Americans are taking to the woods in record numbers, but not always easily. When asphalt turns to dirt, too often the typical road map dead-ends as well.
That's where the 15 DeLorme Atlas and Gazeteer volumes come in handy. Produced in Freeport, Maine, just down the road from L.L. Bean, these maps cover backwoods America as thoroughly as a sunrise. While a typical road atlas depicts Maine on a scale of one inch to 20 miles, the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazeteer showcases the state with nearly six dozen 11-by 15½-inch maps, drawn to a scale of one inch to two miles.
Suddenly, the countryside snaps into focus. Trips can be routed from highway to primary road to secondary road to "other passable roads" to unimproved roads to trails and, finally, to hiking trails. Symbols point out everything from lighthouses and ranger lookout towers to sandy beaches, waterfalls, covered bridges, caves and mine shafts. Even wineries are indicated. Potential trouble spots, such as barricaded or gated roadways and washed-out bridges unlikely to be rebuilt, are noted whenever possible.
Had such maps of Maine been available in the mid-'70s, there would be no DeLorme Mapping Co. That was when David DeLorme, an avid outdoors-man, first became frustrated by the lack of accessible guides to the natural beauty of his home state. The Maine Department of Transportation produced decent maps, but they were big and bulky and virtually unknown to the public. The U.S. Geologic Survey had charted almost all of America on 7.5-minute quad (roughly 50-square-mile) maps. They were inexpensive and finely detailed, but most were at least 15 years old and therefore badly out of date regarding man-made features. Moreover, the maps were printed on 18-by 22-inch sheets, and wrestling with them on a windy trail or in a canoe was a daunting, if not impossible, task.
Knowing practically nothing about cartography, DeLorme rounded up all the public domain maps and aerial photographs he could find, and set to work at his kitchen table. In May 1976, he loaded 10,000 freshly printed copies of the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazeteer into his Dodge van and took to the road. Using his product to help sell his product, he searched out every country store he could find. And yes, even with his maps on his dashboard, he admits that he occasionally got "turned around."
To date, the Maine atlas has sold more than 300,000 copies. DeLorme published a New Hampshire atlas in 1977 and one for Vermont the next year. Since then he has mapped New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida, Washington, Northern California, Southern California, Virginia and, most recently, Minnesota. Eventually, all 50 states will be available.
While Delorme might seem like a man with a mission, there are playful people in the production department who have provided some rewarding light touches for avid map readers. For instance, the map of Pennsylvania, brought out in 1987, bears a tiny drawing of a groundhog near the town of Punxsutawney. The Florida atlas rewards searchers with a flamingo. Virginia's hides a ham, Tennessee's a Chattanooga choochoo. The atlases cost between $12.95 and $14.95 and can be ordered by a call to 1-800-227-1656.
DeLorme, 43, is in charge now of a 120-person work force, and his company has annual sales exceeding $5 million. Soon he plans to publish computerized maps: software that can call up small, well-demarked areas on a screen or find the area covered by a telephone exchange.
Ironically, DeLorme seldom needs a map to know where he is these days. Most often he's in his Freeport office rather than out in the woods hiking or fishing. Still, he remains philosophical. "For many fishermen, the satisfaction of building a fly rod or tying a fly is as great as the time spent fishing," he says. "Like a lot of people, I'm an armchair traveler. I enjoy just planning a trip."
John Grossmann lives in Jamison, Pa., and frequently writes about the outdoors.