Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Eye in the sky

Before there was Google Earth there was the Photo-Atlas of the United States: A Complete Photographic Atlas of the U.S.A. Using Satellite Photography, published by the Ward Ritchie Press in 1975. Each two-page duotone spread covers an area of land 280 miles wide and 210 miles long. Prominent features are labeled on the photomaps, and a sidebar gives some pertinent geographical information.

I came across the atlas in the college library the other day, and in the back pocket was the check-out card with my handwritten name scribbled on both sides. It appears that I often had the book in my possession in the late-1970s and 80s. Flying around the country on book tours I always reserved a window seat, and I wanted to know what I was looking at. A plane took about 30 minutes to fly over a page of the atlas.

I also used the photo atlas when creating one of my first published books, A Geologic and Topographic Profile of United States Along Interstate 80 (also called in another version Reading the Landscape Along Interstate 80: The Rock Beneath, the Land Above), published by Hubbard in 1982, a thin cardboardy booklet that provided a continuous geologic, topographic and meteorological profile of the country from San Francisco to New York, with explanatory captions. Alas, it has long since gone out of print. It's not listed under "Books" on this blog, and I was hard pressed to find the copy I scanned for the two pages below. (Click to enlarge, then again.) I notice that several copies are available on Amazon from private sellers, for $20-25!

Too bad it's gone; I always thought it was one of the niftiest things I've done. My original plan was an accordian-fold book that would reach right across a classroom wall. The publisher balked at that, but by buying two copies one could easily make a continuous cross-section, as I did for my own classroom. I wonder where that prop is now?

Anyway, back to Google Earth. Quite an improvement over the old photo-atlas. Wouldn't it be lovely if the airlines provided seat-back screens with the option of scrolling, high-resolution, labeled Google Earth imagery of the landscape one was flying over -- a splendid geography lesson for anyone in a window seat.