by Greg Illes
The Benchmark series of atlases have long been favorites with wanderers, and with good reason. Covering the 11 western states, these tabloid-sized books are a wealth of information and far richer than the typical road atlas. Each one covers one state, and the information is generally provided as two sets of maps: recreation view and landscape.
The recreation maps are large-scale, grand-view depictions of terrain and land-use, with major highways and arterial roads; Landscape maps are topo-style, smaller-scale, with secondary roads, campgrounds, contour lines for elevation, and so forth — exactly the kind of detail needed for serious exploration (or just for finding that great out-of-the-way campground).
The recreational maps are especially useful for locating public lands. They cover, in excellent detail and accuracy, parks, monuments, BLM lands, national forests, and state lands. Easily find roadways, dirt roads, and even trails. The road markings are remarkably clear, and it’s easy to tell the difference between a motorhome-capable dirt road and a rough 4WD track. Of course, local conditions and weather can change these things, but the maps are still a great place to start.
In addition to the pure cartographic information, the atlases also provide a fair-sized listing of points-of-interest such as campgrounds, historical places, parks, museums and such. On several occasions, I’ve found a great place that I didn’t know I was going to — until I read about it in the Atlas.
THE BIG PAGES AND CLEAR DETAIL of these giant books (11″ x 16″) make for easy orientation — the “big picture.” Despite being dedicated electronic aficionados, we find ourselves making extensive use of the atlases over our iPad and Droid maps. In fact, our several-year-old atlas copies are well-worn and dog-eared. Atlases list for $23-$25 on the Benchmark website, but they are routinely discounted at retailers; Amazon pricing runs about $16 to $21.
If you still prefer a more digital orientation, Benchmark is beginning to offer the atlases as downloads electronic devices. Check out your favorite app store for more information.