When I first moved to Montana, the world around me was daunting and overwhelmingly complex due to the vast expanses of unoccupied terrain. Upon meeting a new friend at a local watering hole, I was told that my first step in exploring all this newness was to go out and find the Montana Gazetteer with the red cover on it. And so I did.
Turns out this red book was none other than the DeLorme Gazetteer, an edition of which is available for most every state in the nation. At a pretty reasonable price hovering in the $20.00 range this book can give the dedicated backwoods hiker or the evening armchair explorer some excellent information. My first evening with the book was spent reviewing the great detail and layout of the maps, taking in all of the information that you would never know if you just hopped in a car and took off down the road, oblivious to the landscape features around you.
The Gazetteer contains maps of the full state which you are interested in and then breaks that state down into manageable sections. When you turn to the page corresponding to that section you are given a detailed topographic map which can help you to do some advance trip planning as well as figure out your exact driving route to get to that destination. In the western region of the United States, these books can be particularly useful for those needing to know where the boundaries for public versus private land are located. This is important for those needing to acquire landowner permission prior to pursuing activities such as hunting or off road vehicle use. It also gives the approximate location of hiking trails and unimproved roads. Always be sure to look for signage though before taking off down these roads – conditions can change rapidly and the gazetteer may not be fully updated.
Apart from the fact that these handy red books provide you with some much needed orienteering information, they also contain what I would consider the interesting tidbits that give a region its special character. Information such as obscure mountain peak names, mining locations, oil well and pipeline details, unique natural features and old “two-track” trails that would not appear on your standard atlas are included. Having one of these gazetteers in your car can be a true lifesaver if you are exploring the backwoods and have lost your way or just want to know more about the land around you.
I would recommend to anyone who is either a visitor to the Northern Plains or a permanent resident that they do themselves a favor and purchase the most recent edition of the DeLorme Gazetteer for the region that they intend on traveling to. It is money well spent. Not only will it provide you with useful trip planning information, it is sure to delight you as you sit down and review the detailed maps and marvel at the interesting features in a landscape that can appear so desolate but has clearly been touched by mankind.