San Bernardino Principal Meridian

Washington Monument

On November 7th, 1852, Colonel Henry Washington, Deputy Surveyor under contract with the United States Surveyor General of California, completed a four day hike with 12  men to a point he designated and monumented to be the Initial Point. Nestled at an elevation of 10,300 feet just west of what is now know as Mount San Bernardino, this Initial Point is both the highest and hardest to reach in the entire country.  According to surveyor C. Albert White, it is also the only one that has not been altered over time by man.  And, to add to its mystique, this point has one other unusual characteristic feature that makes it more unique – it is not alone

Three Monuments, One Initial Point

By Michael A Duffy, PLS

Home Page

Submitted by:

Eugene E Holmerud

Ted Elzinga
Sept 9th 2006


See Ted's original submission
1990 Photos







The crew at the trail head

Gene calling John Shankland from the WM

Pearson Marker 1907

Rice marker 1892 Model of WM in Yucaipa Regional Park Top Detail of model


How We Got There



During the years surrounding 1990, my friend Ted Elzinga hiked virtually all of the trails on Mt. San Bernardino and the surrounding mountains.  At least one of those trips took him to the Washington Monument and he took the pictures first displayed on this webpage.

During 2005 and early 2006 I yearned to document this, the only original and hardest to reach Initial Point in the United States.  A few trips to Southern California during that time led me through the valley below that gave me only a hint of how remote the location is albeit it obscured by 21st Century additions to the atmosphere.   

During a conference in early 2006 that both Ted and I attended, I struck up a conversation with my riddle about how the North-South streets near my home in Phoenix, Arizona all jog when crossing Baseline Road.  His response clearly showed his knowledge of the subject and his prior hike to the monument.  We made plans for me to hike it on Friday, May 5 and he offered his extra room for me to use the night before.  Since he lives just 30 minutes from the trailhead this was a real benefit. 

During the intervening weeks, the temperatures in Phoenix reached and surpassed 90 degrees (F), yet I was able to practice on the mountains in our parks.  That completely blinded me to what conditions I would actually find on top of Mt San Bernardino. 

On May 5, Ted and I got about 4AM, bought breakfast, and then headed for the trail head at 5900ft elevation.  We began to hike not long after dawn, but Ted never planned to go the whole distance.  About three hours later, I was up to 8400ft and ran into show.  First it was just thin patches that I could step around or through.  Soon I realized the snow cover was solid above me and I could not see the trail.  Although I was wearing good hiking boots that were not affected by moisture, each step required far too much effort and had the risk of an accident that would leave me stranded alone.  I turned around and returned to my car. 

All was not lost however.  I had learned the lay of the land and how to use the hand-help GPS unit I had purchased the night before.  Most importantly, the folks at the Mill Creek Ranger Station gave me a reprint of a paper published in the California Surveyor.  Three Monuments, One Initial Point by Michael A. Duffy, PLS, the principle surveyor for the Metropolitan Water District, the Quasi-governmental supplier of water to millions of Californians.   

The reprint included an email address for Mike, so I contacted him and explained the Principal Meridian Project and its website.  I also mentioned my intent to complete my hike to the Washington Monument.  He very graciously offered an electronic copy of the paper and the chance to accompany him and a group of his staff surveyors to the monument the following July 15.  I eagerly accepted.

I continued to train in the Arizona summer.  I rented a satellite phone so we could talk to the rest of the world from the mountain.  Just before July 15, a wildfire broke out about ten miles east of the monument.  The entire San Gorgonio Wilderness was closed to the public. 

Mike and his staff picked September 9 as the next try.  I continued to train in the Arizona summer.  Ted again provided a place to sleep the night before, but since I would be with others did not hike.  Although we were together at the trailhead, the nine of us very quickly found our individual paces, not surprising in that I calculated the grade to be 12% for the first mail and a half, but with steeper and nearly level portions thereafter.  We regrouped a number of times on the trail, but most of us were at the monument within five hours.

Mike explained that the monument had been stabilized by rebuilding the rock pile that holds the tall pole.  Epoxy was used to hold rocks together.  The original poll is still used, although is only about half its original height.  One of the shinny reflectors that originally hung from a crossbar is nailed to the pole and it is severely rusted.  Two or three piles of ashes from magnesium fires that were set to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1849 California Gold Rush were clearly visible, each a few feet from the monument. 

Many pictures were taken and several phone calls attempted.  One time we were crowed around the monument for group pictures.  Our view was to the west.  Someone noticed a street on the valley below that seemed to point directly at us and asked: What street is that”?  I promptly answered “Baseline” and said it continued all the way to Santa Monica on the coast. 

A few of us proceeded due east to the 1907 Pearson monument along the very steep (down to our right) slope for 600 feet.  A pole had been added in recent years to make it findable.  Again pictures and GPS readings were taken.  Then 300 feet more to the east to the 1892 Rice monument for pictures.  The original pole is engraved with township numbers and a pipe had been added years later.  Finally, a slow climb up (>50%) slope to the trail on the ridge and a return the Washington Monument. 

It's all downhill from here and we all made it back to the trailhead.  I confirmed that, on average, our hike was level.  Then, while carpooling back to the ranger station, Mike mentioned that a model of the Washington Monument had been constructed a few years ago in the Yucaipa Regional Park.  I proceeded to that location and photographed it as well.  It is approximately one-third the size, but reflects the monument as portrayed in Colonel Washington's diagram. 

Thanks again to Ted Elzinga, Mike Duffy and his staff, and John Shankland.

 Gene Holmerud

September 16, 2007