A good map worth every dime you spend on it

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Map geeks live in Albuquerque’s North Valley. Their home is a modest suite in an even more modest one-story brown stucco office building on North Fourth Street. Even the sign for the Public Lands Interpretive Association is modest. Fourth Street is commonly thought to be the route of El Camino Real, or Chihuahua Trail, that connected Mexico with Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, north of Española. An Albuquerque planning document corrects that “misperception,” reporting that El Camino Real had two routes through the North Valley, neither of them Fourth Street.

Maps organize knowledge, which is a great human achievement. Getting things right—eventually—is what maps are for, after all, urban mythology to the contrary.

The “geek” label may be unfair. Still, that was the impression. The website, http://www.publiclands.org, is thorough, almost daunting. The products are resolutely paper.

My family involvement in mining may explain liking maps. Mapping mineral deposits is essential. Three dimensional mapping comes with today’s computing power.

Global positioning system, Wikipedia explains, is “a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites… A geographic information system (GIS)… is the merging of cartography (mapping), statistical analysis, and database technology.”

GIS and GPS have settled into our intellectual background and our cars as the technology and the organizing of knowledge has moved forward.

We first found the association’s maps at another place of nirvana for information and often beautifully printed things having to do with land—the bookstore at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro.

Poking around one day a couple of years ago, we found a set of six maps showing about everything there is to show about public lands in the state and much information about the rest of the land. The maps are large—21 inches by 39 inches—which allows detail. Few maps, I suggest, show the Alamogordo Valley and Alamogordo Creek, which are a little way south of Interstate 40 in the Cuervo and Newkirk vicinity and a long way from Alamogordo. Nor do many maps show reservation roads and the locations of chapter houses.

The maps wonderfully organize knowledge about New Mexico. This service is valuable because our people relate to the land in fundamental ways that while differing from group to group, in sum, define the Land of Enchantment.

At $6.95, the maps aren’t cheap. But you get what you pay for. The maps were finished in 2010. The title is modest, “Recreational Map of New Mexico.” Then, on the front of the map, is a claim that rings completely true: “The most comprehensive recreational map to the Public Lands of New Mexico.” Complete with a GPS grid.

The association’s income is from operating campgrounds, being the customer service contact for the Valles Caldera National Preserve near Los Alamos, and running bookstores at Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service facilities in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona.

As a not-for-profit entity, the association describes profit as “net revenues.” Whatever the label, the money goes to the interpretive and educational efforts. “Interpretive associations” have a legal definition and date to the early days of the National Park Service.

The Public Lands Interpretive Association plays a role beyond maps, interpretation and education, thanks to the Internet, I suppose. From the modest North Fourth headquarters, it is a window on the world for New Mexico and the West. That makes the association one of those pockets of excellence we keep forgetting.