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Thread: Historical Topo Maps

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
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    Default Historical Topo Maps

    While doing some research trying to locate an old camp near Tucson, Arizona, I happened to stumble on a huge placer of gold! Well, not in the literal sense, but to me, it's worth it's weight in gold. Here's a website that contains a TON of old topo maps for all of the states:

    http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/topo/topo_us.html

    And here's the ones for Arizona: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/topo/arizona/

    What an awesome resource! I found what I was looking for, and then some. After spending a few hours looking through some of the Arizona maps, I've found a half a dozen new places I want to go find.

    Enjoy!
    "Life's not about how fast you can blast through it, but how slow you can go."
    matt@experience-az.com | www.experience-az.com

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
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    Arizona
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    Default

    Very cool! Thanks for the link. I hope they keep adding topos to the Arizona page. I absolutely love looking at old maps and photos. In my job, I'm often looking for older maps such as these. I already have the San Francisco Mtn. quad but the others are new to me. It is possible to georeference these old maps using newer topos. The process isn't perfect but it'll get you in the ballpark. This makes it possible to quickly get coordinates from the old topos to use in your GPS. Very handy for locating sites.

    I've got an assortment of northern Arizona topos from the late 1800s to the 1940s in digital format that I'd be more than happy to share.

    Thanks again,

    Joe

  3. #3
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    JEC,

    Thanks for your reply. I LOVE old maps too. I just wish I was better at actually reading them . Good map readers are either born or have worked extremely hard to perfect the skill (neither of which applies to me).

    I am looking for a way, as you call it, to georeference these maps. Currently, my main exploring tool is National Geographic Topo State Series. What I would like to do is to find a way to georeference these old maps (in .jpg format), or calibrate them for use in a topo SW program for my Windows based computer. If I can do that, I can place fairly accurate GPS coordinates at points of interest and roads on the old maps, then export these points to NG Topo. Any ideas on the best SW or how to do this would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!
    "Life's not about how fast you can blast through it, but how slow you can go."
    matt@experience-az.com | www.experience-az.com

  4. #4
    Vulture's Avatar
    Vulture is offline Rock Crawlin GPS Moving Map Totin Trailblazing Expert Ghost Towner
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    Wow, what a find! This is like a Christmas present for me. I'll be spending hours checking these out.

    Great quality & east to read.

    <
    "The good things a person needs-stubbornness, thinking for himself-don't make him a useful member of society. What makes him useful is to be half dead." Sylvan Hart

  5. #5
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    Arizona
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    Matt,

    I georeference old maps fairly regularily in my job using ArcGis. This is a GIS program used by governmental agencies etc. but it is quite expensive so it isn’t feasible for most people to use on their home PCs. There are a lot of freeware GIS programs available but I haven’t really looked into them much. I did find one called Quantum GIS (qgis.org) that says it will do georeferencing. I have no idea how user-friendly it is though. You’ll need to download current georeferenced topo maps of the same area as the old topo that you want to “correct”. You can find all the Arizona UGSG 7.5 minute topos here: http://ariadata.arid.arizona.edu/browse/drg_024k.asp. You need to pay attention to the map projection information for the different map download options. You can also download all AZ 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 topos from this site but be aware that the site is commonly down. In fact, I couldn’t even get to the home page when I just tried but I was able to get to the above link for the 1:24k topos. Google ‘Arizona Regional Image Archive’ to get to the home page (at least when the site is working!). You also need to keep in mind that the old topos certainly aren’t spatially perfect so you have to except a bit of error but that is understandable considering the mapping methods they used back in the day.
    Good luck! It is really worth doing this process. I especially like overlaying my GPS routes and points on older georeferenced maps.

    Joe

  6. #6
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    Arizona
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    Matt,

    I forgot to mention that you must be able to identify points (the same point) on both the older map and the newer georeferenced map. The more you find and use in the georeferencing process, the more accurate the outcome. Public land survey points (section corners and/or township-range corners). work really well. You can also use points such as railroad junctions and spots where rivers intersect or where creeks dump into rivers. Just keep in mind that railroad junctions often change location over time and rivers and creeks almost certainly will change location over time. Even public land survey locations sometimes change.

    Joe

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by JEC View Post
    Matt,

    I forgot to mention that you must be able to identify points (the same point) on both the older map and the newer georeferenced map. The more you find and use in the georeferencing process, the more accurate the outcome. Public land survey points (section corners and/or township-range corners). work really well. You can also use points such as railroad junctions and spots where rivers intersect or where creeks dump into rivers. Just keep in mind that railroad junctions often change location over time and rivers and creeks almost certainly will change location over time. Even public land survey locations sometimes change.

    Joe
    I used this technique quite often with a freeware program called GPS Utility. You scanned your map as a bitmap image. Then identified the co-ordinates for two or three points on the map as Joe describes. The utility did its thing and the co-ordinates for all other points were then available. I most often used the program to determine waypoints for trails that were on Forest Service maps, but not USGS maps. I have not use the program in several years, but it is still available--I continue to get emails from the user group.

  8. #8
    campp's Avatar
    campp is offline Rawk Crawlin GPS Totin Ghost Towning Expert
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    Great bookmark, thanks! Sadly I sold my maps when I moved away from AZ in the late 1970s... Only to return 10 years later and finding the maps were much different than they used to be. Oh well, at least these digital archives are available.

  9. #9
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    Tucson, Arizona
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    I found a nice piece of SW (not too expensive) which does this very easily: http://www.oziexplorer.com/

    So far, it's working great. Calibrating the maps is very easy (using the four corners of the map). I blasted away at how accurate these maps were. I've also found that the newer Topo maps have mislabeled (or names have changed, etc.) on some of the locations I've been too. Very interesting. Thanks for all your help and replies.
    "Life's not about how fast you can blast through it, but how slow you can go."
    matt@experience-az.com | www.experience-az.com

  10. #10
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    Wow, these are some precious gems!
    At last, some old west exploring without the need to go away from PC.

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