My Addiction to Maps

If you read my last blog post about Rutledge Spur, you might have noticed I’m into maps and aerial photos. I’m not just sort-of into them. Definitely addicted.

I’m not really sure when it started. I can vividly recall an early memory from when I was 7 years old. My family was moving from Ohio to Arizona and the moving company had supplied us kids with maps and an atlas. I remember following along from the back seat of our Fury III as we got to each town along the way, marking the progress along the highways we traveled. I was already pretty comfortable with maps at the time.

In grade school, a graduate student from the University of Arizona came to try to find out what skills our young minds used for navigating. He brought an aerial photo of the area around the school, and told me to walk us to a spot he was pointing at on the photo. I’d never had access to an aerial that showed our neighborhood before. My first question was “Where do you get these?” I knew it didn’t come from the gas station. I was thrilled to show him how to get there, using my skills counting streets, turns, and houses, but also using visual cues like trees and driveway styles. That guy did not expect a 4th or 5th grader to have that knack yet. He also told me he borrowed the photos from the U of A library. “Mom? Can we go there?” It turned out the graduate student’s borrowing privileges were higher than my elementary student privileges.

I enjoyed learning orienteering, compass, and mapping skills in the Boy Scouts. Gaining access to great topographical maps of the Santa Catalina Mountains fed my addiction, also prompting me to ask where they’d come from. That’s where I found out about Tucson Map and Flag. “Mom? Can we go there?” Alas, time, distance, and money kept me away.

In college, my eclipse chasing buddies were into maps too. At one point my housemate had plastered an entire wall with adjoining sections of the Baja peninsula. By then, I was able to provide transportation on a few trips to the map store.

My interest in aerial observation also stemmed from an interest in flying. I’m a window seat guy with a sore neck. I complteted ground school for becoming a private pilot and also did a few hours of flight time, but job changes kept me from continuing toward that goal at a couple of critical points. I still have lots of old aeronautical charts from those days.

As a defense contractor employee, I learned to use early military GPS receiver data streams at work. When they made accurate GPS available to regular citizens, Geocaching became possible. That was a real marriage of tech and the outdoors. That turned out to be a great match for me. Wow, how great is it that we have all this stuff on our smart phones now?

So, what’s the big draw maps for me? Probably the alternate way of looking at the world around me. Sometimes it’s getting the big picture: “How big is this park?” Sometimes it’s time travel: “What was here before?” Sometimes it’s getting there: “What way do I go?” And sometimes it’s a treasure hunt: “There’s something here I want to see.” The ultimate “treasure” for me is finding out something unexpected or unusual about a place.

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