As part of my efforts to eventually get my writings on the Oregon Trail published I have been creating maps. However, as a poor person most cartographic programs are beyond my reached. However, by scouring the internet I have found a way to make maps for free. All one needs is a little time and several easy to use freeware programs.
The programs I used for the project are
Paint.net (or any other drawing program)
So here is my train of thought as I worked. I needed to make a map showing the Oregon Trail going through modern-day states. I wanted to do everything myself and on some stuff I had no choice (is was no Oregon Trail SHP file before I made it- to my knowledge).
So what I did first was to create the states. With Google Earth I proceeded to use the "Add polygon" tool to draw out the various states. After that I drew the Oregon Trail, according to paper maps I had. To do this I used the "Add Path" tool. Finally I made polygons over popular sites along the trail like Fort Laramie.
When I was pleased with the creation I saved all the state and sites polygons and the Oregon Trail path as KML files.
Next I loaded all the KML files one by one in KML2Shp and converted them into the standard GIS SHP file. It was a fairly straight forward process. However, some installations of the program fail to load all the necessary BPL files. If this happens download the needed files here.
So now I had all are manually created files in SHP format. I used Forestry GIS (fGIS) to load each file as a layer. I then created a buffer to enlarge the trail to make it more visible. I followed the same step make the locations viewable. As a last step I labeled the locations.
So now I had the map almost complete. I did final touch-ups on Paint.net. A simple "Print Screen", then paste, then with a crop I had the map on a white backdrop. I adjusted the tilt sightly and added a title on the bottom using the text tools. With this I was done and my "professional" (big time quotations needed) was complete.
So that is Catholicgauze's long way route on how to make maps. I would like to thank Free GeoTools for pointing out KSL2SHP.