I have long been a lover of maps. Many trips and dreams have been born by time spent poring over a map of a promising area.

This will certainly be a clue to my age, but I remember when I was back in high school and a buddy and I went together on an order of USGS quads to get a big enough order to get their 40 percent discount (the base price of a quad then was 50 cents), making each quadrangle cost us 30 cents. One particular part of the order was getting all of the 15-minute quadrangles of the high sierra.

Now the 15 minute maps are obsolete (so we are told), and a person has the option to get the wonderfully detailed 7.5 minute quads. The only problem here, apart from cost is that for a large trips this is a lot of maps, and beyond that, these are impractical for the person sitting on a fine summit to figure out what all the peaks are in the many miles of view spead before him. Some of the old 15 minute maps are works of art, and I may mount and frame some of those I still have (such as the Mt. Goddard 15 minute).

There is something else to be said for those 15 minute maps. Many of them have historical information and place names that have been lost in the transition to 7.5 minute maps. There is really no excuse for this (particularly when the mine or townsite still plainly exists) given the information is right there on the 15 minute maps and could be transfered with little or no effort. This is a particular issue for me with my TOPO! series maps on my computer. TOPO! has the 7.5 minute scale maps, but not the 15 minute scale, so the only way to check mine names and such is to go find paper copy of the 15 minute sheets.

Maps on a computer are a sort of a solution -- it you print selections at an appropriate scale on decent paper with waterproof ink. I have certainly gone this route, but find that maps on a laptop are far less convenient in the field than maps on paper.

A couple of good commercial options exist for popular areas:

The Trails Illustrated series from National Geographic cover special areas at a decent scale and are printed on some untearable and waterproof material.
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon map covers enough territory to allow a person to figure out the panorama viewed from a summit (1:118,000 or 1 inch = 1.8 miles).
Other maps in this series (such as Yosemite SE which covers the Ansel Adams Wilderness) are at a more detailed 1:40,000 scale.
These supplemented by detailed copies from either original 7.5 minute sheets or the equivalent on a computer would do nicely.

I have the Death Valley map from this set and one thing that really hacks me off about it is that they have edited off the locations of mines and historic sites for reasons that one can only surmise (may as well remove all roads too if you go that route). They are useful landmarks as well as points of interest ... bring them back!

Perhaps an even better option are the maps put together by Tom Harrison Maps. They are printed on weatherproof "Polyart" synthetic paper and nicely fold to 4x9 inch size. Many are at a scale of 1:63,360. Some are more detailed at 1:31,680 or 1:47,520. They are expensive but worth it.

Some places that sell them are

Another useful source of information are the Forest Service Maps. I have eschewed these in the past since they lack contours, but they can be handy. You usually have to get them from ranger stations, but there are places online that have them, such as Total Escape

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

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