Monthly Archives: April 2016


United States map with legend full size

am totally amazed at how many people do not know how to read a map. Reading a map is so simple. I have decided to attempt teaching others how to read a map here. I have been thinking about this how to go about it. I have come up with a plan I am going with which I think will make it easy to understand what one is looking at when they look down onto a map which is before them. A map is nothing more than what a person would see if they were looking down from above the earth from a distance. The further up above the earth they go the more area they see but with less detail than they could see if they were closer. So pretend like you are a bird or up in an airplane or a helicopter or a hot air balloon. For many years now we have had satellite images … pictures taken from space looking down upon the earth. I will be using them to help illustrate what a map is and how to read one. I am selecting Parkview Field in downtown Fort Wayne, IN as most of us from around Fort Wayne are familiar with it … at least to some degree. I would use your street and house if I could since you would be most familiar with it, but that just isn’t practical. So let us begin …

First imagine yourself positioned down at street level on West Jefferson Blvd. looking at Parkview Field from the street. You would see this …

Parkview Field street view from W. Jefferson Blvd.

Ok, now imagine being in a helicopter or hot air balloon rising up above this area and looking down at it from up above. You would see this …

Parkview Field from above with X and blue arrow

The yellow X I placed on West Jefferson Blvd. is the approximate location the street level view was taken from. The blue arrow simply shows the direction one is looking from that location. Notice that all the names are upside down. That is because I had to flip the picture upside down for the sake of illustration here. Normally maps are orientated with the direction North toward the top of the map. Mind you that this is a satellite image and not a map. I purposely chose to use a satellite image here instead of trying to go directly to a map of this area as I think it will help you visualize what you are looking at when you look at a map. Now here is the same area shown on a map. Note I have also flipped it upside down and marked the location on West Jefferson Blvd. with a red X. The light green area represents Parkview Field. The blue arrow represents the direction being looked from the X in the street.

Parkview Field from above map with x and blue arrow

Do you understand? It is not hard. Now, getting back to “orientation” … with most maps having north at the top. Again, this is not hard. Now I will flip this map back around so that north is at the top …

Parkview Field from above map with x oriented north with blue arrow

I hope you are understanding what you are looking at. With North being to the top of the map, south being to the bottom, east to the right hand side and west to the left hand side it is easy to figure things out. Remember … looking at a map is just like being up above the earth looking down. In a satellite image you see exactly what you would see with your eyes, but with a map what you see is a representation of what is there … streets, roads, buildings (government, schools, businesses, churches, etc.), rivers, parks, landmarks, zoos, airports, etc. Most roads in “planned” cities and rural areas run north-south and east-west making it much easier to navigate than places where the roads meander around.

If you are driving north on a street and turn to the right 90 degrees you will then be driving east. If you are driving west and turn to the left 90 degrees you will be going south.

map legend

Maps usually have “legends” on them. A legend is simply the information needed for the map to make sense. Maps often use symbols or colors to represent things, and the map key (image above) explains what they mean. A part of the legend is usually the scale of the map. That simply means that one can tell the distance being shown on a map by knowing the scale used. For instance one inch distance on a map might be 20 miles. So if you have two cities on a map that are 2.5 inches apart the actual distance between the two cities would be 50 miles (2.5 times 20). The scale may be shown in miles, kilometers, yards, feet, etc.  Of course, the unit of measure may not be in inches. It may be 1/4 inch represents 20 miles … or anything the map maker chooses to use.

So when you look at a map don’t get freaked out. They are not that difficult to understand. From this Parkview Field street view from W. Jefferson Blvd. (what you see from the ground) to this Parkview Field from above with X and blue arrow (what you see from up above the earth) to this

          Parkview Field from above map with x and blue arrow (an actual map which is not oriented to the north) to this Parkview Field from above map with x oriented north with blue arrow (an oriented map). From there you go up higher and see more area, but there will be less detail to see.

downtown Fort Wayne satellite image

downtown Fort Wayne

Sometimes you need to fly up higher to see more of the area so that you will be orientated and know where you are at and where you need to go. You can’t see that if you are not up high enough looking down. Then sometimes if you are already in the area where you want to be you need to go down closer (zooming in) so you can see more detail and know what you need to do to get exactly where you want to go/be. With a paper map you can’t zoom in and out. You have to physically change the paper map you are using. When using an online map such as Google offers you can zoom in and out, change from map to satellite to street level view and zoom in and out on all of them.

Well, I hope this has helped you understand about maps and how to read and use them.I am always open for comments, questions and suggestions. And you can always email me at stevenewbauer at aol dot com.