Soils of the Panoche Hills

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Why We Love It

Most people probably don’t give much thought to soils, or know very much about the geography of soil types. But soil data is very important to those who work as engineers, hydrologists, farmers, foresters, and planners. We love how this map shows the power of transparent overlays. It brings that data into an organized landscape showing the way major soil types follow ridges, rivers, and valleys.

Why It Works

This maps works because it’s interesting and beautiful. Beyond the great use of transparency and vibrant colors, it contains gorgeous labeling. Case and spacing is used very deliberately to both denote and differentiate features. The text curves to mimic the shape of geographic features, giving a level of professional polish rarely seen in online maps. Labels sit above the other content, making for better legibility. Text boxes provide even more detailed information.

Important Steps

In ArcGIS Online, place your labels above other content using Esri’s World Reference Overlay, available here.

To get a basemap with no labels, skip the regular basemap pull-down list in the ArcGIS Online map viewer and search for "World Light Gray Base" in the Add > Search for Layers option. Click the name and select “use as a basemap.”

Esri has already created a highly detailed, multidirectional hillshaded relief; simply use that.

The US Soil Map Units is a fantastically rich dataset ready to use, though any data of polygons (not just soils data) will work using this same styling approach.



This map combines four ready-made data layers: The label-less World Light Gray Base as your basemap, USA Soil Map Unitsmulti-directional hill shading, and the World Reference Overlay for the geographic labels.


Underlying source data soils units were compiled and then produced by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


It should take 10 to 15 minutes to explore basemaps and add the hillshade and US soils data.

World Light Gray Base


Use the label-less World Light Gray Base to leave room for custom map labels.

Soil Layers


Since the soil layers become more muted once semitransparent, start with bold vibrant colors for the different areas.

Visible Range


Decide on an appropriate visible range for your content.

More Information

Map Author

Charlie Frye

Charlie Frye

@Charlie_Frye | LinkedIn

Chief cartographer @esri, geographer, information engineer, historical GIS (American Revolution) addict.

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