking around with a buddy, we’ll find something interesting stuck in the ground.  Such was the case on a coastal bluff the other day.  A benchmark.

After whisking away the dusty, sandy covering, we exposed the bronze disk set in concrete and the text thereon:

Sandstone CADH
No. 1

I speculated about what CADH might mean, while Tim, my compadre, suggested “California Division of Highways” given that those words were embossed around the circumference of the disk.

“Nah,” I said.  “That’s too simple.  Besides, we’re nowhere near a highway.  And what’s the arrow mean?”

We wandered off, looking at the bluffs and the sea lions. 

A great aspect of our Internet age is how, with a little dabbling on a search engine, you can be connected with the past.  Fiddling with a few key words and after being misdirected to a prehistoric site somewhere in Scotland where “CADH” actually means something, I stumbled onto the geocaching.com website where the benchmark we’d almost seen was listed.

I report “almost,” because the arrow on the marker we’d found was directing us to the actual benchmark. 

It was a half-mile from our rented coastal house to the bluffs.  I went back out to investigate. 

Sure enough, several paces off in the direction pointed by the arrow, stood a rusted metal post.

A foot from that, another bronze disk was stuck in another puddle of concrete. 

The geocache website provides a chronology of this marker.  Originally placed near the edge of the bluff in 1878 it marked “…the outer point of the northern extremity of the bight found north of Bihler Point…”

By 1929, the Coast and Geodetic Survey folks offered “…about two miles south of the mouth of the Gualala River and ¼ mile north of an old landing…  …about three feet from the edge of the bluff which drops gently away.”

I explored south to find what was left of the old landing: a timber protruding seaward from the top of the bluff.

... and a nearby trail sign explains.

The geocache site continues:  …1937…  “… an old landing, almost a wreck, is west of the barn…”  … the foundation of which, if it survived, would now, rest on private property.  

 On the coastal edge of that parcel stands a large contemporary house.  I did not go looking.

In 1961:  “… reference mark number 1 was not found and has probably been lost due to erosion.  Mark 2 was recovered in good condition but the bluff was found to have eroded… …leaving the station mark loose on the ground.”

Then this, in 1973:  “Neither the station mark nor reference mark number 1 were recovered and are probably lost to erosion.  A California Division of Highways Bronze disk stamped Sandstone CADH 1973 (score one for brother Tim) was set approximately 250 feet east southeast of the old location of Sandstone 1878…” 

I paced about eighty feet of that 250 until I came to the bluff.

Having grown up and lived most of my life in or near the foothills of the Sierra and cascade, with its rich Native American, gold rush mining, and lumbering history, it is easy to assume that such richness does exist anywhere else.  What a mistake.

Back on the Internet I investigate “dog hole schooner,” “Del Mar Ranch,”  “Frick,”  “Bender,” and a number of other surnames, placenames and terms.  Sonoma County, now among the world’s finest wine growing regions, was once home to the Russian colony at Fort Ross, a place dedicated to growing crops to support Russian fur trapping outposts further up the coast.  Later the redwoods harvested in these coastal hills were integral to the building of San Francisco, thus explaining the landing where “dog hole schooners were loaded via a wire chute.”

There’d been a mill, machine shop, generator, company housing, and a school on what is now recovered coastal prairie and ocean view homesites.

So here’s what’s cool about making some tiny historic discovery: It can set your mind to thinking… to imagining...

Dreams that night included captaining a rickety wooden vessel laden with milled redwood in turbulent seas along a coastline that does not forgive...

And  wondering how long it will be before the bluff under that fancy house collapses.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. The internet can be a goldmine of information. And so too is your blog. I always enjoy learning the history you share. What a gem to find the bronze disks.

  2. A long ride back in early July took me, among many other places, down US 101 and California SR 1 to San Francisco. One of my stops along the way was Point Arena Lighthouse, where guides impressed upon me how quickly and severely that coastline had become a freighter graveyard during the Gold Rush... Fascinating history--it's all around us.