Archives for category: – Maps


I’m happy to report that an excellent new map of the United States has been published, so excellent in fact, that it received the highest honor in American mapmaking: the “Best of Show” award at the annual Cartography and Geographic Information Society competition.

But why should we care about paper maps in this day and age? I love seeing my location constantly updated on a scrolling electronic map as much as the next guy (probably more so). But I think we lose something too in our narrowly focused driving directions and map searches, and that’s a holistic understanding of the geography around us.

Well-designed, paper maps facilitate just that. The more information they convey, the deeper the understanding. That said, bringing thousands of discrete pieces of information into a balanced, comprehensible whole is no easy feat. Rare is the map that is both readable and informationally dense.

This map, however, pulls it off. It shows landforms in shaded relief. It indicates which parts of country are forested. It clearly shows rivers, urban boundaries, time zones, national parks, relative elevations, as well as other physical features like the Pacific Crest Trail. It also locates culturally important sites like the Burning Man Festival and Wrigley Field. It names individual mountain ranges and gives the elevations for selected peaks, even for those underwater! It’s packed with information but the overall visual impression is soothing, calm and eminently readable.

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Photo: Nik Schulz

When Clemens arrived in Virginia City in 1862, it was a mere three years old. Its mines, however, had already produced over $400 million dollars in silver, enough to bankroll the building of San Francisco and eventually help the Union win the Civil War. The booming town was lined with businesses, restaurants, saloons, and populated with well-paid miners and dancing girls. After his own hard-scrabble mining stint, Sam Clemens, newly shaved and puffing on his ever-present cigar, must have surveyed the bustling, cosmopolitan scene and thought, “Now this is more like it.”

Here he began to thrive writing stories for the Territorial Enterprise. When the news wasn’t interesting enough for him, which it rarely was, he stretched the facts like taffy, folding and molding them until he had produced a confection that bore little resemblance to the reality from which it was derived. To these colorfully fabricated accounts, he added his colorful new pen name: Mark Twain.

I found one wagon that was going to California, and made some judicious inquiries of the proprietor. When I learned, through his short and surly answers to my cross-questioning, that he was certainly going on and would not be in the city the next day to make trouble… I took down his list of names and added his party to the killed and wounded. Having more scope here, I put this wagon through an Indian fight that to this day has no parallel in history.

My two columns were filled. When I read them over in the morning I felt that I had found my legitimate occupation at last… I felt I could take my pen and murder all the emigrants on the plains if need be, and the interests of the paper demanded it.

Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter 42

Our legitimate occupation involved getting to the former town of Masonic in the Bodie Hills. First though we had to follow the trail south from our Desert Creek campsite to Jackass Creek and over the Sweetwater Mountains. Read the rest of this entry »


Photo: Greg MacDonald

As I mentioned in the first “Twain Trip” post, Sam Clemens planned to work as an assistant to his brother, the newly appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory—a secretary to the Secretary as it were. This notion he abandoned, however, when he learned that his salary would be deducted straight from his brother’s paycheck. Surely seeking to maintain positive fraternal relations, he sought his fortune by other means, first as a timber baron, then as a mining tycoon.

Things did not work out as planned, however. Aside from nearly capsizing in Mono Lake and almost freezing to death near Carson City, a consequence of having spent the night lost in a snowstorm (a mere 50 feet from the nearest stagecoach station), he accidentally burned down a large swath of forest surrounding Lake Tahoe, a feat he bested only by forfeiting a mining claim worth millions of dollars. Not to say that he wasn’t keeping busy—he was. It was just no way to make a living.

Twain, used to doing things on a grand scale, made no exception in failure. He had failed spectacularly. Those weren’t the piddling millions of today’s currency, mind you—they were 1860s millions. And yet, at the end of his short mining career he didn’t have two cents to rub together. The dizzying flight from millionaire to pauper left him lost. A saving grace though arrived in the form of an offer to write for Virginia City’s local newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise for $25 a week. Normally he would have turned it down, work having been antithetical to his nature, but with his back firmly against a wall he accepted and, at 27, moved to Virginia City.

I do not like to work, even when another person does it.

— Mark Twain

For us, Virginia City lay still ahead. We awoke before dawn and watched a serene orange glow bleed into the dark until the sky flooded and pushed the stars out of sight. After breakfast and cups of tea to ward off the chill, we packed up and hit the trail. Read the rest of this entry »


Photo: Natalie Menacho

On August 14, 1861 an unknown, unemployed steamboat pilot, and his brother, got off a dusty stagecoach from St. Joesph, Missouri having made the 1550 mile trek west to the newly-minted town of Carson City, Nevada. On a bit of a lark, he had decided to go and assist his brother, the recently appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory. His own career had been a casualty of the Civil War, which had broken out earlier that year halting all traffic on the Mississippi. Their three week journey cost $400, the equivalent of over $9580 dollars today. Of course, this former steamboat pilot, willing to spend hard earned money on a lark to head west was none other than Samuel Clemens.

Almost exactly 150 years later my girlfriend Natalie, our friend Greg, and I, set out for the Eastern Sierras, also on a bit of a lark, to follow in Clemens’ footsteps. We had combed guides, books, and maps, and made our plan. In early September we headed out in two Mitsubishi Monteros. Greg’s Gen1 and my Gen2.

Loading up the trucks

Monteros at the ready

Photos: Greg MacDonald

And we’re off!

Photo: Natalie Menacho

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View Larger Map

Whether you’re coming up to West County for the weekend or moving here for good, here’s a map of some of my favorite spots.

Click “View Larger Map” below the map to the left to read all of the descriptions. Enjoy!

After a couple of flights and a brief overnight at the very nice Phuket Backpacker Hostel, we boarded a boat for Koh Phi Phi, Thailand’s stunning tropical beauty in the Andaman Sea. Of course, the word about Phi Phi had long since gotten out. As we disembarked into the heat from the air conditioned deck, we joined throngs of people streaming down the pier and were immediately absorbed into a sea of backpacks, luggage, and Thai men hawking hotel rooms.

Tonsai Village, the heart of Koh Phi Phi Don (the main island) is a dense area of small shops, bars, and restaurants served by streets no wider than a city sidewalk. There’s not a car or scooter in sight. When the boats come in, they turn into rivers of tourists. It was all a little overwhelming, so the first thing we did was sit down and have a pizza.

With lunch finished and the crowds cleared, we felt fortified enough to look for a place to stay, so we slung on our backpacks, and headed out to see what we could find.
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Rice Fork, flooded last March, was crossable in November.

If you look closely (or click on this photo) you’ll see my spare gas can lying on this rutted section of Forest Road M3. These were typical road conditions for the first 10 to 15 miles.

Click here for a downloadable .gpx file of this trip for your GPS device.

In mid-November I went to the Mendocino National Forest, north of Clear Lake, solo, to see if I could circumnavigate the Snow Mountain Wilderness. I tried to do it back in March in the Montero but the snow melt-swollen rivers were too deep to cross. This time I brought a dirt bike. I didn’t think I’d be able to cover the estimated 60 or 70 miles in the truck, at least not in a day—10 mph is about average on rough roads. I figured I could easily double that on the bike.

I got up early, was in the woods, and on the bike by noon. Within a few minutes I had crossed Parramore Creek Rice Fork (the one that had held me back in spring) without a problem. OK—I stalled the bike mid-stream and had to dunk a boot in the water to keep from falling over, but basically no problem. From there my wet right foot and I headed north on forest road M3—see map below—and things got a little more serious. At one point, after slamming through a deep puddle in an especially rutted section of road, I stopped and thought, “Should I take a picture of that for the blog?” I decided yes and headed back. There in puddle lay my spare gas can. Sheesh.

After an hour of bouncing two wheels over mangled dirt, I had covered only 11 miles, about as much as I could have covered on four. I doubted whether I’d make it round the whole loop. That morning though, much like a 17th-century captain hoisting the flag of his patron saint, or an Indian taxi driver with dashboard shrine to Ganesh, I had attached a photo of Archangel Michael to my handlebars, well, a photo of a statue anyway. It helped. Despite my fear of heading alone into the wilderness, I felt a certain solidity in the journey and pressed on.

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This is a continuation of posts about our Idaho trip in early October 2010.

Burgdorf Hot Springs

Most of the cabins are not falling down. Some, however, are.

After Silver City and a night in Boise, we drove up to the town of McCall near Payette National Forest. Before heading up to the hot spring Natalie suggested a little side trip to the local fish hatchery. She, already a fan, initiated me to the wonders of the fish life cycle. What we learned was pretty amazing. (Salmon swim to Idaho from the ocean! It takes them three months! A female can lay 4000 eggs! Only 200 make it back out to sea! Of those only 10 will reach adulthood! Of those 10, only two will return to spawn!)

We took the self-guided tour, saw salmon in their various stages of development, and learned that Idaho restocks fish at about 600 lakes every year by horseback, helicopter and backpack. Can you imagine hiking for hours with a backpack full of trout leaning over your shoulder asking, “Are we there yet” every five minutes? That’s dedication. Read the rest of this entry »

Silver City, Idaho in its heyday in 1892

We hadn’t planned on going to Silver City. Heading to Boise up Hwy. 95, the easy way, was what we had in mind. But there we were in tiny, little Jordan Valley, Oregon, having lunch at a diner three miles from the Idaho border, when I spotted the above photo on the wall. I had a feeling this was going to be good. “Do you know how long it takes to get to Silver City?” I asked our waitress to no avail. She hadn’t heard me.

“At least an hour,” answered the woman at the counter. “How are you planning on getting there?” I pointed out the window at Butch (my Mitsubishi Montero), with his Hi-Lift jack and bull-bar front bumper. “With that.”

“That should work,” she said. I wouldn’t take a normal car though.”

“But don’t go in the rain,” our waitress then chimed in. “The road gets real greasy.”

I looked at Natalie. She was feeling a little under nourished from her iceberg salad—southeastern Oregon hadn’t provided many options for my favorite vegetarian—and was eager to get to Boise. Despite a craving for Thai food, she said she was game and soon we were on a dirt road headed out of town. Read the rest of this entry »

My artist’s rendering of our night siting.

It was around 4am, mid-September at the South Yuba Campground northeast of Nevada City. Natalie and I were sleeping happily. Then nature called (both of us—I guess it was a conference call). As we headed out into the chilly night air to take care of business, I said, “Hey, look, there’s Jupiter.” Fairly low on the horizon, east-southeast of us floated a bright white light. “Wow, it’s really twinkling.”

“It looks green,” observed Natalie. “Yeah, I does look like it’s twinkling green,” I said, struck by the brightness of it. I can’t remember exactly how it went from here. I think Natalie said, “It looks like it’s moving.” I looked again. “Oh my God, it does. It’s totally moving.” And we watched through the trees as this blinking, twinkling thing hovered and moved, paused and moved again. Read the rest of this entry »