A few years ago, I ran across Dan Cervelli's excellent Closed Contour map of the Sierra. At the time I was just getting started with CalTopo and learning my way around GIS, and Closed Contour really opened my eyes to the cool stuff you can do with Mapnik. I had no idea it was so simple to take some shapefile data, add a few rendering commands, and then boom, beautiful looking maps. At least, the tools are that simple - obviously there's still a lot of talent and hard work involved in producing the final product.
The original Closed Contour map was built on a projection and tiling system incompatible with Google Maps, so integration into the universe of sites and apps using that as a de-facto standard was not possible. Dan has a new Yosemite map built around this standard, and I thought it would make a great end-to-end demo of some things CalTopo can do with "web mercator" tile sets.
Step 1: Add a Custom Layer
The more maps, the better - CalTopo is built around the idea of combining different map layers into a single coherent picture. Unfortunately, I have to balance supplying layers of regional or special interest against providing a reasonably compact, easy to navigate UI. The middle ground I've settled on is to make it easy to add custom layers from a tile URL or WMS address. You can also choose from a preset list of useful layers, which Closed Contour has now joined:
Closed Contour now appears in the layer dropdown alongside the standard CalTopo layers
and provides a snazzy backdrop for some route planning, complete with trail mileages
You can also skip these steps and just visit http://bit.ly/1pIA98Q to take a look.
Step 2: Make a PDF
I've already covered printing multipage PDF map packs and loading Geospatial PDFs onto your smartphone, so lets just jump ahead to the results:
8.5x11 print. Compare Closed Contour, above, to the USGS 7.5' topo below:
I can also load this into Avenza PDF Maps to plot my location and record tracks when out in the field:
Step 3: GPS and Google Earth
Both Google Earth and newer Garmin GPSs know how to read layers exported from CalTopo as KMZ files. So lets go make one:
This gives me a better GPS map of Yosemite than money can buy:
And some pretty nice 3-D visualizations: