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Reviews > Software > Topographic Mapping > National Geographic National Parks 3D > Test Report by Jason Boyle

National Geographic National Parks Explorer 3D

Test Series

Initial Report April 10, 2007
Field Report June 20, 2007
Long Term Report August 22, 2007

Tester Information:
Name: Jason Boyle
Age: 29
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 6"/ 1.68 m
Weight: 170 lb/ 77 kg
Email address: c4jc "at" hotmail "dot" com
City, State, Country: Snoqualmie, Washington, U. S.

Backpacking Background:
I have been camping and backpacking for about 18 years. My introduction to the outdoors started with the Boy Scouts of America and has continued as an adult. I have hiked mostly in the Southeastern and Northeastern United States. I am generally a lightweight hiker, but will carry extras to keep me comfortable. I currently reside in the Pacific Northwest and spend most of my time hiking and backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but I can be found exploring the other wild areas of Washington!

Product Information:
Manufacturer: National Geographic
Year of Manufacture: 2007
URL: www.nationalgeographic.com
MSRP: $49.95 US

Product Description:
The National Geographic National Parks Explorer 3D Topo! software is a mapping program that allows the user to create, modify, and print their own maps. Unlike previous versions of TOPO! this updated software uses National Geographic’s Trail Illustrated maps instead of the seamless USGS maps that are used in their other series. The National Parks Explorer 3D series covers many of the most popular National Parks in the United States. The folowing parks are covered by the 2 cd set: Acadia, ME; Arches, UT; Big Bend, TX; Bryce Canyon, UT; Canyonlands, UT - Needles and Island in the Sky; Channel Islands, CA; Death Valley, CA; Glacier / Waterton, MT / Alberta; Grand Canyon, AZ; Grand Teton, WY; Great Smokey Mountains, TN / NC; Isle Royale, MI; Joshua Tree, CA; Kings Canyon, CA; Mt. Rainier, WA; North Cascades, WA; Olympic, WA; Redwood, CA; Rocky Mountain, CO; Sequoia, CA; Shenandoah, VA; Theodore Roosevelt, ND; Yellowstone, WY / MT; Yosemite, CA; Zion, UT

Some of the features, from the National Geographic website, include:
• Four zoom levels for each map, including a National Geographic Atlas level.
• Automatically highlight a selected trail on the map to see the elevation profile, get GPS waypoints, view the trail in 3D, or draw your own route off the beaten path.
• View the maps in 3D - either fly along a trail or get a 360 degree view of any point on the map. A resizable split screen enables you to view the maps in 3D and 2D mode simultaneously.
• Use with your GPS device by transferring waypoints and routes between the software and your handheld GPS unit. Store, organize, and manage an unlimited number of waypoints in the software.
• Customize the maps with digital photos, notes, and symbols.
• Print your own maps with National Parks Explorer 3D. Print in color or grayscale, add lat/long or UTM grids, center on the area you want, and print on your home printer.
• Each map features a PDF with additional travel and recreation information for that area.

System Requirements/Installation:
System requirements from the National Geographic website:

System Requirements: Windows 95, 98, NT, ME, 2000, or XP: 486 DX/66 MHz PC or higher, 64 MB RAM + 8 MB video memory

Macintosh OS 10.2 or higher: 350 MHz G3 or better, 128 MB RAM + 16 MB video memory

My machine is a Toshiba A105 Satellite Laptop running Windows XP, 1.66 GHZ. 1.5 GB RAM. Installation was simple. There were two cd’s included with the software. I inserted the installation disk and ran the startup program. That was all there was too it.

Initial Report – April 10, 2007

I have been using National Geographic TOPO! software for several years now so I am familiar with the interface of the software. I immediately used the software to explore some of my previous hikes in Washington. Here is an example of a hike I did last year to Lake Angeles in Olympic National Park:

Lake Angeles 1

The picture above shows several of the features mentioned in the product description above. The screenshot of the map above is zoomed to the most detailed level. Plenty close enough to make out contour lines and other geological features. The purple line is my route to Lake Angeles. The red arrow is the direction of the 3D fly by and the window on the left is the 3D fly by window.

Lake Angeles 2

The picture above is the same trail with trail properties highlighted in the pop up box. It shows the elevation profile of the trail per the mileage as well as the trail length and trail title that I typed in. One change that I noticed immediately is the route tool. This tool allows the user to draw their route on the map using the mouse. I am not the most skilled mouse user and had a hard time tracing trails with my mouse. On this updated version, the tool follows the trail even if I am not following it at all with my mouse. I just have to move my mouse in the direction of the trail. I can still draw an off trail/free hand route by not starting at a trail when drawing my route.

Most of the tools that the user needs are located in a toolbar at the top of the screen. These include print, select, zoom, center, travel, note, route, compass, find, grid, GPS, 3D, park info, help. These functions do exactly what their names imply and I have found them easy to use.

Another feature that is new this year is the Park Info tool button. It brings up a pdf that has pertinent information on the National Park I am looking at. It has Wilderness Regulations, Leave No Trace information, Campsite information, Ranger contact numbers, and even printing instructions for printing out maps. I have included a picture below.

Screenshot of Park Information

I will be using this software to map out my trips over the next several months. If possible I will only use the software to plan out my entire trips, including printing the maps for use on the trips. I will comment on the usefulness of the features over the test period. I will try to visit each of the parks at least once over the time frame. Olympic National Park is my usual destination of the three, but I am excited about the opportunities at the other parks as well.

Field Report – June 20, 2007

Field Conditions:
I used the software to map out two trips that I took over the last couple of months. The first was a 3 day summit attempt of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineers Route in Sequoia National Park, California. The second trip was a day hike on the Muir Snowfield in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington. Elevation ranged from 5000’ to 11500’ (1500 m to 3500 m), temperatures ranged from 10 F to 60 F (-12 C to 15 C), and I encountered a serious Sierra snowstorm while on Mt. Whitney.

Report:
I have been pleased with the National Geographic National Parks Explorer TOPO! Software. Based on my experience with previous versions of the software I found the newest version easy to use. One feature I particularly like is the large tool icons. Their increased size makes them easy to see and use. Another helpful feature is the status bar at the bottom left of the screen that offers instructions for the selected icon. For example when I have the zoom feature selected it says “Click left mouse button to zoom in (Hold Shift button to zoom out)”. I find this feature is particularly helpful on the tools that I don’t use as often. It allows me to use the tool without having to read the instruction manual.

Another improvement on this version of this version of TOPO is that all 25 of the National Parks are on the same CD. The first disk of the 2 disk set is the installation disk, and the second disk contains all the maps. I also like the look and layout of the Trails Illustrated Maps versus the USGS maps used in the other series. I find the maps to provide a clearer picture of the trails and natural features. Each map also has a color coded legend that provides information such as backcountry campsites, parking lots, boat launches etc; Information that is not found on the standard USGS map.

While planning my trips, I found that I used three features more than any others. They are the Zoom, Move and Route tools. These tools allow me to do 90% of everything I need to do to plan a trip. Zoom is fairly obvious; it allows me to zoom in or out on the map. The Move tool allows me to travel around the map. The Route tool is allows me to draw my intended route on the map. I mentioned in my Initial Report that National Geographic had improved the Route tool so that it would follow a selected trail instead of having to freehand draw it with a mouse like I did with previous versions of the software. This improvement is awesome! I like being able to follow a trail to my destination and getting accurate information on distance traveled and elevation gain and loss. I can also draw a freehand route or a combination of freehand and trail routes.

Looking at a map on the computer is great but I am not carrying the computer with me, I am printing my map out to take along. One of the great things about using the TOPO! Software is the ability to make custom maps. For my Muir Snowfield Trip, I printed out three maps of my route. The first was a map of the entire route from the Paradise Trailhead to Camp Muir. The second map was a zoomed in view of my route from the Paradise trailhead to Pebble Creek, the jump off point from trail to the Muir Snowfield. The third map was a zoomed in view from Pebble Creek to Camp Muir.

Map of Entire route

Paradise to Pebble Creek

Pebble Creek to Camp Muir

One feature I used on this trip that I had not used before was the Compass Tool. Spring weather in the Northwest is iffy, and based on the forecast the day of my hike the weather looked like it could go either way. The Muir Snowfield can be very dangerous in foul weather since the snowfield starts around 7000’ (2100 m) and runs between two large glaciers. A wrong turn in a white out could put me on Nisqually or Paradise Glaciers either of which would be bad as they are both filled with crevasses that have claimed the lives of lost hikers. The Compass Tool allows the user to create bearing lines on the map. I used the tool to create bearing lines from Camp Muir, my intended destination, to Pebble Creek the exit point of the snowfield. I also created some additional bearings to see what range of bearings I could use to safely stay on the snowfield. Previously I would have to draw these by hand on the map. It is important to notice that the software provides the compass bearings to True North. I converted the True North bearings to Magnetic bearings by adjusting for the declination in the Northwest. I have not been able to determine if I can get the software to do this for me.

Overall I have found the software to be a good tool for trip planning and actual execution of the trip. I like the layout of the maps, the ease of use of the tools, and have been able to print custom maps with ease. I like the 3-D Fly-Over feature because it provides an idea of what to expect elevation wise and it is just cool, however, it is really more fluff than a useful tool.

I will continue to use the software to plan my National Parks trips and hope to further evaluate the accuracy of the maps and the usefulness of the included park information when planning trips.

Long Term Report – August 22, 2007

Summary:
I have continued to be impressed with the National Park Explorer software. I like that it is easy to use and I prefer the Trails Illustrated Maps over the standard USGS maps used in other programs. I only have a few nit picks with the program - not having the ability to zoom the maps the way that I want and not being able to send a file to another TOPO! user unless they have this specific program.

Field Conditions:
I have used the software to plan three trips – an overnight trip to Glacier Basin, a 2 day/3 night summit attempt on Mt. Rainier via the Emmons route, both in Mt. Rainier National Park and a 5 day backpacking trip to the Seven Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park. The elevation for the Mt. Rainier trip ranged from 4400’ to 13,600’ (1340 m to 4145 m) and the weather was mild but windy. The Olympic National Park trip will take place after this report is filed.

Report:
The software has continued to be easy to use though I have not really learned any new functions or tricks since my field report. I used the software to plan three trips, two of which I have already taken. I was able to map out my route to Glacier Basin and the Emmons Glacier, but the route to Glacier Basin on the map and the actual route are vastly different. The route change isn’t National Geographic’s fault though, Mt Rainier National Park received 18 inches (46 cm) of rain in 36 hours last November and the flooding of the rivers caused dramatic damage to the entire park. The first 2 miles (3.2 km) of the trail has been completely obliterated by the White River and the trail has been rerouted through and around the debris left in the wake of the flooding. After about 2 miles (3.2 km) the new trail finally regains the original trail shown on the map.

One area that could be improved is the zoom levels available on the map. For my summit attempt I wanted to zoom in to get a good view of the Emmons Glacier, but I had trouble getting the zoom to work exactly the way that I wanted. This issue is probably a combination of user error and the software limitations. A second area where I was disappointed was that the maps aren’t compatible with other versions of TOPO! software. I tried to send a copy of my Seven Lakes Basin route described and shown below to the Big City Mountaineers program manager. Even though I emailed them the file as an attachment with a *.tpo extension she was unable to open it using the Washington State version of the mapping software also produced by National Geographic.

As mentioned above, I am guiding a Big City Mountaineers trip in Olympic National Park in September and I used the software to design a route for the trip. I had a couple of ideas on where I wanted to go and the mileage I wanted to cover and the software made it very easy for me to choose a route. Using the route tool I was able to quickly draw multiple loops to see which route would work best for me. Once I decided on the Seven Lakes Basin area I was able to quickly select multiple trails in the area to form a 22 mile (35 km) loop. Once I decided on a loop, I was able to pick and label my intended campsites for the trip.

Seven Lakes Basin Route

I knew we would be car camping for two nights before we started our backpacking trip and I was able to use the software to find a campground within the park close to where we would be backpacking. The included park information included the main number to the park where I could find out more about reservations. The park information file also included backcountry wilderness information that proved to be useful. The Seven Lakes Basin area where we are going has a quota system that I didn’t know about. The trip could have been ruined if I had not been able to obtain the proper permits.

In conclusion the National Geographic National Parks Explorer 3D software is a feature rich, easy to use mapping software program that also aides in trip preparation. In my opinion the Trails Illustrated Maps are a significant improvement over the USGS maps used in previous renditions of the software. Unfortunately National Geographic only makes Trails Illustrated maps for specific areas like National Parks.

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Reviews > Software > Topographic Mapping > National Geographic National Parks 3D > Test Report by Jason Boyle



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