Learning how to make a map, in the gorgeous N. Cascades

I love maps. I don’t know many outdoor lovers who don’t.

A map is all about possibilities. Staring at one, the options feel endless — so many chances for exploration and adventure.

I recently went up to the North Cascades Institute to spend a long weekend exploring the idea of maps, specifically how to create your own arty map.

The North Cascades Institute is kind of like summer camp for adults. They do tons of other stuff, too, including great education programs for all ages. The weekend we were there, a group of high school students was heading out for a youth leadership adventure.

I’m no artist, but I’ve always been a huge fan of maps that incorporate artistic elements. The teacher, Jocelyn Curry, is a master. She’s a talented artist and a very detail-oriented map maker.

Students in the class had a wide range of backgrounds, from those with basically no art experience (me included) to those who are professional artists or teachers.

She taught us the basic elements of maps and showed tricks to help those with fewer art skills.

We came with a huge variety of maps. I illustrated the Wonderland Trail, the loop around Mount Rainier. I hiked the trail, plus the Northern Loop, over two summers with my husband. It’s an extremely important place to me.

My friend, Cole Adams, illustrated Suntop Lookout near Rainier. Cole is a fabulously artistic lady and her map is an explosion of gorgeous colors. (Additionally, she jumped in the lake with me, so she was an all-around good person to bring along.)

Others in the class made maps of Yellowstone, a natural area near a school and an area of the Rocky Mountain Front where many dinosaur skeletons have been found. One student made a personal map, one of my favorite of the whole weekend. The compass rose showed the directions she wanted to go in her life and included an anatomical heart at the center.

The same weekend, Molly Hashimoto was teaching a class on watercolor. I loved seeing what her students were doing.

When I wasn’t in class, I explored the woods nearby, went for a few trail runs, jumped in the lake, saw a fawn and, best of all, got to see a pair of baby hummingbirds in a nest.

Samantha, one of the staff at the center, showed them to us. She told a great story of how she had found the nest.

It was an old nest; it had been in use in prior years but not recently. So, earlier this year she took a group to have a look at it. They wandered up, she let them have a look, but didn’t get too close herself. Later, as the group was leaving, one of the people excitedly thanked her again, saying “I’d never seen hummingbird eggs before!”

“Wait? What?” Samantha asked.

Turns out the nest was in use. Since then, they’ve been careful to let mama hummingbird have her space, but do check in on her occasionally from a respectful distance. The babies are getting big now. They look like they’ll be ready to fly before too long.

Maybe the next time I visit, I’ll see them buzzing around campus.

If you go

If you’re interested in the North Cascades Institute, you can check them out here. If you’d like to just visit, but not take a formal class, they have a cool base camp program. I wrote about it here. (Whatever you do, be prepared for the food. It’s fabulous, fresh and local.)

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