May 22, 2011

Cuba on My Mind - Part II : Hitting the Geographic Jackpot

I have been assigned the task of researching and compiling our forthcoming map of Cuba. During the early stages of my research, I hit the cartographic jackpot—the possibility of two new provinces forming in 2011. Not only were we going to be publishing a map of Cuba for the first time since 1906, we were also going to be among the first to showcase its new administrative structure. This is considered an exciting event for cartographers here at the National Geographic. Why? Because before any element is mapped, we need to assure that it portrays the most up-to-date information.

My first stop was Cuba’s official government website. Unfortunately, it was a bit difficult to navigate, especially since the English version of the site was “under construction.” My next stop was the Cuban Embassy—well, not exactly since Cuba and the U.S. have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1961. But there is the Cuban Interests Section embedded within the Embassy of Switzerland here in Washington. It was there that I was able to obtain the official document (Gaceta Oficial de la Republica de Cuba, No. 023) spelling out the upcoming changes to Cuba’s new administrative divisions—Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces.

As Cuba is organized administratively by province and municipality, we were able to delineate the new provincial boundaries pretty easily by using a map of municipalities contained in the most recent Nuevo Atlas Nacional de Cuba. In the latter stages of my research I was able to reconfirm the delineation of these boundaries with the Cuban statistics office, La Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas, as they were now providing statistics for these two new provinces.

Now I have to keep abreast of the deepwater oil exploration off the northern coast of Cuba. If possible, we would like our map to also showcase the location of such prospective oil fields.

—Julie A. Ibinson
Map Researcher & Editor
National Geographic Maps

May 2, 2011

The Geographer's Blog: Cuba on My Mind

New and Complete Map of Cuba, supplement to
National Geographic magazine, October 1906; NG Maps.

Since our first post, this blog has addressed the history of cartography at National Geographic, geographic names (toponyms), and even the cartographic exploits of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the American artist best known for the painting "Whistler's Mother." I hope that these topics have proven of interest to some if not all of you. But what we have not addressed is the personal more intimate side of cartography here at the Society.

Unquestionably, National Geographic is the place to be if you love the science as well as the art of mapmaking. Our production schedules are full of stimulating and challenging projects that often test our knowledge of the cartographic profession. Once in a while, we will be assigned a project so close and near to our hearts that it becomes an overriding passion. Several months ago, I was given such an assignment—a large format (36" x 24") political map of Cuba.

The last time the Society published such a map was in October 1906! Those of you in the exiled Cuban community, both in the U.S. and abroad, know the significance of this map. Anyone who has visited Miami's Little Havana, Tampa's Ybor City, or even Union City, New Jersey, can't avoid seeing maps of Cuba painted on walls, plastered on windows, or even printed on the sides of grocery bags.

Read more:

March 11, 2011

Map Resources for Earthquake in Japan

As a result of the devastating earthquake in Japan early this morning, National Geographic has received requests for maps that show the impacted region. Below is a complete list of titles that are currently available:

1. Japan and Korea Wall Map

2. World Ocean Floor Wall Map

3. Hawaii State Wall Map

4. Alaska State Wall Map

4. World Classic Pacific Centered

5. Oregon State Wall Map

6. California State Wall Map

7. Washington State Wall Map

As this event further unfolds, we shall update the map resources list accordingly.

December 6, 2010

Saving the World with Maps

Frank Biasi, Director, Conservation and Special Projects
National Geographic Maps

We all know (or should know!) that geography is the study of the Earth and its lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena. This breadth of fascinating subjects is what led me to become a geographer 25 years ago. The sub-discipline of cartography allowed me to combine my earlier interest in visual art with my newfound passion for geography. I was lucky to come of age early in the growth of computer mapping technologies, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Seeing the potential of GIS to make a difference in the world and to build a career, I quickly jumped on that bandwagon.

I first used GIS to do maps and analysis for geography courses, and to inventory property parcels around my campus as part of an internship. After graduation, I worked for a regional planning agency to help design transportation corridors that maximize business opportunities and minimize environmental impacts. I went on to work for a state environmental agency where I helped to map all of the wetlands in Massachusetts to aid in the permitting of development and construction projects.

I further developed my geographic thinking and skills working for The Nature Conservancy, where I used GIS to help conservation planners and preserve managers map biodiversity and design and execute ways to save it. I realized that conservation, as with many other fields, deals with a wide variety of systems operating across the landscape, including biological, geological, hydrological, climatological, political, transportation, and economic systems. GIS provides a powerful platform to create and combine data layers representing each of these systems in order to make maps and answer questions about the world. Seeing these maps and answering these questions helps organizations across all sectors make informed decisions about what to do and where to do it.

Recently, we as individuals have begun using simple GIS tools on our PCs and mobile phones to make maps and answer spatial questions to help us decide where to eat, shop, travel, and invest. The growing phenomena of geo-browsing and geo-searching are enabled by interactive mapping services by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, MapQuest, and others. These services are becoming increasingly personalized through GPS-enabled mobile phones and apps that tell us who and what is near us, wherever we are. The initial applications of these services have been for commercial and social uses. However, they can also help us discover and decide how we can make a positive difference in the world.

Many people are unaware of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of dedicated nonprofit organizations working around the world to reduce human suffering, protect wildlife and ecosystems, preserve cultures, and advance scientific knowledge. These heroic people and organizations are stepping in to fill critical gaps that governments and businesses are unable or unwilling to fill. Most of the organizations have very limited financial and human resources to accomplish their objectives, yet they still manage to make an enormous difference in the lives of people, animals, and society at large.

At National Geographic, we have begun an initiative called the Global Action Atlas to highlight the work of these heroic nonprofits, and to give our audience tangible opportunities to discover and get involved in this work by donating, volunteering, advocating, visiting, and sharing with their social networks. Although it is still a beta site, has over 400 on-the-ground projects by more than 100 reputable nonprofits around the world. Users can browse projects on an interactive global map or by themes including Conservation, Humanitarian, Cultures, Exploration, Climate Change, and Energy. They can also enter keywords to get a list of relevant projects in the U.S and around the world.
Every project has an interactive profile where the organization summarizes the issues the project is working to address, their goals, and the progress being made. They also include photos, videos, documents, blogs, maps, links to more information, and lists of similar and nearby projects. Once a user has found a project that interests them, they can become a fan or comment on the project, as well as donate, volunteer, visit, or share the project with their Facebook friends. Users can build up a portfolio of their favorite projects to follow and interact with over time, thus establishing their own “Geography of Action.” We plan to add thematic layers to the map viewer such as infant mortality, biodiversity, and cultural hotspots to help people decide where they should invest their time and resources in making a difference.

We hope that the Global Action Atlas provides the public a useful and trusted service that advances National Geographic’s mission of “inspiring people to care about the planet,” by enabling them to turn inspiration into action. Over the past century National Geographic’s writers, photographers, and filmmakers have richly documented places and cultures and the challenges facing communities and the planet. Our Mission Programs have funded thousands of field-based projects to understand and conserve wildlife and cultures and advance the frontiers of science. The Global Action Atlas is the beginning of a new effort to deeply engage our audience in this wonderful, but challenged world, and to help them become active participants in making it more wonderful.

November 17, 2010

At Last: Nat Geo Maps on a GPS!

National Geographic Maps & Satmap Systems

Announce Alliance to Deliver Digital Mapping for Handheld Sports GPS

For the first time, National Geographic’s suite of Trails Illustrated, TOPO! and Adventure maps are made available on a handheld GPS; Satmap Active 10 TREK Launches in the U.S. this week.

November 17, 2010 - London, England... National Geographic Maps and Satmap Systems today announced the integration of the best-selling National Geographic outdoor recreation maps into the award-winning Satmap Active 10 handheld GPS. This integration is the result of a new product development alliance between the two organizations, both of which will launch the Active 10 TREK for sale in the United States this week.

The content offered on Satmap devices will include the complete line of National Geographic outdoor recreation maps, including the TOPO! USGS topographic map series, the AdventureMap series of international adventure travel maps, and, for the first time on any GPS, National Geographic’s premier Trails Illustrated series of maps for national parks, national forests and many popular recreation areas. National Geographic maps will be available via SD-Cards, which will plug-and-play into the Active 10 TREK handheld GPS.

The alliance brings together the mapping excellence of National Geographic with the engineering expertise of Satmap Systems Ltd., and the result is a product that meets the needs of outdoor enthusiasts. The Active 10 TREK will suit users of all skill levels in all weather conditions throughout the year. It has gained wide acceptance in Europe with outdoor professionals and consumers engaged in various activities such as mountain rescue, hiking, mountain biking, hunting and geocaching.

Charlie Regan, general manager and vice president, National Geographic Maps, said: “National Geographic prides itself on publishing the best maps, whether for outdoor recreation, education, travel or reference. We are pleased to announce this alliance with Satmap and are eager to see outdoor enthusiasts and professionals begin using the Active 10 TREK to guide them on their adventures. Satmap’s sterling reputation and the critical acclaim that their Active 10 has garnered in Europe made the decision to partner, as they expand into the U.S. market, an easy one.”

Richard Calthrop-Owen, managing director of Satmap Systems, commented: “We are really excited about launching into the U.S., especially with such a globally respected brand as National Geographic. This alliance is good news for everyone who spends time in the great outdoors, and this is a major product first. The Active 10 TREK, combined with the superb National Geographic map data, gives users the freedom to focus on the enjoyment of their sport rather than worrying about location. Accurate navigation is an essential part of enjoying the outdoors, and this quality of map detail will help users to keep on track and stay safe.

Fourteen TOPO! USGS-based SD Map Cards will be available at launch, covering many popular outdoor recreation states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, the Mid-Atlantic region, Montana, Nevada, New England, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. SD Map Cards for the remaining states and regions will be released in the first quarter of 2011. Three additional Trails Illustrated SD Map Cards also will be part of the initial offering, covering California’s Sierra Nevada, the Southern Appalachians and America’s “Greatest National Parks.” New Trails Illustrated Map Cards featuring some of the most important recreational areas in the country will be available in the coming months.

In addition to recreation users, Satmap Systems Ltd. supplies GPS handsets to search and rescue teams, police, military and other professionals in Europe, giving the company a unique insight into and understanding of the needs of outdoor users. Central to this is the need to see the best quality mapping possible on a large screen in a handheld device that is rugged and user friendly.

The Active 10 TREK

The Active 10 TREK comes pre-loaded with World and USA Base Maps. Customers can then buy the National Geographic SD Map Cards that slot into the GPS, making map reading fast and easy. The map is displayed on a large 3.5” screen in full color suitable for day and night use, including a red backlight option to help protect night vision.

The Active 10 TREK is priced at $369.99, and the National Geographic SD Map Cards cost $99.99 each. Customers also can purchase topographical mapping for most countries in Western Europe, making the GPS useful for home and when travelling abroad. There is a range of high-quality accessories such as Bike Mount, Vehicle Mount and a Deluxe Carry Case, which retail from $14.99.

The Active 10 TREK and National Geographic SD Map Cards will be sold online at,,, and and will be available at premier outdoor retailers nationwide in the upcoming months.

November 15, 2010


WASHINGTON (Nov. 10, 2010)—With one of every six people on Earth lacking access to safe drinking water, freshwater is one of the defining issues of the 21st century. Although water is essential for life, less than 1 percent of water on our planet is available for drinking. “Freshwater!” is the theme of Geography Awareness Week 2010, Nov. 14-20, supported by National Geographic and other partner organizations and sponsored by CH2M HILL, an international engineering consulting firm. Founded as a water firm in the 1940s, CH2M HILL has been working for decades to help people around the world find the right solutions to their water challenges.

Geography Awareness Week is an annual celebration enacted by Congress in 1987 that encourages families and schools to engage in fun, educational experiences that draw attention to geo-literacy and the importance of geography education. During Geography Awareness Week 2010, National Geographic invites students, teachers and parents to learn more about freshwater and how it connects to geography.

“Freshwater is one of the most critical issues of the 21st century,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president of Mission Programs. “National Geographic is committed to increasing awareness about this vital natural resource through our Freshwater Initiative. Our Geography Awareness Week website ( gives students and teachers the necessary tools to understand the complexity of the global freshwater crisis and its extraordinary role in shaping the geography of our world.”

During Geography Awareness Week, grassroots organizers around the country will host events, workshops and contests at local schools and community centers. Engineers from CH2M HILL will visit classrooms in many states to share hands-on freshwater activities with students and discuss connections between geography and real-world engineering projects.

“Our world needs sustainable water management solutions that support society and nature,” says Bob Bailey, president of CH2M HILL’s Water Business Group. “The decisions we make today about water will affect generations to come. We are proud to partner with National Geographic — a leader in scientific and cultural research and education — to help bring public awareness to this vital issue. Our firm is committed to sustainability; to protecting and preserving our planet’s natural resources; and to inspiring and educating a future workforce that will help solve the environmental and engineering challenges of tomorrow.”

In celebration of Geography Awareness Week, Zinio, the digital magazine and book distributor, will offer free access to and a free download of the digital edition of the April 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine, “Water: Our Thirsty World,” during November. This single-topic special issue highlights the challenges facing our most essential natural resource. The digital edition presents complete content from the print edition, plus extra photo galleries, rollover graphics that animate features like maps and timelines, video profiles of photographers who contributed to the issue and other interactive features.

The Geography Awareness Week website offers access to activities, lessons and games about freshwater. The site features contributions from National Geographic and partner organizations such as ESRI, 4-H, Newspapers in Education, Zinio and GeoEye. Visitors can use a water footprint calculator to determine how much water their family uses — from watering the lawn to the “hidden” water in household items like blue jeans — and find ways their family can conserve. Teachers can access a wealth of lesson plans about freshwater, including featured activities for use with new National Geographic Mapmaker Kits. Educators and parents alike will find valuable lists of recommended books and films, as well as crossword puzzles and other family-friendly games.

The website also features opportunities to join nearly 100,000 geography supporters in promoting the cause of freshwater. Resources are provided on how to host a local Geography Awareness Week event, including a guide to hosting a 3.7-mile Walk for Water or a Freshwater Trivia Night. A link to the new Global Action Atlas offers connections to people and organizations involved in innovative water projects around the world.

Site visitors also can read and contribute to a Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-Thon, which is updated multiple times daily with commentary and multimedia. The Blog-a-Thon also features a “What’s That Water?” quiz, challenging visitors to identify freshwater bodies in satellite imagery, provided by GeoEye, for chances to win prizes.

The National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 375 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 9,400 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit

Headquartered in Denver, Colo., employee-owned CH2M HILL is a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients. With $6.3 billion in revenue and 23,500 employees, CH2M HILL is an industry-leading program management, construction management and design firm, as ranked by Engineering News-Record (2010). The firm’s work is concentrated in the areas of water, transportation, environmental, energy and power, and facilities and infrastructure. The firm has long been recognized as a most-admired company and leading employer. Visit

For more information and resources for Geography Awareness Week, visit

November 8, 2010

Grand Gulch Plateau

David Whitford - San Juan College OLER Student

Recently, we took a trip to Grand Gulch Canyon in Utah. The backpacking trip was a part of a Wilderness Pursuits class being offered by San Juan College. The class is an introductory level course with a focus on developing skills related to planning, organizing and executing a backcountry outing. Some of the topics covered in the class included trip planning and organization, low impact camping and permitting, menu planning, and introductory route finding and navigation.

For the navigation piece of the course we were lucky enough to have the Trails Illustrated Map of the Grand Gulch Plateau. There were so many things about the map that came in handy, but the one that stood out to me was that so many of the ruins and springs were well marked. Not only were they marked but the mileage from our starting point to each spring and ruin was given also.

As I have discovered, hiking in the Utah canyons requires a good amount of preparation. You can’t prepare too much when it comes to knowing where water sources are in a place where water is scarce.
Wilderness Pursuits students enjoying Jailhouse Ruin

October 12, 2010

San Juan College :: 'Leave No Trace' Training

Last weekend my class and I headed to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for a Leave No Trace Trainer Course. The training was a part of a Wilderness Ethics class being offered by San Juan College. We were all super pumped to be headed to a beautiful place like the Black Canyon for a “class”.

If you have ever been on a Leave No Trace Trainer Course, then you will know that the first topic talked about is Plan Ahead and Prepare. Our instructor mentioned that it might be the most important principle as it will set you up for success for your next outdoor adventure. Included in the discussion were the hiking/backpacking 10 Essentials, in which a map is one of those ten. As a self-proclaimed “map geek”, I was pretty excited to see our instructor pull out the Trails Illustrated Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti NRA Map.

The map was a vital resource for planning our hikes for the weekend. By studying the contour lines and trail distances on the map we were able to determine which trails were the most suited to our group’s physical abilities and the class’ educational purposes. The map provided basic details like restroom locations, but was also detailed enough to show us what areas of the park required a backcountry permit. The map made several appearances during our hikes and quite a few more back at camp while students planned a return trip later this fall.

David Whitford – Student, San Juan College

September 22, 2010

Great write up by The Oregonian on our new Washington Cascades trail maps...

Five new National Geographic maps complete coverage of Washington Cascades

Published: Tuesday, September 07, 2010, 3:15 AM
Terry Richard, The Oregonian
Washington's Cacades are covered.

With the release of five new maps this summer by National Geographic, the rugged mountains of Washington are covered from the British Columbia border to Oregon.

The maps are sold under the Trails Illustrated brand.

New titles this year area Mount St. Helens/Mount Adams, Goat Rocks/Norse Peak/William O. Douglas Wilderness Areas, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Glacier Peak Wilderness and Mount Baker/Boulder River Wilderness Areas.

They go along with several other titles already in print to complete the coverage: North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The full-color maps are printed on hefty water-proof, tear resistant paper. National Geographic is one of the best mapmakers in the business, so the maps meet the highest standards.

The maps are topographical, but they cover such a large area that the contour interval is 50 feet. This is a little too big for serious off-trail mountain navigation, but National Geographic also sells state map series on CD Roms under the Topo brand with 20-foot contour intervals.

The new printed maps maps are excellent for hiking and driving. They show most of the trails and most of the roadside amenities, in easy-to-read formats.

Your map files may already contain U.S. Forest Service maps of the areas, but these maps often go 15 years or more between updates. The new Nat Geo maps are the best new maps at this time for the areas they cover.

Look for them at stores that sell maps, though getting this many new titles in any particular store may be difficult.

One place that does have them all is the Nature of the Northwest in Portland, at 800 N.E. Oregon St., Suite 965. Phone number is 971-673-2331.

You can also order them from National Geographic. Cover price is $11.95. For more information visit Trails Illustrated Washington maps.

-- Terry Richard

September 8, 2010

Adventure Planning :: with globe trekker, Justin Lichter

With summer starting to wind down, the mosquitoes and black flies are fading. Winter will come soon. It is a great time of year to get outside and also start dreaming of trips that you want to do for next summer. I mentioned in a previous blog post how I go about looking into the routes that I am going to embark on, so naturally I want to transition to how you all can set out on a long hike.

Here would be a few pointers that I would recommend.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan.
You haven’t planned enough if you haven’t thought about a lot of things for your trip. The route is one thing and the most obvious. However you should also be looking into how frequent and reliable the water sources are, how often you might be able to get more food or purchase food at a store, the weather for the area during that time of year, and fine tuning your gear. No doubt you will have some nerves at the start of a trip, but if you plan well and are comfortable with your gear going into the trip then that should ease the nerves a little.

2. Train
As your trip begins top take shape you will ideally start to train for the experience beforehand. This will help make your trip as enjoyable as possible as well as getting you used to your equipment. This will help your feet get ready, and if need be callused, for you shoes and to break in your shoes and help your hips and shoulders get used to wearing a backpack. If you prepare beforehand then you’ll be ready to hit the trail when the time comes and the mileage that you planned for the trip won’t be daunting. The training will also help in your planning because it will let you know what distances and terrain are obtainable for the trip in the time that you have.

3. Gear Up, But Not Too Much
Research the gear that you would like to use on the trip. Do as much research as possible looking online and asking questions of shop employees, but definitely do NOT just ask shop employees. Some store employees are great, but each has their own personal opinion and they might not even have done the activity or been to the terrain you are looking at doing. My typical gear list has many recurring pieces of gear, but there are also many things that change depending on location and time of year. This helps to keep your pack light by taking only what you will need. For example, there is no reason to carry a 3lb. -20 degree sleeping bag if you are heading out to the High Sierras in the summer. Chances are you can probably get away with a sub 2lb. 30 degree sleeping bag, especially if you plan on sleeping in a tent because that will add about 10 degrees to your sleep system. Get your system streamlined and dialed beforehand and then only take what you think you’ll need. If you don’t use it every day then generally you don’t need it. Also, try to make things have multiple uses. For example I use a half length sleeping pad and then use my backpack for the lower half of my sleeping pad. This saves about 8oz on my sleeping pad and makes it more packable since my backpack won’t be needed for anything else while I am sleeping.

4. GO!!!! And Have Fun!
Set off on the trip and have a blast. Remember that if you are setting out on a longer trip and you think you might need a piece of gear, want to swap out a piece of gear, or find out shortly into the hike that you aren’t using something that you are carrying then you can always mail something that you are carrying back home when you get to a town to resupply. On the other hand you could also mail something to yourself by General Delivery to the post office in a town. If you mail it priority and decide you don’t need the gear, then don’t open it and you can usually forward it elsewhere for no charge! This is also a great trick so that you only need to carry the maps that you need for each section and not add weight by carrying maps for the entire trip. Use these tools to keep your pack light.

For more info about Justin Lichter, follow him @