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Landscape View – A Map-making Journey

Going to a new place is challenging. Everything tends to look a little off as your brain begins to process the all the new stimuli, the new people, the new orientation of the roads, the new sights along the horizon. It’s no wonder that cartography has always been held in such a high regard, as maps provide comfort to the traveler, reassuring them that there is something known about the unknown. Now days we have the ultimate form of mapping, GPS. From trail maps and Google Maps, we have made it easier than ever to navigate unknown lands, but in this ease we may lose the connection to the land that maps are trying to foster. When we don’t have to examine the map too closely and instead rely on it to tell us where we are and how far we have to go, our picture of the map is incomplete at best and non-existent at worst.

Moving to Mariposa, I had little idea of what to expect, the area was not well mapped, the information on trails I wanted to explore scattered among various topographic maps and known primarily through word of mouth. Almost immediately I decided that I was going to spend most of my time in Yosemite and wrote off the rest of the county as something unexplorable.

Things changed quickly after my first trail scouting day with Mariposa Trails where we spent a whole Sunday assessing damage that had been done to the trails from the latest fire. All of the sudden a whole new world opened up to me, a world of Forest Service roads and unmarked trails just waiting to be explored. Now I understood the scope of the work I had to do. One of my major projects as a fellow was to create a map to inform visitors and locals alike of the recreation opportunities outside of the National Park. There was a wealth of opportunity out in Mariposa county, but without a map people didn’t know how to find it.

As I worked on the map, I found something interesting happen. The areas that were unfamiliar started cementing themselves in my mind in a 3D plane, I could almost see were I was at from a birds-eye view. I had spent so long staring at the map, moving parts around, ground truthing roadways and trails, tracing the contour lines, that I didn’t need to constantly look at my GPS to know where I was going. I could talk directions with locals, give estimates on distances, and above all knew my place in the world. While nothing may replace the crash course in Mariposa geography that I got working on this map, I hope that by looking at this map others will get the same sense of place that I did. These days, even if I’ll be guided around by friends or GPS, I always prepare for a trip by taking a good long look at a map.

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