I must confess: I am a map junkie. I can stare at a map for hours on end. I do it to find possible hikes or runs, bikes or drives. I do it to jog my memory of Place. I do it to virtually travel to new landscapes I’ve never visited and maybe never will. I do it knowing full well that a map can never live up to the place it depicts, that the cartographer imposes a linear, two-dimensionality onto a curvy, three-dimensional world.
I’m fond of all sorts of maps, from tattered topos to high-definitition satellite images to Rand McNally road atlases. But I’m most enamored with older maps, ones from the early days of European and white settlement in the Western U.S. and, especially, the Four Corners region. They provide a sort of snapshot of that moment in time, revealing how the colonizers (usually they and the mapmakers are one and the same) saw or understood (or failed to understand) the landscape. Even the blank spaces, sometimes labeled “UNEXPLORED,” reveal something about the Place: It was too remote, too rugged, too dangerous, too lacking in natural resources to risk sending the surveyors or mappers or settlers in there.
Today’s map, seen in its entirety above, is titled: “Old Territory and Military Department of New Mexico, compiled … chiefly for military purposes under the Secretary of War 1859.” It was partially revised and corrected to 1867. I’ve zoomed in on specific portions of the map below to help us all focus on some of the map’s idiosyncrasies. If the images are too small in your email browser, then go to the post at LandDesk.org, click on the image, and zoom in.
I’d love to hear what stands out about this map for you. Do you recognize springs or certain places? Do you see things on the map that no longer exist? Anything surprise you about what the cartographer knew or didn’t know back then? Put your thoughts in the comment section below!