I like cranes. Amidst the relative ugliness of construction sites full of concrete and rebar and torn earth, there’s just something beautiful to me about tower cranes. Maybe it’s the resemblance to their namesake in the way they extend aloft like proud metal birds. Or perhaps it’s the elegance of the naked engineering on display: cables and pulleys and trusses that transfer load from hook to counterweight, all powder-coated bright white or red or blue.

Growing up in Austin (which has more than doubled in population during my lifetime) certainly meant that cranes, popping up in different places as the months passed, were a familiar part of my city’s evolving skyline. As a child I spent a lot of car rides looking out the window and wondering at them, fascinated by not knowing How Those Things Got Up There!? Then inevitably, like a typical flighty kid, I’d forget my burning question by the end of the drive. (One day I did remember to look up the answer—it’s pretty cool).

In college, I often went to watch the sunset on top of a nearby parking garage that was 10 stories tall and had a gorgeous view of the horizon and the Austin skyline (for any west campus locals, it’s the one above Pluckers). I’d kick my soccer ball around and listen to music and write and watch the day turn into night. The great view of the city meant, naturally, a great view of the many cranes peppered throughout. Idle crane-counting turned into a hunt for the place at the top of the garage where I could see the most cranes (since moving around changed the angles blocked by buildings). I eventually started calling this game cranespotting.

The object of cranespotting is simple: find the spot with the most cranes visible in a 360 degree circle. Choose a spot to stand at, pick a point on the horizon and start counting cranes, turning in place as you go until you make a full rotation. Pick a new spot, repeat. Cranespotting is best played in a medium-large city with a lot of construction. Ironically, I just moved to a small city with no cranes and no buildings taller than 4 stories… guess I’ll just have to cranespot in Denver!

My cranespotting record stands at 18 cranes, visible from one spot at the aforementioned garage during a particularly crane-y period of construction in 2019. I think that may be unbeatable at the garage for a while because construction has since finished on a big apartment building in the adjacent lot. That building now blocks a good 30-40% of the horizon, including several areas of development further north that contributed to my total. Another high-scoring spot was on the water of Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, where at one point (while kayaking) I could see 15 or 16 cranes. That was a fun place to cranespot because with downtown so close, moving along the lake significantly changed which cranes were visible between buildings.

If you start cranespotting and find a good spot, I’d love it if you took a picture and hit me up with your score and location (bonus points if you beat my record of 18). Happy spotting! :)