The Problems with Maps

Well, my plans for a very specific photo this weekend just went bust.

As you may know from this post, one of my planning tools is The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE). I mentioned in this Spring Fever post what I wanted to do (9th paragraph down): photograph the Summer Solstice sunrise at Three Forks.

So, it was time to do some scouting. I needed to verify angles, lines of sight, refresh how to get there, and if necessary identify a better location on the ground and re-work the lines in TPE.

I loaded up my son, one grandson, and one granddaughter last Saturday and drove out to Three Forks to perform the requisite scouting. The last time I had been there, we had stopped at the top of the canyon. This time we went down into the canyon, which was easy enough, given I was driving a 1992 Silverado Blazer, but I’m not sure I’d really want to drive a regular car down that road. A Subaru Legacy went down before us and was having no problem, and there was a pickup and a small SUV already down there, so obviously as long as you have clearance you can make it down, and back up. That road, however, is pretty rocky and is very steep. I’d swear 75% of the vertical distance from rim to floor is in that first half of the road going down. No wonder there’s a couple of switchbacks!

It didn’t look that bad in TPE. But then, it’s not a topo map either. More to the point in this particular case, if you’re not paying attention you can lose your N/S orientation.

Down in the canyon, we spent an hour having lunch and exploring the area. I, of course, checked out the pre-determined location and angles. Unfortunately, while my location and angles were correct, the canyon had various protuberances and twists not so readily evident in TPE, Google Maps, Google Earth, or Flash Earth.

What looked like a perfect alignment simply wasn’t. I could get a wonderful image of the solstice sun breaking over the rim above me, but it wasn’t what I wanted. It wouldn’t line up down or up canyon. In hindsight, I know very well I should have gone to a topo map site and checked things there.

Simply put, despite mentioning the benefits of doing your homework, I just didn’t do all my homework. Everything lines up, or appears to, but without checking against a topo map with closer contour lines, I was just working from too high level a view. I needed the nitty gritty details and failed to do my due diligence there.

I’m glad we went and I definitely plan to return as I saw some awesome rock formations across the river that would align very nicely with a Milky Way overhead. I just need to figure out how to light them up so they show up. I have several ideas how to do that and I know it’s possible to do so, so I am definitely planning a return trip for some astrophotography from there.

That’ll have to be an overnighter, though, as it’s a 2 1/2 hour 100 mile drive one way mostly on dirt roads and there’s that steep rocky road to navigate back out of the canyon.

Oh, and the title of this post? It refers to relying on insufficiently detailed maps while doing this type of planning. However, it also refers to another problem I have with maps…they’re so much fun to explore!

And there’s another, similar, canyon junction visible on the maps to the east…maybe that one would work?


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