Answer to Map #46

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Answer: This week’s map was a choropleth in which each county of California was shaded in accordance with the total number of campsites on federal land in that county. We accepted any answer having to do with camping.

The student who made this map somehow got his hands on a file containing the latitude and longitude of every campsite on federal land in California. I’m not quite sure where he found this data set, but it’s an interesting list! There are, in total, 14,599 federal campsites in the state of California. From there, the student queried the Google Maps API to look up the county for each latitude/longitude pair, then counted up the number of campsites in each county. After going through this process, one learns that there are 1,315 campsites in Tulare County and 1,136 in Mono County. It’s a nifty bit of data manipulation, but I’m left wondering whether a choropleth is actually the best medium for presenting this data set. If one already has the latitude and longitude for every campsite, then it wouldn’t be that hard to make what ought to be a really interesting dot map!

What one finds from pawing through this campsite data is that the federal lands with the most campsites are the major national parks, with Yosemite National Park and the national forests in its vicinity really standing out. Yosemite is the most popular national park for camping in the entire U.S.; in 2014 alone, visitors camped there for a cumulative total of 837,177 nights. But since Yosemite is spread across three counties (and it borders a fourth), those counties get short shrift on a choropleth that maps absolute numbers of campsites. Tulare County, the county with the most campsites, benefits from having all of Sequoia National Park and part of Kings Canyon National Park, as well as bits of five other national wildlife refuges, forests, and monuments. If you’re hoping to snag an available campsite this summer, that might be a good place to look.

In general, urban areas are white on this map—they don’t tend to have much federal land to begin with, and one isn’t generally eager to go camping in the shadow of some skyscraper. But Los Angeles County does have some green! That’s thanks to the 435 campsites you can find in the county, mostly in the Angeles National Forest. Los Angeles County is huge (it is, after all, the most populous county in the U.S.). For all we like to associate the Los Angeles area with sprawl, it’s nice to be reminded that the city is actually squeezed between the ocean and some undeveloped, protected national forest land.

Ever since I first saw this map, I’ve been skeptical of the idea that there are zero campsites on federal land anywhere in Modoc County. Much of Modoc County is occupied by federal land, but at least some of it has been entirely closed to humans in order to protect wildlife. There are definitely campsites in the Modoc National Forest, but that forest spans county boundaries. I haven’t actually been able to find a campsite on federal land in Modoc County that would suggest that this map is flawed. Perhaps it is correct?

Finally, something should be said about the Carrizo Plain National Monument, which is responsible for just a few campsites in San Luis Obispo County (the county that is home to Cal Poly). The Carrizo Plain is home to the largest remaining bit of undisturbed grassland in central California. In April 2017, it exploded with color thanks to a “super bloom” of wildflowers triggered by a rainy winter. That very same month, it was included on a list of national monuments whose status will be formally reviewed by the Interior Department of the Trump administration to see whether they deserve their protected status. The review encompasses any national monument created by presidential proclamation in accordance with the Antiquities Act since 1996, since those proclamations closed off such land to mining, logging, and oil drilling. While the Carrizo Plain is not necessarily in immediate danger (the same cannot be said for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah), the decision to undertake the review is a reminder that not all federal land will automatically remain protected forever.

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