Chris Muhl

I’m just finishing up a reproduction of a National Park Service map (NPS). I love the mapping style that the NPS has developed. I wanted to dive deep into a couple of their maps and explore their techniques. Reproductions are a great way to explore the mind and creative process of another artist, or this case, cartographer, or team of cartographers.

I found two NPS maps, one of Glacier National Park and one of Denali National Park. I blended styles from each map and incorporated some of my own styles to create my reproduction.

I changed some elements along the way. I developed a different shaded relief that has a bit more texture. I also reduced the amount of green area in the colorramp and altered some labeling styles.

I’m still working on labeling, but the bulk of the work is done. If you have any questions about how I created this map, please feel free to ask.

The Originals

Glacier National Park

Denali National Park

I recently had the pleasure of creating a 3D map of the Sandy River Delta. This 1,500 acre area lies along the southern shore of the Columbia River and is situated between the western extent of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and the eastern edge of the Portland Metropolitan Area.

Today, the Delta is an easily accessible recreational area catering to nature lovers. However, the Delta’s history is a fascinating one, marked by severe environmental degradation and a remarkable story of ecological revival.

Formation: Birth of the Delta Landform

This fertile landform is the product of both past and present natural forces. Significant sediment deposition occurred during the Old Maid and Timberline eruptive periods as lahars originating on the slopes Mt. Hood flowed down the Sandy River to the Columbia (Pierson, Scott, Vallance, & Pringle, 2009). Ongoing sediment deposition occurs from the natural processes of the Sandy River and overbank flood deposits from the Columbia River.

Alteration: Paradise Lost

Historically, the Delta was a wooded, riparian wetland providing habitat for salmonoids, waterfowl, herptiles, and other wildlife (Kelly, 2002). The area was altered extensively throughout the 1900s.

In 1931, the East Channel of the Sandy River was dammed to increase fish runs. While intentions were good, the dam ultimately reduced habitat for juvenile salmon and steelhead by destroying the extensively braided shallow-water habitat in the East Channel and impairing backwater habitat throughout the Delta (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2013).

In 1948, the Vanport Flood tore through the area and leveled its woodlands. With the trees gone, people moved in, using the land for farming and grazing.

In the 1950s, agricultural activities came to a halt when fluoride contamination produced by a nearby aluminum plant sickened residents and killed livestock.

Ultimately, the Delta’s vibrant natural ecosystem was severely degraded. Water courses were altered, wetland areas were drained, native vegetation was stripped away, and invasive plants infested the landscape.

Restoration: Return to the Natural Order

In 1991, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) acquired 1,400 acres of the Delta and began the process of restoring it. Invasive plants have been removed and more than one million trees have been planted. In 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) removed the dam and restored the East Channel.

Today, the Delta is again a thriving natural ecosystem thanks to the collaborative work of USFS, USACE, the Oregon Dept. of Forestry, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Trust for Public Lands, Ducks Unlimited, Ash Creek Management, Friends of Trees, the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, Columbia Land Trust, Columbia Riverkeeper, Project YESS, SOLVE, Trees of the Gorge, and hundreds of volunteers.

Map Production

I envisioned this map from an interpretive design perspective. I wanted to focus on the area in its present form and utility to reveal how restoration efforts have created a flourishing natural area that benefits both wildlife and recreationists.

Artistically, my main objective was to create symbols and styles that not only stand out on aerial imagery, but also look nice. Aerial imagery is an incredible resource. However, mapping with it presents challenges, as it can be difficult to create contrast without using bright, neon colors. Extremely vibrant colors can be beautiful in some mapping situations, but are often difficult to pair with true color imagery.

I created two versions of the map, one viewing the Delta from the north and another viewing the area from the south. Personally, I like the version that depicts the Delta from the mouth of the Sandy River (looking inland). However, I believe the version that depicts the delta from inland and looking toward the Columbia River may be easier for recreationists to interpret given the location of the parking lot (the starting point of the trail network).

Thanks for reading!

I previously posted about a Grand Canyon map reproduction that I developed with ArcGIS Pro. As mentioned before, I was curious to test ESRI’s new software and to see how quickly a decent reproduction could be produced. I discussed this all in my previous post, so I won’t bore you with the details here. However, I decided to do a full-size print to hang on the wall. This is the final step in the map production process. So, I wanted to share it here.

This is the first test print. If you look closely, you may notice some dark lines in the images. These will be removed and the final map will be printed on fine art paper and then framed.




I’m working on a framing concept. Here’s a simple mock-up.


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.

Thanks for reading my post! Best wishes to all!

Update 2/15/2020:

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.