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

Do you know where you’re going without your GPS?

How heavily do you depend on one of these?

I have some friends who do not like to run trails by themselves. Or more specifically, they don’t like to do it at my city’s urban wilderness area.

It’s not really a question of being in danger or anything like that. It’s a question of getting lost.

Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness has a pretty extensive network of trails, and it’s easy to get off track.

Heck, I get off track almost every time I go there. I can count the number of times I’ve actually stayed on track on my hands, and I’ve been running there for quite a while now.

Not that I’m worried. Because I know which direction is south. And south will always get me back to the trailhead.

More specifically, I know enough about the topography of the area (Turkey Mountain is a north-south ridge) and the position of the sun to determine which direction I’m headed. If I ever get “lost,” even in the depths of the trees, I know which way leads me back to the trailhead.

I’m not bragging here, because this is no great skill. But notice what’s missing. When I’m out on the trail, I don’t look down at an electronic device to tell me where I am or where I’m going.

There are a few reasons for this. I don’t like carrying a lot of stuff with me when I run or hike. But I also think that it’s important to be knowledgeable about where you are and where you’re going before you actually get out there.

A great place to be, but doing a little homework about this kind of area is a sure-fire way to steer clear of trouble, especially if the batteries in your GPS die.

GPS devices and other gadgets designed to assist in these tasks and bolster safety are great. There are probably thousands of stories of people who got lost, consulted a device on their wrist, then got re-oriented and back home safely.

But there is a danger to becoming too reliant on a mini-circuit board with an LED screen telling you what to do.

Batteries run out. They break. Sometimes they don’t give you accurate information.

Case in point: A Canadian man and his wife traveling in Nevada got stranded in their car after their GPS got them off track. He left to find help, still using that GPS, and died about six miles from a nearby town. His remains were found earlier this month by hunters, 18 months after he got lost. His wife stayed in the van, stranded for 48 days, and survived.

I wonder if a paper map might have worked out a little better.

There are other stories of people who drive to a cliff’s edge by slavishly following their GPS. One guy even died after driving his car into the ocean.

And these are drivers!

On the trail, I can remember numerous instances where a GPS told us a mountain was in one direction when we could clearly see it somewhere completely different.

And then there are the emergency locator devices. These are invaluable tools for those who are going into remote areas, backcountry ski locales, etc., where a mishap can be deadly if rescue can’t come quickly enough.

A great safety tool, but they’ve been abused to the point where some search and rescue personnel call them “Yuppie 911.”

Unfortunately, some people abuse these tools. A few years ago, I wrote about “Yuppie 911,” cases where people went into the backcountry, got tired, thirsty, wet or just weren’t having fun anymore, and hit the button on their SPOT beacon. Others, seeing the beacon as a safety net, will try things they wouldn’t ordinarily try. Like maybe a tougher hike, scramble or climb, one in which they’d hope for rescue if they got stuck or hurt.

Electronics are great. They can be helpful tools. But I would think that they should be something used alongside the knowledge you already possess about the places where you’re going. Unfortunately, they’re becoming an electronic crutch.

How reliant are you on things like GPS devices, locator beacons and other electronics? Are they an integral part of your trail running, hiking and backpacking plans? Or do they take a lesser role? And do you prefer more Old School methods of orienteering?

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Climbing, hiking and technology: 14ers.com introduces its iPhone app

Take 14ers.com with you anywhere you go with its new iPhone app.

As if Colorado’s high country aficionados don’t blow enough time surfing the 14ers.com website. Now they can do it on their iPhones.

14ers.com, the website that posts route information, trip reports, trailhead conditions and a highly trafficked forum, introduced its iPhone app this week.

It’s a pretty comprehensive app. Check out the peak list and it will give you detailed information about established routes on each of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, including photos. You can also get trailhead conditions, maps, directions and peak stats.

Here’s a better breakdown that the site sent to users:

The app interacts real-time with 14ers.com data so there’s no need to push content updates through the app store when changes are made on 14ers.com. It conveniently stores information and images for offline use or in the backcountry, when you don’t have an Internet connection.

14er Peak lists

14er Overview Map

Peak Stats

Trailheads and Driving Directions

Trailheads on Google Maps

Road Difficulty Ratings

Route Descriptions

Route Topo Maps

Route Google Maps with route overlays

Route Photos (yes, all of them!)

Multi-Route Overview Maps

User-contributed Peak Condition Updates

User-contributed Trailhead Condition/Road Updates

All available real-time from the site and will stay on your device for use when you’re off-the-grid. If someone adds a Peak or Trailhead conditions update to the site, you can get it as soon as it’s on 14ers.com.

Best of all: It’s free. The app is also available for Android phones.

So as long as you can get reception and you have your phone, last-minute details about the peak you want to bag are going to be pretty close by.

Site founder Bill Middlebrook’s next challenge? It might be asking a bit much, but some of us might clamor for a 13ers.com app soon.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088