STAFF OPINION: Maps are pretty cool

By Andrew Gotshall | May 2, 2023 11:15am

Photo courtesy of Andrew Gotshall.

I think maps are some of the coolest things ever. They can contain so much information in so little space. Not only are they useful for finding where you are or where different landmarks may be, but some maps are also just pleasing to look at.

A quick history on maps:

  • The earliest known maps date back to ancient civilizations such as Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks who created maps on clay tablets, papyrus scrolls and other materials.

  • In the Middle Ages maps were largely symbolic and religious in nature, reflecting the belief that the world was flat and centered around Jerusalem.

  • During the Renaissance, advances in cartography led to more accurate and detailed maps, such as the first world map created by Gerardus Mercator in 1569.

  • In the 19th century, the invention of lithography made it possible to produce high-quality maps in large quantities, leading to the development of commercial maps and atlases.

Some of my favorite paper maps I have are area maps of the different places I have been. This started with paper trail maps from different hiking trails across the Sierras I have completed. I especially like these maps since I used them frequently when we were navigating through the backcountry. Prior to trips, I would use these maps to familiarize myself with the area and landmarks along our route and quickest ways to get off trail in case of emergency.

I enjoy perusing topographical maps. These maps show the changes in elevation across the landscape with contour lines and are great because they show information in a third dimension while being a 2D object. These maps are also super fun to just look at and study patterns in the different changes in elevation throughout an area.

I recently began picking up road and travel maps from various trips throughout my time in college. These maps weren’t used as much as the hiking trail maps but they provided a great way to familiarize myself with the towns, landmarks and especially highways that we would be traveling on. My favorite is my map of the Italian Dolomites. It shows all the Italian Alps all the way south to Venice. I really like this map since our road trip route perfectly fit all on one sheet and made essentially a perfect circle.

Maps are pretty neat, so maybe next time you are going somewhere, take a second and enjoy the maps you used to get there.

Andrew Gotshall is a photographer for The Beacon. He can be reached at

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