top of page
  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Crosses, Domes & Towers

Total Marks Recovered: 8 (2 confirmed Destroyed)

Discs Recovered: 3

Non-Disc Type Recovered: 3 (1 New)

New Agencies: 3

Notes: New Agencies

  • University of San Diego

  • SWS Engineering Inc.

  • Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego

Is it bigger than a breadbox?

One of those stock questions when playing 20-Questions as a kid... "is it bigger than a breadbox?" 🤣 Seriously, does anyone today still use a breadbox? Do kids today even know what a breadbox is? 🤔 Well, most of my recoveries today were definitely bigger than a breadbox.

My Survey MArk Scavenger Hunt this afternoon was focused on big things...specifically crosses, towers, and churches. Recovering the Stockton marks in Presidio Park, was a no-brainer since I was already nearby.

Back to School!

DC1493: San Diego University Tower Cross

I specifically searched the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) database for some easy recoveries that fit my criteria of not requiring a lot of hiking to reach. The first one on my list was the cross on the bell tower of The Immaculata Church on campus at the University of San Diego. The cross weighs 300-pounds and is the highest point of the church, measuring 167 feet from the ground to the top of the cross. This was a new type of mark for me "91 - Church Cross" (I always like "firsts" for my database!) The church, dedicated on May 5, 1959, was originally designed to serve as the main chapel for the University of San Diego and of the Immaculate Heart Seminary. Today, it has grown to become a separate parish encompassing Alcalá Park and the surrounding community.

As I was trying to find the best spot to take my pictures, I spied a survey disc in the plaza near the fountain! A bonus recovery! 💯The mark is stamped USD CP 04 and was set by the engineering firm SWS Engineering, Inc. My guess is that there are probably more of these around campus and it may be a fun excursion someday to go back and wander around looking for them. Given the location of this mark, it was pretty well worn smooth so the chalk didn't do much to pull out the engraved detail, but I could make out the faint logo of the company and the USD Logo, which was positioned so the star above the letter "S" was exactly on the datum point (center reference point) on the disc!

A Brief History of Old Town San Diego

After leaving campus, I headed down the hill to Old Town San Diego for my next recovery. It's been ages since I'd been to Old Town and I forgot the rich history of the area.

Turning back the dial on the "Way Back Machine", what we know of today as Old Town San Diego, is actually part of the ancestral land of the First People, the Kumeyaay going back to about 10,000 years ago. The first European explorers arrived in 1542, led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew when they landed in San Diego Bay.

San Diego became California's first permanent Spanish settlement when a fort and mission were established here in 1769.

  • El Presidio Real de San Diego (Royal Presidio of San Diego) was established in May 1769, as the first Presidio (Fort) built by the Spanish, it was the base of operations for the colonization of California. Abandoned by 1835, the site of the original Presidio lies on a hill within present-day Presidio Park. The Americans ultimately occupied the fort during the Mexican-American War when it was renamed Fort Stockton (more on that below). The San Diego Presidio was registered as a California Historical Landmark in 1932 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

  • Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first Franciscan mission in the Californias, founded by Spanish friar Junípero Serra in July 1769. The mission and the surrounding area were named for the Catholic Saint Didacus of Alcalá, a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego. The Mission was relocated to its current location (5.5 miles ENE of Old Town) in 1774 in order to be closer to the Kumeyaay villages. a year later, the original mission church was destroyed by fire during an uprising by local indigenous people. An estimated 800 "American Indians" pillaged the mission, burned it to the ground, and massacred a blacksmith, a carpenter (mortally wounded), and Father Jayme, who became California's first Catholic Martyr. Father Jayme is buried next to the altar in the present church. Fr. Serra returned in 1776 to rebuild the mission and it's interesting to note that the church there now is the fifth one to occupy the land.

In 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, a small group of Mexican settlers began building homes at the foot of the hillside below the Presidio. Because wood was scarce at the time, sun-dried adobe bricks were used.

After the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), Mexico was forced to relinquish any claim to California to the United States and California officially became the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

Old Town was designated as a State Historic Park in 1968 and highlights the history of early San Diego by providing a connection to the past focusing on life in the Mexican and early American periods of 1821 to 1872.

DC1483: San Diego Old Town Catholic Church

Saint Junípero Serra celebrated his First Holy Mass in California on July 2, 1769, near the site of the present Immaculate Conception Church. In 1849, the first parish church was established in Old Town with the name of Immaculate Conception and was dedicated in 1858. It still stands and is known today as the Old Adobe Chapel and is located on Conde Street. The cornerstone of the present Immaculate Conception Church was laid in 1868.

The survey mark for the Church is the tiled dome (type 87). The dome is 8-sided with the long sides running parallel to the roads and the shorter sides facing the four ordinal compass directions, it is inlaid with small blue tiles and the cross on the top is grey. This was the second dome I've recovered, the other being the Palomar Observatory Dome.

DC1491: San Diego Junipero Serra Museum Tower

This survey mark for this one is the whole tower (type 55). The Junípero Serra Museum is located just above Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and sits on one of the most significant historical sites on the West Coast, the site of the first permanent European settlement in what is today the State of California (see history snippet above) The Serra Museum is sometimes confused with the Mission San Diego de Alcalá due to its location in Presidio Park. However, as I noted earlier, the Mission was relocated in 1774 and is now about 5.5 miles ENE, near the intersection of the 5 & 8 Freeways.

The Junípero Serra Museum was built between 1928-1929 for the sole purpose of housing and showcasing the collection of The San Diego History Center (then the San Diego Historical Society), which was founded in 1928. Side note: I really should have zoomed in and got a close-up photo of the weathervane on top of the tower, the bear on it was very cool 😂

Fort Stockton and the Mormon Battalion

Again, as I touched on above in the history of Old Town, Fort Stockton was located on the site of the original Presidio at San Diego. The fortification, created in 1769, was occupied by the Spanish until Mexico prevailed in its War of Independence and took possession from the Spanish. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (considered the father of Mexican independence) led the uprising in September 1810 recognized as the catalyst for the Mexican War of Independence that continued until September 1821.

The site was abandoned by 1835, but became active again during the Mexican-American War and changed hands a few times during that first year of the war. Named Fort Dupont in July 1946, after the U.S. Navy Captain who landed in San Diego with naval and marine forces, the for was taken by Mexican forces in October, only to be re-taken in November by U.S. Admiral Robert F. Stockton (hence the final name change). In January 1847 the Mormon Battalion arrived at San Diego and occupied both Fort Stockton and the nearby abandoned Mission San Diego. The majority of the Mormon Battalion moved on to Los Angeles by July, while a small contingent remained. Fort Stockton was totally abandoned at the end of the war in 1848. There are multiple monuments on site commemorating the presence of the Mormon Battalion including this one that recognizes the women who made the journey to San Diego with the Battalion.

DC1490: STOCKTON ~ Lost and Found

No SMASH would be complete if I didn't find a least one survey disc. My bonus find at USD notwithstanding, I knew that the Stockton station disc was easily recoverable, one of my hiking friends had found it a few months ago and had posted pictures of it online. When I researched the station, I learned there were also a few reference marks to track down, so I was excited to see what I could find. The Triangulation Station disc is pretty darn obvious, it's on the sidewalk right in front of the historical plaque and statue of the soldier. 😉

Reference Mark number 3 took a little work to find. It's mounted in the base of the flagpole that is in the center of the hilltop "Fort". More specifically, it is in the ORIGINAL base of the flagpole, which of course had been covered over with a "new" base 🙄 Thankfully, somewhere along the timeline, someone (probably a surveyor) made a cutout in the new base to expose the survey marker below. When I came upon it today, that entire cutout was filled with dirt and sand, so the mark was not visible. It took me a while to fully clean out all the dirt, but I managed and had my second successful recovery for this station.

As a side note, Reference Mark 1 was mounted in the base of the FIRST flagpole erected on this site, the present flagpole, and its base replaced that one. So technically, RM 1 would be considered Lost/Destroyed.

Going into this recovery today, I knew that Reference Marks number 2 and 4 were considered Lost and/or Destroyed. They were both related to the old cannon that was mounted on the site. Reference Mark 2 was a support bolt on the old cannon and Reference Mark 4 was the top of the letter "I" of the word "MANILA" that was stamped into the body of the bronze cannon. Since the cannon is obviously gone, so too are the reference marks. 😐 I guess on the upside, they are successful recoveries showing irrefutable evidence that they were destroyed. 🤷🏻‍♂️


So another successful day of recoveries and more history lessons! I suspect that people born and raised in San Diego probably had a fair amount of local San Diego history and learned about the State's origins when they went through primary school (K-12), being a San Diego transplant of 20 years, I simply would not have been exposed to this regional history having grown up in New England. Sure, I probably would have heard about the Mexican-American War and California becoming a state, but likely only at a macro level. MY regional history growing up was all related to New England.

I mention it often in the articles I write about my survey mark hunting adventures, one of the main reasons I love this hobby is the history and sciences lessons they spark for me. I definitely appreciate those lessons more today than I imagine I ever would have as a kid.


While it's easy to post some quick images to social media highlighting my recoveries, these articles take more time as I become immersed in reading the history and incorporating it into the story I'm preparing. I always write about my recoveries from the perspective of the day I made them, using time references such as "today" despite actually composing the piece days (or weeks) later. I choose that for continuity on my blog, and because it takes me back to the moment of my recovery because that's just plain fun. 😊 "Today's" trip was July 13th, but I'm only getting around to finishing this article on August 14th, 🤷🏻‍♂️ On to my next adventure...

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page