Local Geographer Finds His Way To Mapmaking



Bob Rhoades could be called a "closet cartographer."

Mapmaking is his hobby. You may catch him on his four-wheeler heading into the forests near his home to chart the meandering trails that spring from Payson and surrounding communities.


Bob Rhoades has been fascinated with maps since he was a Boy Scout in the 1930s. Today, instead of a compass, Rhoades heads out into the forest with his GPS unit and his ATV to map the trails of Rim country.

As a long-time resident of Mesa del, Rhoades initially began mapping the area for his hunting and fishing excursions. Now he mainly maps out of interest.

"A year ago I started the mapping," Rhoades said. "I use a Geographic Information System (GIS) program with four CD-ROMs on my computer."

Rhoades points to his book of four USGS quadrangle maps of the greater Payson area. On those maps are lines representing the trails he has mapped.

Rhoades uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) instrument. The small, hand-held instrument allows for accurate position readings. Unlike a compass that provides the magnetic north pole for determining longitude and latitude, a GPS uses satellites and Universal Transverse Mercator, a metric reading that is much more accurate.

"This little instrument mounts on the handlebars of my ATV," Rhoades said. "I take readings as I am driving around and then I go home, put them in my computer and make a spreadsheet."

Information from the spreadsheet is input into his GIS program which results in the trail maps.

After many years of using a compass, Rhoades is thrilled with the new technology.

"I've spent hours just playing with the GPS around the area," he said.

Rhoades first became interested in maps when he was a Boy Scout. His skills came in handy during World War II when he was in General Patton's unit, stationed across Europe.

"When I graduated high school in 1943, I went into the army and became a medic," Rhoades said.

"I served over in Europe in the 3rd army -- Patton's group. I was the map man for my unit."

After the war, Rhoades went to college in Illinois and studied chemistry. He moved to Arizona after graduation.

"I became a chemist and worked for the Phoenix water department for 30 years," Rhoades said. "I was also in the National Guard for 17 years and taught map reading."

After retirement and moving to Mesa del, Rhoades, as he had always been, remained an active outdoorsman. As he got older, he could not walk the long distances he once could, and bought his ATV to get around the forest.

Using a GPS, compass and being a map maker, Rhoades has never gotten lost. He has had a few adventures during his excursions though.

He recounted an occasion a couple of years ago when his truck broke down and he was stranded in the woods for several hours. He points to one of his maps while describing the incident.

"There's a very steep hill here and I busted a tire on my truck," Rhoades said. "When I didn't come back, my sister called the Sheriff's Department who called Search and Rescue."

Rhoades begins to laugh.

"It was 10:30 p.m. when they found me," Rhoades said. "I was just getting ready to go to sleep."

Because of that incident and his recent health problems, Rhoades now carries a cell phone with him.

Two years ago, Rhoades had open heart surgery for an aneurysm that his doctor found during a routine exam. He had surgery immediately to repair the aneurysm that could have burst the previous day when he was riding some rough trails.

"The day before I was on my ATV on a trail near Piute Canyon that is exceedingly rough," Rhoades said.

"The doctor told me that I was a very lucky man because if it had burst out there, there was nothing they could have done for me."

After spending ten days in the hospital and several months of recuperation, Rhoades said he is finally feeling like himself again.

Rhoades' other hobbies are also related to the outdoors.

He has a rain gauge that allows him to keep track of rainfall. He's been keeping track of local rainfall amounts since the early 1990's. He has measured over six inches so far this month.

Rhoades also has identified more than 35 species of birds migrating through his neighborhood.

His keen observation and investigation of the landscape around him keeps him active. With GPS and cell phone in hand, Rhoades continues to venture into the forest on his ATV, mapping the footpaths and trails of Rim country.

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