Balloon Adventure

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of the highlights of this area. Every year I try to go at least once. I find it an interesting experience, with each year being at least a little different. This year no one wanted to come with me; their loss, as it turned into an exciting adventure.

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol balloons fire their propane burners against the dark sky.

As usual, my plan is to leave early to beat the traffic. This time it works, and I am just walking in the gate to Balloon Fiesta Field as the Dawn Patrol takes off.  Dawn Patrol is a group of balloons that take off in the dark, just before dawn, for a final check of the winds aloft.  Wind conditions are briefed to the pilots before the mass ascension.  The balloons look very cool as the envelopes light up against the dark sky when the pilots burn propane.

Mass Ascension

Pilots test the propane burner before inflating.

My friend Deborah is on the ground crew for a balloon.  She had invited me to come to their site, so I make my way over to R6 where itsa Touchie Subject was preparing to take off.  They are in the first wave of balloons.  Soon the envelope is spread out, the gondola is attached to the envelope, the fan is started, and cold inflation begins.  A gas-powered fan fills the envelope with air as it lies on the ground.

A gas-powered fan fills the envelope with cold air.

The next step is to light up the propane burner, and heat the air inside.  The heated air rises and lifts the envelope to vertical.  The ground crew are hanging onto the gondola to keep it on the ground.  The “zebras” give the word, and hundreds of balloons take off.

345 balloons launch in one hour!

On Saturday a new world record was set for the number of balloons to take off in one hour: 345.  Today there are slightly fewer, but still an awesome number.

The pilot sets down to refuel.

I am asked to participate in the chase crew.  We pack ourselves like sardines into three vehicles and take off in pursuit of the balloon.  The chase crew is in radio contact with “Fergie”, the pilot.  He is soon down in a field for a change of propane tanks.  Creating the amount of hot air it takes to keep a balloon aloft uses a lot of propane.

Ballooning Over the Rio Grande

Only three instruments: altitude, vertical speed, and envelope temperature.

I am invited to ride in the balloon on the next hop.  How exciting!  I clamber into the gondola, and soon we are rising above the treetops.  I can see the Balloon Fiesta Field where the last wave is just launching.

The Rio Grande and Sandia Mountain combine to form a phenomenon unique to Albuquerque, known as the Albuquerque Box.  When the Box is in effect, winds aloft are blowing in different directions.  By changing altitude, balloons can fly back and forth.  The Box is in effect today, and we change directions several times during the flight.  The box effect dissipates as the sun warms the ground.

Splash 'N' Dash

Below us, a balloon is doing a “splash and dash”, where the pilot descends low enough to dip the gondola in the river.  Fergie does not want to get the balloon wet, but he does descend very near the water.  In fact, we startle a turtle and watch him frantically swimming under water, trying to escape the monster from the sky.

"Mom, look at the balloon!"

We ascend, cross Paseo del Norte, and fly over the ranches on the east side of the river.  People are waving at us and taking photos.  I wave back and take photos.

“Facilitate a Safe Landing”

Fergie is looking for a place to set down.  A large green pasture presents itself, but in and around it is livestock: horses, a llama or alpaca, ostriches.  Animals are often spooked by the sound of the propane burner and the pilot is responsible for any damages, so he elects not to land in the pasture.

Except for the livestock, this pasture would be a good place to land.

The wind takes us back over the bosque.  We are flying at treetop level, ready to take advantage of any open space to land, but none presents itself.  Fergie descends, hoping to catch a change of wind, but it is not enough and we must ascend to get over some trees.

Any landing you can walk away from ...

We are getting low on fuel, and it is becoming important to find a place to land soon.  If we run out of fuel, we could be forced into an uncontrolled landing, and that could be dangerous.  A large sandy area next to the river is coming up; this would be a good place to land.

The chase vehicle tries to get as close to the balloon as possible.

Unfortunately the wind does not cooperate, and we miss the landing zone.  The wind is taking us toward the river.  Rather than taking a chance of a better landing spot, and perhaps running out of fuel in the search, Fergie elects to set us down in the shrubbery on the river bank.  Three bounces and we are down.

The chase crew has to carry the balloon, in pieces, through this willow thicket.

The plan is to keep the envelope inflated, with just enough buoyancy to keep the gondola off the ground.  The passengers would get out and pull the balloon away from the river bank, over the thicket, and to the sandy area.  But the wind picks up and blows the envelope sideways so that the angle is no longer safe to light the burner.  So Fergie deflates the envelope.  We will have to carry all the parts of the balloon out.

Near-empty propane tanks are carried out separately to reduce the weight of the gondola.

Fergie places a call to the Fiesta office and help is dispatched.  We are in an inaccessible area, so gates to the Paseo de Bosque bike path have to be opened to allow the chase vehicles to come closer.  We meet a policeman patrolling the bike path and he helps us make the arrangements.

The envelope is gathered off the willows. There are no tears in the fabric.

Eventually the chase crew arrives and with lots of hands the envelope, gondola, and propane tanks are separately carried through the willow thicket, across the sandy area, and through the tree line to where the chase vehicle, a 4WD Bronco, is able to drive.  All parts are loaded into the trailer and the truck with trailer climbs the slope up to the bike path.

The gondola is disassembled.

Meanwhile the FAA shows up to investigate the “incident”.  There is no damage to the balloon, there are no injuries to any persons, and the landing is in an undeveloped area.  The pilot has “facilitated a safe landing”, so the FAA concludes there is no incident to report.

Back on the field, we have a tailgate party and the two “newbies” on the flight go through an initiation ceremony.  I am now no longer a “virgin” balloonist.

Balloon Glow

Fergie fires the burner to make his balloon glow at night.

The evening program is a balloon glow followed by fireworks. A balloon glow is held after sunset. Pilots inflate their balloons and their ground crews hold the balloons down so they do not lift off. Following instructions delivered by radio, pilots light their burners in synchronized patterns. I watch our balloon inflate and glow for a while, then wander off a short way to take pictures of other balloons glowing.

Tech Notes

For this adventure I elected not to bring my Pentax K20D DSLR.  I have many pictures of balloons and did not feel a need for more high quality photos.  I took the new Panasonic DMC-ZS10 instead.  This smaller camera can hang on my belt and not interfere with activities, yet still be available when needed.  I also elected to leave the Garmin at home, relying on the built-in GPS in the ZS10 to geotag the photos.

iPhone and Apps

Of course, I had my iPhone 4 with me.  I used it to post the adventure in real time to both Facebook and Twitter.  For these type of immediate updates I usually only use Twitter, as in my opinion it is more suited to these types of ephemeral posts.  But more of my friends are on Facebook than Twitter, so I used both this time.

The app I use is TweetDeck.  It’s pretty basic: take a photo, write a short post, and send.  TweetDeck posts to both Facebook and Twitter.  I like that because I don’t have to post items twice, once to each service.  When I want to real-time post a photo, I take it with the iPhone camera so it is immediately available to TweetDeck.

Still Photos

Most of the other photos were taken with the ZS10.  I am getting more used to this camera.  It takes pretty good pictures, and I like the 16x zoom.  I still do not like the lack of a viewfinder.  The auto-focus is slow, as is the zoom; between those two features, by the time I find the subject in the LED display, the action is often finished.

I took all the photos in the intelligent Auto mode.  I wasn’t really interested in making art, just documenting my adventure.  iA mode works pretty well in most cases.

The ZS10 has a setting called hand held night shot.  Since all my shots are hand held, I turned this setting on when I first set up the camera.  Today I found out what it does.  This setting is actually an HDR (high dynamic range) mode.  When iA mode detects a need, the camera will take multiple images at different exposures and combine them into one photo.  How cool is that!  What’s more, the camera appears to apply anti-shake and auto-focus tracking at the same time.

I was taking pictures of the Dawn Patrol.  The sky is dark, but there are lights illuminating the ground.  The balloons would light off their propane burners, making their envelope glow.  As I pressed the shutter button, the camera indicated it was going to take multiple exposures and to hold it still.  I did, but the balloon was moving through the frame.  I expected nothing but a blur, but the camera compensated and created a pretty good image.


When I import images from the K20D, I first copy them to the hard drive, then geotag them with data from the Garmin before importing to iPhoto.  The ZS10 has already geotagged the images, so I imported directly to iPhoto.  At the end of the import process there is an option to delete the images from the camera, and I accepted that option.

To my consternation, iPhoto imported only the first frame of videos.  The entire video was nowhere to be found, not even on the SD card as I had deleted the images after importing.  (However, the 16GB SD card still had 2 GB used.)  This led to some furious googling and I learned two things.

  1. By default, ZS10 records video in AVCHD format which iPhoto does not recognize.  There is a setting to record in MOV format which iPhoto does recognize, by  setting the REC MODE to Motion JPEG.  I immediately set the camera to this mode, but of course it does not help videos that are already recorded.
  2. iMovie recognizes and imports AVCHD format.  I immediately fired up iMovie 11 and sure enough, it found and recognized the video clips on the SD card.  They were hiding in a folder called Private.

iMovie is a little intimidating at first, but after some time I gained some proficiency in the tasks that I needed to do, which is simply trimming clips, splicing them together, and adding a sound track. It’s amazing what a soundtrack will do for a video clip! You can see the fruit of my labor in this blog.

I used YouTube to share the videos. I had to create an account and a ‘channel’. I exported the video from iMovie to a file, then imported the file to YouTube. iMovie has an export option to directly upload to YouTube. I tried it, and although all indications were that the upload was successful, the video never showed up in YouTube.

Michigan Adventure

Abigail is returning to Andrews University. School starts Monday. I’m taking the opportunity to travel to Michigan with her, help her move into the dorm, and visit with my brother.

Thursday, August 18

We have a 0600 flight, which means getting up very early. Of course, packing was not completed until late at night, so sleep was very slight. Not to worry, you can always sleep on the airplane! This early in the morning we were able to zip through security and were soon waiting in the departure area. I saw a woman using an iPad, which made me jealous, but not enough to shell out the bucks to get one of my own!

We landed right on time at 0940, and picked up our bags. My brother James was waiting at the cell phone parking lot and soon picked us up for the ride from Midway airport in Chicago to Berrien Springs, Michigan. It was an uneventful drive as we caught up on events.

James works for Adventist Frontier Missions (AFM), an organization that sponsors missionaries to unreached people groups. My visit coincided with their annual retreat, so in the afternoon we stopped off at the AFM training center where James had a commitment.

James has a large garden. Here Simon is holding an ear of sweet corn that has just been picked.

In the evening James and I attempted to play a computer game (Age of Empires) in multiplayer mode. That’s when I discovered his internet connection was not working. We also found that the software on Abigail’s laptop as not up to date. Looks like there will be some computer work for me to do during my visit. :)

James has a wonderful garden, which he showed off this evening. The sweet corn was ripe. It is the super-sweet variety, and was just wonderful eaten raw, seconds after being picked! James was afraid the raccoons would smell the corn and get it all in the night, so we picked all the sweet corn to use in a later meal.

Friday, August 19

Silver Beach is a nice park and beach area in St. Joseph. We spent an afternoon relaxing there.

I made pancakes for James, Pearl, and Simon this morning. The kids had made black raspberry jam from wild raspberries growing in the back yard, and this was delicious on the pancakes.

James took Simon to daycare on his way to work, while I took a look at the internet connection. The internet to the house was fine, but his wireless router had failed. James later picked up a new router which I installed for him.

The old train station at Silver Beach now houses a pizza restaurant. The food was yummy in a nice atmosphere. I haven't had Mizithra cheese in a long time!

Abigail met her roommate, Erica, at Lamson Hall. Together with Erica’s boyfriend, we moved Abigail’s stuff up to her dorm room on the third floor. There are no elevators in Lamson Hall!

AFM was hosting a picnic for the missionaries at their new training center. We joined them for a traditional picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, chips, and homemade ice cream. Most of the missionaries ere from southeast Asia (Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, etc.). They live in fairly primitive conditions a their diet can get monotonous, so they really enjoyed the picnic. I enjoyed visiting and discussing their work and adventures through the afternoon.

Saturday, August 20

Abigail, Simon, Pearl, and James on the shore of Lake Michigan, at Silver Beach.

Today we joined James at the AFM training center for worship services. The missionaries were in charge of the programming, and they must have absorbed the time values of the people they work with, as meetings started late, and lasted longer than planned. Everything was very interesting and inspirational as they related tales of adventure and of God’s leading in primitive areas of the world.

Sunday, August 21

The fountain at Silver Beach shoots up from multiple jets in a concrete plaza. At intervals water shoots into the air from the pedestals around the perimeter. It is as much a playground for the kids as a work of art.

This morning I helped James organize his office. Like most of us, he has accumulated lots of “stuff” that is not used on a daily basis. It was taking up valuable space and was not organized in such a way as to be able to find what is needed. We installed shelves on two walls that got stuff off the floor and able to be found. The office looks much better now.

In the afternoon, all of us went to St. Joseph, to Silver Beach on Lake Michigan. The Silver Beach Pizza was a wonderful place for lunch. Pearl and Simon took a dip in the lake. It was a beautiful afternoon for an outing.

Monday, August 22

Ready for a day on the Pine River.

Early Monday morning we dropped off the kids at day care, and headed north to the Pine River, near Cadillac.  When I lived in Michigan, James and I would canoe the Pine River annually, and we decided to repeat the trip this year.  I tried to talk James into taking kayaks, but he was afraid of doing the “Eskimo Flip” so we took a canoe instead.

With lots of curves, just enough faster water, and beautiful scenery, the Pine River was a wonderful place to spend a day.

Immediately upon pushing off into the river, we got hung up on a rock.  Nothing really exciting, except for the fear that if we made a wrong move we’d dunk into the river, which was very cold.  That rock did not want to let go, but we finally broke loose.  We congratulated ourselves on navigating several of the Class I rapids without mishap.  We caught up to three girls in kayaks and watched as one did not make a turn and was swept into the bank.  She made the classic mistake of grabbing an overhead branch and we watched as the river swept the kayak out from under her.  Splash!

mm-mm good! Grilled hot dogs for lunch.

We brought a bag of charcoal and some hot dogs, and grilled for lunch.  Very tasty!  Then James and I switched places in the canoe for the last part of the river.  Once again there was a learning curve as we floated backwards down the river toward the churning Class I rapids.  Back home with Richard I always sit in the rear and steer.  This was my position the first part of the trip, and I was surprised at the different skills required in the front of the canoe.  No worries – we quickly caught on and finished the float without incident.  Then it was another 3 hour drive back to Berrien Springs.

Tuesday, August 23

Hyde Park has some wonderful examples of Victorian architecture.

Abigail and I spent Tuesday in Chicago.  We chose to go to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Body Worlds exhibit.  This is an amazing exhibit, featuring bodies of real people (who had donated their bodies to science) preserved by the Plastination method. The Plastination process results in very realistic models of the body’s soft tissues.  It was very impressive.

Ron the Piper played a tune on the recorder for us.

The sun was shining in Berrien Springs Tuesday morning, but by the time we got to Chicago it was pouring.  Parking costs only $1 per hour, and the meters take credit cards.  However, the first parking meter I tried was locked up with a software fault.  By the time I figured this out and got a ticket out of another meter, we were thoroughly soaked.  Abigail and I spent most of the day at the museum, and when we came out the sun was again shining.  I consulted the Food Finder app which recommended Salonica and gave us a map.  We walked to Hyde Park, under the ‘L’ tracks, past some gorgeous Victorian architecture, and enjoyed a good meal.

At Salonica, we met Ron the Piper, a self-styled street minstrel.  Ron is a disabled Vietnam Vet that lives in the Hyde Park area, and he was full of information on every topic.  Ron had his instruments with him and insisted on playing the recorder for us.

Wednesday, August 24

Abigail dropped me of at the Hampton Inn in Crestwood on Tuesday evening and then returned to Berrien Springs because she had classes on Wednesday.  I had picked this hotel because said they had shuttle service to Midway airport.  Unfortunately, while the hotel has a van they do not provide shuttle service to Midway, about 10 miles away.  I was unable to get a resolution Tueday evening.

Abigail got lost on the way back to Berrien Springs.  That’s not hard to do in a large, strange city at night.  I brought up the maps app on my iPhone and was able to guide her onto a freeway.  From there she followed the signs back to her dorm.

Wednesday morning I tried another run at the front desk to arrange a shuttle to the airport.  The clerk was very nice and told me to come back at 10:00 when the shuttle driver arrived.  I occupied my time by eating at the free breakfast buffet, taking a walk, and shopping at Target for a phone charger (I had forgotten to pack one).

No luck on arranging a shuttle to Midway.  The hotel does not provide that service.  However, I have to give kudos to Greg Freeman, the hotel manager.  He had his staff contact Kayak to remove the erroneous shuttle information, and personally offered to take me to the airport.  The rest of the trip back to Albuquerque was unremarkable.

Tech Notes

Here are some notes on the tech tools I used on this adventure.

Kayak My Trips

I did all the trip planning online.  Airline tickets on, hotel on  While on Kayak, I signed up for My Trips.  This is a free service that creates a trip itinerary.  Since I booked the hotel on Kayak, that was automatically included in the itinerary.  I forwarded the confirmation email from Southwest to Kayak and the airline reservations were automatically added to the itinerary.  The nice thing is that the original booking email is saved and can be pulled up at any time.  I manually added itinerary items for the canoe trip and a play (which we ended up not attending).

Kayak has an iPhone app that syncs to My Trips on the web.  I found it very convenient to have my entire itinerary available in one place.  The app will also initiate alerts to remind of items in the itinerary.

Food Finder

I used the Food Finder app to locate restaurants near the Museum of Science and Industry, and Yelp to get reviews on the selected restaurants.  Food finder worked well for what I wanted.  I liked the map feature that guided us as we walked several blocks to Salonica.  Food Finder has no reviews, so I used Yelp to fill in the gap.


Apple’s standard Maps app was indispensable on this trip.  The iPhone’s GPS function along with the Maps app guided me in many situations.

  • Helped me navigate around Berrien Springs, a town I was not familiar with.
  • Helped us locate the canoe livery for the Pine River float.  It sort of helped with navigating the Pine River, though cell service was sporadic.  It helped to know how much further to the parking spot where our car was located.
  • Directed us to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
  • Saved Abigail on her return from Chicago to Berrien Springs.  Abigail would read off street names and I would find them on Maps, and give her directions to get on the highway.  A point for AT&T over Verizon; in this case it was indispensable to be able to talk and surf at the same time.

Of course, the GPS function and constant map downloads runs the battery in the iPhone down quickly.  I wouldn’t recommend replacing a dedicated GPS receiver, but when you need help navigating now, the maps app is indispensable.

The Great Rio Grande Canoe Hike

The weather is turning warmer.  Nights are still cool, but daytime temps reach 70 many days.  The snow is melting in the mountains, which means there is more water in the Rio Grande than there will be later in the summer.  It was time for an adventure canoeing down the Rio Grande.  There are no pictures of this adventure, the reason will become apparent as you read on.

This adventure was full of perils and excitement.  I’ve organized this post by the ordeals we had to overcome on this odyssey.  Ulysses had nothing on us!


I invited my friend Gregory to come along on the short and easy float down the river.  Richard and I loaded up the canoe, met Gregory, and drove down to Tingley beach, south of Albuquerque, where we left Gregory’s pickup truck for the return trip.  I scouted to make sure there was a clear path to the river.  As we were leaving, we noted that Tingley Beach closes at sunset, which would give us about four hours for the float.

Back at the parking area off Alameda Boulevard, we put the canoe into the water and immediately grounded.  There was indeed more water in the river than on last year’s adventure in June, but we had three people in the canoe instead of two, so the boat had a deeper draft.  No amount of pushing or jiggling would free us, so I got out into about 4 inches of water and pulled the canoe to a deeper channel.

The water may have been 4 inches deep, but the river bottom near the shore was covered with a fine sand, into which my feet would sink with every step.  It was quicksand, and when I stopped after guiding the canoe to deeper water, I quickly sank up to my knees in sand.  Fortunately, because the sand was under water, it wasn’t too difficult to extricate myself, though it did take a lot of effort and care to ensure my sandals did not remain at the bottom of the river.


Last summer we had to portage around the diversion dam.  The water pumping facility has a channel (for use by the endangered silvery minnow) that could be used to go around the dam, but it was dry last June.  Today it had plenty of water in it.  We exited the channel below the dam, but there was another waterfall!  I got the canoe pointed straight downstream, but as we went over the lip, the canoe bottomed out.  It started to turn broadside to the current, and water began pouring over the gunwale.  I thought we might be going in, but then the boat broke free and we escaped with only a few inches of water in the bottom of the canoe.

River Monster!

As we floated close to the eastern bank, something made a huge splash.  We could see the wake as it streaked toward the center of the river.  Was it a catfish?  A carp?  A muskrat?  Let’s just call it a river monster!

Attacked by Wildlife!

There were geese and ducks all along the river, which is covered by sandbars and dotted with small islands.  The ducks would fly away as we approached, but the Canada Geese would set up a loud honking.  As we passed one of the tiny islands, a goose came running down into the water, wings spread, neck outstretched, and bill open!  Possibly there was a nest on that island, though we did not see it.

The three of us probably would have been able to beat off an attack by a large waterfowl, but we were glad he did not press the attack as we drifted further away from his home.  Later, we did see a goose sitting on her nest on an island just like this one.  Her mate must have been away as there was no attack.

Later on, we saw a single downy, yellow gosling swimming next to the western bank.  Poor fellow looked lost.

By the way, though these are Canada Geese, they are not Canadian.  Living in the southwest USA, they are obviously American Canada Geese!

Walking on Water!

Despite there being more water in the Rio Grande, there are still many areas where the canoe bottomed out and someone had to get out and pull it.  After many episodes of getting in and out, we finally got out and walked on the stretch just north of the I-40 bridge.  It felt like we walked further than we floated, though I’m sure that is an illusion.  Walking on water has its perils, though.  One moment you are ankle deep, and with the next step you’re up to your knees, or even waist.


All that walking on water leaves one tired.  It involves a lot of getting out of and into the canoe.  It’s easy enough to step out of the cane into ankle deep water, but the getting in part is done in deeper water.  One time Richard was attempting to get in, lost his balance, and over we went – capsized!

This was the nadir of the adventure.  We were trying to stay close to the left bank, since that is where the deepest channel is reputed to be located.  A slight miscalculation led to becoming entangled in a thorn tree.  That probably led to impatience, tiredness and lapse in judgement leading to the overturned canoe.  The worst part was that the dunking caused our phones to get wet.  Richard’s phone survived; my iPhone did not.  I was using my iPhone to take pictures of the adventure, which is why there are no pictures.


By this time we were worried that too much time had gone by.  We needed to be at Tingley Beach by sunset to avoid being locked into the parking lot.  We are scanning the horizon for the next bridge.  It must be just around the next bend … perhaps the bend after that!  Finally, there is the bridge.  We are parked about a half mile south of the Central Street bridge.  Almost there!

By the time we pass under the bridge the sun has disappeared below the western horizon.  It’s still dusk so we hope the gate will not be locked yet.  However, the docking area (just a clear patch in the woods) does not appear.  Finally I get out on the shore to scout the land as Richard and Gregory continue down the river.  The canoe floats easier with less weight in it.

I find a path and meet up with the others at the river’s edge.  Richard and I carry the canoe through the brush and up onto a levee.  That fiberglass canoe is heavy after a day of paddling!    Nothing looks familiar.  We are on an irrigation ditch bank road, not the expected bike path.  Gregory and I decide to head south to try to rescue the truck.  Richard elects to stay with the canoe.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I have a GPS unit with me.  Did it survive the dunking?  Garmin builds their outdoor units to take abuse, and it was indeed functional.  I study the map, trying to overcome cognitive dissonance.  The GPS indicates we are not even close to the parking lot.  What has happened?  Then understanding dawns .. we are a bridge too short!  The bridge we had eagerly looked for and found was the I-40 bridge, but the Central Street bridge is over a mile to the south.  I return to Richard and explain.  We don’t want to carry that heavy canoe a mile or more.  We also do not want to be on the river after dark.  Richard will stay with the canoe, with his working cell phone.  I will catch up to Gregory and we’ll try to find a way to drive back to pick up the canoe.

Police!  Security!

After a mile hike on the ditch bank road, Gregory and I reach Central Avenue.  By good fortune, a police car had just turned onto Tingley Drive, on the other side of Central, where the officer made a U-turn.  Gregory and I waved, whistled, yelled and jumped up and down to get his attention.  He came over and I explained our dilemma.  The officer was doubtful anyone could be reached at this hour, but he put in a call to his dispatcher anyway.

I have to put in a good word for all the people that helped us in the Albuquerque Police (APD), Recreation, and Open Space departments.  Everyone was uniformly courteous and eager to help.  Like your mother told you, the policman is your friend.  That was certainly true this night.

The APD dispatcher arranged for Albuquerque Municipal Security to meet us at the Tingley Beach parking lot and unlock the gate.  The APD officer gave us a ride there, where we met Security Sergeant Angela Graham.  Sergeant Graham had arranged to have someone from Open Space division to come with a key.  Gregory retrieved his truck, and then Sergeant Graham called another person to come with the key to the gate to the ditch bank road where Richard was waiting with the canoe.  Then we were on our way to rescue Richard.

One more piece of excitement remained.  We found the canoe, but Richard was not there!  The security people went up the road looking for him while Gregory and I loaded the canoe onto the truck.  By the time we finished, they were on the way back with Richard.  Richard had gotten cold during the wait, had called his mother, and was on his way to meet her.

The rest of the adventure was unremarkable.  Sergeant Angela Graham actually thanked us for making Security’s night not as boring as usual!  The parking lot back on Alameda Boulevard was not locked, so we had no trouble retrieving my Trailblazer.  Then is was back home for hot chocolate, hot showers, and rest.

Adventure Map


Rio Grande Canoe Float

EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Albuquerque, New Mexico

Paseo de Bosque

I’ve never been on the Paseo de Bosque trail from one end to the other, so this Saturday afternoon seemed like a good time to try it. Together with Marvin and Jerry, we started out in mid afternoon from the Alameda Open Space parking lot.

Alameda Open Space signs

We started our ride at the northern terminus of Paseo de Bosque, in the Alameda Open Space parking area. From here one can go north, under Alameda Boulevard, and cross the Rio Grande on the pedestrian bridge. This provides access to the Corrales Bosque Trail, an unpaved hiking and biking trail along the Rio Grande. We traveled south along the paved Paseo de Bosque trail.

Paseo de Bosque is a paved multi-use trail along the east bank of the Rio Grande.  It gets a lot of use from hikers, bikers, and roller-bladers.  It’s not unusual to see mothers on roller-blades pushing their kids in baby carriages.  There’s even a yellow center line painted on the trail to help with traffic.  Paseo de Bosque is located within the Rio Grande Valley State Park and is regularly patrolled by police on mountain bikes.

Montano Bridge Underpass

Paseo de Bosque crosses several busy roads, including Montano Boulevard shown above. The trail goes under these roads, providing a safe way to get to the other side. Alameda Boulevard, Paseo del Norte, and Montano Boulevard all have underpasses used by Paseo de Bosque crossings.

iPhone Camera Roll Limitation

Because I was with others, I did not take my Pentax camera that requires a backpack and extra time to take pictures.  My intention was to take photos with my iPhone, which takes OK pictures and is a lot easier to carry.  In the process I found a limitation of the iPhone.  I have the 8Gb 3G model, which is a couple years old by now.  It seems there is a limit to the number of photos that can be stored on the Camera Roll.  I had taken several pictures earlier and had not downloaded them to the computer.  Part way into this ride the iPhone refused to take any more pictures.  I had a second camera app installed, so I tried it, with no better results.  So I did not get as many pictures as I wanted.

Trail beside Montano Boulevard

On the south side of Montano Boulevard, this inviting trail beckoned us to the east along an irrigation canal. Our mission was to find the southern terminus of Paseo de Bosque, so this trail was put off for another day.

In analyzing the situation, I believe I know what happened.  The iPhone simply ran out of memory to store more photos.  At first thought this seems strange, as even the 8Gb model can show hundreds of pictures in the Photos app.  But on reflection the reasons become clear.

Aldo Leopold Trail sign

The Aldo Leopold Trail is on the grounds of the Rio Grande Nature Center. It's a nice loop through the forest parallel to the river, across the irrigation ditch from the visitor center. I left my companions on the paved trail to explore this trail.

Photos taken by the iPhone are stored in the Camera Roll at their full resolution (2.0 mega-pixels for my 3G).  I have my iPhone crammed full of apps, audio, and photos, so new photos use up the free space fairly quickly.  Once available space is used up, no more photos can be taken.  I do wish there was a message like “Out of Memory” that displayed, rather than just not working.  I was afraid the iPhone had broken in some way.

Trail west of Nature Center

A beautiful forested trail in the bosque, part of the Rio Grande Nature Center. Here's where my iPhone ran out of memory, so no more pictures.

Once the photos are downloaded to my computer and deleted from the Camera Roll, they can be uploaded to the iPhone for viewing.  I’m not sure how this works under Windows, but on my iMac the iTunes program fetches the photos from iPhoto, compresses them, and does the upload when I sync the iPhone.  Most of the time the compression is invisible but when the set of photos to be uploaded is large, I can see a progress bar as compression is proceeding.

Camera+ App Doesn’t Geotag Photos

Another surprise I found when I downloaded the photos from the iPhone was that they were not geotagged with the location of where the photo was taken. I know the iPhone (Camera app) geotags photos, from earlier experiments I had done. This time I was using Camera+, because it has some pretty snazzy editing features. Geotags were not included in the photo files created by Camera+.

Photos taken by Camera+ first go into a temporary holding area called the Lightbox. Here is where the editing effects can be applied. After any edits are applied, the photo is saved to the Camera Roll. From there it is handled like any other photo by iOS. Somewhere in this process the geotags are deleted, or were never applied in the first place. For my adventures, I want to know where the photo was taken. If I’m using the iPhone, I usually don’t have a GPS track running, so it’s important to me for the photo to be geotagged by the iPhone. I won’t be using Camera+ any more, at least until this issue gets fixed.

Adventure Map

The three of us spent a lot of time solving the world’s problems, and consequently ran out of daylight.  The trip to the south terminus of Paseo de Bosque will have to wait for another day.

Paseo de Bosque at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Albuquerque, New Mexico

Geotagging iPhone Photos – Metadata Tags

On April 18 I went on a hiking and geocaching day trip.  I used my iPhone to take pictures.  I expected the photos to be tagged with the location they were taken, using the GPS built into the iPhone, and that I would be able to import these geotagged photos into the Garmin BaseCamp application.  Eventually the photos would be linked to maps on this blog, though I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  This post is about what I discovered about geotagging photos taken by the iPhone; there will be another post about the day trip.

I have a knack for making things much harder than they ought to be.  Uploading pictures to iPhoto was easy, and I spent some time cropping and editing them.  Then I uploaded the day’s tracks from the Garmin GPS 76C receiver to BaseCamp and spent some time joining and splitting tracks into the segments I wanted.  This also was straightforward.  Now it was time to import the pictures.  I exported the photos from iPhoto and imported them into BaseCamp.  BaseCamp did not recognize the photos as being geotagged!

Geotag Detective Story

One reason I write these posts is that I find technical instructions often assume a level of knowledge on the part of the reader that is not there.  Often it is the very most basic information that is missing.  I found that to be the case when researching the relationship between photos geotagged by iPhone and the inability of BaseCamp to recognize those geotags.

The first thing I did was to go back to iPhoto to try to find the location data for the photos.  Of course I was unable to find it.  Turns out I’m using iPhoto ’08 and iPhoto ’09 is the first version to recognize location tags.  iPhoto ’09 is only available as part of iLife ’09 suite.  I don’t use the other parts of iLife enough to warrant purchasing the whole suite just to upgrade iPhoto.  (I understand that Picasa understands photo geotags, but all my pictures are in iPhoto and I’m not ready to change just yet.)

BaseCamp has the ability to geotag digital photos by comparing the time tag of the photo to a track file.  This actually works pretty well.  I used this capability to geotag the iPhone photos by comparing with the tracks from the GPS 76C.  Once BaseCamp had geotagged the picture files, it was able to import them. However, I was not satisfied — the iPhone is supposed to geotag the pictures it takes and I wanted to know why it apparently was not doing so.

A Google search turned up very little about geotagging on the iPhone.  All you have to do is turn on Location Services and all photos will automatically be geotagged.  I had Location Services turned on, but apparently no geotags.

During my hike, I had regularly turned off the iPhone display when not taking pictures.  Maybe the iPhone did not have time to lock onto the GPS satellites before I took a picture, so it did not geotag the photos because it did not know where it was?  (There was no cell service, so GPS was the only way to get a location.)  To test this I brought up the Map app and almost immediately got the little blue pulsing pin showing my location, showing that Location Services knew the location of the iPhone.  (I was actually quite impressed that my actual location showed up.  This was indoors and the GPS signals would have had to come in through the windows.  When Location Services has to use non-GPS data, like cell tower triangulation, it puts my location about 5 miles away.)  I snapped a picture of my desk, uploaded to iPhoto, exported to a file, imported to BaseCamp.  It was not recognized as a geotagged photo.

Some more googling turned up that perhaps exporting the JPG from iPhoto does not include the location data, especially since my version of iPhoto does not know about locations.  Dragging the photo from the library to the hard drive is supposed to solve that.  Nope.  Did not work.

More googling.  People are very sure that the iPhone does indeed geotag photos, but various desktop applications don’t recognize the tags.  Some people email their photos directly from the iPhone to Flickr.  So I emailed my photo to myself, saved it to a file, and imported into BaseCamp, thus skipping iPhoto and any problems it might have altogether.  Still no success; BaseCamp does not recognize that this is a geotagged photo.  The problem could be with BaseCamp (though it imports other geotagged photos properly) or with the iPhone (though no one has reported this problem online).  I don’t have a second application that recognizes geotags with which to do a comparison.  (Actually, Preview displays geotags, but I did not realize it at the time.)

More googling, this time concentrating on BaseCamp rather than iPhone.  Finally I hit pay dirt with this forum post:

The key information that is missing from your photo is the GPSVersionID. BaseCamp looks for the GPSVersionID to see if a geotag is present, and in your photo it doesn’t find it so it doesn’t look any further.

This same forum thread made a passing reference to ExifTool, so I looked it up.  ExifTool is one of those wonderful open source tools authors make available to everyone at no charge.  Here’s the description from the tool’s home page.

ExifTool is a platform-independent Perl library plus a command-line application for reading, writing and editing meta information in a wide variety of files. ExifTool supports many different metadata formats including EXIF, GPS, IPTC, XMP, JFIF, GeoTIFF, ICC Profile, Photoshop IRB, FlashPix, AFCP and ID3, as well as the maker notes of many digital cameras by Canon, Casio, FujiFilm, HP, JVC/Victor, Kodak, Leaf, Minolta/Konica-Minolta, Nikon, Olympus/Epson, Panasonic/Leica, Pentax/Asahi, Ricoh, Samsung, Sanyo, Sigma/Foveon and Sony.

Downloading and installing ExifTool was a snap.  It has a command-line interface, but I have a passing familiarity with Unix so using Terminal didn’t faze me.  Looking at my test photo that I emailed directly from the iPhone I see that it is indeed geotagged, and that it is missing the GPSVersionID tag.

GPS Latitude Ref                : North
GPS Longitude Ref               : West
GPS Altitude Ref                : Above Sea Level
GPS Time Stamp                  : 20:54:55.64
GPS Dilution Of Precision       : 5
GPS Altitude                    : 1490 m Above Sea Level
GPS Latitude                    : 35 deg 14' 37.20" N
GPS Longitude                   : 106 deg 37' 54.60" W
GPS Position                    : 35 deg 14' 37.20" N, 106 deg 37' 54.60" W

Next step was to see whether BaseCamp would recognize the geotags in the photo if I added the GPSVersionID tag.  The GPSVersionID tag must be in a specific format — I got a hint in this forum post.  I was able to use ExifTool to add the GPSVersionID tag to a geotagged photo.  BaseCamp then recognized the geotags and imported the photo at a specific location.  YAY!!  My inner geek is pleased!

While writing this post, I reviewed the research and found hints that Preview recognizes location data.  Sure enough, you can Show Inspector from the Tools menu to pop up a small More Info window that shows metadata about the photo.  There’s a tab that shows GPS metadata.  When looking at the photo to which I had added the GPSVersionID tag, the GPS Version was shown.  Otherwise GPS Version did not appear.  This is a nicer way of checking the metadata tags than ExifTool, as you can see the photo and metadata at the same time, plus it uses a GUI for navigation.  But you can’t modify the file like you can with ExifTool.

Summary – What I Learned About Geotags


  • Metadata refers to information about an object, such as a JPG image, as opposed to the object itself.  The object might be an image of a flower.  Metadata could include the size of the image, the f-stop of the camera taking the picture, and the location where the picture was taken.
  • Embedding metadata in a JPG file is evidently quite complex.  See this post by Phil Harvey to get an appreciation of the complexity.
  • Metadata is identified by tag names.  There are thousands of tag names.
  • Location metadata is identified by tag names that start with GPS.  The GPSVersionID tag is one of these.
  • The GPSVersionID tag has the format n.n.n.n, for example,  However, BaseCamp writes the tag as .. and this seems to work.

iPhone 3G

  • The camera built in to the iPhone 3G with OS 3.0 does geotag photos, but does not include the GPSVersionID tag, which is needed by some applications like Garmin BaseCamp.
  • Geotagging is enabled by turning on Location Services under Settings/General.  That’s it — no dialogs, no warnings, not even a status indicator in the Camera app to tell you that photos are being geotagged.

iPhoto ’08

  • iPhoto ’08 does not know about geotags.  iPhoto ’09 is the first version to recognize location data.
  • iPhoto ’08 exports metadata, including geotags, with photos, even though it does not recognize the geotags.

Preview 5.0

Inspector Window from Preview

Preview showing GPS metadata

  • Preview displays some metadata in the Inspector window.  Bring up the Inspector window from Tools/Show Inspector.
  • Available categories of metadata are
    • General – information about the image, such as size in pixels and color profile.
    • Exif – information about the camera and and settings when taking the photo, such as fNumber and exposure mode.
    • GPS – location data about the image, such as latitude, longitude, altitude.
    • TIFF – information related to TIFF image format, such as orientation and resolution.
  • Preview will show the GPSVersionID tag if it exists.

Garmin BaseCamp

  • BaseCamp will import geotagged photos and locate them on its map.
  • BaseCamp looks for the GPSVersionID tag to determine whether the photo is geotagged.  If it does not find the GPSVersionID tag, it stops looking, even if the location tags are embedded.  This means BaseCamp does not recognize photos from the iPhone as being geotagged because of the missing GPSVersionID tag.
  • BaseCamp can geotag photos by comparing the photo timestamp with a GPS track log.  The photo is located at the location in the track log that has a timestamp nearest to the timestamp of the photo.

ExifTool 8.18

  • ExifTool is a free tool that reads and writes metadata in a variety of file formats.  It is available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Unix systems.  ExifTool is written in Perl.
  • On the Mac, ExifTool uses a command-line interface from within Terminal.  There is no GUI.  The tool’s home page states there is a GUI for Windows.
  • I found ExifTool to be easy to install and to use.  ExifTool displayed all the metadata contained within the JPG image files I was working with.
  • It was easy to add the missing GPSVersionID tag.  ExifTool caught my attempts to write the tag in an invalid format.  It automatically creates a backup copy of the file being modified to allow recovery if a mistake is made.
  • ExifTool can do a lot of  stuff with metadata that I haven’t tried.  Not only can it geotag photos from a track log, it can also create a track log from geotagged photos!  How cool is that?