GPS-Enhanced Day Hikes

The MotionX GPS app on my iPhone has added greatly to the enjoyment of my day hikes. Without it I’d be far more nervous about hiking solo on unfamiliar trails. On a hike I can use MotionX to see how far I’ve gone, a map of my route, the elevation changes, and so forth. I’ve also saved many of those tracks and imported the data into Google Earth so I could create an image of my path to include with each post.

Adding Geolocation Data to Existing Photos

My workflow for day hike posts is fairly lengthy:

  • Plan the hike using my hiking books and various internet sites and maps.
  • Go on the hike and snap photos while the MotionX app tracks my progress.
  • Use the iPhone to email the track to myself after the hike.
  • Later import the track into Google Earth and create a perspective view to include with my photos.
  • Import all of the photos on my camera’s SD card into a computer.
  • Pick out the best photos and edit them with ThumbsPlus and/or Adobe Photoshop Elements.
  • As I edit the photos, write a corresponding draft of the blog post using either the online WordPress editor or Windows Live Writer.
  • Upload the finished photos to Flickr, putting them into a set of their own.
  • Manually add geolocation information to each photo using Flickr, relying on my memory and the GPS tracking map.
  • Organize the completed set of Flickr photos into my collections structure at Flickr.
  • Link appropriate words in the blog post to each photo.
  • Pick out an eye-catching photo to embed in the blog post and create links to the corresponding Flickr slideshow.
  • Add the hike to my Google Map and my Google Docs spreadsheet.

Now you know why I may spend four to six hours composing a single blog post about a day hike. Perhaps the most tedious step is the one in italics: manually adding the geolocations for each photo. Flickr’s online mapping is cumbersome and the information I provide only resides on Flickr and thus could be lost if that service is discontinued. I want GPS coordinates embedded in my local photo files. I should note that photos taken with my iPhone 4 already have GPS coordinates built in, but very few dedicated cameras have built-in GPS because of the battery drain and the time it takes to lock in on some satellites. I could buy a WiFi card which includes GPS, but it would still be a big battery drain for the camera.

So I downloaded GeoSetter for my Windows machines and gave it a trial run. I can give it a set of photo files on the computer and an exported GPS track from my iPhone app, and it will match up the timestamp on each photo to the GPS info and embed the corresponding location coordinates in each photo. So long as I keep the time set properly on the camera and have MotionX tracking my position on the iPhone, I can now have geolocations built into each image. I’ll give this system a full-scale run later this week when I day hike at Fall River Lake in Kansas. (I need to find a similar app for the Mac, since I use it on the road, although I could run Geosetter under Parallels.)

Interactive Maps and Elevations for My Posts

I’ve also spotted some nifty webpages where people show the elevation as well as the map of their GPS track for their hikes. I’ve found I can manually create a tour of a hike using Google Earth by importing the GPS track, creating placemarks, and then recording a tour as I manually click through the placemarks. To put that out on the web I then have to export the GPS track with the tour and placemarks to a website and feed that link into their Embed Tour Gadget.

Unfortunately, I use the free service to host my blog and it does not allow scripts, so the Google Gadgets don’t work there. I created a couple of tours of my recent hikes in the Wichitas, then exported the altered .kml files out of Google Earth and uploaded them to the web hosting account that comes with my cable modem, then went to Google’s free Blogger service where I set up a new account. I then set up embedded tours using the Google Gadget and then created Blogger posts with that embedded code.

That’s nifty, and I could even add audio narration.  But building a tour is frankly too much trouble to go through for every hike. I want something that is more automated. I  could start adding an interactive Google Map of each hike track into my WordPress posts as shown below:

2/2011 UPDATE: Looks like most if not all of my Visualized Google Map tours broke pretty quickly, with placemarks remaining but no photos. That bites, and I won’t invest any more effort in that approach.

That would let readers manually explore the hiking route. But manually adding placemarks and images as I did in the above example is way too much work. I can also create an image with the elevation information from my hike either via a screen shot from Google Earth or a more customized view using GPS Visualizer, as shown below.

But again, that’s just one more step in the already overlong workflow. Plus, I really like how in Google Earth you can scroll your mouse along an elevation profile and see where you were on the mapped track at each point along the journey.  I wish I could find an embedded widget that gives that sort of interactive view of my elevation and track map.

I’ve also seen webpages, such as this one at EveryTrail, which playback hiking tracks with accompanying picture placemarks.  That’s pretty cool, but again I’d need it to be very automated. There are iPhone apps which do this sort of thing, using pictures taken in the app itself. It’s not quite what I’m looking for, but I’m going to experiment with it. I’ve purchased both the AccuTerra Unlimited and EveryTrail Pro apps and will give them a trial run. But there is a limit to how much mucking about with the technology I want to do out on the trail.

In the end, I may add some more GPS features to my day hike posts, or I may not. I presume some readers just view the slideshow while others read the narration and use its picture links.

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
This entry was posted in day hike, technology, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to GPS-Enhanced Day Hikes

  1. odoy says:

    wow … a very interesting article. I also have a hobby of hiking. so …. This is very useful for me. thanks for the information guys…

  2. John says:

    Love your information and writing. A few people in Dallas area use your information for hikes. Keep up the great work, really appreciate your time and efforts and your wonderful writing. Thanks again.

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