Mapping Infrastructures, Mapping Trails

Over the past few weeks, I have been continuing my work on two of my mapping projects for my internship. The first, which I’ve written about in previous blogs, has been my cartographical work in the San Gabriel Valley. 

Centered around Campsite 61, doing this research has allowed me to be a part of a larger planning process that is hyper-involved and engaged in the community. This week, I had the pleasure of showing off Campsite 61 by giving another NPS staffer a tour of the San Gabriel River recreational trail and walking her through the history of both the campsite and of the planning process JUBA has undertaken here.

I hosted Vanessa, a Communications Fellow at the NPS Trails System. Working through the Hispanic Access Foundation, her main job responsibilities surround creating news and other written content about the trails the NPS manages. Through mutual connections we had with the JUBA staffers, especially the superintendent Naomi Torres, we were able to launch a reporting project–based on my tour, Vanessa will write content about JUBA for the NPS Trails System website!

My supervisor, Scott, recently remarked to me that there seems to be a challenge when talking or thinking about trails. Especially in the context of NPS discourses that center object-based inventories, parks with discrete and neatly-drawn cartographic boundaries, and historic house museums, designing collective memory spaces in mobility networks is challenging. It goes against the way that our impulse to commemorate has typically been designed. For this reason, trails often find themselves in a marginal position when compared to other types of memory spaces or conservation design projects. Even within contexts like this one – where trails exist and are being worked upon, walked through, and shown off – we often find ourselves more attracted to what is already built. Built monuments, inventories, and “historic” looking segments are more interesting than design possibilities or un-picturesque infrastructures. How do you give a tour of a process? How do we make people excited about thoroughfares, especially in spaces where people live and work, without the shine and allure of destination, travel, or sublime wilderness?

The sign outside of La Primaria in El Monte — this site is highly valued by many users, including the school itself!

I connected with Vanessa by framing our trail as a space of exciting energy–illuminating partnerships across histories, between multiple groups, ages, and diverse communities. Moreover, our work in the San Gabriel Valley represents an accessible space–it is already used by the community. This project, in my mind, can be the future of what a more connected and engaged outdoors looks like for our country.

The other mapping area that I have started working on is in Southern Arizona, along the Gila River. I am mapping out the mobility pathways between and through 11 campsites of the Anza colonizing expedition in this area. The region I’m working with here is much different than the San Gabriel Valley. The opposite of urban Los Angeles, this part of Arizona is highly rural. Moreover, the trail crosses through a patchwork of land owned by different agencies–private, public, state, BLM, NPS, and tribal lands all come together to form this region. In turn, my challenge becomes representing the historical and present strategies of land negotiations made by those who move through this space.


Another challenge I’m thinking about–who is the “user” of the Anza trail, or of the land at large, in Southern Arizona along the GIla? Named the most endangered river in America by a rivers advocacy group in 2019, the Gila is a very significant and loved river–but why? What quotidian uses and values do people assign to the river and land, and how might that inform mobility networks in the area? A goal of my mapping project is to show how spaces along the Anza trail are not just historical: “history” is continually enacted and constructed today, by those whose footsteps lie on top of the footsteps of Indigenous relations and much later by settler-colonizers. Figuring out and mapping local meanings, users, values, and people will allow me to make mobility meaningful, relevant, and contemporary.

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