Planning and Recording an Adventure

I’m using this post to document how I record the adventures that I post in this blog.  As an engineer, I enjoy technology.  I also enjoy history, and the history of technology.  Electronics is changing so fast these days, that it will be fun in the future to see how I recorded adventures back in 2011.  If anyone reads this blog, it may help them as they develop their own methods.

I follow three general steps:

  1. Plan the Adventure
  2. Record the Adventure
  3. Document the Adventure

Plan the Adventure

These days, my adventures are constrained to be close to home.  Fortunately, Albuquerque has a lot of opportunities for outdoor adventures, which are my preferred kind.  Together with my son Richard, we do a lot of hiking, and some canoeing.  Richard is not into biking, so I do those adventures solo or with other friends.

To help plan hikes, I bought two hiking guidebooks.

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Albuquerque, including Santa Fe, Mount Taylor, and San Lorenzo Canyon, by Stephen Ausherman, 2008, Menasha Ridge Press.  www.menasharidge.com
  • Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide, by Mike Coltrin, 2005, University of New Mexico Press.  www.sandiahiking.com

There is no hint in the book, but Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide has a complementary web site, at which all the GPS waypoints and tracks mentioned in the book are available for download.  60 Hikes does not have a similar site, though Trails.com does feature hikes from the book.  However to access the GPS data (beta) requires a paid membership to Trails.com.

Because my GPS equipment is made by Garmin, I use the free application Garmin BaseCamp to plan outdoor adventures.  The first step is to locate some strategic waypoints along the planned route.  I select the Trailhead/Parking Area, a few turns along the path, and the end point.  SMHG makes it easy by downloading GPX files from the web site.  60 Hikes only includes the trailhead as written GPS coordinates in the book, and I have to key these in.

My setup of BaseCamp does include a topo map that I bought from Garmin.  This adds a lot more detail, including trails, than the free base map that comes with the application.

When the waypoints and route are to my satisfaction in BaseCamp, I connect my handheld GPS receivers and download the information to the units.  Richard usually carries the older GPSMap 76C and I clip the Oregon 400t to my belt during the hike.

Record the Adventure

Two questions need to be answered to record the adventure:

  1. Where did I go?
  2. What did I do?

My GPS receiver records where I went, and when.  I set it up to always record tracks, so there is no issue of forgetting to turn on tracking.  Recording is passive, so the only setup required is to ensure there are fresh batteries in the unit.

I use photographs to record what I did.  Mostly Penny, my Pentax K20D, but sometimes the iPhone.

I like to record where each photo was taken, and that means geotagging each photograph.  This happens during the Document phase, but the task is much easier if the clock in the camera is synchronized to GPS time.  So I check the camera time to ensure it is within 1 second of GPS time.

Document the Adventure

This is the most time-consuming part of the adventure.  I follow these steps:

  1. Retrieve GPS tracks and digital photos from the equipment and store as files on computer hard drive.
  2. Geotag the photos with the location they were taken.  This involves comparing the GPS track recorded by the GPS receiver with the time stamp on the photo image file.  The GPS location at the time closest to the image time is added to the image meta-data.  (This is why it is important for the camera time to by synchronized to GPS time.) BaseCamp does a good job of geotagging images, but it does have a limitation for my situation.  I’ve recently started taking all my photos in RAW format, and BaseCamp does not geotag RAW images.  It works fine for JPG and other common formats.  I use PhotoGPSEditor, which has a clunkier UI, but handles RAW image files.  There are a number of software applications available that can geotag images.
  3. Edit the images.  I use iPhoto.  I import the geotagged images into iPhoto, select the keepers, label them as appropriate, crop, and apply some simple enhancements.  Picasa is another app that is good at editing the images.
  4. Select images to be used in the blog post and export from iPhoto.  I construct the narrative of the blog post in my head and choose images that complement the story.  I export the selected images in a reduced resolution: 1100 pixels in the longest dimension.  This looks good on screen and minimizes time to load photos.  (My first blog post used full-size images, and took a long time to load, even on a cable broadband connection.)
  5. Watermark the images with a copyright notice.  I use iWatermark, after researching available software for the Mac.
  6. Write the blog post, inserting images where appropriate.
  7. Create a new trip at EveryTrail.com. This is how I get the Adventure Map.  I upload my GPS track and geotagged images.  I usually upload more than the images selected for the blog post, in order to create a comprehensive slide show.  This involves repeating the export and watermark steps for the larger set of images.  The images will be placed on a map at the location they were taken, along with the GPS track.  [Note: For a simple adventure, EveryTrail can be used can be used as a blog platform.  In addition to a map with track and images located on it, provision is made to label each image, and to provide a narrative of the trip.  EveryTrail will also geotag your images.]
  8. Paste the map link from EveryTrail into your blog.  EveryTrail provides snippets of HTML code that can be copied and pasted into web pages.  This will embed the map with track and images into the blog, and make available a slide show of the images uploaded to EveryTrail.
  9. Copy the elevation profile of the adventure from BaseCamp into your blog.  I take a screenshot of the elevation profile in BaseCamp and upload as an image to the blog.  This may not be interesting in Kansas, but in Albuquerque most adventures involve non-trivial elevation changes.

 

Carlsbad National Park

Last summer the boys took their Dad to see the “big trees” in northern California.  Dad enjoyed it so much that I planned another adventure for Christmas.  Because of other commitments, this adventure involved a lot of miles on the highways.  On Sunday we traveled from Albuquerque to Burleson, TX to drop off the kids with their cousins and pick up Dad.  Monday Dad and I drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Tuesday we visited the cave, Wednesday we drove back to Burleson, and Thursday was the drive back to Albuquerque to be home for Christmas.

Ocotillo is a common plant in the Chihuahuan desert.

The weather cooperated,  the roads were clear; we had blue skies the whole distance, despite having snow the Friday before the trip.  On the East Mountain they got 2 feet of snow and I-40 was closed.  Fortunately by Sunday morning the snow was gone.

(As always, you can click on any photo in this blog to enlarge it.)

Road Trip Tech

The adventure at Carlsbad Caverns was enjoyed by myself and my Dad. We will continue to have adventures as long as we are both able.

A long road trip like this, with the better part of four days spent driving, goes better with the right technology along.  On this trip I tried out a new GPS navigator, listened to audio books, and experimented taking photos in the dark.

Garmin Nuvi 1350 GPS

Cholla cactus was blooming just in time for Christmas.

Garmin’s Nuvi line are automotive GPS units, designed for road trips as opposed to off-road use like most of their handheld cousins.  I had been using the Nuvi about town, but this was the longest road trip so far.  The Nuvi 1350 performed like a champ.  We were going to Ennis, TX first to drop off Abigail and Richard with their cousins.  (They did not want to see the cave.)  I had never been this route, usually going straight to Burleson.  The route to Ennis involved a number of exits and road changes in Fort Worth.  I almost missed one turn, but due to the Nuvi’s lane predictor I was in the correct lane to make the exit.  I’ve gotten lost in Fort Worth before, even when I know where I’m going, so making all the right turns on an unfamiliar route was great!

Jabra

Prickly Pear is a very common type of cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert.

We like to listen to audio books when traveling.  I had loaded up the MP3 files into my iPhone before departure.  The car setup is a mild Rube Goldberg production: Bluetooth from the iPhone to the Jabra hands-free device, then FM to the car radio, which plays the audio over the car stereo.  The Trailblazer has a nice Bose sound system, but it does not have an aux input so we have to go through the FM.  The FM spectrum in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is completely used up.  Eventually we were not able to find even one clear channel for the Jabra to use.  At one point we counted 16 radio towers visible simultaneously!

One of the more famous stalagmites in the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns is the "Rock of Ages".

Fortunately Albuquerque is not so congested, and the system worked great on the open road.  If you live in or near a large city like Dallas-Fort Worth I would not recommend any hands-free device that plays over the car radio using FM.  It may be impossible to find a clear channel to use for the hands-free function.  Even on the road, it was necessary to change channels frequently, as it was often the case that the single FM station in a small town was broadcasting on the frequency we had chosen for the Jabra!

The Lion's Tail is a long formation that hangs from the ceiling of the Big Room over the path. There are several of these very unusual stalactites in this location.

The Jabra is primarily designed as a hands-free device for a mobile phone.  It clips to the sun visor and has its own speaker so it is not necessary to use the car audio system.

Manual Lens

Carlsbad Caverns is known for the many different types of formations found in the cave. Here tall, thin stalagmites seem to be reaching for the sky they will never see.

For the visit to Carlsbad I needed a fast lens to be able to shoot in the cave without a flash.  The park service has done a fantastic job with lighting the formations, but a flash will wash out the subtle colors and textures.  Also, the cave is so large that a flash will not illuminate the larger areas.  My old SLR was Ricky, a Ricoh XR7 that used Pentax K-mount lenses; Ricky passed away when his electronics failed, but I had kept his lenses and they fit Penny.  Ricky’s prime lens is a Rikkenon 50 mm f1.4.  With that lens I was able to practically shoot pictures in the dark!  (I did not even have a flash for many years.)

Curtains of stalactite formations beckon the visitor to come see ever more amazing sights.

Of course, the older f1.4 lens is completely manual.  I expected to have to focus manually, but I expected the camera to recognize the aperture setting on the lens.  However, the camera does not stop down the lens when shooting, so all photos are taken at f1.4 regardless of the aperture setting on the lens.  This is not a problem underground, where the lighting is dim enough that the lens has to be completely open, but could be an issue if I am shooting in brighter light and want more depth of field.  I’m still learning about all the features of Penny, my Pentax K20D whom I adopted off eBay, and there may be a way to get Penny to recognize the aperture setting on the Rikkenon lens.  I tried one shot with the built-in flash, but it came out all white, so either I can’t use flash with this manual lens, or I haven’t learned how to set it up.

The Big Room contains several massive stalagmites.

On my last visit to Carlsbad I used Ricky with his f1.4 lens and 400 speed film.  I hand held the camera.  Not the best, I know, but the slides turned out pretty well.  This time I brought a tripod.  I think it did help, but it was inconvenient to set up in the pathway.  With the fast lens and anti-shake technology, most of the pictures come out just find hand held.  Pentax incorporates their anti-shake in the camera body, not in the lens.  This gives even my old manual lenses anti-shake capability.

A more serious issue is that Penny lacks a split image focusing screen.  In the dim light I found it difficult to manually focus.  I found myself estimating the distance, setting it on the focus dial, and then bracketing the shot.  Fortunately on a DSLR I can see the results immediately, and it’s no problem to throw away the bad shots.  Can you imagine doing this with a film camera?  I wouldn’t even know the images were out of focus until I had paid for the developing!  I can see that the next improvement to Penny is going to be a split image focusing screen.  Maybe she’ll get a nice gift for her Adoption Day this summer!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Our day at the Caverns was split into three segments.  On the way in to the cave we took a short self-guided tour to an Indian shelter.  The big attraction was the Big Room in the cavern itself.  On the way out we took a side road through a Walnut Canyon.

The Indian Shelter

An interpretive trail led down to an alcove used by American Indians as a shelter from the hot sun.

An interpretive trail led down from the main road to an alcove that had in the past  been used by American Indians as a shelter during the day.  It is oriented in such a way as to provide shade from the hot sun during the day.  Interpretive signs along the short trail identified plants common to the Chihuahuan Desert.

This seasonal stream collects water from raistorms and channels it to a pool. The pool would have provided Native American people a pleasant diversion on hot summer days.

The Big Room

The Park Service uses various types of light sources to bring out the natural colors of the rocks. No colored lights are used.

We took our time on the self-guided Big Room tour.  I set up the tripod several times to take photos.  At the half-way point we took the shortcut back so Dad could use the restroom.  Then we walked back to see the far half of the Big Room.  All this walking got Dad tired out, and he was making liberal use of any benches along the path.  I noticed several park rangers were taking an interest in us, asking how we were doing.  I wondered why they were so concerned.  Though Dad was stopping to rest often, he did not look in distress, at least not to me.  The last ranger to ask about us let me know that we had been reported to be touching the cave formations, something that was strictly forbidden.  Either it was a case of mistaken identity, misinterpretation of actions, or maybe Dad had touched a stalagmite while I was taking pictures.  We got a polite warning to keep our hands to ourselves – no touching of rock is permitted in the cave.

Walnut Canyon Road descends down to the canyon floor, where we found evidence of recent flood activity. We could see debris left by water, but the arroyo was dry. The main entrance road to Carlsbad Canyon NP is on top of the hill in the background.

The Park Service has done a fantastic job with the lighting in the cave.  Lights are indirect and use a variety of bulbs.  Each type of light has its own “color temperature” due to the materials that emit the light.  The Park Service has matched incandescent, fluorescent, and mercury vapor lights to the minerals in the cave to bring out the natural colors.  Though you can see various colors in the rocks, no colored lights were used.  The color temperature of the light source brings out the natural color within the rock.

Walnut Canyon Drive

We did not take any tours of the other rooms in the cave.  Dad was pretty tired after walking around the Big Room.  Instead, we took a driving tour of Walnut Canyon.  I was hoping to see some wildlife, but the sun was still high in the sky and the birds were under cover.

Barbary Sheep are native to North Africa. They have been introduced to the American Southwest as a game species.

While Blaze is an SUV, he does not have 4-wheel drive, and was a little worried about driving to the bottom of Walnut Canyon.  Blaze handled the descent with aplomb, but while we were stopped on a slope scanning the brush for birds, Blaze’s low fuel warning light came on.  No problem, this is probably due to all the fuel flowing to the forward part of the fuel tank, away from the sensor.  Except that once level again, the fuel gauge continued to show “empty” and the low fuel warning stayed on.

What happened?  Did a fuel line break during the descent to the bottom of Walnut Canyon?  Were we to be stranded off the main road where help would not be passing by?  An external reconnaissance found no evidence of a fuel leak, so we carried on.  Eventually, after 20-30 minutes, the fuel gauge returned to a normal reading and the fuel light went off.

Barbary sheep are normally difficult to see, but this herd was grazing on the slope next to the road and seemed in no hurry to leave.

Coming up out of Walnut Canyon, we took the main entrance road back to the exit from Carlsbad Canyon NP.  On the mountain slope next to the road we saw a herd of Barbary Sheep contentedly grazing.  I quickly stopped and snapped some photos, afraid they would leave at any moment.  The Barbary Sheep paid no attention to us, so I grabbed Ricky’s other lens, a Sakar 80-250 zoom, installed it onto Penny, and got some good close shots.

Roadside Markers and Signs

I like to learn about the history of the countryside I travel through.  Roadside markers are a good way to do this.  Here’s a selection of the markers found near Hobbs, NM on this road trip adventure.

We stayed two nights in a hotel in Carlsbad, NM. The faint odor of hydrocarbons permeated the air, due to the large number of oil and gas well in the area.

There is not much in Hobbs except for large numbers of shops catering to all the services needed on the oil fields. But with a sign like this you won't miss the town.

Hobbs is a hub for the oil and gas industry in southern New Mexico.

The section of US 180 passing through Hobbs is dedicated to Kenneth Towle, a NM highway commissioner hailing from Hobbs.

On the way from Hobbs to Carlsbad, we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets ever.

While traveling through Texas, we stopped at signs commemorating events in the Texas War of Independence and the days of the railroad barons.

36 of Dawson's company were killed by artillery during the Battle of Salado Creek, in which 210 Texans repelled an invasion by 1600 Mexican troops on September 17, 1842.

300,000 acres were awarded to the wrong railroad company in 1873. It took 17 years for the error to be resolved, and caused much distress to the people who had bought land from the railroad that did not legally own the land.