Recently, I came across Bradford Washburn’s map, “The Heart of the Grand Canyon.” The map was published in 1978 by National Geographic.
Image Source: ICA Commission on Map Design
Unlike cartographers today that have access to mountains of geospatial data to produce maps accurately and quickly, Washburn had to produce the data himself. The entire process of planning, fieldwork, and map production took eight years. The final product is considered the most beautiful map of the Grand Canyon ever created.
I thought it would be fun to attempt a quick reproduction of Washburn’s map using modern technology tools. I used the image above as a reference. The colors in this photo are not quite true to the original map, but I liked them, and so used it as the reference.
Washburn’s original map contains cooler colors that represent the true colors of the Grand Canyon according to his observation.
Image Source: National Geographic
I wanted to use warmer colors that, to me, correspond to the vision of the Grand Canyon that I hold in my imagination. Admittedly, Washburn’s use of tone and contrast produce a far more interesting and beautiful visual experience.
I used ArcGIS Pro, Photoshop, and Illustrator to create the map and elements. Data sources include the National Elevation Dataset, the United States Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and National Agriculture Imagery Program.
Here’s my version below (and in the page banner above).
To conclude, Washburn’s map and the story behind it are sensational. The surveying and cartographic skill that went into producing it are beyond words. However, it is amazing how far GIS/cartography has developed technologically. Washburn’s map required eight years to produce. Today, with ESRI and Adobe products, we can all create decent looking maps in a tiny fraction of the time. Production time on this 36″ x 48″ map was about four to five days.
Below, the two maps are compared side by side. With more time, I would strive to enhance contrast in the color ramp for the canyon area. Additionally, I would increase the contrast between highlights and shadows in the plateaus.
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I found a little time and was able to make the changes that I discussed above. I believe that by adjusting the color ramp to achieve more variation and contrast between colors, and increasing highlights in the plateau areas, the map has more character. Here’s the new version below.