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Google Maps: Add the Contour Interval to the Legend of your Terrain maps
|| 8/6/2009 || 3:56 pm || 5 Comments Rendered || ||

Nearly every printed topographic map I’ve ever looked at has the contour interval, otherwise known as the distance between contour lines, listed in the legend. Depending on the scale of the map, the contour interval ranges from 1 foot to hundreds of feet between each successive contour line. The contour interval allows the map reader to instantly know the relative steepness & flatness of the topography in the map at one quick glance. Because of this crucial information, a topographic map is considered incomplete when it does not disclose this information to the reader.

Enter the Terrain feature of Google Maps. Released to the public in November of 2007, the contour lines were subsequently added in April of 2008. I hadn’t really given the feature much use until last week when I was planning my weekend excursion to the Shenandoah mountains. I was trying to figure out the altitude variation on my friends property by finding where their property line started & ended and calculating the elevation change. Since their property lies on the side of a mountain, I wanted to know the altitude at the bottom of the property and the altitude of the highest portion of the property, and subtract the difference to find the total elevation variance.

What I found out instead was that Terrain function of Google Maps was lacking the contour interval declaration in the legend. As with all their maps, the lower left-hand corner showed the units of distance on the map, but was missing the topographical information provided by the contour interval declaration.

In lieu of ever getting a response from Google Maps after previous queries, I decided to send a tweet to Google Maps:

Screen grab of my tweet to Google Maps

I wasn’t really expecting a response, but a couple hours later I received this response on Twitter:

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Front Range Quilt #2
|| 6/20/2009 || 10:15 pm || Comments Off on Front Range Quilt #2 || ||

: rendered at 18,000 X 12,000 :
Front Range Quilt no.2 by Nikolas R. Schiller

Using this portion of Front Range Quilt, I created this derivative map. I sampled that portion because I like the nature of how the shadows of the ridge presented themselves and I wanted to include the tarn at the base of Andrews Glacier. I opted for the Dodecagon Quilt Projection because I felt it that it would work nicely since I am not trying to capture any specific buildings or streets in the source imagery (there are none!).


View the Google Map of the Front Range in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

: detail :

View the rest of the map details:

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Front Range Quilt
|| 6/19/2009 || 9:40 pm || Comments Off on Front Range Quilt || ||

: rendered at 18,000 X 12,000 :
Front Range Quilt by Nikolas R. Schiller

So I never got around to making a map of downtown Birmingham, Alabama, but I still plan on doing so. Instead I decided to seek out a somewhat new place and try out a new style. For years I have been reticent about making a map that it not composed of an urban area. I always thought that it was the buildings and the streets that gave each map its intrinsic uniqueness, but with this map, I have branched out, tried something new, and am pleasantly surprised with the results.

Years ago I posted a topographic map of Rocky Mountain National Park featuring the first mountains I ever climbed as a child. It was also the first topographic map posted this to this blog, and to continue this line of thought, I was delighted to find that the imagery was available to create the first map of its type. Instead of the aerial photography being too dull to be worthy of a map, I found it interesting that the shadows created by the ridge line added some aerial chiaroscuro. Moreover, upon closer examination, due to the spatial resolution of the source aerial photography, you can actually make out the trails crisscrossing through the forest. While they don’t appear as well as a highway or skyscraper, the trails and shadows help make create a map that I am happy to publish here.

Another striking feature of the imagery is the color tone of the tarn at the base of Andrews Glacier. This blue/green lake adds a unique color contrast to the somewhat monotone yellow hue of the rocky terrain. I do, however, wish there was a bit more color contrast between the east side of the continental divide and the west side of the continental divide that I’ve seen when I’ve stood atop these mountains. I also kinda wish, for once, that the aerial photography wasn’t taken from nadir, rather I wish it was taken at an oblique angle because we’d be able to see more elevation contrast between the various mountain peaks. However, since I have hiked these mountains, I know the continental divide shown in this aerial photography traverses north and south and the shadows are only formed from the ridges extending west from the continental divide. This makes it slightly easier to differentiate where the ridges are, but not where the peaks are. Anyways, I’ve decided to sample a portion of this imagery and will make another iteration of this map shortly.

View the Google Map of the Front Range in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Curiously, the imagery used on Google Maps shows the area during the winter time and covered in snow.

: detail of Andrews Glacier :

View the rest of the map details:

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Elk outside of Rocky Mountain National Park
|| 12/28/2008 || 4:28 pm || Comments Off on Elk outside of Rocky Mountain National Park || ||

When were driving into Rocky Mountain National Park I mentioned that this massive RV lot outside of Estes Park was completely empty. When we were departing the park someone spotted three elk from the road and we stopped I took these grainy 3X-12X zoom photos.

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Photos from a frozen Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
|| || 3:31 pm || Comments Off on Photos from a frozen Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park || ||

After driving up a snow covered road, we arrived at a snowy Bear Lake, which is at 9,475 feet above sea level at the base of the continental divide. We put on extra warm clothing and went for a walk around (and across) the lake. When we were leaving I went up to a ranger and asked how thick the ice was. To my surprise he said it was about 3 feet thick. The only disappointment of this visit was that the clouds never receded back over the divide and I was never able to see the tops of any of the mountains.

Below are more photographs from the lake:

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A cap cloud on the continental divide
|| || 2:49 pm || Comments Off on A cap cloud on the continental divide || ||

As we drove to Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, I took these photographs of the cap cloud covering the continental divide.

The continental divide has always fascinated me as one of the most important geologic features in North America because it hydrologically splits up the continent into different watershed basins. Standing from the top of the continental divide in the summertime I’ve seen firsthand how the divide influences the weather on both sides of the divide. Looking West from the top of the divide you see a lush green forest and when you look off to the East you see a dry desert environment. This is due to the way the easterly moving clouds can be too heavy preventing them from being able to rise over the 12,000+ foot mountain range. They crash into the divide, release their moisture on the West side, rise up, then continue eastward over the divide. But sometimes they stick around the mountains and are called cap clouds.

It should be noted that there is a place in Glacier National Park in Montana called Triple Divide Peak, where water ultimately flows to the Arctic, Pacific, and the Atlantic oceans. When I was younger and visiting Glacier National Park I was not aware of this peak, but when I visit the park again, I’d like to climb it.



A Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park
|| 8/29/2008 || 10:41 pm || Comments Off on A Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park || ||

When I told my mom about going to Denver she mentioned that she & my step-father had been hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park earlier the week before and had spotted a black bear for the first time. When they were hiking down the trail they came across this black bear chowing down on termites in the trunk of the tree. They waited for awhile before the bear walked off. She sent me these two photographs for proof.

Last month I was in Rocky Mountain National Park for 24 Hours and didn’t see any large wildlife.

Related Animal Entries:

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24 Hours in Rocky Mountain National Park
|| 7/21/2008 || 4:49 pm || Comments Off on 24 Hours in Rocky Mountain National Park || ||

Click here to view the video on the Vimeo website

From 7/10/08 to 7/17/08 I was in Colorado visiting family & friends. On 7/13/08 I went to Boulder to visit my old summer camp buddy, Jourdan. I had originally planned to spend Monday (7/14) in Boulder, but that morning Jourdan suggested a different plan- a plan that involved driving up to Rocky Mountain National Park and checking the backcountry office to see if there were any available campsites. To our chagrin, there was a spot available at Fern Lake, which is located about 4.7 miles from the Bear Lake trailhead.

This video documents our journey into the park, hiking through the park, and driving out of the park. Along the way I showcase the Bear Lake trailhead, the demise of my hiking boots, hiking through snowfields near treeline, waterfalls at the base of the continental divide, fish swimming in a beaver dam at the foot of Fern Lake, and the grand vistas that can be seen in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This video is minimally edited using Quicktime Pro and is composed of a series of video clips taken with my Canon SD750 digital camera at 640×480 at 30 frames per second with mono audio recording.

Had I surrendered my digital camera late Thursday night when I was assaulted, this video would not have been possible.



I climbed these…
|| 11/1/2004 || 12:56 am || Comments Off on I climbed these… || ||

When I was 8 I climbed Flattop and got altitude poisoning!
When I was 14 I climbed Hallets, Otis, and Taylor with my Mom…fond memories :-)

This map is actually kinda cool tho…
I FTPed onto an unsecure USGS server and found a nice geologic/topographic map of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. I wish I had this map when I was there last because I always wanted to know which types of rocks were which…





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  • thank you,
    come again!