Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Planning the route you want to take, part of Travel Photography: Geologging and Journaling on the Road.
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I travel by GPS when I'm on the bike because you can't really take out a map, you know, while you're riding, because they're so hard to fold back up. You'd never get it done. So, the GPS obviously is kind of an essential tool for me while I'm on the bike unless I want to kind of create paper lists of a route and things like that, but this is much easier to work with. I can ask the GPS to get me from here to there, and it will plan a route for me, but I want more control than that. So I use Google Maps and a special procedure to get routing data from Google Maps into the GPS.
And we're going to talk about that, but I want to talk about some other uses of Google Maps and, and the Internet in general for route planning, even if you're going to use paper maps. I'm going to go in here and quickly ask it to get me from here at Quartz Mountain to Palo Duro State Park in the Texas panhandle, which is the goal for today. And it plans this route for me. It's taking me up to the interstate and heading me straight west right to Palo Duro. We're not going to do that. Interstates are boring. They're, they're really not for sightseeing.
They're for moving goods as quickly as possible. You can't pull over on the side of em if you want to stop and take a picture, which is okay because there's nothing you probably want to take a picture of anyway. I just in general try to stay off of them as much as possible. As a biker it's also nice to get off the interstate to get away from traffic. Not only is it safer but it's just, it's more interesting riding. What's great about Google Maps is I can simply grab the route and drag it around. So I'm going to, rather than go this way, I'm going to take a southern route. I know that the entrance to Palo Duro Canyon is on the western side, so I've gotta go around it one way or another, and I'd like to go back through Caprock Canyons but on another side of it, a side that I haven't seen before.
So I'm just going to grab, click on this route and drag down here. And as I drag it starts re-routing me in different ways. And this takes me along this road that I would like to see on alongside Caprock Canyon. Now of course I could plan this whole thing out. If I was in a car I could do the whole, same planning with a paper map, but I would like to offer the, from a photography perspective, there are some other things to consider here. It would be nice to stop and shoot along the way. So as I look at the route that it gave me here, I see it's taking me through Altus, a town that I've spent a lot of time in already.
So I don't need to go back there. It's going to take me through Hollis, which is good. I haven't spent a lot of time there. In fact, I think I'm going to refine this a little bit. Rather then going through Altus I'm going to go through Mangum, also a town that I've spent some time in. I haven't been there this trip so I might like to see what's changed. But I haven't been through Hollis. And what's cool about Google Maps is I can actually learn a lot about Hollis before I even go there. I'm fine with just going in and seeing if there's anything that I would like to shoot. But if you have particular photographic interests, spending some time digging through Google street view can be a great way of figuring out if a particular destination serves your, your photographic goals.
For example, if you're interested maybe in shooting trains I know that there's a train line that goes through a town here, here called Blair. If I zoom in on that, I can actually see here the train line, it shows up. And if I switch to satellite view, I can actually start to see train tracks. If I zoom in further, I can actually see a train parked there now. I'm not figuring that that train's going to still be there.
But I can see other interesting railroad details that if I had been spending a lot of time shooting railroads, I might be interested in, in learning that there is what appears to be a grain silo, right in here. So I can do a lot of, a lot of pre-production and a lot of shot planning even before I leave the house. There's some kind of other big, industrial thing out here that might be related to the railway. If I want to get an even better view, I can just click on this little guy here and drag him to a position, and it will give me a street view.
At least it's supposed to. There we go. So now I can actually even start scouting locations and looking around the map, around Blair even before I get here. Oh okay, here's the train. So there's a residential area right alongside it. I here's the grain silo that I saw earlier. So I can go forward down the street. Oops. And then forward down the street. And simply move through the town, and see if, if there was a particular thing that I wanted to shoot. I can go ahead and scout that out here, get the exact address for it from Google Maps, and whether I'm working by GPS or paper map, plan my trip around those locations, without having to just wander into town and, and look around.
That can be one type of shooting that's very enjoyable. But if I know I'm going for a particular things, this is a great way of doing some pre-production. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to skip Blair, as I said, and instead head this other way. Now I've built the route that takes me through some interesting towns. I find that it's going to be three hours and 47 minutes. On the bike I usually add about an hour to that because I need to stop and drink water from time to time, things like that, but also I know I'm going to be shooting. So that's okay. I'm going to stick with this route. The thing is, I need to get it into my GPS somehow. GPX, that's GPS exchange format, is a standard format for moving mapping data around.
And most GPS units will accept GPX files. I know for sure that all of the Garmin ones do. This is a Garmin Zumo 450. I don't think they make this any more. This is specifically intended for motorcycle use. It's waterproof. It's vibration-proof. It's got an interface that can be used with big gloves on. So this works really well for me. I know that other automotive GPS's that I've seen can also accept GPX files. If you tend to navigate using your smartphone, there are navigation apps for the smart, for the iPhone I know for sure that will accept GPX files.
The problem is you gotta get one. You have to generate one. Google can Google Maps cannot actually natively export a GPX file, but I can build one. If I go up here to this link button and click it, it gives me this URL here that is simply a URL that defines this route. I can mail this to someone else if I want to share my route with them so that they can put it in to their GPS and so on and so forth. To get this turned into a GPX, though, I need to go to a special website. It's a online tool called GMap to GPX.
Now for this to work, you need to be using Firefox. I'm going to show you how to get your system configured. It's very easy. Just go to Google and type gmap to gpx. And the first thing it finds should be this, GMapToGPX, communications from anywhere. The URL is actually elsewhere.org/journal/gmaptogpx. That will take you to this page. And there are instructions, right here. It's very easy in Firefox. You just grab this link and drag it to the Firefox toolbar.
I've done that already. Once you're done that, you're all configured. You're going to want to read through some of the comments that are up on the page right now because I had to go in and change some security settings in Firefox to get it to work. A new version of Firefox or the OS or something. Oh no, it was a change in Google Maps broke this site recently, but there is a fix for it. So once you have it installed and working, it's very cool. You just get your route set up the way that you want it, and then you hit this GMap to GPX button that you've added to your toolbar, and it sits and thinks for a bit, and then it generates this.
This is a GPX file. So now all I have to do is select this, copy it, and I just need to paste it into a text editor somewhere and save it out as a text file. So on the Mac, I'm going to use Text Edit, which is the text editor that ships with the Mac OS. Any text editor that can write out a plain text file will do. So I'm going to put it here. Right here at the very top you'll see an entry. This is just an XML file. You'll see an entry that says name, and then it says route zero, and then it says slash name. That's the actual name of the route as it will appear in the GPS once you install it.
So I'm going to change that. I'm going to say Quartz Mountain to Palo Duro. In text edit, when by default, you're actually editing an RTF file. I need plain text, so I'm going to go up here to the Format menu and choose plain text. And now I'm just ready to save, so I'm going to say Save. I'm going to give the file that same name. I'm going to call it Quartz Mountain to PaloDuro.gpx. It needs to have a gpx extension. I'm going to save that out to my desktop.
It complains that I'm using the gpx extension. I'm going to tell it to use it anyway. Once it's done, I end up here with this text file with the GPX extension. Now I can just put that in my GPS. In a Garmin GPS, on this one when I plug it in, I actually get two volumes. One is the GPS itself, one is the SD card that can hold mp3 files and other stuff like that. I need to go into the Garmin volume. And if I open up the Garmin folder, there is a GPX folder. I simply drop that in there, it copies.
Then I disconnect the GPS, turn it on, and it will give me a screen asking if I want to import new data. I say import, it says, well, here are these new routes that I found. I just pick that route, import it, and then it's ready to go. Your GPS may differ in the way that you import, GPX files, but with that in there, I'm now all set up. I know that where I'm staying tonight there's not going to be any internet service so I'm going to go ahead and build the next day's route also. I know we're going to be starting at Palo Duro so I'm just going to hit this Swap button here. And I know that we're going to Pecos, New Mexico.
Now, once we're in Pecos, I know where we're going. So I don't actually need to go to the specific address. I'm not even sure the place has an address. So, I'm going to use this to have it get me just into town. Now, this is tough. I'm going to have to do some interstate, there's just no way around it. It would take way too long to take smaller roads. But, I don't have to take it as far as they're going. This is a road I've done a lot before. I really like this highway 84. I really like this highway that goes through the Villanueva State Park. But I also know that there's another road up here.
One thing that's frustrating about Google Maps is you can't see all the roads that are available at a given, if you're at a given zoom, zoom level. I need to zoom in, and then I find, oh, look, there's a whole other highway here, highway 104, that opens up. So when I'm plotting maps using or plotting a route using Google Maps in an area that I'm not familiar with, I will always keep a paper map, a detailed paper map of that area with me, because it's much easier on a paper map to see possibilities, to see routes that Google Maps may not be showing you. So I'm going to pull this out to here, and we're going to go this way, because I know that's very pretty and I know there are some places along the way that I've always wanted to stop and shoot.
Tucumcari has a very old downtown full of beautiful old signage and things. I always wanted to shoot there and I've never bothered to stop. I think we'll have enough time tomorrow, so I'm going to plan that out that way. Just turn that to a GPX file, add it to my GPS, and I'm good to go. I tend to do this in the mornings when I get up, before I hit the road. By the time I'm in my room or in my campsite at the end of the day, I'm, don't want to think about riding the next day. Once you get everything configured, it's very quick to build these GPS files. If you have an Internet connection, it's nice to do some research along the way into the towns that you're wanting to visit.
I don't have any particular story to tell on this trip. I'm just looking for nice places to shoot. So, being able to look into Wikipedia entries and things for these small towns makes it a little bit easier to plan a route.
In this course, author and photographer Ben Long explores the tools and techniques behind modern-day travel journaling. Ben takes us on a road trip across the Southwest to detail a variety of methods for documenting the salient moments of a trip. Ben discusses and demonstrates software and hardware tools for capturing the notes, images, and location data from your trip, and assembling them into a journal that you can share with others or keep as a personal memento of your travels. He also shares tips on publishing your journal as a PDF or a printed book. Along the way, he provides insightful advice on establishing a balance between documenting your travels and experiencing them.
- Planning your route
- Packing for a journaling trip
- Mixing up the shots
- Finding your voice
- Importing GPS data
- Geotagging in Lightroom
- Editing and laying out the journal