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Maps - More Available Than Ever Before

Maps - More Available Than Ever Before

Do you have a map? Do you know how to read it? Maps have gone from very scarce and valuable to very plentiful and cheap, but do we appreciate them?
Buzzle Staff
By Earl Hunsinger

Today, we take for granted that if we want to find out where a certain place is and how to get there, all we have to do is look at a map. Oh, it's true that, according to a survey by National Geographic, 'About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn't even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean's location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent'. Still, assuming that you have at least heard of them (which sadly is not a given), you know that maps showing the locations of these places are available. We take this for granted. This has not always been the case.

Many sailors and adventurers of other sorts have found themselves in trouble because of inaccurate or nonexistent maps. Just think how much better Christopher Columbus would have done (and how much embarrassment he would have avoided) if he would have had a simple globe, like those found in practically every elementary school classroom today. Of course, in the days of Columbus, much of the world was still unknown. What maps and charts existed were costly and often difficult to obtain. Today, maps are handed out for free at county courthouses across the United States. Along with chips and sodas, no self-respecting gas station would be without a supply of road maps (usually not handed out for free).

The Internet is also a good source for maps today. Do you need to take a trip but are unsure of the best route to take? Websites like Mapquest and Yahoo can help. After you enter your starting point and your destination, a map is created showing you the best route. They will even provide you with written directions for every turn. Mapquest will also let you generate a map without a starting point. You can then zoom in or out to find the best resolution and level of road detail for your needs. If a road map isn't good enough, it will even show you an aerial view with the street names superimposed over the picture. In a similar way, it is now possible to view satellite and aerial images of a large portion of the globe. TerraServer is probably the most famous of these websites. By simply entering an address, you can see a satellite picture of your own neighborhood or somewhere you've always wanted to visit. You can then zoom in or scroll to see more detail.

And then there are smartphones, all equipped with apps that have detailed maps of every corner of the globe. So even if you are lost somewhere, think about it! You won't be actually lost, because help is right there at your fingertips.

If you are more interested in the lay of the land than you are the buildings, perhaps you need a topographic map. They show the contour or shape of the earth's surface, with lines indicating places of equal elevation. These are also available online. TopoZone has been supplying topographic maps online since 1999. They also have street maps and aerial photos. In addition, for some areas, they have 24-bit color infrared aerial photos available. While their basic topographic maps are free, some of their other services require a subscription.

Unlike Columbus and other early explorers, we have an abundance of maps available to us, both in hard copy form and online. Now, all we have to do is learn to read them.