10,000 words?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I figure a good map’s worth considerably more. Pictures and words are really apples and oranges, but a map is an apple-orange smoothie.

I started making maps within a few years of arrival in Alaska. This one, of Asx‘ée, twisted tree (Eagle River delta) took about 10 days of stippling in 1983, with a fine-tipped rapidograph drafting pen. Last time I tried to procure one of those, it took hours of searching, even in the canyons of Manhattan where you can buy pretty much buy anything.

Estuaries are dynamic places. Some features of this 1983 habitat map no longer exist, such as Shifty Spit and Dabbler Lagoon. For historical series, see my summary document on Eagle Beach.

Today the maps churn out faster—typically several per day. What I’ve lost in patience is gained in efficiency. Modern cartography also allows us to sit on the shoulders of legions of GIS masters, assembling datasets we couldn’t have dreamed of in 1983. Today, at my computer, I can measure the height of any tree between Ch’eet’ Taayí, murrelet fat (Cowee Creek) and Chaas’héeni, humpy creek (Sheep Creek). Or with a click, sprinkle my maps with Lingít place names, their translations (and even an Important White Guy or two).

For how-to information on Maps, check out the Tools section, sub-categories Field navigation and GIS (Geographic information systems)

Switching to the ArcGIS Online site fills your screen. Here’s some features and options.

In setting up the hierarchical structure of JuneauNature, I bumped into some fuzzy boundaries between potential categories. For example, where exactly should we draw the line between a map and a picture? Is there a fundamental difference between a no-brainer “map”—the folded or robo-voiced road map, say, that leads you through strange cities—versus the cellphone picture you just snapped of your friends? Or (shudder) a selfie? Even that selfie is a map of your face. Why excommunicate these info-rich graphics from the realm of cartography? It can’t just be a matter of scale. I think you’d agree that a map of mite-routes through a 2-inch-square liverwort jungle is still a map.

I also confronted this definitional question when segregating out the Navy’s 1926-&-29 oblique air photos, shot opportunistically over the sides of their biplane cockpits, from my GIS and Maps sections. Instead, they’re described under Repeat photography, alongside pedestrian historical photos taken pretty-much horizontally on the plain old ground.

Meanwhile, those same Navy pilots shot vertically downward images through a hatch in the fuselage belly that could be removed when airborne. Those images, stitched and georeferenced, do populate my GIS projects, and like the constantly evolving and updating constellation of orthophotos, are legitimately considered maps.

Below are some of my favorite maps. Some are simple downloadable .jpgs. Some are collections of maps for our favorite destinations, including historical series that can be toggled across time with your keyboard arrows. But increasingly, maps are becoming interactive—leaving the world of static paper and giving the user more control:

ArcGIS Online

Some of my  maps are hosted by ESRI’s ArcGIS Online.You can view them in windows within JuneauNature, or directly, full-screen, on ESRI’s site by clicking view larger map.

Why is this more useful than a simple jpg or pdf-based map that I prepare and post? Let’s say you want to customize your own map, of glacial and marine landforms in Shaanáx Tlein, big valley (lower Lemon Creek). Open my surficial geology map. choose view larger map to jump to ArcGIS Online. Frame it just the way you want (mouse roller is best for zooming) Change the basemap to whatever best suits your needs (that 4-square icon on the left). When you’ve got a nice composition, right click and select Take a Screenshot.

ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) is the world leader in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) cartography. Their online portal is so complete that I rarely use Google Earth or BING anymore. AOL’s World Imagery WGS84 is typically superior in resolution and currency for any area-of-interest. Personal accounts are free, and you don’t need ESRI’s arcmap software to use the AOL viewer. I encourage anyone who frequently usesthose better-known map portals but would like more options in “Basemap imagery” (mostly rasters) plus access to thousands of user-created AOL projects with custom-built layers, to start a personal or organizational account.

A related portal from ESRI is called the Wayback App. Because AOL imagery is so frequently updated, their archives often include half a dozen or more prior “historic” orthophoto covers for any particular area. They may not offer ‘deep history’ such as the 1929 and 1948 Navy photography, but Wayback is a great way to review the past 20 years or so successional and anthropogenic change.

Open this clickable map to select downloadable geoPDFs for navigation with your phone or tablet


Others of my downloadable maps are geopdfs (spatially rectified pdfs for use in navigational apps such as Avenza). These are presented in pairs: a hillshade and an air photo. I like to load both to my tablet for hikes, and often alternate between them depending on whether I’m investigating landforms or vegetation cover. The free version of Avenza holds only 3 geoPDFs at a time. We just have to remember to clean off the old ones and load the new ones before each hike.

So far, the geoPDF collection covers most of the popular local trails, and all of the surroundings of public schools—places where Discovery Southeast naturalists bring students on field trips. If your favorite hike isn’t covered, let me know.

In this section

Áak’w to Xutsnoowú cruise

Geopdf for Middle School teachers’ adventure   On Friday, March 31st, 2023, we are scheduled to depart Áak’w Tá, little…

2023 | Richard Carstensen | 5MB geopdf

The Cruise: landforms of T’aaḵú Aaní

On Sunday Sept-11 we motored 53 miles southeast from Áak’w into T’aakú Aaní, exploring landforms from the water. In Avenza,…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | geopdfs for T’aaḵú cruise

Getting started: orientation on campus

Custom geopdfs for Áak’w On our first class, we loaded the navigational app Avenza to our phones, and tested out…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | pair of geopdfs

2022 avalanches

Snowslide cartography When weather clears and risk-level drops, I’ve been trying to keep up with this winter’s avalanches by flying…

Avalanche mapping

Releases in Nettleslide (Behrends path) & Last Chance Goatwatching in winter leads inevitably to fascination with avalanches. Yesterday, Feb 12,…

2022 | Richard Carstensen |

Chilkat Atlas introduction

Introductory pages to Greater Chilkat Watershed atlas As we flesh out the atlas, here’s a preview of where it’s heading.…

2021 | Richard Carstensen | 7 pages

Wetlands Month features Mendenhall Wetlands

Frontyard wetlands in StoryMaps Every May is American Wetlands Month, and this year, it’s especially interesting for residents of Áak’w…

American Wetlands Month features Taashuyee

Our frontyard wetlands in StoryMaps For several years I’ve been wanting to dive into ArcGIS StoryMaps, cartography for one and…

2021 | USFWS | ArcGIS StoryMap

Cemetery mapping, 1990-2017

College-level field mapping in elementary school Probably the most ambitious project undertaken in my pilot Nature Studies program at Harborview,…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 46 pages

Historic photo missions

Navy aerials, 1929 and 1948 Most of Lingít Aaní is covered by early black-&-white vertical (nadir) air photography that can…

2020 | Richard Carstensen |

Historical imagery from ArcGIS Online

The Wayback app JuneauNature relies heavily on historical series from precisely registered aerial photographs, presented either in slideshows, with long…

2020 | Richard Carstensen |

Fish Creek studies

Discovery-SAWC collaboration Beginning in early 2020, Discovery Southeast is assisting the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition with investigations at Fish Creek…

2020 | Richard Carstensen |

Chilkat bedrock geology.

Rock-type units from USGS Here’s a geology map for field navigation in more accessible portions of the Greater Chilkat Watershed—US…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | geopdf—10MB—& 33-page draft chapters

Chilkat place names

Jilkáat and Jilkoot Aaní, land of Chilkat & Chilkoot people The 2012 cultural atlas edited by Tom Thornton and Harold…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | geopdf, 17MB

Geopdf Shaa Tlaax (Mt Juneau)

Air-photo GeoPDF for field navigation on trails to Shaa Tlaax, moldy top (Mt Juneau).  In apps such as Avenza, on…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 1 geopdf

Geopdfs Gold geology

High-resolution GeoPDF pair for field navigation in Dzantik’i Héeni (Gold Creek) watershed. In apps such as Avenza, on your phone…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 2 geopdfs

GeoPDFs Eaglecrest

High-resolution GeoPDF pair for field navigation at Eaglecrest, central Sayéik, spirit helper (Douglas Island), in the headwaters of Aangooxa Yé,…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 2 geoPDFs

GeoPDF Muir-Spaulding

Medium-resolution GeoPDF pair for field navigation in Spaulding Meadows. This boggy plateau is approached by 3 trails: Muir, Spaulding and…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 2 geoPDFs

GeoPDF Ch’eet’ Taayí (Cowee Meadows)

High-resolution GeoPDF pair for field navigation at Ch’eet’ Taayí, murrelet fat (Cowee Creek) and Echo Cove. In apps such as…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 2 geoPDFs

GeoPDF Asx’ée delta (Eagle Beach)

High-resolution GeoPDF pair for field navigation at the confluence of  Asx’ée/L’ux, twisted tree/milky water (Eagle and Herbert rivers). Includes State…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 2 geoPDFs