The Grand Canyon, Google, and a vote in Arizona

The Grand Canyon. (NPS photo)

The Grand Canyon is making news for some reasons that are kinda cool, and for other reasons that are just downright mind-boggling.

First, the news that’s kinda cool.

We’ve all seen the handiwork of the folks at Google in the form of their maps program. Detailed street maps, street-level photographic views, etc. Lately, no one has been doing cartography quite like the guys at Google. Camera-toting cars, bikes, carts and more have been used to map out the world.

Now they are taking their act to the Grand Canyon, mounting their cameras on a backpack. It seems like the effort is still in the testing stage, but here is an excerpt from an Associated Press story on this subject:

As the sun rose Monday, Luc Vincent, Google engineering director, strapped on one of the 40-pound backpacks and set down the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River — a nearly 10-mile hike that goes from 6,900 feet in elevation to 2,400 feet. He hiked back up from Phantom Ranch, which can be 30 degrees warmer than at the rim, through the South Kaibab Trail and also gathered data on other trails.

The so-called trekker captures images every 2.5 seconds with 15 cameras that are 5 megapixels each, from the rest areas, the steep switchbacks, the change from juniper trees to scrub brush and the traffic that moves aside as a courtesy to mule riders.

The GPS data is limited, so Google must compensate with sensors that record temperature, vibrations and the orientation of the device as it changes, before it stitches the images together and makes them available to users in a few months, Falor said.

Hikers that were on the trail when the data was gathered will have their faces blurred — an attempt by Google to ensure privacy.

This could have some pretty good safety implications, as a view of the information gathered will give hikers a glance of what they’re in for when they hike the canyon’s trails. It goes without saying that many people underestimate the difficulty of hiking in the Grand Canyon, sometimes to their peril.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this effort.


Now for some news that isn’t so good. And, not surprisingly, it comes via this year’s elections.

Arizona’s voters will be asked to decide on Proposition 120. According to the International Business Times, Proposition 120, the Arizona Declaration of State Sovereignty Amendment, “declares sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries.”

Basically, that means its goal is to have Arizona take possession of the Grand Canyon and all other public lands from the federal government.

The wave of anti-federal sentiment in that state may carry this proposition to passage.

But let’s call it like it is. This isn’t about states’ rights. It’s not about stopping federal government overreach. This is a cynical attempt to play on voter sentiments in order to hand over public lands to mining interests. A lot of corporations would like to explore, mine and drill in lands currently protected from development, and they have plenty of Arizona lawmakers in their pockets to make this proposition come to fruition.

There is good news. Like many such state initiatives that try to buck federal law, the proposition will not have any real effect on public lands in Arizona. That darn U.S. Constitution is going to get in the way. Federal law trumps state law, and where they contradict, federal law always wins.

So in the end, this particular initiative is more about firing up voters than actually making the Grand Canyon change hands.

Here’s hoping voters in the Grand Canyon state see through this and send it down in flames.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088