Earth Notes: The Heart of Grand Canyon Map

Feb 19, 2020

Anyone attempting to map the Grand Canyon faces a big job. It is immense in size, intricate in topography, and not easy to get around in.

Bradford Washburn's "Heart of Grand Canyon Map" published in 1978 in National Geographic magazine.
Credit The National Geographic Society

Bradford Washburn quickly grasped that when, in 1971, he decided to map the section of Grand Canyon most popular with visitors and hikers.

At the time, Washburn was head of the Boston Museum of Science, as well as an accomplished mountaineer, explorer and photographer. Armed with existing maps, aerial photos and a laser range finder, he began what he called the “resurvey” of the South Rim, including the Hermit, South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails, as well as a section of the North Rim.

With funding from the National Geographic Society, Washburn, along with his wife, daughter and a couple of volunteers, spent four years setting up survey stations, taking elevations, walking trails and making nearly 700 helicopter landings on buttes and pinnacles.

He enlisted the best Swiss cartographers to convert his data into printable form—highly accurate drawings with true colors and shadings. In all, the one-sheet map covered 160 square miles. In the words of Matthew Toro, head of Arizona State University library’s mapping section, it was “a fantastic specimen … of the science and art of map making.”

It became known as the “Heart of the Grand Canyon” map and was published in National Geographic magazine in 1978. It remains a collector’s item to this day.