Knowing the lay of the land

How well do you know the area where you live? I’m not talking about getting around on foot or by car, or where the grocery store, gas station or the good restaurants are, even though those things are important. I’m talking about the true lay of the land–where are the hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, railroad tracks, abandoned mines, quarries and all the other major features of the geographic and built environment?

Most people don’t have a clue, and the more urban the area, the less clue they have. You don’t have to get them into a truly urban area, a built-up suburb will do. “I didn’t know there was an abandoned refinery over there….”

While this isn’t something that can be completed in 5 minutes, it’s easy to do in 5 minute bites. First, zip over to Google Maps and plug in your address. Go down to the lower right and click the icon for “show imagery”, then select “Earth”. This gets you an aerial of your residence and the surrounding area. Zoom in to the level of detail that you’d like to see and start printing. Move around in a grid and keep printing. Do this until you have printed a sizable area around you. If you have a laminator, laminate them.

Next, jump over to National Geospatial Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. There you can download the quadrangles that contain your residence and as much of the surrounding area as you want. Your tax dollars at work, and for something useful. You can also go to The National Map for other, more specialized maps. All of these maps can also be purchased as printed sheets for reasonable prices. I have downloads and prints.

Happy “learning the real back way out of there” to you.

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