Death in the Grand Canyon

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Why We Love It

Morbid as its theme may be, this map makes great use of hexagonal binning and chromastereoscopic color—which means it can be viewed holographically in 3D if you’re wearing special glasses. Dramatic, rich colors remind us of the power and beauty of the Grand Canyon. As we zoom in, the map reveals more information and shows details-on-demand encouraging us to explore.

Why It Works

Inspired by the book, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, this map helps tell the fascinating and heartbreaking stories of more than 700 lives lost. The map quickly shows patterns, clusters, and isolated incidents across the national park so we can understand how and where people died. The almost abstract style and strong colors invite further inquiry.

Important Steps

To render height data with chromastereoscopic colors (red nearest the eye, blue farthest away) you will need a digital elevation model (DEM) of your area. This article explains the process in detail and links to the style file you will need to download.

Hexbins are constructed using a hex-binning technique downloadable tool that allows you to create a feature class of regular gridded hexagons.

Then summarize the point data into the hexagon feature class. Repeat this for different resolutions of hexagon if needed.

Use custom designed symbols (as PNG files) to represent categories in your data.

Publish the map using group layers that have different scale visibilities set so they render in an ArcGIS Online map with different content at each scale.



Data for this map starts out as points—all 700+ of them. The hex-binning technique works well for any point dataset where you are trying to avoid overlapping features and visual clutter. The different resolutions of the hexagonal grids make sense when zoomed out, and as we zoom in the map shows progressively more detail and eventually reverts to individual points.


Try different size hexbins to see which is most effective at capturing the events for the map scales where point locations are overlapping (and hiding the story rather than revealing it).


It takes one hour to display a DEM chromastereoscopically and one day to build hexagon grids at different scales and summarize point data. It takes one day to organize layers, populate pop-ups, and publish to ArcGIS Online.



When creating the hexbins for your data, use a size that works well at each scale. Decrease the size of the grid for larger scales where you want to see more detail.


2012 - John C Bartholomew Highly Commended award for small scale thematic mapping

2013 - 1st prize 'best map' award by the International Cartographic Association

Map Author

Ken Field

Ken Field

@kennethfield | LinkedIn

Professional cartonerd, amateur drummer and snowboarder. Lifetime encourager of cartographic quality not quantity. Map with the times while building on the past.

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