Create a Contour Map (page 2)

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Experimental Procedure

  1. Knead your play dough, and make it into a mountain shape. You can have a single, pointy peak or a flat or round top – you decide. Try to make your mountain at least three inches high at the highest point.

  1. Fold a sheet of paper in half lengthwise, then fold it again widthwise. Unfold the paper, and trace the lines you made in the paper. Label the lines with the point of the compass: North, South, East and West.

  1. Place your dough mountain on the center of the piece of paper, where the lines cross. Where the outer edge of the dough meets the paper, the elevation is 0 inches. Use the pencil to trace the outline of your dough.

  1. Using the toothpick, carve a shallow, vertical (straight up and down) line on the clay, from the tip of the peak to the place where the bottom of your mountain meets the line marked South. This will be your first guideline. Carve a second line from the top of the peak down to the East line.

  1. Tie one end of the string around each ruler, at the 1-inch mark Tape the string in place so it doesn’t wiggle. (If you only have one ruler, you can use a pencil instead of the second ruler.)


  1. Keeping the short ends of the rulers flat on the ground, pull the string so that is slices through the clay. Put your fingers on the back edge of the dough as you slice front to back, to keep the dough from moving. You will be slicing your mountain into two sections: the bottom inch of your mountain, which is touching the paper, and the top part of your mountain, which is the part higher than one inch.

  1. Carefully separate the two sections of dough. Move the bottom section off of the first paper and onto the second paper. 
  2. Using your guidelines, put the smaller, top piece of dough back on the paper. Make sure both guidelines on the clay match up to the guidelines on the paper.
  3. Now trace this section of dough with the pencil. Write 1” next to this line. All of the dough at this line started out one inch above the paper.

  1. Repeat steps 5 through 8 until you have reached the top of your mountain. Make sure to label your second cut 2”, your third cut 3” and so on.

  1. After you are done with each slice of dough, put it back on top of the first slice, on paper two, using your guideline to get it back in the same orientation. Note: You don’t have to adjust the string on the ruler: each slice on once inch above the previous one.
  2. Congratulations! You now have a contour map of your mountain.

 Play Dough Recipe

  • 1 Cup white flour
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. Mix flour, salt and cream of tartar in pot.
  2. Mix in remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Mixture is done when it forms a ball in center of pot.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 5 minutes before using.


  1. National Park Service Website: Yosemite
  2. USGS Map Locator
  3. Exploring Maps
  4. The Us Geological Survey National Map website
  5. USGS Topographic Maps
  6. USGS Topographic Mapping Booklet
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