Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The Right Maps

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 22-24.

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There is no one great map to the Oregon Desert. You will need small-scale (large-area) maps to figure out where you are going.

Medium-scale maps are best to comprehend the general landscape and vicinity. Finally, large-scale (small-area) maps will show you where you actually are.

Each area description notes the maps you'll want.

Some maps are planimetric, showing legal descriptions (township and range), land ownership, political boundaries, and major streams. Other maps are topographic and show elevations and landforms, as well as most features found on planimetric maps.

If you don't know how to read maps, especially topographic maps, it is a useful skill to learn. (See Recommended Reading.)

First, the directions in this guide begin at a location specified on the (free) Oregon Official State Map. Accept no substitute. It is available at many tourist information, chamber of commerce, Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, and police offices. As a last resort, ask the Oregon Department of Transportation to send you a copy (135 Transportation Building, Salem, OR 97310; telephone 503-9863200; fax 503-986-3446). On this map, 1 inch equals approximately 16 miles on the ground (a scale of 1:1,000,000—that is, 1 distance unit on the map equals 1,000,000 distance units on the ground).

Second, you must have the appropriate BLM recreation maps ($4 each), which depict the various state and federal agency holdings in different colors. On BLM maps, 1/2 inch equals 1 mile (a scale of 1:126,720). An index is available from the BLM Oregon State Office's Public Room (1515 SW 5th, P.O. Box 2965, Portland, OR 97208; telephone 503-952-6001). BLM recreation maps are available from other BLM offices, many map stores, and local tourist haunts.

Third, you should have an atlas of the state. There are two fierce competitors, both of which are invaluable for getting the lay of the landscape you're visiting. Both are Global Positioning System (GPS)–friendly with latitude/longitude ticks in the margins and give an excellent medium view of your exploration.

The Oregon Atlas & Gazetteer covers the state with seventy color topographic maps. For eastern Oregon, each map covers four times the area the maps for western Oregon do. On the eastern Oregon maps 1 inch equals 4.8 miles (a scale of 1:300,000). Each map covers 1 degree of longitude and 1 degree of latitude, with an elevation contour interval of 600 feet. The OA &G shows many, but not all, roads. BLM and state lands are distinguished by color, but national forest lands only have exterior boundaries depicted as the traditional green was already used to depict tree cover, which is annoying.

The Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas has two scales and kinds of maps. The eight recreation maps show major landowners in color (1:750,000, about 10 miles/inch). Their thirty-seven double-page landscape maps are scaled at about 4 miles/inch (1:250,000) and are beautifully colored (shades correspond to elevation). Though Benchmark brags that its maps "are diligently field-checked by certified map fanatics—you can be certain that if we show a cut-off, it will not turn out to be a power line maintenance track!" the author found several examples where the OR&RA indicates high-standard roads that are, in fact, low standard tracks.

Any one map, especially covering the Oregon Desert, is prone to errors. The author has both (one cannot have too many maps) but uses the Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas more than the Oregon Atlas & Gazetteer.

A new challenger, but no competitive threat, is Pittmon's Recreational Atlas of Oregon, which is simply a bound version of their black-and-white county maps.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) also puts out a folded series of maps at 1.5 miles/inch (1:100,000), which are pretty, but are otherwise of marginal utility. The same goes for the Metsker and Pittmon county map series, except they aren't even pretty.

With the right maps and this guide, you will generally know where you are going. But to know exactly where you are going, you'll need the mother of all maps: the U.S. Geological Survey Standard 7.5' Series Quadrangle Maps ("USGS quads"). These exquisite maps have a very large scale of 2.64 inches/mile (1:24,000) and show nearly every road, track, trail, water body, and cultural feature. By reading the contours you can "see" the landscape. (It takes 456 of these beauties if you want to fully cover every proposed wilderness, national conservation area, national monument, and national wildlife refuge in the Oregon Desert Conservation Act.) These maps are not cheap, going for $5 to $7 each. But to see yourself walk across the map as you walk across the land, the USGS 7.5' quad maps are the ones.

You can get the USGS Oregon Index to Topographic and Other Map Coverage and the companion Catalog of Published Maps from Map Distribution, USGS Map Sales, P.O. Box 25286, Federal Center, Building 810, Denver, CO 80225; telephone 800USA-MAPS (800-872-6265); Many map stores will have the former to give away, but they don't like to give out the latter because it lists competing map dealers and the government prices. Dealers understandably mark up the price of these maps far over the government's retail price. It may be cheaper to order directly from USGS, but consider convenience and speed.

New topographic digital databases are coming onto the market. With a fast computer (Windows only, I'm sad to say), a large color monitor, and a decent (and increasingly affordable) color printer, you can print your own custom maps.

Other special maps are sometimes handy to have if you're going to that particular area. They are noted in the area descriptions.

To obtain these and other maps, look under "Maps" in the Yellow Pages. Many stationery, book, and/or sporting goods stores in small towns carry maps.

In Portland, Captain's Nautical Supply (138 NW 10th; telephone 503-227-1648), Pittmon Map Company (732 SE Hawthorne Blvd.; telephone 503-232-1161), and Nature of the Northwest (800 NE Oregon; telephone 503-872-2750) have the best selections. The latter has the best prices. REI stores also carry topographic maps but are biased toward the forested wilderness areas, the coast, and alpinelike Steens Mountain. Perhaps this book will help them diversify their map selection.

Finally, while you won't need them for the explorations in this book, you'll very likely want a set of large-scale color quad maps depicting land ownership, proposed wilderness, and other special management area boundaries, major roads, and streams, and so forth, obtainable from the Oregon Natural Desert Association (see Appendix C).