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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Easing Into Monument Peak

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

A Quick Recap

Two months ago today, while doing a simple survey mark hike in the Borrego Badlands, I slipped and fell in some loose rocks. My article "Coach Dale: 0, Desert: 1" goes into the details of the day, but in a nutshell, I completely tore the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and partially tore the Medial Meniscus of my left knee. I opted out of reconstructive surgery (at least for now), have been using a compression sleeve daily for comfort, and I have a DonJoy FULLFORCE Ligament Knee Brace to use when I'm hiking. given my measurements, I opted for this pre-fabricated brace instead of the custom versions, saving a few hundred bucks and sacrificing a little bit of weight (the main difference between the two is the custom is made from carbon fiber while the pre-fab uses aircraft-grade aluminum 🤷🏻‍♂️) From a fit perspective, based on measurements (for me) there was no difference between the two, so I opted for the pre-fab.

I have a couple of FUTURO™ Sport Hinged Knee Braces that I've used for prior injuries, and it was what I had in my pack the day I fell in the desert, having that brace was very like the difference between me hobbling back to my truck or having to use my SPOT X to contact someone to come and get me. I still include at least one of these braces as part of my "Essentials" whenever I hike, primarily for additional lateral stability on descents.

I used the Futuro on my neighborhood stroller walks with my granddaughter until I received my DonJoy brace, staying 100 percent on paved roads with a little-to-no grade as an added precaution. Once I had the FullForce brace properly fitted, I decided it was time to try it out on a "real" trail.

Always Have a "Plan B"

I had originally planned to hike the Three T's Trail (Timber, Telegraph Peak, and Thunder Mountain) in the Cucamonga Wilderness with my Mt. Whitney team a few weeks ago, but I was still tweaking the fit on my brace and ANY descending was painful. Bailing out on the Three T's was a hard call for me to make as it was the final prep hike for our July 26th Whitney ascent and it confirmed the reality that I wasn't going to make Whitney this year (Plan A). No questions asked, passing on Mt. Whitney was 100 percent the right choice, but that didn't make it any easier to take.😶

So today, I eased back onto the trail. I chose hiking to Monument Peak in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area as my first hike post-injury for a couple of reasons, first the distance and elevation gain was easy, and second, I missed locating the survey mark on the peak last year and I wanted to go back and recover it, Plan B was a "go".

I also planned a little SMASHing (Survey Mark Scavenger Hunting) on my way home from the hike. I've separated this article into three parts, covering my day as it played out, If you want to jump around and read ahead, you can use the links below, but I recommend taking it from the top in the order that I experienced the day 😉

PART I - Monument Peak, Back on Trail After Two Months

Date: July 31, 2021

Distance: 3.04 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 2h 33m

Total Moving Time: 1h 37m

Summit Elevation: 6,249 feet

Elevation Gain: 537 feet

Trailhead: Big Laguna Trail 5E06

Previous Ascents: April 5, 2020


  1. Peakbagger Peaks - 1, Survey Marks - 1

Looking Toward Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The views never disappoint!

Panoramic view from the summit of Monument Peak

Flashback 2020: San Diego 100 Peak Challenge - Peak #25

When I completed Monument Peak last April, it was a milestone of sorts, marking my 25th peak in the San Diego 100 Peaks Challenge, and the first of four peaks that day. I felt like I was finally getting some traction on my list.

It was early enough in the pandemic where most trails were still open and the Stay-at-Home order was new enough, that people were following it to the letter. During those first few weeks of the pandemic, I bagged 19 peaks and rarely encountered other hikers. I remember hash-tagging many of my posts with "antisocialdistancing" 🤣 because I never saw anyone. I would continue to knock off remote, little-traveled trails, mostly in the desert, hiking solo and never seeing another soul, until the world started to change and they eventually "closed Nature" 🙄.

When I hit the summit of Monument Peak last April, I remember looking around the tower for the Station disc or a reference marker to prove that I'd been there and only found a piece of rebar sticking out of the ground. I used a selfie in front of the tower as my social proof that I'd been to the summit and snapped a picture of the rebar thinking that maybe it was evidence of the missing mark. This time around, it was George's turn for the selfie!

The Survey Mark I Missed Last Year!

It's funny (now) that the BLM marker for the Monument Eccentric station was just on the other side of the rocks, about 15 feet, from where I found the piece of rebar. 🙄 This time around this was a straightforward recovery. The mark is listed in Robin Halford's book, Hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert, Volume 3, Over 205 Half-Day Hikes to Survey Markers on page 207, complete with coordinates and a hand-drawn version of the mark.

I wandered around the summit looking for any signs of the original U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey mark and related reference marks, but as with the first time on this summit, I came up empty. Knowing that some of the USACE marks set back then were not always set in the most secure manner (usually just stuck in a mound of built-up concrete on the rock surface), it's possible that these marks disappeared early on.

Leaving the summit I decided to go check out the old helipad nearby, I passed by the fenced-in site making a mental note to take pictures of the Earthscope seismic monitoring unit and CORS Station before I headed back down the trail.

Helipad on Monument Peak

I knew from researching my GPS on Bench Marks priorities, that the survey mark AB5054: MONP MONUMENT PEAK MONUMENT, a10 km B-2 Priority, was on Monument Peak, but it was located inside the fence and the gate was locked. I walked around the perimeter of the fence to see if I could see the disc, but I couldn't even see the circle of concrete that the disc was supposed to be set in. Coming up empty, I headed back down the trail. As it turns out, I zoned and forgot to take pics of the Earhscope unit and CORS Station before leaving the area. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Monument Peak Wrap-Up

As I mentioned above, I'd normally classify this as an easy hike, both in distance and gain, but I still had to work at it and it was a not so gentle reminder that I'd lost a lot of fitness since May. This was my first hike on a trail where I had to deal with uneven terrain, rocks, loose ground, and any sort of gain since I tore my ACL, and I felt it.

The early parts of the trail followed the established Big Laguna Trail then connected with the PCT for a bit. The section from the PCT to the summit had a good stretch that was substantially overgrown but the trail itself was reasonably easy to follow, I hadn't planned to spend the time today clipping back the brush, but I did make a "note-to-self" that it'd be a good idea to come back and do some trail maintenance. Since I forgot to take a few pictures today 🙄, maybe I'll come back out next weekend and take care of that. 🤔

3D Relive Video of Today's Hike

On my way home from Monument Peak, I decided to make a detour and head out to Lake Henshaw to recover a "family" of survey marks aptly named LAKE, on my way there, I had two interesting reference marks to look for that appeared to be right along the roadside on SR 79. I sent my wife a text letting her know I was "off-trail" and that I would be doing some survey marking hunting on my way home, in other words, "I'll be late, but don't worry, I didn't fall off a cliff" 🤣


PART II - Boundary Marks and The Lone Tree

Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation Drive-By Recoveries

Marks Recovered: 4

Discs Recovered: 0

Non-Disc Type Recovered: 4

Type of Marks Recovered: 2 (1 New - "Lone Tree")

GPS on Bench Marks Priorities: 0

The two marks I selected seemed to be very close to the road and could easily fall into my category of Drive-By Recoveries. I found them on the Waymarking website and they were Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pipe cap marks set in 1974 as references to existing boundary monuments MON 28 and MON 40 respectively. The interesting thing was that the Township was stamped on the pipe cap, in the same manner, that I'd expect to see on a Section Corner Mark. This was the first time I've seen this on a reference mark and it piqued my curiosity.

The person who posted the recovery just posted the reference marks and didn't make any mention of locating the actual monuments, but I was hopeful I'd be able to find them. I was optimistic because earlier this year I had located a pipe cap marker designated MON 37 not too far from where these marks were. It was a boundary marker placed by the General Land Office (GLO) set in 1974 that referred back to an original mark set in 1915, it was also stamped "SYIR" which I learned was shorthand for Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation. Based on that recovery, I was hoping the reference marks would lead me to the same kind of markers for MON 28 and MON 40.

My research on the history of these numbered boundary monuments led me to the BLM General Land Office database to locate copies of the original land surveys of the area. I downloaded images of all the relevant survey maps (see images below) and spent the better part of a day going over them. This was one time when I wished I had multiple screens for my home computer setup, as I was constantly switching between the historical maps and my present-day topographical maps in GAIA, finding reference points and trying to plot all the monuments in GAIA.

A Brief Historical Detour

American history is like a little blip on the radar screen, let's face it, in the grand scheme of things, as a nation we just haven't been around for that long. The maps that I found in my research reflected some of the earliest American surveying of California.

The boundaries marked by the monuments I found today carved out slightly more than 15,000 acres of land for the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, a part of the greater Kumeyaay Nation of which extends from San Diego and Imperial counties in California to 60 miles south of the Mexican border. This was all done in the early years of California as a State, yet the indigenous people were scattered throughout the Americas for at least 20,000 years before the arrival of Spanish Explorers.

Roughly speaking, you can divide the history of California into various periods of occupation:

  • Pre-European. It's easier to mark the end of this period with the arrival of the first European explorers (c. 1542) than trying to identify the initial presence of the first inhabitants. Most refer to those early peoples as Indians or Native Americans, but history suggests that many of the earliest inhabitants of North America were indigenous peoples of South America migrating north, or those coming from the Old World that arrived via the land bridge which existed between modern-day Russia and Alaska. This period is also referred to as the Pre-Columbian period (based on the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492) and also includes the arrival of Icelandic and Norse explores (Vikings) around 980. I'm no Anthropologist, but I did find this incredibly fascinating and added it to my list of things to read more about.

  • European Exploration. (1542 - 1769) During this time Spain, Italy, England, and Portugal sent explorers to the "New World", Christopher Columbus, Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), Juan Ponce de León, and Henry Hudson are some of the more recognizable names of the era. An interesting footnote to this time period is the introduction of infectious diseases from the "Old World" (Africa, Asia, and Europe) and the devastating effects they had on the indigenous populations.

  • Spanish Colonial. (1769 - 1821) This period was marked by the omnipresence of the Spanish Empire, one of the largest empires in recorded history. Spain, along with Portugal, really kicked off what has become known as the Age of Discovery, where Europeans explore regions around the globe, increasing influence, and trade. Another outgrowth of this period was the mapping of the world.

  • Mexican. (1821 - 1848) Pre-Columbian Mexico dates back to 8,000 BC and is considered to be one of the six "Cradles of Civilization". A cradle of civilization is any location where civilization is understood to have independently emerged. The primary six include Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, and Ancient China, Ancient Andes (Peru), and Mesoamerica (Mexico), (once again, another interesting topic to explore!) However, this period in California's history was bookmarked by war. The war of Mexican Independence (1810 - 1821) marked the beginning of this particular period and the outcome of the Mexican American War in 1848 marked the end.

  • Unites States. (1848 - present) The United States acquired the area of California from Mexico in 1848, with generally the same boundary as the present state. The area of California was never organized as a territory but was administered from 1848 to statehood by a federal military authority. California was admitted to the Union on September 9, 1850, as the 31st state. Shortly thereafter, the Treaty between the United States and the Diegueño Indians was signed on January 7, 1852.

The Original Land Surveys (1853 to 1875)

It would take 25 years for the official surveying of land to be accomplished and the land to be "reserved" for the Tribes. The original survey, completed in 1875 and approved by the Surveyor General's Office in 1876, had a handwritten note (in red) that stated Secs. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10, 11, 12, 13, & 14, were reserved for use of Mission Indians By Executive order dating December 27, 1877* [* corrected to 1875].

It took a while, but I ultimately found a copy of the Executive Order issued by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875. The excerpt below is a snippet of the full order which can be found on pages 24-25 of the document Executive Orders Relating to Indian Reserves in the online archives of the Library of Congress.

EXECUTIVE MANSION, December 27, 1875. It is hereby ordered that the following-described lands in the county of San Diego, Cal., viz, San Bernardino base and meridian: ... Santa Ysabel.-Including Mesa Grande, township 11 south, range 2 east, south half of section 21, northwest quarter, and east half of section 28, and sections 25, 26, and 27; township 11 south, range 3 east, sections 25, 26, 27, 28, 33, 34, 35, 36, and fractional sections 29, 30, and 32; township 12 south, range 2 east, sections 3, 10, 14, 15, and fractional section 13; township 12 south, range 3 east, sections 1, 2, 12, and fractional sections 3, 4, 10, 11, 13, and 14; ... be, and the same are hereby, withdrawn from sale and set apart as reservations for the permanent use and occupancy of the Mission Indians in Lower California.

A Township is a 6-mile square area of land, that is further divided into 36, 1-mile square, sections. Sections can be further divided into quarters, quarter-quarters, and individual lots. The primary surveys noted on the 1875 map include:

  • South Boundary of Township - 1853

  • Rest of Township Lines - 1855

  • Boundaries of Lot No. 37 (Part of Rancho Santa Ysabel) - 1871

  • Township line colored blue - 1874

  • Ranch lines colored blue - 1875

  • Township lines colored brown - 1875

  • Section lines - August 12, 1875

(Note: Right-click on the map images to save them and view the map in full size)

Original surveys were conducted between 1853 and 1875. The final survey was approved on February 24, 1876.

The Santa Ysabel Reservation (SYIR) is a federal reservation founded in 1893 and today is comprised of 15,526.78 acres on three tracts of land ranging from 3,200 feet to 5,700 feet in elevation. The Santa Ysabel Band, which became known for a time as the Volcan Band, resided in a village on the Rancho Santa Ysabel and then on the Santa Ysabel Tract No. 3 (upper right corner on the map above), which became known for a time as the Volcan Reservation. Tracts no. 1 and no. 2 are west of Rancho Santa Ysabel (not identified on this map), they are home to the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueño Mission Indians.

It's interesting to note that based on this early survey, most of the section and ¼ section marks that are listed for tract no. 3 were either numbered posts set in a mound of rocks or trees (Black Oak, Yellow Pine, or Sycamore), back then, survey marks were often boulders, trees, or significant natural landmarks.

1915 Resurvey and Proposed Addition of Land

In 1915 there was a proposed addition to tract no. 3. I've annotated the 1915 Resurvey map (below) with colored dots to highlight the location of all the boundary monuments, orange dots identify the original boundary and monuments numbered 1 - 27, and red dots show the new monuments added as a result of the resurvey, numbered 28 - 41. The two marks I found today (MON 28 and MON 40) were part of this addition.

Resurvey of Boundaries of the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation No. 3 1915. Approved on December 5, 1916.

1974 Dependent Resurvey and Survey

In 1974 a Dependent Resurvey was completed and as a result, the pipe cap reference marks I located today stamped 1974, (as well as MON 37 that I found in January) were established and set in place.

A dependent resurvey is defined as "...a retracement and reestablishment of the lines of the original survey in their true original positions according to the best available evidence of the positions of the original corners."

Basically, a surveyor went back over all the original surveys and accompanying field notes, located and verified the original corner monuments, and using modern equipment and technology, re-accomplished the survey based on that information.

There's a very good chance that other marks (pipe caps) were set at this time, but I'd have to find the complete field notes from the Dependent Resurvey to know exactly how many, which ones, and where they were set.

That's a quick recap of the principal surveys conducted in the area to provide some background about the reference marks AND the monuments that I recovered today. For me, it's never JUST about finding a survey mark, it's as much about the educational experience spurred by my recoveries. 👨🏻‍🎓😊

The Reference Mark: Township 12S, Range 3E, RM MON 40 SYIR

The first mark on my list was the reference mark for MON 40, it was right where I expected it to be, clearly marked with a Witness Sign, a surveyor's lath stake, and even a bit of weathered surveyor's ribbon tied around the pipe. As you can see from the pictures, the mark is in perfect condition and a little bit of chalk highlighted all the stamped information.

One of the things that drew me to these marks was that they were stamped with the Township and Range number followed by the "RM", it's the first time I've encountered that. The rest of the stamped information included the distance to MON 40 and the directional arrow point the way. Of course, SYIR identifies it as being on the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation, and the date 1974 was when the dependent resurvey was done. This mark was in a clearing at the edge of someone's property, just above the road, I figured since the MON 40 was only 9.2 feet away that I should easily be able to find that marker. Remembering that MON 37 was a pipe cap, I started looking around for another pipe cap mark, but it was obvious this was the only one there. Okay. I paced off 9 feet in the direction of the arrow and basically ran into the tree! The tree was MON 40! 🤦🏻‍♂️

The Monument: Township 12S, Range 3E, MON 40 SYIR

Sure enough, when I walked around the tree, on the front side (yeah, facing the road, plain as day) were two signs, one a Witness Sign, and the other a Property Boundary Sign. Putting two and two together, I figured out that the tree WAS the monument. I honestly didn't pay much mind to the signs when I approached because I thought they were for the reference mark 🤷🏻‍♂️. When I got home and went back to the original survey maps, it all came together. MON 40 was the first recovery I've made that was a living thing, officially the NGS categorizes it as "Type 1 - Lone Tree" 👍🏻

The Reference Mark: Township 11S, Range 3E, RM MON 28 SYIR

A little further down the road, the same process repeated itself. This mark was across the street from the old Santa Ysabel Casino. The coordinates for this one were a bit off and didn't take me directly to the mark. I spent some time kicking around through the brush on the embankment before deciding to look around the base of the tree. As you can see in the pictures of the monument, the tree was huge, and low hanging branches hid the presence of the mark to the casual observer. Stamped just as the previous marker was, this pointed directly at the tree stating MON 28 was 9 feet away.

The Monument: Township 11S, Range 3E, MON 28 SYIR

Two trees recovered in one day! There's not much more to say about this one except that it was a beautiful old tree, and I'm guessing that the Witness Sign had been there for a while since the tree was growing around it! 😂

These four recoveries were pretty cool, especially since I was only counting on the two pipe cap reference marks! I ended up with those PLUS the original monuments...trees! The journey to sort all this out was an interesting deep-dive into the cadastral surveying that charted out the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation and the land history of California.

On to Lake Henshaw for the final part of my day and some more easy recoveries 😊


PART III - Lake Henshaw SMASH

Marks Recovered: 4

Discs Recovered: 4

Non-Disc Type Recovered: 0

GPS on Bench Marks Priorities: 0

The final destination on my side trip was a Survey MArk Scavenger Hunt at Lake Henshaw, my target was the aptly named LAKE station and its related marks. I had originally had this one on a long list of survey marks to locate on the eastern end of SR 76 between Lake Henshaw and Pauma Valley. With 27 potential recoveries on that list, I knew it would take a full day to cover the 12-mile stretch, so I carved out LAKE to recover today and will save the rest for another day.


The NGS datasheet for the Lake station included the standard geodetic azimuth (compass bearing based on true north) from the station to the azimuth mark 192.27º which would allow me to plot a line where I could expect to find the azimuth marker, but I lucked out on this one, the description of prior recoveries gave very detailed directions about where this was located, "...cemented in a drill hole in a 9' x 6' triangular-shaped rock, projecting 2 feet above the ground, 53' NE of the centerline of State Highway 76, 320' SE of the gate to Lake Henshaw, 3' SW of the fence line." Easy-peasy! They don't ALWAYS work out like this, but when they do, it's pretty nice! 👍🏻

Standing behind the mark to take the second picture, I was looking at the hillside where the station and reference marks were located. The beauty of a properly placed Azimuth Mark is that it points you where you need to go! 🔎

DX5022: LAKE Triangulation Station, CF0950: LAKE RM 1, and CF0951: LAKE RM 2

These recoveries were all fairly simple as well, I headed over to the gate leading to the lake and the parking area only to find that I had to purchase a parking permit at the Lake Henshaw Cafe that would give me the gate code. The land (and I presume the lake) is owned and controlled by the Vista Irrigation District and they charge $8.10 for simple Day Use. I had to laugh, why exactly $8.10? 🤔 I paid up, got my code, and headed back across the street.

I had the coordinates for the station saved as a waypoint in my GAIA GPS App, so I parked, opened GAIA, and set out up a faded Use Trail up the hill. It wasn't my intent to track this like a hike, but I must've inadvertently hit the record button when I was looking for the waypoint. I ended up with a whopping 0.29 miles with 67 feet of vertical gain on my 20-minute jaunt. 7m 33s of moving time and 12m 45s of stopped time to prep and photograph the marks, so this recovery cost me about 40 cents a minute. 😂🤣

The reference marks were set up by the book, at 90º angles to the main station, all of the marks were set in a 12-inch square concrete monument, again, easy-peasy. Not a bad way to wrap up the day!


All in all, it was a good day, it felt good to put my pack on and get back on a trail, even if it reminded me how out of shape I was. I intentionally picked Monument Peak as an "easy" hike but it wasn't a slam-dunk. My descent was slow and I quickly learned that I still have a long way to go before I regain full stability. I was happy to recover a bunch of survey marks to add to my growing database and learn all the new stuff I did in order to put this article together. 😊 If you've taken the time to read through this full article, thank you!

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