© 2020 Chris Muhl Art. All rights reserved.

I have been working on a small project developing a map for an area of farmlands and grasslands in the San Joaquin Valley in California. The area presents a unique cartographic challenge, as the landscape is generally very flat with small hills to the east. Developing visually appealing shaded reliefs for landscapes with relatively minor elevation changes can be somewhat difficult. To overcome this challenge, I built up a color ramp in Photoshop using multiple layers, each individually altered. Texture was developed using a curvature layer. Croplands, water features, and structures were digitized using imagery from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP).

The map was developed using ArcGIS Pro, ArcMap, and Adobe Photoshop.

Please note that certain features and labels have been removed and titles have been changed to protect the privacy of landowners in this area.

Recently, I came across Bradford Washburn’s map, “The Heart of the Grand Canyon.” The map was published in 1978 by National Geographic.

MapCarte100_washburn_large

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.

Screenshot_4

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).

GrandCanyonReferenceMap_36x48_Port_20200206_1543_HoodRiver_Oregon_Muhl_ContourLabels_2200

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.

GrandCanyon_36x48_Port_20200215_2103_HoodRiver_Oregon_Muhl_960