April 13, 2007
Prior to Installation
I visited the National Geographic website
to see what information was on their site in regards to this
product. The site lists the features of the software and a
demo feature. The demo showed how to open a park to view the
maps along with what the various zoom levels look like on
the map. It also showed the 3D feature with the 2D split screen.
I also visited the site to see if my system
meets the minimum requirements for installation of this software.
The software will be installed on a laptop and a desktop computer
system. The desktop system has Windows XP OS Service Pack
2, Pentium 3 processor, 2.20 GHz, 1 GB RAM, and a NVIDIA GeForce
FX 5400 graphics card (BUS PCI 8x 256 MB DDR). The laptop
has Windows XP Professional OS Service Pack 2, Pentium M processor,
1.7 GHz, 512 MB RAM, and an Intel graphics controller.
I found the website to be very informative
and I really liked the demo feature of the program. I thought
it was pretty cool. This made me a little familiar with the
program and what it looks like. I believe it made my first
time using the program less intimidating.
When I received my National Parks Explorer
3D program it was everything that I expected and much more.
The installation was a breeze. I took the
installer disk out of the case and popped it into by CD drive
and it automatically loaded the InstallShield Wizard. I then
selected a destination folder for the program. After that
I selected the option to install and the files began to copy.
After the files copied to my computer I opened my program
files and selected TOPO!-National Parks Explorer 3D. A window
popped up for me to enter the serial number. After registering
the serial number the program began to initialize and the
registration form popped up. I completed the form and then
I was prompted to enable Live Update. This feature will check
for software updates automatically each time the program is
opened. I enabled that feature.
Basic Program Use
The main program menu appeared. It actually
displayed Yosemite National Park first, but I have my favorite
park selected in the view below. The parks can be selected
by clicking on the red pins and then on the Go arrow where
the park picture is displayed or by clicking the arrows on
the park picture box and then selecting Go. When the arrows
on the park picture box are clicked on the program randomly
selects parks to display in the box.
I then selected my favorite park that I visit
at least once a year. I was prompted to insert the data disk
2 with additional options to copy the maps onto my hard drive.
I selected to receive a prompt when the CD is needed. In the
future I am going to store the maps on my hard drive.
The default map view is the National Geographic
Reference Map. This is a large area map of the region to be
viewed. The default tool is the zoom tool that is used to
view different levels of the map. There are five view levels.
The first one being the default regional map. The second level
is the National Geographic Park map. This is the same map
that is printed on the brochure that I received when I visited
the visitor center at Grand Teton National Park. The third
through fifth level are the Trails Illustrated Map. These
maps appear to be the same as the one I purchased in a retail
store last year before visiting the park.
On the first level map the program only allowed
me to zoom in on areas of the map that were included in this
park. Yellowstone National Park is on the same first level
map as Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton National Park
was the park selected from the main menu and they are the
only maps I am able to view without returning to the main
menu or by selecting from the File menu to view maps from
a different park.
This is an example of the second level
This is an example of the third level
I have used different versions of TOPO! in
the past. I have TOPO! 4.0 installed on my desktop computer.
I have the Utah state series along with the Western United
States National Parks (that is not the title of the program,
just the region it covers). This tool bar appears to be much
cleaner and easier for me to use than the other TOPO! program
I have installed on my PC. I like the large buttons on the
tool bar that have icons and one word descriptions for their
use. I like the one word description under the icon instead
of hovering over it with a mouse to determine what it is used
for. I think it has a nice user interface.
When these icons/features are selected there
are notes on the bottom of the map with information on how
to use the tool. For instance the zoom tool has notes to click
the left mouse button to zoom (hold shift key to zoom out).
This is a nice feature since many times I have difficulty
remembering the functionality of various programs.
The features of the tool bar:
Print: This button will give a print preview
of the map that is going to be printed. With options to center,
save, and to reduce or change the size. There is also an option
called maps by mail. This option opens another window that
has Trails Illustrated Maps for purchase of the National Parks.
Select: This tool selects one or more routes
to edit their display or export to a GPS.
Zoom: Views different map levels. There are
five map levels available for viewing.
Center: Centers an area of the map on the
Travel: Scrolls the map on the screen.
Note: Places notes on the map such as pictures,
text, or websites. These notes can be exported to a GPS by
using the GPS menu.
Route: Draws a route on a designated trail
or a freehand route.
Compass: Draws straight lines to measure
direction and distance.
Find: Search for a named feature on the map.
Grid: Adds Latitude/Longitude or a UTM reference
GPS: Upload/download and tracking features
for connecting to a GPS.
3D: Views the map in 3D.
Info: Opens a park guide in Adobe.
Help: Access to a complete instruction and
File: Has options to save, open, close, import,
export, and print the maps.
View: Options for various map views, preferences
Tool: A listing of the Select, Zoom, Centering,
Traveling, Note, Route, and Compass tools.
GPS: Options to import, export, and change
Info: View a park guide or the user guide.
My First Map
Since Grand Teton is my favorite National
Park I made my first map from that park. How hard can it be?
I opened the Grand Teton National Park Map and I zoomed the
map to level three centered over the Teton Crest Trail. I
am not going to map the entire Teton Crest Trail, just a small
portion of it.
After selecting the route tool I left clicked
the mouse on the designated trail and I traced the trail.
This was the fastest I ever traced a trail in a mapping program.
I could not believe how quick the automatic feature was. I
remember the days of zooming the map in and erasing a route
The route is purple when drawn.
After I completed drawing the
route the distance and the elevation profile popped up with
an option to view the 3D fly-over.
The elevation and distance
profile box can always be activated by right clicking on a
I then selected to view the
3D. Here it is.
While the program is in the
3D fly-over function I had to click on the 3D tool to return
to the previous screen.
The way points are automatically
Then I selected the print
Well that was the quickest
map I ever made.
I decided since I made my map
so quickly that I would take a look at the park brochure by
activating the Park Info tool. The brochure is identical to
the Trails Illustrated Map that I purchased for this park
in a retail store. Except the map is not included in this
Here is an example of the park brochure from using the park info tool.
That's it I am all done. Well not really. I have four more months of testing this software.
June 21, 2007
During the past two months I
have used the National Parks Explorer 3D program to explore
areas in Canyonlands National Park, Utah; Grand Teton National
Park, Wyoming; Kings Canyon National Park, California; and
Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
The program was used after a
trip to Canyonlands National Park since I did not have the
software prior to the trip. The software helped me explore
an area where we got off trail and explored a slot canyon.
Since we did not have a GPS unit with us on that trip I had
difficulty locating the exact location of the slot canyon
on the map. However, I was able to locate the approximate
location. With the software I was able to view the distance
and the elevation of the trip that was completed. I was also
able to view our campsite location.
I took a two day trip to Yellowstone
National Park late this spring and I referred to the Explorer
3D program to plan my biking distance in the park. This route
was drawn on the major park roads. I attempted to draw the
route on the level two zoom on the park map. However, I noticed
that I had to precisely draw the map with the route tool.
There was no automatic function on the level two zoom. After
some frustration I decided to zoom to the level three map.
Then the route tool was performing with its automatic functionality.
Whew! I flew through drawing my bike route through the park.
I drew this map to primarily look at the distance I would
be traveling and the elevation change. Drawing this map helped
me plan how much water to carry and the distance between water
stops. But, when I drew the map in the level three zoom and
then zoomed to the second level zoom I noticed that my route
was drawn slightly off the road. So I went to the level four
zoom and my route appeared to be right on the road. The level
one map is the national park map and it is not as detailed
as the other zoom levels and I am wondering if that is why
it is off slightly. I noticed that there was a mileage difference
of 8% with my route as compared to the signage in the park.
My fiancé recently took
a trip to the Kings Canyon area of California. We both used
the National Parks Explorer 3D to explore the region for his
trip. We viewed the following trails: Mist Falls, Granite
Pass, and segments of the John Muir Trail.
Since I knew that I was experiencing
some discrepancies with the route distances from my Yellowstone
National Park map I wanted to check the accuracy of the maps.
I turned to my fiancé for help with this as he has
a large collection of Harrison maps (which have true measured
distances on them) and guide books which break trails down
into very accurate segments.
Checking against trails along
the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, and some other
trails in Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite we came
to the conclusion that the distance is off by as little as
4% and as much as 18%. The average seems to be 15%.
I also noticed that there was
a discrepancy in the mileage accuracy in planning our trip
to Grand Teton National Park. So I referred to the Falcon
Guide to the park to compare the mileage with my map that
was created with the Explorer 3D program. The Cascade Canyon
and Paintbrush Canyon Loop was off by 15%. I questioned this
figure I came up with and asked my fiancé for some
assistance. He came up with the same calculation.
He did notice how easy it was
for me to draw the maps for his Kings Canyon trip using the
route tool. I have to say it now takes me a few minutes to
draw a route instead of a painful half an hour as it used
to without the automatic route tool. The route tool is my
favorite feature of this software program. I can draw the
route and the program attaches it to the route even if I am
off. It also enables me to retract on the route and redraw
if I have to without using an erase function or deleting the
entire map as I had to in the past. Maps can easily be drawn
using the track pad on my laptop and on an airplane in flight.
This is something that could not be done in the past with
previous versions of the TOPO! program.
I am planning a trip to Grand
Teton National Park in a few weeks and I drew my route using
the handy route tool in under three minutes. I started to
draw the route in the level five zoom, but then I got to a
section of the trail that was grayed out on the map. I stopped
drawing the route and switched to the level four zoom and
I was able to view and draw on the remaining portion of the
trail. I found it perplexing as to why some areas of the map
can not be zoomed into level five. However, I found it easy
to switch between the two zoom levels to complete my route.
I did find that most of the parks only have a zoom to level
four. I discovered some parks such as Acadia, Big Bend, Bryce
Canyon, and Rainier also have a fifth level that is only in
part of the park, most of the map is just level four. I am
able to draw routes on levels two, three, four, and five (when
Example of zoom level five not showing the entire
After creating this map I saved
it to my hard drive and I attached it in an email and sent
it to myself. I was able to open the email and save the document
to my hard drive. However, I was unable to open it in the
program. I kept getting a warning box that the program had
to close. The program needs to be open in order to open a
saved document. Nothing would happen when I double clicked
or right clicked on the document and selected to open with
the TOPO! program.
I used the 3D fly through feature
with my map from Grand Teton. I thought it was a neat feature
to fly though the trail and get a sense of the elevation and
the terrain changes. I do not use that feature on all my maps
just because I think of it as a fun luxury and not for my
Grand Teton National Park route with the elevation
On the above map I viewed the
elevation profile and I clicked on the highest elevation point
on the profile to view it on the map. This is a handy feature
to know where the points in the elevation profile match up
on the map. The yellow dot with the red cross lines indicate
the highest elevation point on the map.
I am planning to use the map
I created and printed with a GPS unit on my upcoming trip
to Grand Teton National Park. In my long term report I will
attempt to place pictures and notes on my map from our trip.
Many of the tools in the program
were handy to use. The center tool was frequently used to
center the maps I was viewing on the screen. There is also
a center tool on the print preview screen that I used frequently
while preparing to print the map.
The grid tool was used on my
Grand Teton National Park map to compare it with another map
I have of the region. I found this tool to be very helpful.
The find tool is helpful in
searching for specific areas on the maps. I typed in Jenny
Lake in the search window and a few different options appeared.
Such as: Jenny Lake, Jenny Lake Trail, Jenny Lake Overlook,
Jenny Lake Lodge. I selected the option I wanted and selected
go, then a yellow dot appeared with red cross lines on
the map near the location I was looking for.
I have only used the compass
tool to experiment on some of the maps I have drawn. I will
use it in more detail in the long term report.
August 24, 2007
Long Term Report
During the final two months
of testing I used the Explorer 3D program to view and create
maps for Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; Canyonlands National
Park, Utah; Arches National Park, Utah; and Zion National
I used the map that I printed
for the Cascade Canyon and Paintbrush Canyon trails in Grand
Teton National Park on a backpacking trip. I found the map
to be helpful in determining my location on the trail and
some of the camping zones. I used an altimeter to assist me
in determining my location. I did realize that the Upper Paintbrush
Canyon camping zone was marked in a different location on
the map than the trail marking. When I backpacked on this
same trail last year I did not recall where the sign was or
even if there was a sign. I would estimate that the signage
is 0.25 mi (0.40 km) off. I do not know if this is a discrepancy
with the park signage or the Explorer 3D software.
Before departing to Grand Teton
National Park on this backpacking journey I attempted to load
my trip information on my fiancé's Garmin 60C GPS unit.
However, I was unsuccessful at my attempts. The Explorer 3D
GPS communicator settings detected the GPS unit, but was unable
to establish a connection. The latest software was installed
on the GPS unit and the latest updates were installed for
the Explorer 3D program. I rebooted the computer, tried a
different USB port, and restarted the Explorer 3D program
several times. I was slightly disappointed since I wanted
to use this capability of the program.
After returning home from my
trip to Grand Teton National Park I put some pictures into
my saved map of my camping location and other highlights from
the trail. This was done by creating a note and by saving
the picture in the note creation box. A URL can also be added
here as well. The pictures do not display on my map and in
order to view them I must open the note icon on the map. The
note icon has the title of my note displayed.
I utilized the program to plan
a route in Cayonlands National Park for a trip I will be taking
in late September. This route covers 87.5 mi (141 km) of terrain
according to the software however, my guide book indicates
that the trail is 91.3 mi (147 km) long. I have not completed
this trip yet, but my friends that completed it claimed it
is over 90 mi (145 km). There is a significant amount of elevation
gain and loss on this trail (over 15,000 ft or 4,572 m) and
I am uncertain if that has any impact on the discrepancy.
Currently I am attempting to
print the map at the level four zoom. I am realizing that
the transfer of this map onto paper is going to require me
to use a few sheets of legal paper in order for me to have
the entire map. I am still working on this map by adding notes
and marking my camping locations. I must say it took me only
about 5 minutes to draw this route with the route tool. It
is very nifty indeed!
I did notice that when I save
a map and reopen it later that sometimes it saves the route
with straight lines between the waypoints. I can delete this
by clicking on the waypoint lines and selecting to delete
the route. Once I deleted the lines between the way points
and resaved the map the waypoint lines did not reappear. This
is just kind of buggy. I am wondering if this is because of
the way I have the waypoint settings configured in the GPS
details properties of the program. I am using the default
configuration for this setting.
I am also working on a few maps
for Arches National Park and Zion National Park. I will be
day hiking in Arches in late September and in Zion sometime
this fall. While working on these maps I noticed that if I
draw a route in one zoom level, such as level four and then
go to view the map in another level, such as level five, the
drawn route is slightly off the dotted route line on the map.
This is more noticeable on some maps and routes more than
I attempted to use the compass
function and I did not find it useful for my needs. I did
not need to use straight lines to measure my distance or for
direction. I played with this functionality to see how it
worked but I did not input this into any of my saved maps.
Things I like:
- How quick it is to draw a map with the
- The limited amount of time I used reading
the instruction manual to create maps and use the functionality
of the program
- The graphical interface
are not so hot:
- The mileage discrepancies
- I can not open a map that was attached
in an email
- I can not double or right click on a saved
map to open it. I must have the program opened.
I have enjoyed using the National Parks
Explorer 3D program during the last four months. I love the
automatic route tool feature. It
has cut down my route drawing time significantly as compared
with other versions of TOPO! that do not have that functionality.
I am slightly disappointed that the distances are off in the
program, but as I noticed in the past the mileage is off in
other versions of TOPO! as well. I love the easy to use interface
of the program. I will continue to use this program for planning
my routes for backpacking in the parks this program features.
Even if there are a few quirks with the program I still enjoy
my testing of the Explorer 3D program. Thank you National
Geographic and backpackgeartest.org
for providing me with the opportunity to test the National
Parks Explorer 3D.