Thursday, January 26, 2012


A TINY DIRT ROAD leads close to the point on the earth’s surface where California, Nevada and Oregon all come together. “The rest we’ll have to do on foot,” says buddy John, who points out on the Lake Annie Quadrangle exactly where the hike would start.

Fifty years ago, Dad stashed in his den an old musette bag chock full of United States Geological Survey maps, some seven-and-a-half minute versions, some fifteen. Some were more worn out that others, but each was neatly folded into quarters and stored in the Army surplus bag until their use was required. Dad planned hikes through the foothills northeast of Chico, chasing down Ishi using maps titled by the most prominent feature in their range: Panther Springs, Barkley Mountain, Onion Butte, Digger Pine Flat, Devils Parade Ground. These names proved not to be dominant on the landscape and seen for miles like Lassen Peak or Sutter Butte, rather they were tiny geographical or historic remnants chosen by USGS surveyors as prominent within a 30-or-so-square mile rectangle.

Perhaps it’s in my DNA but now I have my own attaché, full of quads. Some belonged to Dad, but some represent areas I’ve wished to explore: Mendocino Pass, Log Spring, Chico, Hamlin Canyon. I have dozens.

“WATCH THIS,” John says as he sweeps his index finger across the Annie Lake Quadrangle. The map moves eastward with his finger. It stops at its margin and an arrow appears. John taps the arrow and in a twinkling, the Barrel Springs Quad appears.


John and I both studied Geography back when universities were called colleges. Although we attended different campuses, we each recall using Leroy lettering pen sets to hand draft maps starting with merely a faint grid on a large sheet of paper. We both recall the terms township and range, although he remembers what they mean while I need some prompting. We “get” magnetic north and true north and we understand the difficulty of charting a spheroid planet on a flat surface. We both recall harassment about our chosen majors: “Geography? What are they gonna teach ya? How to fold a map?”

FOLDING MAPS NO LONGER. The Lake Annie Quad and the neighboring Barrel Springs Quad were stored on John’s i-Pad. For $7.99 he downloaded an application that allows access to every USGS quadrangle in the country. He demonstrated a download with the swipe of his finger and then a touch. In moments, Dad’s old Panther Springs Quad glowed. Deftly, John spread his thumb and forefinger and the map expanded. Boat Gunwale Creek, Avery Place, Stone Corral – all the places we visited walking in Ishi’s footsteps.

“Watch this,” he said again tapping an icon at the corner of the screen. In seconds, the quadrangle was replaced by a satellite image (via Google Maps, I’m thinking) of rugged Mill Creek Deer Creek haunts of North America’s last “wild Indian.”

“Lemme see that!” I grab the electronic pad from my buddy and fumble with it. I scroll westward into the heart of the Coast Range. Finding the Mendocino Pass Quadrangle, I tap the grid and download. I scroll further until I find section 17. Spreading my fingers, the map zooms. I touch the icon. In an instant an aerial view of a swale appears with roads clearly marked.

More of that spreading action and I view Simpson Camp, idyllic and favored spot of summers decades ago.


THOSE OF US WHO RIDE big Stelvios or GSAs into the backcountry, those of us who mountain bike, or hike or Jeep are foolish if we do not plan our adventures with care. Central to this planning must be a reliable map. Studying a sheet helps us with the unmarked intersection, the flow of watercourses, the promontories and peaks that may serve as guides and the quickest route back to pavement or gasoline. Call it orienting oneself.

On the road, like Dad did on the trail, I carry several paper versions of where I’m going to go. These are essential to ensuring that the adventure does not become too adventuresome. I don’t carry my i-Pad: no power source, no coverage and, until a couple of days ago, no maps.

(c) Topo Maps App
But about five minutes after buddy John and I bid farewell, I was at my desk, accessing i-Tunes and Since I did this I have revisited the Ishi Wilderness, the Yola Bollies of the Coast Range, and my favorite growing-up spots around Chico and Sonora. I have also plotted that trip to the northeastern corner of California – up in the Lake Annie Quad – and await the opportunity to hike in there.


© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. That's a cool little app ( I have it on my iPhone. It is possible to take it with you into the wilderness. Each quad can (should) be downloaded ahead of time, so you don't need an internet connection at the time you use it. Of course, you'd need a connection to use the GPS feature.

    It's no replacement for a real map, though, IMHO. Maybe it would be better on an iPad; definitely on an iPhone you aren't be able to see enough of a map in enough detail to be able to navigate with it absent a GPS signal, especially if you're not on a marked trail/road.