OK, so this is a 3d visualization of the territory in the grand canyon, around this point: Grand Canyon Link
So first, I wrote this python script: Poisson disc sample script to select some points. This uses poisson disc selection, which means the points are random but spread out -- no two points are too close together. That script isn't very efficient, but it's super simple.
then I wrote a script to project the points -- Points projection script to return a list of latitudes and longitudes, around some central point. I chose a point by the Grand Canyon, to make a pretty graph
Then, I downloaded the geotiff data from the USGS's 3d elevation program , and wrote a script to load the elevation data into my preexisting set of points: 3d points
Finally, I wrote a simple script: output to PLY to output the data to a PLY file. I then used meshlab to convert the PLY file to an x3d file. I then put it on this web page using x3dom.