Topographic Map Transformations

Enhancing Vintage Topography

My first experience with translating the imagery found flat on a topographic map to the changes in a landscape was during a middle school ecology club trip to West Virginias Dolly Sods Wilderness. Looking at the maps, contour lines helped explain valleys, streams, and mountain tops. I used the USGS quads throughout my time in southeast Alaska, piecing them together to understand the lay of the land where I was building trails, and in support of my first off-trail wilderness wanderings.

With the National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS) in the southwest, I put to use their detailed technical training in interpreting topographic maps to navigate vast routes across the Wilderness, which would set me up for future expeditions such as exploring the Gila Wilderness from the Cliff Dwellings National Monument to Mogollon Baldy. With the advent of effective digital mapping, much of my planning shifted to the digital world where I could access topographic maps through programs such as CalTopo and Gaia Maps, and printing out customized maps for the field and using GPS and Gaia on my phone.  I still have a soft spot for the traditional USGS Topographic Maps, and find the techniques, artistry, and even typefaces used in some of the vintage maps especially beautiful.


Topo Map For Navigation in the Gila Wilderness

Working with GIS software ArcPro from ESRI, I have taken to blending the maps (available from the USGS topoView website) with digital elevation models, hillshades, and imagery, adding colorization to the layers to bring the landscapes of these vintage maps to life. I've had a creased, coffee-stained, yellowed with age, pencil-annotated 1960 version of the Petersburg USGS 1:250,000 hanging behind my computer for years. It was a fun reflection to bring this particular map some depth and additional character into the captured landscape of the area where I first really fell in love with maps and their ability to open my way in the wilderness. For many of these, I drew inspiration from my experiences in the area to tone and color the mapped landscapes, and I have included photos I've taken of the landscape there.

What follows is a gallery of vintage topos and my artistic interventions

Adjust the slider across the maps to bring them to life