Lab 1
Topographic Maps I

Print this off and put all answers on the printout. Do not forget your name....

  1. Objectives: 
    1)  Learn how to use map scales.
    2)  Learn how to interpret information on topographic maps.
    3) Learn to measure bearing

Topographic maps are published by the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS).  A topographic map is a line and symbol representation of natural and selected man-made features of a part of the earth’s surface plotted to a specific scale.  A distinguishing feature of a topographic map is the portrayal of the shape and elevation of the terrain by contour lines.

Map Scale:
Maps provide information, descriptions, and a means to analyze data from various locations.  Maps could be drawn at the same size as the real world, however, that would not be particularly useful.  Therefore, maps are drawn at various scales.  A map small enough to be held in your hands may display a house floor plan, a city block, a statewide river system, or even the world.  the amount of area shown on the map will depend upon the scale. 

            There are three basic ways of representing map scale.

                        1) Representative Fraction: i.e.  1:24,000  or 1/25,000

the first number is the map distance, the second the real-world distance.  Note that the scale is dimensionless when written in this form.

                        2) Linear Graph or Bar Scale

3) Verbal Scale -- this is just written out, for example: one inch equals one hundred miles.

Some important conversions (learn these, know them!):

Bearing (direction):

Bearing can be given one of two way:

  1. General direction: ie, North, Northwest, North-northwest, Southeast, etc. This is much like a verbal scale in that it is used to verbally communicate information. It's not a precision measurement. For precision, we use:
  2. Bearing: This is a compass measurement. North is ALWAYS 0 degrees, east is 90 degrees, south is 180 degrees, west is 270 degrees, etc. Note, do not read the numbers off your compass - count from 0 as north.





1)         a)         How far is it (in miles) from the church to the school (use the above image and bar scale)? ________




            b)         Express the scale of this map as a representative fraction (convert the bar scale to a RF).



2)         If you measure a distance on a map with a ruler and find that the distance equals 3.7 inches and can determine that the distance on the ground is 10 miles, what is the scale (RF) of your map.



3)         If you know the scale of your map is 1:25,000 and on your map you find the measured distance between points A and B equals 3.5 inches, how far apart will A and B be on the ground (real world distance)?

a)         in inches                      ______________
b)         in feet                          ______________
c)         in miles                        ______________
d)         in kilometers                ______________
e)         in meters                      ______________


4)         a)         If you are going fishing and wanted to find an area with many rivers and streams, which map scale would you choose?  Why?  (note that any could be correct -- you must simply justify your answer)





            b)         If you are an urban planner and need to locate house lots, power and water lines, and streets and alleys in a community, which of the map scales would you choose? Why?


The rest of the lab refers to the Ellensburg South, WA Quadrangle.

DO NOT WRITE ON THE MAP (except with a vis-a-vis pen)!!

1) What is the contour interval on the map?


2)         What is the scale (RF) of this map?


3)         What is the name of the next quadrangle map to the west?


4)         a)         What is the magnetic declination, in degrees?

            b)         Why is knowing the magnetic declination important (in general).


5)         a)         What year was this map published?

            b)         Why is this date important?

 c)         Who publishes it?

d)         Where in WA is this location?


6)       What type of road connects Ellensburg and Thrall?


8) What is the distance between the Ellensburg High School (just N of the N end of S Willow Street) and the Dammon School (corner of Umptanum and Manastash Roads)? What is the direction from the HS to the School?


9) What is the distance between the intersection between Umptanum Road and the irrigation ditch near the head of Shushuskin Canyon and Thrall? What is the direction from the intersection to Thrall?


10)       How large (east/west) is Tjossem Pond?

in inches                      ____________
in feet                          ____________
in miles                        ____________
in kilometers                ____________
in meters                      ____________



12) If you were to start at the Jr. High School (just N of the "G" in Ellensburg and walk 2 miles at 223 deg, then 2.35 miles at 135 deg. and finally, 1.5 miles at 100 degrees, where do you end up?


13) If you were start at the intersection of Thrall Road and Canyon Road (821) and walk 3.1 miles at 282 degrees, then 2.4 miles at 34 degrees, and finally 2.4 miles at 320 degrees, where are you?



14) Metadata is known as the data about the data... in the context of a map, it's who collected it, how it was collected, to what standards, how drawn, etc. In short, all the background information. In the case of the 1:24000 map series (like the Ellensburg South map you're looking at), the USGS has things really dialed in. Take a few minutes and go to . Click on the full report and skim through the table of contents and introduction. Then answer the following questions:

a) what is a map collar?


b) what is the open file format to which these maps are saved and distributed (digitally)


c) draw the symbols for 1) an intermittent stream and 2) a state capitol.