CalTopo is a very useful mapping tool. It is mapping software that takes a standard topographic map and allows you to overlay information from a variety of sources. You can adjust the opacity of each layer to make the data clearer.

This is a map of the area where the Lake Fire is burning.  I can overlay a map showing where satellite imagery detected heat signatures over time. The color codes tell me when the last time an area showed a strong heat signature. Red is most recent while grey is 4 days ago.  You get a sense of how the fire progressed over time.

Lake Fire map
Zoomable to whatever level you want.

Over that, you can add a layer showing the current wind velocity and direction or for wind predictions for times up to 36 hours from now. You can overlay surface air temperatures and precipitation predictions. This map is more accurate than any other you will find online. Alternatively, you could map smoke distribution or look only at places that are currently hot right now and not concern yourself with history. Check out the results of different satellites. Pretty useful tool for fighting fires, eh?

Suppose you are planning a hike. Let’s lay down a trail. It allows you to place your track over existing trails or to draw your own. Here I’ve laid it over an existing track.

Random trail

And it calculates a wealth of information. A profile of the elevation of your hike along with details of approximately to expect along the way.



Ok, so one more thing. Suppose you are interested in real estate. What are the boundaries and who owns it? And, just for giggles, what areas would receive sun at 8 am this morning?


Maps and mapping was one of my obsessions as a kid. A gas station roadmap of a place I’ve never been could keep me occupied for as long as a short novel. I’d draw my own maps of our homestead with the various footpaths and trees and creeks.  I can get lost in this stuff for hours.

Check it out at CalTopo: Backcountry mapping evolved.