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Science and Children >  > A new way to see > Planning a Campground in Utah 
Planning a Campground in Utah

This exercise provides map layers containing information that students analyze to make decisions on where to place a campground in south-central Utah.


The Bureau of Land Management recently developed a proposed management plan for the newly designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in south-central Utah. Resource specialists used aerial photography to inventory the vegetation, soils, watersheds, wildlife, roads, and riparian ecosystems in the 769,000 hectares comprising this spectacular but very remote landscape. They used this information to create maps and baseline data. One application for this data is monitoring. For example, a series of aerial photographs of recreation areas can be taken at certain intervals so scientists can assess impacts of recreational use, such as loss of vegetation or soil erosion. Aerial photography also has been used to identify potential sites for recreation and camping areas within the monument.

In this exercise, students will act as land managers of this new national monument. They will locate a suitable site for a new campground using the information provided and criteria that they develop.


Images at the bottom of this page include (1) an aerial view, (2) a base map, (3–6) four data layers printed separately, (7) a map showing the actual site that was chosen, and (8) a map composite with all layers printed on the base.

Use an overhead projector or print enough copies so a small group of students can share a set of transparencies.

Start with an introduction to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Prepare your introduction from the background information and photographs accompanying this activity, or have students research the climate and resources of south-central Utah and present their findings to the class.

Explain to students that they are land managers and must locate a suitable campsite at the Dance Hall Rock Recreation Area. This is in the Kaiparowits, pronounced kah-pear-oh-wits, Plateau/Fiftymile Bench region of the monument west of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Ask students to describe climate and geographic features that should be considered when choosing a campsite. Share with students that southern Utah is rugged and dry. Temperatures vary from very hot in the daytime to very cold at night. The terrain is characterized by dangerous canyons and slippery talus slopes. Shade and water are in short supply.

Given this information about the area, ask the students what criteria they think should be considered in placing a campground. Below is a list of things students should include on their list:

  • Proximity to water
  • Access by road
  • Away from dangerous areas
  • Not too close to private property
  • Access to shade or shelter

Start with the aerial photograph. Ask the students about the photograph and have them guess how it was taken. An aerial photograph is a picture taken from an airplane that provides information about the land on a large scale.

Why use aerial photographs?

These allow a quick way to obtain a lot of information over a large area. It also enables you to conduct scientific studies and guide field scientists.

What are some disadvantages of aerial photography?

It can be costly to acquire and requires interpreters with specialized training.

Next, have students look at the base map and compare it to the aerial photograph. Ask students to describe the similarities between this map and the aerial photograph. You can see the roads and streams and some of the geologic features on both.

Have them look at some of the steep slopes on the aerial photograph. Ask students how these slopes are
represented on the map.
They are delineated with contour lines-the closer together; the steeper the incline.
This is evident in the left corner of both images. This is how elevation is represented on topographic maps.
Each line represents a certain elevation-the height above sea level.

Put the aerial photograph aside and focus now on the map. Ask the students to identiiy some of the features on the map and explain their significance to the decision about where to locate a new campsite. (Roads are needed for access to the campground; a water source is important.)

Add the ownership map on top as another layer. Ask students why this is important. In many areas public and private lands are intermingled. The campground must be located on public lands.

Next, place the restrictive topography map on top. Explain that this delineates areas that are unsafe, such
as canyons or slopes. Let students look again at the aerial photograph. Can they find the restrictive areas?
Let students look at the contour lines again on the base map. Can they tell why these areas are restricted?

Remind them about the contour lines. Ask a student to explain the concept again.

Add the abandoned mines layer. Ask students why this information is significant. There are many abandoned mining sites across the country, but particularly in the western United States. Abandoned mine sites are unstable and very hazardous. They often have rotted support structures, open shafts hundreds ofmeters deep, with deep water at the bollom, deadly gases, a lack of oxygen, a maze of conhising paths, and little or no light. Campgrounds should not be located near an abandoned mine.

Next add the withdrawn lands layer. Explain that these lands have been withdrawn from public uses. In this case, they are withdrawn to protect natural springs and wells. Nothing can be built within a withdrawal boundary, so they are important to consider when planning a campground site. These areas are off limits to camping.

Given all of this information, have the students draw areas on the map that might make suitable campsites. The actual campsite chosen is shown in red on image number 7, but there is more than one suitable site. Have students discuss their reasons for their choices with the class. Their site should have reasonable access to the road, be at least 200 feet away from the water, and be a safe distance away from property lines, restrictive areas, and abandoned mine sites.


Aerial View
1. Aerial View
Base Map
2. Base Map
Ownership Map
3. Ownership
Restrictive Topography
4. Restrictive Topography
Abandoned Mines
5. Abandoned Mines
Withdrawn Lands
6. Withdrawn Lands
Campground Site
7. Campground Site
Dance Hall Rock Recreation Area
8. Dance Hall Rock Recreation Area


1.Copy the composite map and have children make up and draw one more layer on their own transparency paper. They could draw habitat for one or more endangered species, archaeological or dinosaur sites, or whatever their imagination allows. Layer the students' drawings over the composite. How does this alter the campsite location?

2.To introduce students to the many different kinds of maps and how they are used, try some of the activities created by the U.S. Geological Survey. Visit http://www.usgs.gov/education for more information.


Return to the "Let's Make a Map" GIS Activity Page


Last updated: 02-18-2011