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For most backpackers, a trip begins as a dream, maybe a daydream while sitting at the computer or bits and pieces of a destination while snoozing away soundly in bed. For Mike Wilson, trips always begin in bed, but with his eyes wide open.
Relaxing in the sack at his Fraser, Colorado home, Wilson and his wife can scan nearly all of Colorado and Utah, plus parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Not because he has one heck of a picture window, but because Wilson has covered his bedroom walls with USGS topographic maps of his favorite backpacking playgrounds.
Scale matters. To get all of Colorado and Utah on that wall, he used 32 maps with a 1-to-250,000 scale. The cost of the maps, purchased directly from the U.S. Geological Survey, is $7 each (today’s prices), or $259 for a 12-foot-long wall. That’s about $100 more than medium-priced commercial wallpaper.
Backpacker’s favorite 7.5-minute quads (1-to-24,000 scale) show more detail, but also would require far more space. Using that scale would require a wall 60 feet high just to paste up all of Colorado.
From under the sheets, Wilson was inspired to backpack along the Escalante River some 17
years before President Clinton designated it a national monument. Lately, he’s been musing over the kayaking potential of the San Rafael River. If his walls were big enough, says Wilson, he’d have Kansas. “Flat places can be interesting, too,” he says.
If you want to fall asleep dreaming of backpacking trips, here’s what to do.
- Figure out what scale you want, then buy the maps. For a list of USGS map dealers, go to: mapping.usgs.gov/esic/map_dealers
- Trim the topo maps’ sides with a straight edge and the tops and bottoms by hand. The earth is not square, and neither are topo maps. They sag slightly in the middle. For that reason, although they fit together like a puzzle, they will not perfectly fill a perfectly square wall.
- Sand walls flat (for best adhesion).
- Begin in the middle of the wall and work outward using wallpaper tools and paste from a local hardware store. They’ll have directions as well. Use a level to make sure your center map is straight.
- Work quickly. Devoting equal time for each map since wet maps expand and you want each to expand proportionally to the next.
- Don’t sweat the imperfections. You’ll never notice.