Finding Your Way
Updated: Mar 18
Back in the day, 1987, at my first full time forestry job we kept a roll of black and white county road maps in the truck and we used them to find our way to client’s properties. The road maps had State Road numbers on them, no road names. This limited information combined with the lack of road signs on many roads made finding your way sometimes quite an adventure.
Skip forward to 2021 and we have great paper maps and road signs everywhere. If you don’t have a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer in your vehicle for the state you are traveling in, stop right now and order one. Despite the fact we have great paper maps, most people have become accustomed to typing a street address into their phone or the car’s navigation system and punching go. Street addresses come from the 911 system. Everyone should know when you need help to call 911. This now iconic number was established in 1968 and is a great system that has no doubt saved countless lives. A significant part of the 911 system has been the establishment of physical addresses so once a call has been made, emergency personnel can find your location. For those of us involved with rural land there is one major problem. You normally can’t get a 911 address for a property unless there is an improvement on the property such as a house or at least a driveway. When you are looking for a tract of rural land, 9 times out of 10 there is no 911 address.
So what is the best way to find your way to rural land? The answer is to use Latitude and Longitude coordinates.
Latitude is the measurement of the distance north and south of the equator. Longitude is the measurement east and west of the Prime Meridian. The prime meridian is an imaginary line drawn north to south through the Greenwich Observatory in London, England. The equator and the prime meridian are zero degrees. Here in North Carolina you are north of the equator and west of the prime meridian. The red pin in the picture is 310 East Main Street Wilkesboro, North Carolina or Latitude N36.1500 Longitude W81.1470 which happens to be the location of our office.
Finding your way is not a recent problem. It is a problem as old as mankind. The early Phoenicians and others used stars to find their latitude. The Greeks translated these observations of the sky to the Earth. Eratosthenes, a Greek mathematician, created the first known map showing lines of latitude and longitude around 200 BC. Eratosthenes was also the first to measure the circumference and the tilt of the earth.
Determining longitude proved to be much more difficult. In 1553, a Dutch mathematician, Gemma Frisius, described how an accurate clock could be used to determine longitude. It wasn’t until mid-1700’s though that John Harrison, an English carpenter and clock maker, developed a clock that was accurate and sturdy enough for travel that in combination with an instrument called a sextant, longitude could be quickly and accurately measured by people on the move in an ocean-going boat or across uncharted land.
Today we no longer depend on observations of the sun and stars to find our way. We use a constellation of 24 satellites. Originally the United States had the only constellation, now the European Union, Russia, and China have their own constellations. Global Positioning System, GPS, is the name of the system we use on a daily basis.
You can obtain latitude and longitude coordinates in many places: your smart phone, County mapping websites, Google Maps, Google Earth, and if you are looking at one of our land listings they will be in the listing information. There are three ways of displaying the coordinates: Decimal degrees, Degrees Minutes Seconds, and Degrees Decimal Minutes. I prefer Decimal degrees because I find it the easiest to type, but there a number of websites that will allow you to convert the coordinates to your preferred format.
No matter how you get the coordinates, they will work just like a 911 address in your phone or car GPS system, just type them in and punch go. With GPS technology combined with latitude and longitude coordinates you can pinpoint your spot on earth quickly and easily and navigate to any other spot on Earth.