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Read a Roadmap Day 
April 5th is National Read a Road Map Day! Not “download a map day” or “input addresses into your GPS day,” but actual “Read a Road Map Day.” :) This special day is observed annually, reminding us to take some time to sharpen our map reading skills. A sense of direction, an idea of scale, and a map are essential if you really want to get where you wish to go.


The earliest road map, Britannia Atlas, was drawn by cartographer John Ogilby in 1675. In the modern age of GPS and online maps, the printed version is fast becoming rare; but for hundreds of years it’s been a time-honored tradition to pull out a map and plan a trip. It’s exciting to unfold a brand new road map for the first time. Opportunities for adventure abound as you smooth out the accordion creases and lay that large map out in front of you. 


There is so much space in this country of ours, and so much to see. Huge expanses of land dotted with cities, towns, mountains, lakes, and national parks. Rivers wind over and through all types of terrain, creating borders between states and eventually emptying into oceans. As each new map panel is opened, hundreds of lines of varying colors and widths spill forth. Hmm…which road to take? This one? Or maybe that one? It doesn’t really matter, as all roads lead somewhere.

Get out a road map and open it up. Close your eyes and point to a spot on the map, and see what you can find there. Further investigation may lead to the discovery of unusual town names like Candy Town, Ohio; Hurricane, Utah; and Tarzan, Texas. You may have never considered such places before, but they are bound to tickle your imagination and spark your curiosity. 

These days, with the use of GPS and voice commands, people are missing out on one of the most fun parts of travel – the experience of finding your way. Navigation is a “use-it-or-lose-it” skill. Research has shown that drivers who simply follow GPS instructions find it more difficult to figure out where they’ve been or even to remember what route they’re on than those who use maps. Whether or not you prefer the new technologies, having an old-fashioned road map and knowing how to decipher it comes in handy when batteries fail, or when your GPS or phone can’t get a signal.

Road maps have other advantages, too. Roger McKinlay, a satellite communication and navigation consultant, ought to know. He told Nature.com, “Having glanced at a map makes a huge difference. People who rely on sat nav often fail to notice landmarks around them so looking at a map and paying more attention to our surroundings is not only good for our navigation skills but for our ability to observe and connect with places.”

The art of navigation via map reading helps you to stay aware and alert. There is evidence that blindly depending on automatic instructions actually makes it easier to get lost. Like the tourist in Iceland who drove 226 miles too far because he was following his sat nav. In remote places like California's Death Valley, over-reliance on GPS navigation systems can be a matter of life and death. So be sure to take notice of your surroundings, and make a point of remembering notable landmarks. Do you know which direction is north, south, east, and west? If not, now is a good time to learn.

McKinlay says we should make more use of our innate abilities, and schools should teach navigation and map reading as life skills. “If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation abilities will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices,” he said. The U.S. Navy still teaches celestial navigation as a backup skill.


On April 5th, put away the electronic devices and unfold a traditional road map. Familiarize yourself with it and take a little trip even if it’s just in your imagination. In addition to reading road maps, learning the tricks of the U.S. highway system can be fun and educational. For instance, did you know…? 

All North/South Interstate highways are odd numbers; e.g. I-17
All East/West Interstates are even numbers; e.g. I-10
In the U.S. Interstate Highway System, mile marker numbers tell you how far you are from the state line. If you’re heading west across Arizona, for example, you can count down the miles as you go, and you’ll know how many miles are left before you reach California.

Knowing these facts can help you with directions when you’re on the road even if you don’t have a map.

It’s never too early to become familiar with the concept of road maps. For young children, few things are as interesting as a road rug or car play mat! Visit this DIY Road Rug Page for examples of many different do-it-yourself approaches.

This week’s printable activity is a sample road map with a page of questions. Look at the map to find all the answers.