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Mapping for Fun

We're pretty big fans of maps, and not just as an aid in navigation as we wander around in the mountains. Sure, they're helpful there as well, but they are also fun to study some evening when you can't get into the mountains and wish you could.

It's great fun to study the mileages, check out the contour lines, and try to decide if you could really make those twelve miles over the pass without feeling as if you were on a death march...or cross that creek that might be swollen beyond belief in the early summer runoff. Are there fish in that lake up there?

When we plan our trips, we usually start with an idea or two of where we want to go--generally an area within a park or wilderness area. But then the fun begins. As we study that area, we start looking for the best trailhead, best campsites, and best routes to get from one place to another. All of that is done on our collection of maps--both paper and on-line. If you haven't visited the USGS topo map store, or the ACMEmapper site, you have been missing the fun. We print out our own maps from both of these places.

We also like Tom Harrison's maps (great that they have the mileage indicated for every leg) but find the scale of those maps just a bit too small. We'd like a little more detail. And the National Geographic map of Yosemite is very nice--except that some of the colors are so damn dark and intense that you can't read the topo map behind them. That's a problem. So is the fact that some of the mileages are simply inaccurate. We've learned to mistrust those little red numbers by the trails.

Once on the trail. P is religious about checking the map against the territory traveled.

He tracks our progress from one point to the next, noting junctions, lakes, and notable peaks. And we have to admit we've never been lost, even in some of our more adventuresome cross-country treks--although we never did find that one lake in the Trinity Alps. Then again, we didn't have a map on that hike.

But he has been doing this for years, and even enjoys it. We're always a bit worried by people who just go hiking and trust the signs on the trails. We've found a few that were confusing at the very least.

In one way, the best map we ever had was the one from Henry Coe State Park. P took a photo of the map at the trailhead with our digital camera. And for the rest of the hike, we found that by using the zoom on the camera we could navigate just fine. How cool is that?

We've spent this winter poring over maps of Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Emigrant Wilderness, and have planned out three terrific trips into the back country of each.

Now let's see if the real work lives up to the expectations we have from our maps!

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