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Maps are representations. Topographic maps are maps that reveal the surface of the earth from the tops of mountains to the depths of the oceans. The variance in elevation of the earth’s surface is shown by contour lines. Contour lines are imaginary lines that are drawn connecting points of equal elevation. Usually contour lines represent height above or below mean sea level or 0. When contour lines are close together, it means that the land or earth’s surface is descending or ascending steeply. In contrast, when contour lines are far apart it means that the earth’s surface is relatively flat. Contour lines never cross. Each contour line represents a separate elevation. Different maps use different intervals between contour lines depending upon the scale of the map. Flat areas may use contours every ten feet while mountainous areas may strike a contour every one hundred feet. Colors on topographic maps are use to show such features as vegetation (green), water (blue) and built up areas (gray, beige or red). The lines connecting areas may be straight, curved, solid, dashed, dotted, or any combination. Some lines may also show railroad tracks, streams, and even state and county boundaries. In addition to lines on topographic maps, there are many types of symbols. Symbols may locate significant buildings, historical sites, campgrounds, springs, wells, control points.

Activity 1 – Lay of the Land

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Activity 2 – Contours and Grades

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Lines are everywhere on contour maps! Lines represent elevation changes, political boundaries, railroads, roads and rivers, lakes and canals. Take a look at the United States Geographic System’s Topographic Map Symbols. Make an index of road types, water feature types, territorial boundary types and elevation contours. Be sure to look at the color coding that is used and the thinness or thickness of the lines. Create a topographic map that shows the main roads coming to your neighborhood, any water features, boundaries of blocks and land contours.

Activity 3 – Topographic Symbols

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Looking at the United States Geographic System’s Topographic Map Symbols, find the symbol for glaciers, marshes, sand, gravel, woods, shrubs, orchards and vineyards. Draw a map of a natural area that has several of these vegetative and water features.

Activity 4 – Draw a Contour Map of your neighborhood

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Activity 5 – Draw an Imaginary Topographical park

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Activity 6 – Skateboard Park

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