MapCarte 68/365: Grand Canyon: Bright Angel by United States Geological Survey, 1903

MapCarte68_usgsRepresenting relief is always a challenge for cartographers and there are numerous alternatives. How, then, do you decide to represent the Grand Canyon which has one of the world’s greatest vertical difference across one of the shortest horizontal distance?

United States Geological Survey chose to simply use contours and their map of 1903 shows how simplifying the map by choosing only a single representation can bring increased clarity. More normally, you would see hill shading or hypsometric tinting used in conjunction with contours but in Grand Canyon the contours are packed so tightly together that they capture the topographic variation perfectly on their own.


The ochre colour of the contours adds to the effect since they reflect the reddish sandstones found in the canyon and the thickening of key contours gives a sense of the sandstone layers that in the canyon have a very distinctive pattern. There is very little additional detail other than the hydrology and labels. There doesn’t need to be any additional detail as the contours make this map what it is.