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Tricks of the Trade

July 23, 2013

Tricks of the Trade

By Jonathan Frishtick

In my work as a digital cartographer, I come across many sites on the internet that can be helpful to people who enjoy the outdoors. Below are two which you may find useful and lots of fun.

ACME Mapper

Google, Yahoo and Bing all have their own mapping sites online. With some variation, they do a fine job giving you a street map version of the location you are looking at and also providing an aerial color photographic view, commonly called an “orthophotograph.” But sometimes you want to be able to look at your location using the old standard—a USGS topographic map.  Or maybe you are doing some trail planning or exploring off trail and you want to see if there are any old skid roads or farm paths that you can use. Jef Poskanzer’s ACME Mapper provides many viewing options for the same location. You can switch between color orthophotographs, map view (roads), a hybrid of color orthophotographs and roads, USGS topographic maps, a shaded terrain map showing contours and shaded relief, black and white orthophotographs and other options.

The beauty of using this site is that you don’t have to change websites or open new tabs or windows to view  your location on the different map backgrounds.  To see the same location in each of the different map types, enter the address, city, zip code or latitude/longitude coordinate in the search line in the box in the lower right corner or use the website’s map navigation controls. Once you have found your location, you can change the map type.  The map type options are in the upper right corner.  MAP is the basic Google street map. SATELLITE is the color orthophotograph background, HYBRID adds street names to the SATELLITE view. TERRAIN uses Google’s terrain feature which displays topographic contour lines with a nice hillshade component. TOPO displays the USGS topographic maps, and DOQ displays black and white orthophotographs.

The DOQ option is nice because it displays photos taken when the deciduous trees have lost their leaves, making it easier to see landmarks such as roads, trails, stone walls, and small ponds. To see the benefits of this leafless view, zoom all the way into a forested area that you are familiar with. Now toggle between SATELLITE view and DOQ view. With the DOQ view, stone walls appear as linear features, farm roads and logging roads are no longer hidden beneath the forest canopy and concealed vernal pools may show themselves.

The lower right hand box also contains other useful options. Using these options, you can print the current map view, send the link to the view via email, mark a location on the map and see the latitude and longitude of the centrally located crosshairs on the map.  Select “ABOUT” to get the full descriptions of all the options.

Hey What’s That?

This is a fun and informative site that lets you create a viewshed from a location you choose. A viewshed is the view of the landscape that is visible to you from a particular point. How many times have you hiked up to a prominent point, looked out over the landscape and said, “Hey, what’s that mountain?” With this website, you can find out the names of the mountains, what direction they are in and how far away they are. By printing the information from this website and taking it with you on your hike, you’ll be able to locate and name the distant mountains just by using your compass. Here’s how.

I’ll use the view from the Gile Mountain fire tower on Turnpike Road in Norwich, Vermont as an example. Start by finding Gile Mt on the website’s map. You can find the location by using latitude and longitude, by entering a location’s address in the search box or by using the website’s navigation controls to move the map to Gile Mountain. Once you find the location of Gile Mt. on the map, left click to place an X on the summit.  There is an optional feature that lets you automatically move your X to the highest spot within 100 feet of your location to insure a 360° view. After moving my X to the new higher location, I took advantage of another option that lets you change the elevation of your observation point. I estimated that the tower was 60 feet above the ground so I added 60 feet to the map’s elevation of my X.  After all, I wanted my viewshed to be calculated from the vantage point of the top of the fire tower. To get my results, I entered a name in the title box and selected, “Submit request.” Within two minutes, I had my viewshed information.

High points visible from the Gile fire tower are marked by red triangles on the map. Clicking on one of the triangles will give you the name of that high point. When I clicked on a particular red triangle in the southern area of the map, a box opened that told me I had clicked on Mt. Ascutney, 207° and 24 miles away from Gile Mt., as the crow flies. The box also had the latitude and longitude of Mt Ascutney.

In addition to the map showing the visible high points you can see from Gile Mt., on the right side of the screen is a list of visible highpoints, along with their compass bearing and distance. There is also a 360° profile showing all the high points you can see from the top of the tower. There are also options to print the list of highpoints and the 360° view.

One of my favorite options is to click on “View in Google Earth by Day.”  This causes a kmz file, the type of file Google Earth uses, to be downloaded to your computer. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, double click on the downloaded file and Google Earth will automatically open with the peaks of your viewshed displayed and labeled. Much to my disappointment, the results showed that you can’t see the Adirondacks or Maine from Gile but you can see Mt. Mansfield, 57 miles away, Burke Mt., 59 miles away, and Mount Lafayette in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, 44 miles away,

Have fun exploring these two websites. If you get stuck, make sure to look at each site’s FAQs.   If you have any questions regarding these two sites, send me an email and I’ll try to help.

Happy trails,

Jonathan Frishtick

UVTA Board Member

Email: gis.gps.mapping(at)


One Comment leave one →
  1. Kelley Dole permalink
    August 15, 2013 10:29 am

    Very interesting! I enjoy Google Earth quite regularly. I find it astonishing!
    Kelley Dole

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