The following is an explanation of how the NSS' Cartographic Salon works, and the criteria by which the maps are judged. The intent is to provide uniform standards by which the maps can be fairly judged, and to aid cartographers in developing better cave maps.

The Cartographic Salon is held each year at the National Speleological Society's annual Convention. Prior to the Convention a Salon announcement is placed in the NSS News. Maps can then be mailed to the Salon Chairperson or can be hand-carried to the Convention. In addition, maps can also be posted at the Salon solely for display. These maps must be indicated as such.

Prior to (or at the start of) the Convention, the Salon Chairperson will select several people from different parts of the country to judge the submitted maps. These judges—and the Salon Chairperson may be one of the them—will be experienced cave map cartographers and will not have maps entered in the Salon that year.

The judges has the discretion to divide the maps into categories determined by the past experience of the cartographers or by the length of the caves. The classes may be modified or deleted entirely at the judges' discretion, and are based on the number of submitted maps and their individual formats.

Usually, the judges divide the maps into a Apprentice Category (for those cartographers who have never won an award), an Experienced Category (for those people who have never won a metal), and a Master Category (for those persons who have previously won a medal). These categories are then each judged by a different group of judges (thus cutting down on the individual judge's work load), and the final map judged by the entire group of judges.

If warranted by enough or unusual entries, the judges may create special classes such as First-Time Cartographer, Color Usage, Computer Cartography, Complex Representations, Topo Overlays, etc.

The judges first look for certain mandatory features, without which a map will not be considered for an award. Second, the judges will look at various quality factors and assign appropriate point values to each factor. The individual judges will provide the reason for their point selection in the “Comments" portion of the judging form.

Following the first round of judging, where the judges each work individually, the point totals will be tallied for all the maps by combining the three judges' scores. All maps scoring more than a prescribed number of points will receive at least an Honorable Mention (Green Ribbon). From the Honorable Mentions picked, the judges will confer and select the maps which will receive a Merit Award (Blue Ribbon).

Finally, the judges will confer and select (from among the Merit Awards) the Salon's overall Medal Winner. This winner will be selected independent of the point totals. In addition, and if the judges so desire, more than one Medal Award may be given. On occasion, no Medal Awards are given.

After the awards are posted and the awards presented on the evening of the Slide Salon, a Cartographic Salon workshop and discussion will be held at 9:30 AM on the Friday on Convention. The purpose of this workshop is not to glorify the so-called best map, but to provide a forum for discussion and learning from which all cave cartographers may benefit.

All critique forms will be returned to those cartographers present at the workshop. Those critique forms not picked up will be mailed to the individual cartographers by the Salon Chairperson. All maps not picked up at Convention are donated to the NSS Library. Maps can be picked up by a third party provided the cartographer has informed the Salon Chairperson in writing that this is the cartographer's wishes. Maps will be returned by mail, provided the cartographer has given or mailed the Salon Chairperson the required postage before the end of the Convention.

No Cartographic Salon entrant can be reproduced in any way without the cartographer's express and written permission.


Cave Name: All cave maps must have a name. This name should neither be too bold or too hard to locate. Abbreviations should not be used in the cave name.

Obvious Entrance or Connection with the Rest of the Cave: All cave maps must have an entrance or a connection with the rest of the cave. If this entrance or connection is not obvious on the map, then it should be marked and made obvious. If the map is of a section of the cave, then the connection of that section with the rest of the cave should be made obvious or marked. If the map is a quadrangle that connects to other quadrangles, then the places where a cave passage "runs off" the edge of the quadrangle are considered as the obvious connection and do not have to be further marked.

North Arrow: All cave maps must have a north arrow. This arrow should point to true north and, if the cartographer wishes, may include a subordinate magnetic north arrow. A magnetic north arrow by itself is not to desired; however, if it is shown—either with or without a true north arrow—a date must be displayed with the magnetic north arrow. The north arrow must be long enough to be useable, and it is should not be so ornate that it is useless. The most optimal north arrow includes a true north arrow, a magnetic north arrow, and the date of the magnetic north.

Bar Scale: All cave maps must have a bar scale, and this bar scale must include the linear units. The cave map may include two bar scales, one for meters and one for feet. Ratio scales, such as 1:600, or written scales, such as 1" = 50', are not desired because, if the map is reduced or expanded, then this scale will be inaccurate.

Vertical Control: All maps must have some kind of vertical control. Usually, in North America, this is shown as either a profile or as vertical symbols. Both methods can be utilized together. If a profile is used, it should include a vertical bar scale and it should be labeled as to type (e.g., Projected Profile, Expanded Profile, or Idealized Profile). If vertical symbols are used, the map should be prominently noted as to whether the units are in meters or feet. These vertical symbols should include (as needed) cave elevations, pit depths, ceiling heights, and water depths. In addition, a zero datum should be labeled near the cave's dominate entrance. Instead of the two more-popular methods of displaying elevation, the cave map can utilize contours, either drawn inside or outside the cave passage, or it can use a large quantity of cross-sections, all of which are properly orientated vertically.

Date: All maps must include a date. Features change, both inside and outside of the cave. This date should not be the date of the magnetic north and it should not be a cartographic date. Rather it should be the date of when the cave was surveyed.

Cartographer or Survey Group: All cave maps must include the cartographer or the survey group's name. Thus, if someone is interested in the cave—be that person a geologist, biologist, rescue expert, or another exploratory group—they can contact the cartographer or the original survey group. Simply put, the cave map is a scientific document, and it should have a author and a date.


Balance and Layout: Does the cave map appear well balanced to the eye? Are some areas of the map blank while other areas are crowded? Did the cartographer make good use of his or her space?

Drafting Technical Quality: How technically correct is the drafting? Are the line widths consistent? Do the lines end and blend well, without blobs of ink? Are the symbols drawn well? Are the symbols correct? Are the outside walls of the cave obvious? Is there a True North Arrow? Is the magnetic north arrow out-of-date relative to when the cave was surveyed?

Detail Thoroughness: Is there too little detail? Is there too much detail? Does it extend into every passage? Is it consistent throughout the entire map? Is the detail easy to understand or is it confusing? Are the more mundane floor features shown? Is ceiling detail shown? Are conjectural ceilings or walls shown? Does the detail match the legend or the list of symbols utilized? Would a caver be able to use the map to navigate through the cave?

Vertical Control: How well is the vertical delineated? Has the cartographer adequately dimensioned ceiling heights, pit depths, cave elevations, and water depths. Are there too few symbols to fully comprehend the vertical nature of the cave? Horizontal caves are no exceptions! Is the Profile View large enough and well centered enough to be understood? Is a vertical scale included with the Profile View? Does the Profile View include the entire cave? How well does the Profile View match the Plan View? All cave maps that use vertical symbols and all maps of caves with more than one entrance should contain a zero datum. This datum should be a precise, labeled point and should be included on any profile views. Leader Lines to each vertical symbol's exact location in the passage may or may not be utilized.

Lettering: Is the lettering even and consistent? Is it too small or too big? Is it all evenly spaced, both horizontally and vertically? Is the lettering easy to read? Are there unneeded (or too many) abbreviations?

Visual Impact: Does the cartography make the map the cave seem interesting or boring? Overall, does the map look good?


Still other items can be used to enhance the cave map. The use, or lack of use, or poor usage of these items should be considered when the judges assign point values in the various categories. These items include, but are not limited to Site Details, such as geology and surface features; Complex Representations, such as multi-level caves or cave passages; and Imaginative Innovations, which enhance the understanding up the cave.

Cultural Location: This should be included on the vast majority of all cave maps. A few maps, however, because of the sensitive location of the cave, do not include the cultural location. Abbreviations should not be used in the cultural location.

Precise Geographic Location: This is a hot potato. Some cartographers include this, others do not. It should be remembered, however, that the sole difference between sport and science is good documentation. If the cartographer has not allowed for the map user to somehow locate the cave in the field, then the cave has not been documented in a way that will allow the map user to fully utilize the map. What this means is that some sort of location should be provided.

It is possible, rather than place a Precise Geographic Location on the map, to place a State Speleological Survey pointer (e.g., a county cave number) on the map. This informs the map user that a State Speleological Survey exists and that this Survey will provide the user with the cave's location, provided the user can authenticate, to the Survey's leaders satisfaction, that the user shares their speleological values.

If a Precise Geographic Location is placed on that cave map, and if latitudes and longitudes are used, then which latitude and longitude should be stated on the cave map (e.g., are they north, south, west, or east?) If UTM coordinates are used, then the UTM zone should be stated on the cave map. If state plane coordinates are used, then which state plane coordinate system should be stated. Elevations are always above some datum, such as mean sea level, and these should be noted on the cave map. The datum name (e.g., the 1927 North American or 1983 North American) can also be included with the geographic location information. Abbreviations are not recommended in labeling the geographic location.

Cross-Sections: These are extremely important and can often be used to easily determine the relationships of the various cave passages to each other. When at all possible, cross-sections should be included on the cave map. Detail inside the cross-sections should be shown and this detail should match the detail on the Plan and Profile Views. Cross-sections should only be omitted in the most complex, crowded maze caves, and only then after much soul-searching. Maps without cross-sections usually do not score well in the Cartographic Salons.

Cross-sections can either be drawn next to the cave passage or away from the passage and then flagged with letters or numbers. Cross-sections lines should be arrowed to show the direction of view, they should show the horizontal and vertical relationships of adjacent passages. They should be consistent and should not be confused with passage lines or detail. They should not be squeezed in too close to the cave passage, nor should they be placed too far from that passage.

Type of Survey: This is very important. While most North American cave surveyors choose not to use survey grades, the map should be noted as to its type (e.g., Topofil, Brunton and pace, or Suunto and fiberglass tape). In addition, loop closure accuracy may be included.

Legend: As many cave map users are not cavers, it is often a very good idea to include a legend with the cave map. All non-standard cave symbols should be explained by or formatted into a legend.

Symbols Credit: Is there is no legend, then it is good idea to note what set of cave symbols were used.

Length and Depth of the Cave: Most cave maps include the length and depth of the cave. Linear units must be included. The length of caves can be measured by one of two methods, surveyed or horizontal length. If no method of measure is noted on the map, then it is assumed that the length is the surveyed length, which is the preferred method. The depth of the cave is the difference between the elevations of the highest and lowest station or point in the cave. These may or may not be at an entrance.

Passage endings: Passages should be shown as they end. Those passages that became too small for human passage, or are too high, or otherwise beyond the abilities or time of the surveyors, should be should shown as continuing. Passages that ended in the cave should be shown by the cartographer as endings, with no passage continuing. The words "Too Tight" or "Too Small" may or may not be used at the passage endings.

Personnel: It is always a nice touch to say who helped map the cave.

Credit: Credit may be given to the project leaders, the people who reduced the data, and the cartographers. A thank you can also be given to the landowner or the appropriate government agency.

Survey Stations: Survey stations should not be shown on the final map, unless the map will be used for future geological, biological, or paleontological work.

Location Code Numbers: State or Province Speleological Survey Code Numbers can be displayed on the map. These may be placed in the title block, or they may be displayed in an unobtrusive manner elsewhere on the map. The code number should not be designated in such a way that the map user must have an "inside" knowledge of the Survey to understand the code. If no cultural or geographic location is given on the map, then the State or Province Speleological Survey Code Number must be displayed in a prominent and obvious location on the cave map, as this code is now the only method by which the map user can locate the cave in the field.

Text Notes: Unobtrusive notes on the geology, biology, history, or whatever can be included on the map if the cartographer so wishes.

Drawings or photographs: Unobtrusive artistic drawings or photographs of the cave entrance or some feature in or around the cave can be included on the map if the cartographer so wishes. These can enhance the map a great deal; however, these drawings and photographs should remain subordinate to the map and should not dominate or obstruct the map features.

Copyrights: Copyrights are common on many cave maps. These should include a date.

Borders: All maps should include a border. Some maps include double borders. Maps have won awards in the Cartographic Salon in the past without borders; however, this is the rare exception, not the rule.

1By the SACS Cartographic Salon Committee comprised of George Dasher, Bob Gulden, Tom Kaye, Doug Roberson, George Veni, and Carol Vesely

  Cartographic Recent Winners

 Site visits since April 9, 2007: [an error occurred while processing this directive]