Relief Maps

March 19, 2012

Remember in school when your social studies teacher made you draw and color maps of different countries and continents you were studying in class?

Or in history, if you were studying the now defunct French Indochina, they would give you a map of the current nations of Asia and a handful of colored pencils and make you lay out the sections of French Indochina, right?

Do you remember just how bad those maps looked?

Sure, some were better than others, and the best were regarded as amazing in comparison to others. But, it was like comparing certain episodes of Jersey Shore to other episodes of Jersey Shore.

Just because one episode is better than the other does not mean it can hold a candle to Through the Wormhole. 

Well, in this analogy, relief maps are Through the Wormhole, except they aren’t narrated by velvet-voiced Morgan Freeman.

Relief maps make all other maps look like Jersey Shore. And as we all know, that’s not a good thing.

Relief maps come in two varieties: the cool ones, and the really cool ones.


Some relief maps are regular, two dimensional pieces of paper that you can roll up and put in a tube or hang on a wall and stick pins in it. You know… to track your crime spree.

These maps contain elaborate displays of shading on their flat surfaces. The shading helps to show the topography of the land, highlighting the highest peaks and lowest valleys in such a way that our brains understand it as a simulated three dimensional image.

These are definitely some of the most beautiful maps are that exist.

Of course, they are not the best…


Other relief maps take this three dimensional idea to a whole new… dimension.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Some relief maps are made of molded or thermoformed plastic or other materials. Instead of showing elaborate, beautiful shading or colors to show heights and depths, they have tiny bits that jut out from the surface or sink deep into the recesses of the map.

Running a finger along a ridge of mountains will give the feeling of an actual (albeit small) mountain range underneath your fingers. Sliding a finger through a wide, deep valley will give the feeling of the tall mountains pushing in tightly on either side of the fingertip.

These kind of relief maps are astoundingly beautiful.

Perhaps I am just biased, though.

The thermoformed, raised surface maps are much more interesting to my eye, and definitely much more interesting to my fingers. I can twist and turn the map to see the peaks and valley shifting around each other, as if I am actually walking or (more realistically) driving through the mountains on the map.

The paper map, while useful, just isn’t as interesting to my eyes or hands.

I’d relate the maps to women, but I promised not to mention sex in this one.





This is not included in the 500 word limit.

Thanks to Sam Jones.

I know she was excited over hearing my thoughts on relief maps. I’m not sure why. Probably because she is a history nerd.

I don’t know. Maybe she just likes fingering all of those tight valleys.

You know… on the maps. Pervert.

Truly ghjr


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