Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesday search challenge (9/4/13): What made that mark on the land?

Along the San Mateo-coastline: 37.36872, -122.40683
Due west from where I live is the hyperactive intersection of sea and land, a place where cliffs plunge hundreds of feet into the Pacific, where the rocks are crumbly and barely hold together. It's a beautiful place that has, amazingly, mostly NOT been developed and covered with ticky-tacky buildings and strip malls.  I am eternally grateful that this is so.  

But it's also a place where people have tried to build things for quite a long time.  It's a tough environment.  When there aren't earthquakes, the soil gives away.  When it rains, the mud flows come.  In the summertime, this coastline is usually fogged in.  Still... it's so beautiful that people keep trying. 

I went camping this past weekend with my family near this place on the coast.  As you drive along Highway 1, you'll see various attempts that have marked the land with their histories.  I spotted this particular anomaly as we drove past and wondered "What is that?" 

In the aerial photograph above (taken at lat/long 37.36872, -122.40683 ), you can see Highway 1 on the right, and two linear marks between the road and the edge of the sea cliff.  Here, the ocean is around 160 feet (48 meters) below the cliff edge, so what we see here is a fairly flat piece of ground suspended high in the sky.. with two mysterious construction remnants left on the surface. 

Your question for today: 

1.  What is (was) the reason for the long rectangle on the left near the cliff?  When was it built?  When was it destroyed?    
2.  (Extra credit)  If you can figure out the first one, then the second one should be easy too:  Same question--what's the long linear feature between Highway 1 and the rectangle?  When was IT made?  And when was IT destroyed?  

You'll find that you need to take rather different research approaches to find the answers to both of these questions.  But I know you can do it!  You're SearchResearchers!  

Be sure to let us know HOW you found the answers (so we can all learn from your successful search path) and HOW LONG it took you to work it out.  

Search on! 


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    Your Coordinates in Google Maps. Found Half Moon Bay.

    Then Earth view: Cabrillo Highway South 21964

    [21964 cabrillo highway south construction]
    Historic site of Gordon's Chute

    [Gordon's Chute] and ["Gordon's Chute"] in web and in Books.

    California Coastal Resource Guide

    Gordon´s Chute

    Gorndon´s Chute image

    ["gordon's chute" history]

    Gordon´s Chute map
    John Vonderlin Sheds New Light on Gordon's Chute

    [Ocean Shore Railroad] found this information in Google Books


    San Francisco trains

    History Ocean Side


    1. What is (was) the reason for the long rectangle on the left near the cliff? When was it built? When was it destroyed?
    A: Gordon´s Chute. Built: 1872 by Alexander Gordon. Demolished by a storm 1885.

    2. (Extra credit) If you can figure out the first one, then the second one should be easy too: Same question--what's the long linear feature between Highway 1 and the rectangle? When was IT made? And when was IT destroyed?
    A: Ocean Shore Railway. Construction beginning on May 18, 1905. Tunitas construced in 1909. In 1920, the railroad ceased operation. The Ocean Shore lasted into the 1970's.

    Tunitas Beach, Gordon´s Chute and Ocean Share Railroad

  2. Interesting history...

    I'm familiar with the California Coast Project... so I started there.

    The caption lead me to the following...

    The rectangle near the cliff was the old field for the Peninsula Channel Commanders. Built in 2000 and was closed as of October 31, 2008

    Looking at the aerial photo, it is clear there was a railroad bed... so I searched for railroad San Mateo...

    The other feature would be a section of the Ocean Shore Railroad. Started in 1905 and abandoned in 1921

    While searching I also noticed this...

    An additional historical fact, this is the site of Gordon's Chute.

    and additional site photos showing the air field...

    total time 15 minutes


    1. the coast project was a clever way to go - a couple additional pics from there - the 2010 image (after the field closed) is interesting because it shows the farm equipment in the same positions they appear in Dan's pic from Google maps -
      and very little evidence of the air field - just a ghost.
      2010/farm equipment
      gMaps/farm equipment
      think this is the best image of the field -
      air field 2005
      if you hadn't found the caption off the 2002 image, I'm not sure how the story of the field would have come to light??
      I suspect that Dan may have thought it was related to Gordon's Chute remains?
      an interesting set of images related to Gordon's Chute - shows how treacherous the surf can be and raises the possibility of a "Sea Monster" at Tunitas Beach… probably had a taste for wheat…
      John Vonderlin - 2010/flickr

      Jaahu: Dan & Ramón - with the Mendel induced gender dysphoria the ligules diagram from the last post brought, I'm tempted to change my blogger handle to Chelsea, but XY for the foreseeable future.

    2. Thanks for the link to John Vondelin's flickr set. This is an excellent find.

  3. nother California Curiosity ! Solved.

    Your thoughtfully included the lat/long which enabled studying MAPS and EARTH so I could now place the location.

    Spent half an hour reading up on Half Moon Bay [MAPS] and Purisima SEARCH [ghost town half moon bay].

    Got nowhere. So walked the dog.

    THen determined to find historic map of San Mateo County but before that happened it occured to me to try SEARCH for [california state route 1] which MAPS shows runs right past The Mystery.

    Bingo. has the history and mentions an interesting clue.

    "That highway was completed in 1914 and provided competition to the Ocean Shore Railroad, which operated between San Francisco and Tunitas Creek from 1907 to 1920."

    SEARCH [ocean shore railway] finds

    from that page we a nice aerial pix of The Mystery and this: "Ocean Shore rail grade at Tunitas Beach. The cliffs here are 100' high. This is also where the farmer Alexander Gordon had a famous (or infamous) "chute" for sliding farm goods from the top of the cliffs to ships anchored in the rolling surf below. Gordon's Chute was built in 1872 and lasted until 1885, when a storm blew it away. Here is a large detailed drawing of the chute. Note also, between the highway and the cliffs, the faint trace of a former railroad bed. This was the Ocean Shore Railroad."

    The detailed drawing of the chute is here Well worth a look.

    1. What is (was) the reason for the long rectangle on the left near the cliff? When was it built? When was it destroyed? It is the remains of the top pf the chute facility. It was built 1872 and was detroyed 1885. However, slightly diffrent data from July 15th, 1896 issue of “The Call.” at says it was built around 1860 and that last remains of the warehousing and residences were pulled down just before July 1896

    2. (Extra credit) If you can figure out the first one, then the second one should be easy too: Same question--what's the long linear feature between Highway 1 and the rectangle? When was IT made? And when was IT destroyed? The long linear feature is the remains of the Ocean Shore Railway was to be finished in 1907 but destroyed by the big earthquake in April 1906.

    Once I had my epiphany it was about 10 minutes


  4. and I should also note that on you will find historical photos before the R/C field was built and after it was removed. The website is a photographic record of the coastline to document the changes that occur on the entire California coast.




    1. Great find on the airstrip details! I found the airfield but couldn't find the name of it or any further information. I noted it was gone by 2009 using historical aerial photos but couldn't determine when it was constructed bc of a gap in the photos between 1993 and 2003. Interestingly, while the airfield was present from 2000 to 2008 aerial photographs show it marked with X's on both ends from 2003 to 2008. FAA regulations, both current and from 2001, indicate that runways with X's on both ends are closed to air traffic:

      It makes me wonder when the strip was actually operational.

    2. Further reading of replies downthread shows that it was a model airplane field. That explains the X's. And the length. :)

  5. The diagonal stretch hosted a model airplane runway for the Peninsula Channel Commanders (PCC) and supporting structures. It appears that the site was sold to a new (farmer) owner who terminated the lease to the flying club in 2008. They have since relocated their club. The site had been operational since 2000.

    The site looked like a short runway to me (I'm a private pilot). After searching for the coordinates in Google Maps to get an idea of the general location, I searched for "closed airports near San Jose". I got nothing useful from this search. I was thinking it might be an abandoned/closed military training field for training for short take-offs and landings on aircraft carriers in windy conditions.

    I went back to Google Maps to get a closer geographic location to the coordinates. I found Half Moon Bay. I searched for "closed airfield half moon bay" and found nothing and then clicked the images button. I still saw nothing that caught my eye. I broadened my search to "airfield half moon bay" and saw a photo above the fold of the flying club that looked just like the spot in your photo above. I visited the source blog of that photo to get the details about that site.

    I spent about 20 minutes searching. I did not complete the bonus research.

  6. and...

    Wikimapia has everything called out...

    aerial map

    1. This was probably the fastest way to get to the answer.

  7. Google Earth - Use ’time line tool’ (had to switch to a PC because Android tablet can't do this function). Coordinates 37.36872, -122.40683

    *1991 first image on time shown

    *May 2003 left strip appeared (no timeline earlier showing airstrip)
    (fact. Airstrip was in fact astro turf.)

    *Best Image 10/2005

    *Between 2008 and 2009 buildings disappeared

    And using info at this location-
    ‘Info icon’ opens to tell us that this was the location was used by the
    Peninsula Channel Commanders of Half Moon Bay, Ca.
    Group flys model remote controlled airplanes. {Link #1}

    Here’s an image showing in fact the larger strip and what looks like a second smaller strip. Also I noticed in the 10/2005 image on timeline that there are actually numbers and letters on the airstrip. Can’t quite make them out for sure. Hope no one tried landing their full sized plane by mistake. I measured it and it seems to be about .12 kilometers

    "In 1999, the group moved to a field on the west side of Highway 1 owned by the Deany family. This beautiful location was a bit close to the ocean: many a plane splashed into the Pacific."
    (Found fact- 20 plus model planes fell into the ocean.)

    Query [ Peninsula channel commanders airfield]

    Result - Blog site that indicates when the airstrip shutdown {Link #2}

    Farewell, Half Moon Bay
    Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

    “The last day of September marked the end of flying at the Half Moon Bay airfield used by the Peninsula Channel Commanders since the year 2000.
    A local farmer had rented his land to the club for the airfield.
    But the farmer recently sold his land, including the patch used by the PCC.
    Two months ago the new owner notified the group that the lease was now month-to-month. More recently the new owner decided that the lease would end on the last day of October, and that flying was to end immediately.”

    Answer # 1 Peninsula Channel Commanders Remote Control Model Planes Start to build 1999 Closed Oct 2008 Time 10 minutes

    Second Rectangle - This I found much more difficult because no obvious references. When I zoomed in on Google Earth Timeline 2004/2005 it looks like there may be small buildings to the right. They disappear in 2009. I check on Google earth photos, nearby roads, peoples comments and other icons. Finally find Tunitas Creek Road

    Query [cabrillo highway south tunitas creek road] Unique enough to not use quotes Link # 3

    Using Control F - Cabrillo | Tunitas found

    "Ocean Shore Railroad, which operated between San Francisco and Tunitas Creek from 1907 to 1920"

    “The Ocean Shore Railroad was intended to be built from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, California, via a route along the Pacific coastline.

    Query [ocean shore railroad] Link #4

    "The tracks from San Francisco were completed as far south as Tunitas Creek, south of Half Moon Bay."

    Image definitely shows this location of Ocean Shore Railroad {Link #4 & #5}

    "Ocean Shore rail grade at Tunitas Beach. The cliffs here are 100' high. This is also where the farmer Alexander Gordon had a famous (or infamous) "chute" for sliding farm goods from the top of the cliffs to ships anchored in the rolling surf below. Gordon's Chute (see # 4 for sketch) was built in 1872 and lasted until 1885, when a storm blew it away.” {Link #6}

    Link #1

    Link #2

    Link #3

    Link #4

    Link #5

    Link #6

    Answer # 2 Abandoned - Ocean Shore Railroad from San Francisco to Tunitas only. Start 1907 End 1920 {Link # 3} Time 90 minutes (including writeup)

    1. RoseMary , one question, because I'd like to know more about it. What is the 'info icon' you mention? and where it is located, it is part of Google Earth?

      Remmij Sorry for the confusion. Your name looks like either male or female. Thanks for clarification. In any case, it is great to know more about each of us, right?

      Do you have an automatic way to add the URLs in your post or you do it one by one like I do?

      Thanks! Greetings to all.

    2. Hi Ramon and Fellow Searchers

      By no means am I an expert on Google Earth. How I use Google Earth is to experiment with various "Layers" found on the left side of the screen below Search and Places (on PC). If you click on Gallery Menu & open up the sub-menus you will find Google Earth Community (notice the 'I' icon) and once selected the icon will show up on the map. Just click and open for more information. In this case it linked me to a Google Group for Peninsula Channel Commanders but I didn't spend much time there. I encourage you to try different menu options.

      I do it slightly different on my Android because it provides just the basics.I think Dr. Russell could give you a much better explanation. There is a whole other section called Earth Gallery that looks really interesting as well and I want to spend time there because I think it has a lot to offer.

      Ramon I review all responses because I want to learn from fellow students as well. It's amazing to see how the searches are done.

    3. Good Morning RoseMary Thanks for your answer :D

      I tried and found the icon. I had that layer off. When I took Google Course didn´t try that option in the layers and it is very useful, thanks!

      I tried the same approach that you did in the beginning and I did something wrong because "Time line tool" showed 1938 or something like that so I tried new things.

      Thanks for this new SearchResearch lesson, RoseMary.

      Have a wonderful day

    4. Ramón — it's all a learning process - as you know, sorting through ambiguity and organization are major elements of search… No, I don't have a quick way to add the HTML links - if I have a number to do I will copy the basic format and then just paste in the URLs & titles. That can speed things up a bit, but it is still on the tedious side. The other thing that I find occasionally useful is a URL shortener tool like TinyURL or Google's version of that (or that option on YouTube if I'm doing a video). That all adds an additional step, but keeps the HTML tag cleaner and easier to trouble shoot if there is a problem (usually my failure to add the needed " or <>, etc. - sometimes those little omissions or mis-texts can be maddeningly difficult to find.)
      I find the process makes me slow down and think about what I'm adding and check its details and for the reader it makes checking a link a simple one click process - something I appreciate when reading responses.

      I imagine Dr.DR has to be impressed with the way you have developed your search skills - you, RM & others, all demonstrate what I think are key components to successful searching - curiosity and adaptiveness.
      As the Dear Leader says: Búsqueda en! (close? - gTrans) she is very insightful! ;^)

    5. Ha ha ha...

      what you say is true--it's kind of a hassle to add links in the comment fields.

    6. @RosemaryM -- I wish I'd thought about using the Google Earth Information layer! That's another fast way to find this info. I'll definitely comment on this tomorrow.

    7. Thanks Remmij and Dr. Russell

      Thanks Remmij for your answer. What I do is first all the SearchResearch and then the HTML Links.

      Yes, I like to learn and read a lot and Dr. Russell's Challenges are great to do both! I love Wednesday just for the Challenges!

      Now, I know Google Earth Information layer, thanks to RoseMary It is like you say, Dr. Russell, know the tool and what it can do. In the course, I just tried what they taught -which was a lot- and not with all the layers.

      Fortunately, it's all a learning process like you say, Remmij and I'm learning with every post that I do and read.

  8. It's hard to get to the comments box without scanning everyone else's replies. I failed this challenge. In the honest pursuit of learning from someone else's mistakes here is how I approached today's challenge.

    Search for the lat/long [ 37.36872, -122.40683 ] I'm in maps preview mode so I switch to Earth view. I don't see any clues so I switch to Google Earth and paste in the coordinates and then turn on timeline view. I find something at 2003 and look closely and think it's an landing strip or airfield. My search from then on focused on abandoned airfields. Even finding a blog all about closed airfields and airports in California I turned up nothing.

    Good on ya! to those that solve it!

    1. I definitely did the same re: abandoned airfields (though I was able to identify the other man made feature, the railroad). I did, however, come across this treat of a site:

      listing abandoned and little-known airfields all over the US. Interesting stories and pictures abound.

      Of course, because the airfield in question was for model planes it wasn't listed. Ah well.

    2. I did this as well until I figured out the length. The AirFields-Freeman site is totally amazing. Well worth a look-through.

  9. Had I known of Wikimapia I would have just punched their identifications into my answer. But in doing that I would have totally missed the most fascinating part of that immediate area, namely finding the image of Gordon's Chute. So for me myself, I am happy to have gone wandering off.

    Live and learn


    1. I agree... Sometimes the journey is the reward. I'll talk about Gordon's Chute tomorrow. I really didn't expect that to show up in people's searches. And it's a great, great story.

    2. jtu & Dr.D, fully agree.
      Actually, my approach was to plug the coordinates provided into GooMaps, then looked for a labeled feature - Tunitas Creek - and searched that and found the Wikipedia entry that mentioned both Gordon's Chute & the railroad…
      Tunitas Creek
      but not the RC field — and the location of the Chute is a little ambiguous - all cleared up by chris finding the Wikimapia post.

      (btw, the story of the railroad trestle/rampart construction across the coastal streams is pretty interesting too - an example of unintended consequences; the birth of numerous nude beaches in the area, blocked from roadside view, but visible to the passing trains - resulting in something other than high speed rail operation along the beach stretches.)

      the current RC airfield location - to the east:
      Richardson Field
      North Coast Railroad Ramparts
      OSC railroad trestles/ramparts

    3. also an interesting area history bit - it was/is a wild coast:
      and in the ship and board chewing surf offshore (a contributing factor to the Chute's demise.) -
      a "mavericks" by any other name…
      Origin of the name
      good boy

  10. I was delighted to discover the Time Slider in Google Earth, Interestingly, the default 'current' picture for my location (41* 18' 29 S by 174* 47' 35 E )is older than some of the 'time slider' photos. I'm not sure why that is, but it was fun to see how the neighbourhood/light effects change over time.