As long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with maps, preferably old maps. In fact the older a map is, the more fascinating it becomes.
Ordinary maps can be a treasure trove for the knowledgeable outdoor enthusiast. I have spent countless hours pouring over U.S.G.S. topographic maps as well as U.S. Forest Service maps. Careful planning with a good map can put you into fantastic fishing where you can catch and release dozens of trout a day and not see a single angler. By the same token, time spent studying a good map can put you onto a monster buck. Good maps can really expand your outdoor experiences.
I recall as a teenager, sitting with a forest service map with my Dad planning an expedition into tremendous fishing for brook trout. We plotted our strategy by starting at Pacific Valley on the Ebbetts Pass. Our route would take us easterly up Marshall Canyon and then we would swing to the south thru a saddle between Henry Peak at 9,352 feet and Peep Sight Peak ar 9,727 feet. Then we could continue southerly along Weiser Creek until we hit the junction of Highland Creek where we would begin fishing. We fished upstream along Highland Creek all day and caught and released about 50 beautiful brook trout each. By the time we reached the headwaters of Highland Creek at Highland Lake, the sun was just beginning to set. We had fished all day, hiked about 15 miles, and not seen another angler. It was a perfect days fishing. Without studying the topographic maps of the area for weeks in advance we might never have tumbled to that particular angler’s treasure.
A similar example occurred in planning a deer hunting expedition in the Sierra. Joe Wilson was an accomplished deer hunter who had hunted the area we were interested in for years. When we sought out Joe’s advice, he sat down with a good topo map and showed us a canyon that had a jeep road running right up the middle. Joe pointed out that on opening day of deer season hordes of hunters would drive their jeeps up the canyon heading for the high country. Joe advised us to hike up the canyon the day before and loop around to the high bluffs that looked down on the jeep road. At day break on Opening Day, the parade of jeeps up the canyon drove the big old bucks up hill to the base of the cliffs to seek shelter. Looking down from the bluffs we could see numerous trophy bucks that the ordinary hunters never suspected were there. Just seeing close to a dozen trophy bucks was like a miner finding a dozen nuggets in his gold pan. It was truly a hunter’s treasure.
Time after time my partners and I have been able to find outdoor treasures beyond compare by learning how to use a map. You can also learn how to use maps to find outdoor treasure. It takes some trial and error to learn how to walk to places that the average outdoors enthusiast simply won’t take the trouble to hike to. Like everything else in life: the harder you work and the farther you hike, the luckier you get. If you can find them, old maps can often show you routes to get to an unfished stretch of stream. Look at old maps and compare them side-by-side with their new counterparts. Every once in awhile you’ll see that the newer map no longer shows a road that went down to a streamside gold mill, or a road that used to go to a bridge that’s long since been wiped out by floods. By following the road shown on the old map, (but not on the newer one) you can sometimes get to fish a great stretch of river that no one has fished for 40 years.
Not every expedition you undertake will be successful. I recall finding an old road on a map that lead to a bridge in the American River drainage. The bridge had been destroyed in a cataclysmic flood about a dozen years earlier. I figured that now the road would lead to some great fishing where my partners and I would be the only ones fishing. It turns out I was right when we finally got down to the bottom of the canyon and saw the footings of the old washed out bridge. We were dumbfounded to also find about 250 college kids skinny dipping in the creek. The remote location was a perfect place for naked kids to splash and play. Unfortunately several hundred cavorting kids really didn’t make for great fishing. Just like treasure hunting, not every pan holds paydirt.
My collection of maps really is a collection of treasure maps and just like the old prospectors of a century and a half ago, sometimes you find the mother lode and sometimes you don’t. I guess it’s the thrill of the search that is the addicting part. Is the trip next weekend going to be the one where you strike it rich? Will this be the time you land that monster trout? Or, will this fall be the trip you finally get that elusive buck you’ve been seeking? Good maps and lots of research might just make your dreams of outdoor treasure come true.
Until Next Week,