Name: Sonjia Leyva
Height: 5' 7"/ 1.7 m
Weight: 190 lb./86 kg
Email address: leyva_sm
AT yahoo DOT com
Location: San Gabriel, CA
background: I started backpacking 6 years ago, but I have
been hiking and camping in Southern California, with occasional
trips to the Sierra Nevada, Oregon and Washington for over twenty-five
years . I don't have a particular "style"; I try to
keep the weight down, but I'm not an ultralight backpacker! I
use a 3-season tent and a 0° F -18° C sleeping bag (I
sleep COLD!) when I backpack. Numerous knee injuries and a heel
spur keep my pace slow on moderate terrain. I have two "issues":
1) how to backpack with my young children, and 2) how to manage
my blood sugar and insulin levels while hiking.
Geographic WeekendExplorer 3D software
of Manufacture: 2006
(TOPO! Version 4.2.7)
TOPO! Software Inquiries National
P.O. Box 4357
Evergreen, CO, USA 80437-4357
(800) 962 1643 (TOPO! Software Technical
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; and 128 MB
PC: Windows XP; AMD Athelon 64 X2 Dual Core CPU(2.00
GHz); 1 G RAM; NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT video card; two 80 GB hard
MX6214 Notebook with Windows XP, running on an Intel Celeron M Processor
420 (1600 MHz), 512 MB RAM, & Mobile Intel(R) 945GM Express
from National Geographic WeekendExplorer 3D website
available: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos; Atlanta Area, Northern
Georgia; Boise Area; Boston Area, Cape Cod, & Rhode Island;
Denver Area & the Front Range; Las Vegas Area; Los Angeles Area
& Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino National Forest; Nashville,
Chattanooga; New York City Area & Catskills, Poconos, Hudson
Valley; Phoenix Area & Tonto, Prescott, Kaibob, Coconino National
Forest; Pittsburgh Area; Portland Area & Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens;
Sacramento, Reno, Tahoe; Salt Lake City Area & Wasatch Range,
Uinta Mountains; San Antonio, Austin, Hill Country; San Diego Area
& Anza-Borrego, Santa Rosa Mountains; San Francisco Bay Area
& Big Sur, Napa Valley; Seattle Area & the Central Cascades;
Tucson Area; Twin Cities Area & Boundary Waters, Apostle Islands;
Washington, Baltimore Area;
Angeles Area & Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino National
Report (April 10, 2007):
National Geographic WeekendExplorer 3D program is cased in a DVD-sized
case (roughly 5 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches or 13 1/2 by 19 cm) and contains
two CDs. The advantage of using the DVD-sized case as opposed to
the traditional CD "jewel" (clear, hard plastic) case
or paper sleeve is that both CDs stack neatly inside the case, one
overlying the other. Both CDs are in one place and the case has
a much slimmer profile in addition to being more durable. Disc 1
contains the installation files and maps for levels 1 through 3.
Disc 2 contains the map data for levels 4 and 5. The
user has the ability to copy the map files located on Disc 2 to
their computer's hard drive. This speeds up the zooming between
layers and enables the user to access the data without having to
find and insert the appropriate CD ROM, but it does require a bit
of hard drive space. The program default is to access the level
4 & 5 maps via the CD ROM so users with limited hard drive space
needn't be concerned. As I have plenty of hard drive space available,
I chose to copy the files to my hard drive.
lucky to have two computers: a PC that my husband built for me and
a Gateway MX6214 Notebook (see above
for system information on each). I first installed the National
Geographic WeekendExplorer 3D program on my PC. Installation was
quick and easy; in fact, the only problem I had was locating the
serial number, which was hidden beneath the "TOPO! Quick Start
Guide" inside the case. After installation I began playing
around with some of the features. I was able to import TOPO! files
created in an earlier version and TOPO! files downloaded from the
TOPO! mapXchange site. I was able to connect my Magellan Sportrak
Pro GPS receiver to my computer and download waypoints from the
unit into the WeekendExplorer 3D program and upload a route I created
in the program to the GPS unit. All was fine until I tried the 3D
function and the program crashed. At this time I am looking into
the reason why the program crashes every time I try to use the 3D
installed the program on my Gateway Notebook. Installation was also
quick and easy with no problems. The 3D function works just fine
on my notebook. I quickly created a route along the 1.5 mile / 2.4
km Sturtevant Falls trail in the Angeles National Forest, then right-mouse
clicked on the route and selected "3D flyover". The program
quickly began the 3D flyover of the route. I was impressed not only
with the seamless quality of the 3D rendering, but also with the
accuracy of the topography. The trail is mostly flat but is very
steep at the beginning as the trail enters into Santa Anita Canyon.
While the images aren't perfect, they are a fairly good representation
of reality. Unfortunately, the program doesn't show how hot and
sunny that part of the trail can get!
of the Sturtevant Falls Trail as rendered in the National
Geographic WeekendExplorer 3D program. The blue line on the
map to the right is the route I drew in the program and the
red arrow indicates the direction of the fly-thru. The image
on the left is the 3D fly-thru of the route (looking south).
The test was conducted on my notebook computer.
Report (June 26, 2007):
had the opportunity to test the National Geographic WeekendExplorer
(Los Angeles Region) software on three hikes during the past few
months, in addition to spending several days simply playing with
the program. In
this field report, I shall focus on how the software performed in
general, and how well it worked in conjunction with two hikes in
Field test #1: The WeekendExplorer Program in general
discussed in the initial
report, I have two computers: a PC
that my husband built for me and a Gateway MX6214 Notebook (see
for system information on each). My initial plan was to use
the PC for most of the testing, and my laptop as a sort of "back
up" in case I wanted to check out some features while I was
at work. However, I had to abandon that plan as I simply could not
get the 3D fly-thru feature to work on my home-built computer. I
had intended on contacting National Geographic's customer support
on the matter. An extremely busy work scheduled in conjunction with
two rounds of the stomach flu forced me to put doing so on hold
for a while. Thus, most of my testing was done on my Gateway
problem I noted on my PC was with other National Geographic Mapping
software. I had previously installed the TOPO! State Series (California,
v. 3.4.2). We are planning a trip to Sequoia National Park (California)
in August, and I wanted to check out the area. I navigated my way
on the level 1 reference map (the default when the program opens)
to the Sequoia area, inserted the appropriate CD into my CD ROM
drive, and tried to access the level 5, 7.5' map series just as
I did in the TOPO! version 3.4.2. The new version of TOPO! wanted
me to register the disk. OK. I'll do that. But it wouldn't let me.
I was all set to write a really negative review on the fact that
the new version was not backwards compatible with older versions,
when I remembered my laptop. The older version of the program had
never been installed on my laptop. I opened the TOPO! 4 program,
navigated to the Sequoia area, inserted the disk and tried to access
the level 5 maps. I again got the "Do you want do register
this disk" dialog box. I check the appropriate boxes and was
asked to insert the installation CD. I did, the program thought
for a minute, and the State Series software was registered. The
cool part is that there are 10 disks to the California State series,
and I only had to do this once and all of the disks were registered.
test #2: Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro, CA
to go to Cabrillo Beach - it's in the middle of an urban area, but
tucked away along the southern edge of the Palos Verdes Peninsula
and thus is usually not very crowded. I take my Oceanography students
here to study the three types of beaches present, in addition to
the tide pools, wave cut terraces, and examples of cliff erosion.
I am quite familiar with the area, so I navigated my way to the
appropriate area in the WeekendExplorer program to begin the test.
My goal was simply to see how the program calculated the profile
and 3D rendering compared to the reality of the terrain. First,
I used the "route tool" to trace the route along the base
of the cliffs. I initially found this difficult to do. But then
I used the "hot spot magnifier" (see screenshot below,
lower right corner) which magnified the area and made it much easier
to trace the route.
of Cabrillo Beach showing the route drawn in the program by
me in red, the regional and hotspot magnifier maps are on the
I had created the route, I right mouse-clicked on the
route and selected "Build Profile" from the
dialog box. As I had expected, the profile generated was
nice and flat (see screenshot, below) with the exception
of the 25' (7.6 m) "hill" at 0.3 mi (0.5 km).
I attribute this to the difficulty I had in keeping the
route plotted in the correct place and I probably placed
the route on the cliff face inadvertently.
I right mouse-clicked again and this time chose "3D
Fly-Over". After a few seconds of calculation, the
program opened up a window to the left and "flew"
through the short route (see screenshot, also below).
how did the program's results compare to reality? To the left
is a photos of the wave cut terraces and tide pools at Cabrillo
Beach taken during my hike. The photo was taken roughly at waypoint
WPT029 on the map above (Santa Catalina Island is visible on
the horizon on left side of the photo). While rocky, the "trail"
is fairly flat with little elevation gain. This matched with
the profile and 3D image created by the TOPO! program, with
the exception of the 25' (7.6 m) "hill" at 0.3 mi
(0.5 km) (see explanation above).
test #3: Eaton Canyon Falls, Pasadena/Angeles National Forest, CA
to test the program's ability to work with GPS units. First, I went
to National Geographic's MapXchange site (accessible from the main
http://maps.nationalgeographic.com/). MapXchange is where
TOPO! users can download routes and trails for free to use with
the TOPO! software programs. I downloaded a series of routes for
trails to waterfalls. One of the trails included was the one to
Eaton Canyon Falls. This is a trail that my family likes to hike
although we have never yet made it all the way to the falls as my
nearly five year old daughter would rather play on the boulders
than finish the hike. However, we
decided to head to Eaton Canyon on Memorial Day and try to hike
to the falls.
I downloaded the trails I opened them in the TOPO! program. The
lower portion of the screen shows the trails available to view (see
lower left corner of screenshot below). I selected "Eaton Canyon
Falls" and the program loaded the trail with waypoints onto
the screen. Using the same methods I did with the trail at Cabrillo
Beach, I created a profile of the trail and did a 3D fly-thru of
profile and 3D rendering looked pretty much as I expected
- fairly gentle in the beginning, and getting steeper as the
trail enters the mountains. Below is a screenshot of the profile
and 3D rendering. On the right is the map of the area, with
the green line on the map the route I downloaded from National
Geographic's MapXchange site, the blue line indicates the
profile as calculated by the program (profile is shown on
the bottom), and the red arrow indicates the direction of
the fly-thru. The image on the left is the 3D fly-thru of
the route (looking northwest).
I exported the waypoints and route to my Magellan GPS using
the "Export (to GPS or .txt) Wizard". I followed
all of the directions in the dialog boxes - and connected
my GPS to my laptop - and voila! the data was transferred.
Day dawned bright and hot. Hiking Eaton Canyon turned out
not to be the best decision we could have made that day. Many
other people had the same idea, and the trail to the falls
narrows and there is a lot of boulder hopping involved. The
resulting combination was not good - too many people, too
small of an area. Still, we headed off with Ben carried by
Robert in Julia's old Yakima Grasshopper Child Carrier and
me trying to keep Julia from jumping off the really big boulders
and checking the route downloaded from the TOPO! program into
my Magellan GPS. I was impressed - the route downloaded AND
the profile and 3D fly-by matched very well with the actual
terrain. While Robert and Ben had to turn back at what is
called the halfway point (thus named because we were halfway
to the falls in terms of time; trail wise it is actually roughly
three quarters of the way to the falls) as Ben's right leg
was rubbed raw by the Grasshopper. Julia REALLY wanted to
see the falls, so we kept on going, checking the GPS every
now and again to test the accuracy of the route. And she did
it! This was the first time Julia made it all the way to the
falls! I, and other hikers, were pretty impressed as there
is a lot of boulder hopping/climbing towards the end and she
was one of the youngest ones at the falls who made it there
and daughter, Julia (5 years old) at Eaton Falls.
test #4: Malaga Cove, Torrance, CA
Cove is located just south of Torrance County Beach on the northern
side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Like Cabrillo Beach, it is somewhat
tucked away and is thus not very crowded. Unlike Cabrillo beach,
it is somewhat difficult to get to. It had been suggested to me
to take a look at the location as it is considered a good spot to
take Oceanography classes for a field trip. The problem was access
to the beach. It's hard to find on the map, mostly because Palos
Verdes is known for curvy, twisty streets that frequently dead-end,
and access to the beach is via a short but steep slope. I used the
TOPO! program to take a look at the area and try to find an alternative
way to get to Malaga Cove. After a short perusal of the area I noticed
that Torrance County Beach appears to merge directly with the Malaga
Cove area. I didn't see the need to create a profile or a 3D fly-thru
of the area - it was a beach, after all, with no elevation gain
- but I did use the waypoint tool to create a waypoint at what looked
to be the entrance to Torrance County Beach. I then downloaded the
waypoint into my GPS, loaded up the car, and headed out to the beach.
printed out a map of the area from the program and used that in
conjunction with my GPS to find my way to Torrance County Beach.
While I did not place my waypoint in the correct location, I was
fairly close - a block off, to be precise. The parking lot was nice
and big (a plus) however the steps and/or ramps leading to the beach
were short but steep. Still, steep steps and ramps are better for
20 or so student to plod up and down than a narrow, crumbly trail!
Once on the beach I used my GPS and the printout map to mark various
locations of interest. The hike was relatively short - just over
half a mile (0.8 km) one way - and flat and, more importantly, showed
me that I could access Malaga Cove with my students via Torrance
County Beach. Back
at home, I uploaded my waypoints established with my GPS into the
TOPO! program, then compared where the program located them with
the locations I had plotted on the printout. The match was nearly
of the Malaga Cove area, Palos Verdes Peninsula, California.
Trail in red shows the route I walked, WPT036 (at top of trail)
is the waypoint I created in the program, WPT037 (location waypoint)
and PV001 (sand and water sample location) are the waypoints
I created with my GPS and uploaded to the program.
of Malaga Cove, taken at roughly WPT037 and looking to the
Term Report (August 28, 2007):
the past two months I have been able to use the National Geographic
WeekendExplorer TOPO! program for a handful of additional local
dayhikes, plus one trip to Sequoia National Park in California.
All of the recent hikes were short in duration (i.e., less than
3 miles, round trip) as my 5 year-old daughter was my trail partner
and that is the limit of her stamina. I used the program in the
same manner as I did for the hikes detailed in my Field
Report: look up a hike in a guide book or download a promising
hike from National Geographic's MapXchange website, view it in the
WeekendExplorer program, and analyze the hike using the profile
and 3D fly-thru. Julia and I choose our hikes based upon her abilities.
These hikes included Millard Canyon trail, Sturtevant Falls trail,
and Vasquez Rocks trail, in addition to her favorite, Eaton Canyon
Falls Trail. As with the hikes detailed in my Field
Report, I had no problems creating or manipulating the routes,
uploading the information into my GPS receiver, or printing out
the maps. I found the maps / routes generated to be fairly accurate
as well. Also, uploading them to my PDA (a Palm Treo 680) using
the Pocket TOPO! program was very simple. As my PDA is one of the
higher-end models it has very good resolution. The uploaded maps
were just as good as the ones viewed on my computer screen, although
a bit smaller.
this is outside the scope of the review for this product, I am including
it to illustrate how the WeekendExplorer program integrates with
other TOPO! products. My family and I decided to head up to Sequoia
National Park for a four day camping trip. I purchased a book on
day hiking in Sequoia National Park and fired up the WeekendExplorer
program. I had previously registered the TOPO! California State
Series CDs so all I had to do was navigate to the correct location
on the map. Using the "find" function I entered in "Dorst"
(the name of our campground) and the program took me right there.
I was able to use the program to find the location of some of the
hikes I thought were interesting, and to determine their relation
to our campground. This weeded out a few of them as they were too
far away, or in too rugged an area for an almost 2 year old and
a five year old. We had a good time - Julia and I climbed Moro Rock,
Ben tried to eat lots of dirt and pine cones and hug all of the
trees (yup, all of them) - and the program was quite useful in planning
our trip. There was one problem, though. While at our campsite I
used my GPS to create a waypoint for fun (36° 39.067' N, 118°
48.321'W). When I uploaded the waypoint into the program, it was
placed roughly a mile north of the actual site. At first I thought
that the program was in error. However, I entered the data into
Google Earth and consulted a paper map and discovered that it was
my GPS that was in error. Phooey. The actual location I have estimated
to be at 36° 38.067' N, 118° 48.321'W.
experiences with the National Geographic WeekendExplorer TOPO! program
have not been problem-free. While I did not have too much trouble
using my mouse to draw a route, it does take a bit of skill and
trial-and-error to accomplish the goal at times. I find it easier
to trace the route using the "hotspot magnifier" - a tool
which magnifies the area of interest - and to go slow (very slow)
and steady. What I find to be absolutely frustrating is the inability
to truly edit the route once drawn. Perhaps this is because I use
many drawing programs such as Corel Draw in which this ability is
an integral part of the program. In the TOPO! program (all versions,
as far as I can tell), once the route is created, the only editing
options available are change the style (i.e., red medium line to
green dashed thin line), split the line in two, or delete. That's
it. Goodness forbid there is an error is made while creating the
route, such as wandering "off" the trail, which can occur
easily if the mouse jumps or sticks during the creation of the line.
There is no ability to add points to the line to help correct errors,
or to straighten or curve the line; nothing. While this ability
may not seem like much, it would greatly aid in the creation of
routes, especially long ones. A work-around for this problem would
be to create the route, right-mouse click on it, and select the
"GPS Route" button. This tool will create waypoints along
the route (up to 30) that can be uploaded to a GPS receiver if desired.
These waypoints can then be moved as needed to "correct"
the route. It is not a perfect solution, but it does work.
frustration is the basemaps. The most detailed level available uses
the USGS 7.5' quadrangles. This is both good, and bad. Good, as
the USGS basemaps are familiar. Bad, because many of them haven't
been updated in literally decades. Bad, too, because if more detail
is desired, it's not available. The program does have the ability
to magnify the area up to 400%. This does not really show additional
details, however, but simply magnifies what is already there. And
in some cases, more detail is definitely necessary. This is not
a new gripe of mine and it stems from the fact that, as a geologist,
I frequently have access to much more detailed maps through civil/geotechnical
engineering companies that I still keep in touch with (it's good
to have friends . . .). It's frustrating to know that detailed maps
are out there, but out of pretty much everyone else's reach.
I was unable to get the 3D renderings to work on my PC. They worked
just fine on my laptop, however. I first used the programs Help
files to try to troubleshoot the problem. I then tried the WeekendExplorer
website's support section. Finally, I contacted the technical support
team via email. The problem seems to be with the "OpenGL"
3D technology used by the WeekendExplorer program and my video card.
As my PC is a home built one - i.e., my programmer husband bought
all of the parts, put it together, and installed all of the pertinent
drivers and software - the conflict is probably due to a mistake
on our part and not National Geographic's. None of the solutions
posed in the help files, website, or technical support staff were
able to solve the problem. Again, I wish to point out that the program
had no problems at all on my Gateway laptop.
bottom line? The National Geographic WeekendExplorer TOPO! program
is a useful tool to plan trips. I like the TOPO! programs as they
integrate well with other TOPO! products. AND I like the Pocket
TOPO! program for my Palm much better than the competitions. The
3D fly-thrus and updated streets are nice features, but I am not
sure I would have paid to purchase the program (at $29.95 USD) simply
for those features since I had the California State Series AND an
older version of the Los Angeles area. Still, $30 USD is fairly
inexpensive for a mapping program and is a good value.
version 4 is very similar to previous versions so I didn't have
to relearn where everything was.
and other TOPO! maps integrate seamlessly with the program
to exchange data between the program and my GPS
to upload maps to my PDA (a Palm Treo 680)
to do a good job in recreating what the terrain looks like both
in profile and 3D imaging.
basemaps are out-of-date; more detailed maps would be nice.
had problems with the 3D function on my PC. This function works
just fine on my laptop. However, I found that I really didn't
use the 3D fly-thru feature very often.
and editing/correcting routes can be difficult.
Thank you to BackpackGear
Test and National Geographic for the opportunity to test the National
Geographic WeekendExplorer 3D!