Beyond being exceedingly accurate and detailed, topographic maps are three-dimensional; that is, they depict vertical as well as horizontal features. The thin brown contour lines give a clear profile of the land, indicating ravines, gulches, canyons, flats, slopes, cliffs, hilltops and mountain peaks.
No customer-by-customer record is kept of who purchases the 10 million USGS maps sold each year. Nevertheless, Survey publicists will produce a list of the kinds of people they believe use their maps. It is as encompassing as an index of potential careers given to high school sophomores by conscientious guidance counselors, ranging from archaeologists to zoologists, with everything from cops to butterfly collectors in between. Except for the few people who want to decorate dens with maps, the consumers are people who for one reason or another want to use the land. Informally, Survey spokesmen estimate that land users in the highway, miner and developer class constitute the largest single group of map buyers.
In recent years recreationists rank second. Hunters often use topos, and at least one obsessed golfer buys them before venturing out on unfamiliar courses. However, topos are more often used to find some thing—a shelter cave, a primitive campsite, springs, swimming holes, trails, crags where peregrine falcons might nest, collectible rocks, good scenery or just isolation. As a rule topos do not show underwater contours, though in larger bodies of inland water selected depth readings will be indicated. But many fishermen who frequent large man-made lakes in the South and Southwest have found that by obtaining topos drawn before the impoundments were made (which the Survey will supply in Photostat form if available), they can determine the contours of the land before it was flooded. Thus they have a relatively good idea of where many of the holes, channels, banks and bars still exist under the water.
It you are looking for a whitetail, a bass or a campsite, it can be exciting to find the animal or site more or less by luck in the process of floundering about the countryside. However, it is more exciting to give some thought to the matter, decide where the thing should be and then go to the place and find it. By way of example: several of us were interested in finding northern water shrews in the central Appalachians. The water shrew is a handsome, small, black and white beast, something like a miniature (six-inch) otter. It hangs about ponds, lakes and swift streams, feeding on smaller aquatic creatures and is moderately common from New York state north into Canada. But beginning in Pennsylvania it abruptly becomes rare, even though there are many places in the highlands that seem to offer the same climate, vegetation and food sources the animal prefers in the northerly parts of its range.
First we thrashed about unsuccessfully in central Pennsylvania, looking where others had collected shrews. By and by what amounted to a convention of water-shrew hunters was called (the group fit comfortably in a Howard Johnson's restaurant booth) and decided on a more systematic plan. We went through old issues of the Journal of Mammalogy, noting places where the animal had been collected (about a dozen localities from mid- Pennsylvania south). We then found these sites on 7� quads, and from the maps abstracted additional information—elevation, surrounding flora, types of water—eventually coming up with a composite description of water-shrew habitat. Studying topos of central Pennsylvania, we looked for a place that resembled our composite, settling on a small stream in Huntingdon County. While we were at it we picked out a woods road and trail route that would bring us to the stream we had picked. The roads worked, and on the second day we trapped a northern water shrew, the first ever found in that area. The trophy of this hunt, the most pleasurable I have ever made, rests in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
It may be a private enthusiasm, but I find topos a good tonic for ennui. In restless moods or tedious times some people window-shop, look through seed catalogs or travel brochures. I resort to topos. Very shortly I am soothed, for I find and begin thinking about box canyons, glaciers and villages beyond the roads. It was in such a way, half a dozen years ago, that on a map I came across a spot above the Arctic Circle, a peninsula jutting out into Great Bear Lake called the Scented Grass Hills. It seemed to me that I would be a better and happier man if I could sleep at least one night in a place called the Scented Grass Hills. Inspired, I began thinking about the far north, and in consequence have since gone to the Arctic three times, bushwhacking. Various cover stories have been given for these trips, but the real reason is the Scented Grass Hills. I have yet to get within 300 miles of them, but I know my time will come.
Under certain circumstances (say, propped against a log, just the right distance from a fire), topographic maps are a stimulating form of literature. There are few more pleasant ways to study American history than to read map names. Along the Atlantic Seaboard there are Essex, Suffolk, Dover, Lancaster, York, Virginia, Carolina, New Sweden, New Holland, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey—all obviously given by lonely, nostalgic people who were European in everything but location and were still looking back over their shoulders to the east. The mood and nomenclature distinctly change at the Appalachians, and from there west the names become a kind of American folk journal describing and commenting on local phenomena and news, good and bad: Warrior Run, Dead Indian Spring, Hungry Mother, French Broad, Jerk 'Em Tight, Sweetwater, Fairplay, Double Adobe, Brewery Gulch, Wounded Knee, Hangtown, Sunnyside, Tombstone, Apache Wells, Truth or Consequences. The names alone give taste and sustenance to the imagination.
In the old days people spontaneously named what they found—in anger, passion, laughter. Nowadays the naming process is more formal, if not yet sterilized. An interdepartmental agency, the Board on Geographic Names, established by federal law, standardizes names for federal use. To be sure, there are fewer places being named than there were a century ago, but the board, which does not dream up names, merely approves them, continues to keep busy. For example, there are vast areas in the West and Alaska that still suffer from name shortages, and even in more urban areas Pine Knob may suddenly be rechristened Golden Mountain Estates. In general the board goes along with local usage and the desires of local residents. However, no geographic feature in the 50 states can be named for a living person. The dead-man-only restriction at first glance appears arbitrary, but I would guess it has justified itself by keeping our maps from reading like a directory of political campaign contributors.
Derogatory names have presented the board with some sticky problems, names like Jap Canyon and Nigger Ben Hill, of which our national maps once had many examples. Early in the Kennedy Administration the derogatory name crisis was brought to the attention of Stewart Udall, then Secretary of Interior, who decided something had to be done about maps that bad-mouthed citizens and voters. Dutifully the board began cleaning things up, substituting names like Negro Ben Hill. Well-intentioned as it was, this effort may already have been made obsolete by usage. It is now being suggested that Black Ben Hill would be more appropriate.
The board chooses to turn a blind eye toward unseemly or just plain risqu� names, preferring to let local option and conscience prevail. For example, until recently there was a place in Oregon known as Whorehouse Meadow. But when a Survey fieldman came across it the threat of seeing that name in print caused pause on the part of local residents, and it appears on current maps as Naughty Girl Meadow. Similarly, SOB Creek. Wash, ended up as Sob Creek. (At last report, however, the SOB Rapids were still flowing in Utah.) Unfortunately, that fine old Arizona landmark, The Nipple, has become College Peak despite the fact that Nellies ( Calif.), Mollies ( Utah), Susies ( Idaho) and Sadies ( Utah) Nipple survive. "Evidently Women's Lib has not picked up on some of these names," notes Donald Orth, the mild and studious man who serves as the board's executive secretary.