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kottke.org posts about Grand Canyon

The Heart of the Grand Canyon Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2019

Over a period of 8 years, explorer and photographer Bradford Washburn worked with a small team and National Geographic to produce a map called The Heart of the Grand Canyon. Published in 1978, it is “still considered by many to be the most beautiful map of the area ever created”.

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Here’s a closeup view of part of the map, which shows just how much detail is there:

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Often Washburn was dropped off on top of a pinnacle or small butte along with surveying equipment, such as a state-of-the-art laser range-finder device still under development, on loan from the company that made it. Using a built-in telescope, Washburn would aim the helium-neon laser at a reflecting prism positioned on another point miles away. The laser beam would be reflected back to the range finder, which measured how long the beam’s round-trip took and translated that into distances that were accurate to within 6/100 of an inch per mile. Washburn used a 40-pound surveying instrument called a theodolite to measure the angles between each of the control points, providing him with the relative position and height of each set of points.

After a few weeks in the canyon, Washburn was convinced of the potential for “a map of really superlative beauty as well as topographic quality.” Knowing exactly where to find the expertise, and the funds, needed to realize that potential, he asked the National Geographic Society to join the project.

The surveying took years and then came the data analysis & production phases…it took over 1000 hours just to paint the relief shading onto the map. If you want to compare Washburn’s map to earlier efforts, check out this post at Codex 99. This 1903 USGS map was the best map into the 1960s:

Natgeo Grand Canyon Map

Even in the age of crisp satellite views in Google Maps, The Heart of the Grand Canyon is a beautiful and useful map. You can purchase a copy of the 1978 map (and a refreshed 1999 version) from the National Geographic store.

The Inverted Grand Canyon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Inverted Grand Canyon

What would the Grand Canyon look like as a Grand Mountain, i.e. if its depth became its height? Not quite as Grand perhaps, but still pretty cool.

Some of my earliest memories of the place had to do with the trippy feeling of my eyes and mind trying to make sense of the scale. I had seen many mountain ranges and vistas, including some on the way, but the vast negative space played havoc with my perception of magnitude. I’ve felt it a few times since, but never like that first Grand Canyon overlook.

I wondered, then, if flipping the Grand Canyon into a Grand Mountain might in some way help me make sense of its scale. I’m much more accustomed to seeing the mass of something rather than the massive void of something. So, here’s what that looks like.

For reference, the depth at the deepest part of the canyon is ~6000 feet and the top of the canyon is between 6000 and 8000 feet above sea level, so the highest point of the Grand Mountains would be somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 feet, in the ballpark of the Rocky Mountains. It would be fun to see what an inverted Kola Superdeep Borehole would look like: a 9-inch spire rising 40,000 feet into the air from a starting point very close to sea level, more that 10,000 feet higher than Everest.

If you want to dig into the details of how this visualization was made, check out this post on the ArcGIS blog. (thx, john)