Saturday, April 26, 2008

National Geographic's TOPO! Explorer

National Geographic has just published on Contours, its official map blog, this breathless announcement: "Last night at midnight - the switch was thrown and National Geographic's national recreation data base was born." The new data base is called TOPO! Explorer, and it focuses on recreational trails. One of the goals of "Northwest History" is to track new developments in digital history, and one of the most intriguing areas for Larry and me has been in the realm of mapping and linking maps to photographs and other data.  So what does the Geographic site have to offer that Google Maps doesn't? Here are some first impressions of TOPO! Explorer.

The most obvious asset on the National Geographic site is their use of topographic maps. Google accesses satellite and highway map views.  The geographic gives you a choice of satellite and topogragraphical views. The contour lines in the topographic views are valuable, especially when trying to get a sense of the terrain underlying an historical story.  I was especially struck this morning by one of their "staff favorite" sites, Pisgah National Forest:

Clicking on the camera icon brings you to this image:

That image is a reminder to us living among the scenic wonders of the Northwest, that other parts of the country have their own scenic treasures. Visiting and mapping them, connecting the maps and images to history, finding the tools to do the job, and seeking the imagination to ask the right questions and find the right designs -- these are some of the enterprises the beckon us in the new technologies....

Here are a few other interesting features on the National Geographic web site: 1) the home page for maps begins with MapMachine, which provides a variety of resources including locations of major droughts and earthquakes; choose the "physical" tab and you see the contours of the earth from seemingly hundreds of miles up -- no closer shots, but useful for the big picture, say, of the break between plateau and mountains in eastern Washington; 2) from the same page click on "Map of the Day" for a map connected to a particular event for the day -- today's was a map Martin Waldseemuller published on April 25, 1507, the first map to use the word "America" in connection with the New World; 3) click on "Interactive History Globe" for a variety of historical entries organized by locale.

Last but not least, National Geographic's TOPO! Explorer home page provides access to topographic maps around the country and is beginning to post data on trails and journeys, including the Pisgah entry mentioned above.

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