(NOTE: Follow all the hyperlinks on the page below to read all of the assigned material, except for those hyperlinks associated with the citations of graphics or as references. Once you reach a new page, there may be additional hyperlinks on that page. Don't try to follow the second set of links to yet more pages; there are only so many hours in the day.)
Yes, it's a simple exercise - but when you get to Virginia, notice that the two counties between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean (the Eastern Shore) were omitted. You'll see the Eastern Shore omitted on lots of maps designed for a national scale, rather than a state or local perspective. (The Upper Peninsula or "UP" of Micigan also gets left off maps, even though it is 30% of that state's land area. A tourism commercial that omitted the UP triggering a Michigan legislator in 2009 to try to mandate that all state-produced maps include the entire state.)1
So, go to Locate Virginia on the Globe - and in the Galaxy - then find the Eastern Shore.
Can you distinguish Virginia from the adjacent states of Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina? Can you figure out if the two counties in the Eastern Shore (Accomack and Northampton) are adjacent to Delaware vs. Maryland?
2) Get exposed to Accomack County
Read a little background about the formation of Accomack County. Think Edmund Scarborough and Governor Berkeley would be comfortable with the rough-and-tumble political process of modern times? Compare Census Bureau statistics for land area of Accomack County vs. Northampton County. (Don't confuse Northampton with Northumberland county; some of the state's 95 counties have similar names.) Scroll to the bottom of the statistics to see the "Land Area" data, to confirm if the last boundary adjustment made the size of these two Eastern Shore counties equal.
3) Find the corners of Virginia
Look at the map of the United States and contrast the shape of Virginia with the shape of other states. You can squint your eyes and morph Virginia into a sort of triangle. Virginia certainly is not a rectangle like Wyoming or Colorado, with four edges defined by latitude and longitude.
Start by looking for the edges of the state on a map that shows the political boundaries of the counties/cities/states, as well as the topography (elevation of the mountains/valleys), and find the corners of Virginia. People have diffferent opinions when asked to find the 4 corners of the state. Typically, selections for the southwest and southeast corners are consistent, and sometimes there is consensus on the northeast corner. The toughest choice: which spot do you pick as the northwest corner of Virginia?
Pretty simple stuff so far, right? This next challenge is a little harder: find the location of Fairfax County in a satellite image (without the political boundaries) of Eastern Virginia. Look for the District of Columbia boundaries, across the Potomac River, as a guide. Then look at the Western Virginia satellite image - can you find the spot in Giles County where the New River flows into West Virginia?
4) Use the DeLorme Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer
In the very front of the Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer is the Index. It lists populated places (places where people live), and indicates where you can find that place on a particular map in the atlas. Next to the names of each place are the map number and the grid coordinates on the map.
In the Index, you'll find Richmond, Norfolk, Staunton, and the other cities of the state, big and small. You'll find towns like Amelia Court House and Warrenton. You'll find a place called Retreat and a different place called Return - maybe they changed their mind about what direction to go? There are two places in Virginia called Fredericksburg and two called Blacksburg... and even two places called Wolf Glade.
Look up Five Forks, Oak Hill, Fairview, Jones Corner, and Mountain View in the Index, and you'll see that Virginians used some place names more than once. The US Post Office wanted every place in the state to have a unique place name - so one of two towns named "Fairfax" was eliminated. The town in Culpeper County once called "Fairfax" has been renamed "Culpeper," reducing confusion with Fairfax Court House (once in Fairfax County, but now an independent city).
Some Native American names were recycled by the colonists and still remain on the map after 400 years of European occupation - Shenandoah and Quantico, for example. However, DeLorme did not try to include every neighborhood in the Index and provide a 100% complete gazetteer of place names, so don't be surprised to discover your favorite shopping center may not be listed.
In addition, natural features such as Rappahannock River or Lake Drummond are not included in the Index. However, the Index can help you get started in locating some natural features. Mountain Lake is one of the two natural lakes in Virginia, together with Lake Drummond in the Great Dismal Swamp. (There are only two natural lakes in Virginia. Everything else called a "lake" was created by humans who dammed a stream or river.) Mountain Lake is listed in the Index of the Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer published by DeLorme, because there is a small resort community next to the lake itself. Similarly, the community of Mechums River in the Index and provides a clue about the location of the river itself, while Natural Bridge and Fosters Falls are both populated places and natural features.
one of the many places called "Five Forks" in Virginia
Note: current versions of the Atlas (produced after the E-911 program required naming all roads to make addresses easier to find) includes road names as well as numbers
Fosters Falls - a named community, a rapid on the New River
downstream (north) of the community, and even a mountain
Get out your paper copy of the atlas (yes, you really do need to get a paper copy for this class... go get one) and find these locations. The statewide grid map on the back cover will help you get oriented. Follow some of the highways that transect Virginia, and you won't need to flip back and forth from the Index to find all these places:
Did you notice some places were on more than one transportation corridor? What do you think was built first, the roads or the cities? To what extent do roads determine where we live in Virginia, and to what extent do residences/employment centers determine where we build roads?
5) Get familiar with the brown lines on the topographic maps
The DeLorme Atlas and Gazetter, like the 1:24,000 quadrangle (quad) maps of USGS, are also "topographic" (topo) maps. They show the elevation of mountains and valleys with contour lines, with the elevation differences represented by light brown lines illustrating the height of the land above sea level. Look at Hiddenn Valley and Cobbler Mountain, near Warm Springs, as an aerial image and then with the brown topographic lines. (Got a fast Internet connection? Check out the complete topo map, produced in 2011.)
Once you get the hang of it, you can see how the lines display the location of hills and valleys. Note that the countour intervals in the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetter are in meters. Convert the metric units to traditional English units, and you'll discover that 40 meters is roughly 131 feet.
The legend on the inside cover of the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer explains the colors and categories of information displayed on the map. The legend is the equivalent of a secret decoder ring for interpreting the lines and colors on the paper. You need good eyes to distinguish the symbols on the maps for pipelines vs. powerlines, or woodland vs. orchard - but get out your reading glasses, flip through a few maps, and get to know how to interpret the information.
urban areas are portrayed in the atlas as orange, streams are blue, roads are red, forested areas are green,
open fields are white, and county/city boundaries are dashed black lines highlighted in yellow -
but what are the squiggly brown lines?
Not all maps have contour lines - the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) highway map and the National Atlas maps use shading to show elevation, while a watershed map may totally omit the topographic layer of information. Most of the topographic maps we will use in this class will include other lines to show the location of roads, rivers, and urbanized areas - but by definition, a "topo" map will always show contours of elevation.
Warning: maps are printed in different scales, and some maps measure elevation in meters rather than feet. One meter is roughly 3.3 feet, so 10 meters = about 33 feet, or roughly 10 yards. The scale of the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer maps is identified on the bottom of each page. The contour lines are 40 meters apart on the maps in that atlas, compared to 20 feet apart on the 1:24,000 scale USGS topo maps.
This US Geological Survey (USGS) map shows the elevation in feet: Little Cobbler Mountain is 1445 feet above sea level. The countour lines are displayed for every 20 feet of elevation, and are printed a little thicker at 800, 900, 1000, 1100, and 1200 feet (above sea level).
If you were actually walking on Little Cobbler Mountain and followed the arrow, you would be walking uphill from 800 feet to 1200 feet above sea level. If you chose a path around the mountain that followed the contour lines, you would be walking at the same elevation - neither uphill nor downhill. Pretend you are following the black line, walking around Little Cobbler Mountain... you might get tired stepping over boulders and fallen trees, but you won't be walking uphill or downhill. When you follow a contour line, you are walking at a constant elevation.
NOTE: When railroads build their lines, the surveyors identify the contour lines. Raiil construction is designed wherever possible to avoid going uphill or downhill. Locomotives with smooth steel wheels on smooth steel rails can haul massive loads on level tracks, but those locomotives lose much of their power on an uphill grade where the tracks rise as little as 1" in elevation for every 100 feet of horizontal distance. Braking a multi-ton train on a downhill slope is also a major challenge. The railroad depot in downtown Staunton was destroyed in 1890, after a Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) train headed downhill was unable to stop... and plowed right through the building.
Bicyclists tend to be especially conscious of contours. The Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) bike path in Northern Virginia is a flat trail that was built originally for a railroad to connect Alexandria with the coal fields of Hampshire County (in what is now West Virginia). The tracks were never extended west of Purcellville into the Shenandoah Valley and then further west into the coal fields. It was too expensive to create a flat route through the Blue Ridge in western Loudoun County by carving a tunnel or a massive trench through the mountains.
Blue Ridge near Roanoke
Look at any map of the western part of Virginia, and train your eyes and brain to recognize ridges vs. valleys. Then compare maps of the southwestern corner of Virginia with maps of the southeastern corner. It should be obvious that the Eastern Shore is flat, while Lee County has valleys and mountains. Wonder area has waterfalls? Surfing might be better in Virginia Beach, but the tallest mountain there is an old solid waste landfill known as Mt. Trashmore.
Where the contour lines are printed very close to each other, you'll looking at a steep hillside. In the image to the right, there's a relatively flat plateau to the west of Trimble Mountain (in this case, west is towards the left side of the map). If you bicycled on Forest Road 95, you'd stay on relatively level ground until you get near Todd Lake. However, if you took your mountain bike from the road up to the top of Elkhorn Mountain, you'd have a steeper climb - and a rather exiting descent, compared to road biking.
Hikers on the Appalachian Train are also conscious of contours. As described in the legend on the inside cover - you really are getting out your paper copy of the atlas and checking these things as we go, right? - the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer maps portray the trail as a series of black circles.
As shown on the map on the right, near Roanoke the trail stays relatively level on Catawba and Tinker Mountains. There is just a slight diversion to climb McAfee's Knob north of Route 311, before you reach the Botetourt County line.
In addition to getting familiar with the legend for the DeLorme maps, you should also get savvy about standard USGS topographic symbols.
(OPTIONAL MATERIAL: Still confused by topographic maps? If you want more information, I recommend Topographic Mapping by the US Geological Survey.)
Appalachian Trail route (dotted black line) west of Roanoke
6) Learn how to tell which way the rivers run (Don't assume from the way a map hangs on the wall that North is "up," so rivers can't flow north...)
7) Follow the James River
8) Understand Map "Scale" (bottom line: maps of smaller areas are larger scale maps)
9) Learn how to Use the Geographic Names and Information System
10) Read What's At the Corners?
Chesapeake Bay bathymetry - showing
edges of the land and depths of the water
- NOTE: there is much historical data here to explain how the lines were drawn, but remember - quizzes are open book. There's no need to memorize all the dates. Also, the "How Virginia Got Its Boundaries" paper (by Karl Phillips, a star student in 1999), refers to the Third Charter as being issued in 1611. That charter was issued on March 12, 1611... if dated by the Old Style Julian calendar, when a new year did not begin until March 25. Using the New Style Gregorian calendar implemented in England in 1752, the Third Charter was issued on March 12, 1612.
12) Check out the evolution of some of the edges of the state
False Cape State Park (City of Virginia Beach)
Watch the "Edges of Virginia" video. It is streamed on GMU-TV, as well as broadcast.
14) Web Exercise
At the Library of Congress, examine A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina drawn by Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson in 1751. Can you find where GMU is located today?
15) Map Exercise
Use your Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer and trace Route 58 across the southern boundary of Virginia. Start building your skills in following a line across multiple maps, flipping the pages in the atlas as you connect the end of the Route 58 on the edge of one map to the start of the road on the next page. Tracing bighways offers you a chance to make a transect across the state's rural, suburban, and urban regions in Virginia. Note where the urbanizing area is marked in southeastern Virginia by the change in map colors.
Fairfax Line, as defined in 1746 between "first fountains" or "headsprings" of Rappahannock/Potomac rivers
Source: Library of Congress Roachambeau Map Collection,
Partie occidentale de la Virginie, Pensylvanie, Maryland, et Caroline Septle. la rivière d'Ohio, et toutes celles qui s'y jettent, partie de la Rivière Mississippi,
tout le cours de la rivière de Illinois, le Lac Erie, partie des Lacs Huron et Michigan &. toutes les contrées qui bordent ces lacs et rivières, par Hutchins, capitaine anglais
Natural Chimneys (Augusta County)