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Google launches ‘River View’ virtual tour of Grand Canyon

Google Maps is making a splash today with another innovation in the way the service continues to revolutionize the way we see the world.

Google's pioneering Street View cameras have taken users to narrow cobblestone alleys in Spain using a tricycle, inside the Smithsonian with a push cart and to British Columbia’s snow-covered slopes by snowmobile.

In 2012, they put the technology in a backpack to showcase through the Internet the most popular hiking trails in Grand Canyon National Park.

Today, Google Maps has launched a new “river view” version of Street View that takes viewers through 286 miles of the Colorado River, including stunning views of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, as seen from aboard a raft.

American Rivers staff joined Google Maps on an eight-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon last August to take photos of the river. The Street View camera, on a special mount built for the raft, captured a full 360-degree photo sphere every few seconds.

The project was launched in partnership with American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based environmental group. This marks the first time Google Maps has used its street view technology on a major whitewater river in the USA, but the cameras already have been mounted on jet boats for use on other rivers.

“Making Street View imagery available of the Colorado River is a tremendous opportunity for us to drive interest for this historical and natural landmark,” said Google's Karin Tuxen-Bettman. “We hope this inspires viewers to take an active interest in preserving it.”

The 1,450-mile Colorado River, which passes through seven states, is the main river of the Southwest.

American Rivers named the Colorado River America’s Most Endangered River in 2013 because of the threat of outdated water management, over-allocation and persistent drought.

Lessons from rafting the Canyon: pee bottle

CAMPING — Urine management is required on rivers, but it's also worth consideration on virtually any camping trip where a vault toilet isn't close by camp.

I thought about this several times a day — not to mention a few more times at night — during my recent rafting-hiking adventure in Grand Canyon National Park.

Rafters on heavily used rivers such as the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, as well as on Idaho's wilderness rivers such as the Salmon and Selway, are asked to pee in the river rather on shores.  

Dilution is the solution to pollution.

Peeing on shore ultimately stinks and makes the campsite less appealing to those who follow.  Urine also attracts critters who crave the salt. This can be cute at first but menacing to those who follow.

The pee bottle for men or a pee bucket with a lid for women is a highly recommended item I've used for years — during snow storms climbing Mount McKinley, during late night nature calls while sleeping in the back of my pickup at hunting camp, in my tent in campgrounds…. you get the idea.   

On river trips especially, you can store the pee in the bottle for an entire evening and through the night and make one trip to a flowing section of the current to dispose of the urine rather than making numerous trips during the course of a camp.

The best bottles are wide-mouth plastic bottles with tight-sealing lids.

My time-tested favorite is the 48-ounce (bigger is better)  Nalgene Canteen — a flexible wide-mouth container that collapses flat for storage while traveling. 

 There, I'm relieved to have shared this with you.

Lessons from rafting the Grand Canyon: for anglers

ADVENTURING — My recent multi-week winter rafting-hiking adventure on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (see story here) prompts a few hints to people planning similar river trips as well as to anglers planning multi-day trips to places such as Alaska:

CARE FOR YOUR HANDS.  River trips suck the moisture out of your skin, especially your hands. I've come home with cracked, bleeding hands after week-long float-fishing trips in Alaska, my fingers so sore it was difficult to stuff a sleeping bag in its sack.

Colorado River rafters emphasize this point and recommend preventive treatment.  

Based on a recommendation from an experienced Canyon boater, I started using ProKera lotion (available at RiteAid stores) twice a day several days before we launched.  

During the trip, I wore paddling gloves as much as possible while on the boat and especially while loading and tending bow lines.

And I applied the extreme-care ProKera lotion two or three times a day. This is the kind of lotion (Tiger Balm also works well) that takes several minutes of rubbing to absorb into your hands. The time is well spent. My hands came out of the desert river trip in excellent condition.

Lessons from rafting the Grand Canyon: for groups

ADVENTURING — My recent multi-week winter rafting-hiking adventure on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon (see story here) with a private group prompts me to share some observations to people planning similar group river trips. For example:

BAG THE GROUP KITCHEN: If your trip is long and the group is larger than about six members, rafting guide Brian Burns recommends letting every rafter, couple or family bring and prepare their own meals on their own cooking equipment.

“The group kitchen thing can cause problems on trips longer than a week or so,” he said. “People eat different quantities and have different food preferences and the chores can become a sense of friction if some people think others in the group are slacking.”

And it can be a big bummer to get up at 5 a.m. on a bad-weather day to get the group meal going so the coffee's ready by 7 — especially if several in the group want tea.  

The do-it-yourself method worked beautifully on our Grand Canyon trip. It gave people time to chill on their own and then mingle as they wished during breakfast and dinner, sometimes sharing with the group treats such as cocktails, chocolate, smoked oysters and wine before and after mealtime.

Even after a couple weeks, the only person you could blame for inadequate food was yourself.

Rafting, hiking Grand Canyon in winter had high, low points

ADVENTURING — Before I write my stories about winter adventuring in the Grand Canyon, I have to decide which I enjoyed more, the view up from the river or the view down from the rim!

Landers returns from wild time in Grand Canyon

About 50 hours ago I snapped this photo after hiking out 10 miles and nearly a mile in elevation to the Grand Canyon's  South Rim Village.

I'd been rafting the Colorado River and exploring the side canyons for two weeks. But I had to leave my rafting buddies and return to Spokane as they continue downstream on one of the greatest 30-day adventures one can have in the USA.

Two things motivated me to put the pedal to the metal for the 1,240-mile return drive from the Canyon:

  • Shop-stuff, such as catching up on the news, preparing the next Spokesman-Review Sunday Outdoors package and updating my blog.
  • Being on time for tonight's dinner date with my Valentine, the beauty I kissed good-by on Jan. 27.

Stories to come.  Stay tuned.

Grand Canyon launches closed; rafters shattered

NATIONAL PARKS — They waited years to draw a permit and planned for months for their big float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon — one of the greatest whitewater trips in the world.

But because of the shutdown of the federal government, Grand Canyon rafters are being turned away and told they can't use their coveted launch permits.

Grand Canyon Walk

Nik Wallenda walks across a 2-inch wire 1500 feet above the ground to cross the Grand Canyon for Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda on the Discovery Channel Sunday at the Grand Canyon, Calif. Story here. (Tiffany Brown/AP Images for Discovery Communications)

Locals tell of winter rafting expedition in Grand Canyon

RIVERS –  Lynn and Stan Mrzygod will recount their recent 30-day, 300-mile, self-guided winter excursion through the wild rapids in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in a slide program sponsored by the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club on Monday, 7 p.m. at Mountain Gear corporate offices, 6021 E. Mansfield in Spokane Valley.

This ought to be an excellent way to chill out after a busy weekend.

Google mobilizes Street View to map, photograph backcountry trails

TRAIL MAPPING — Soon you'll be able to look intimately at a trail on your computer or smartphone before launching out to hike, bike or ride a horse on it.

Google has begun applying it's Street View technology to the backcountry.

In its first official outing, the Street View team is using the Trekker—a wearable backpack with a camera system on top (see video above)—to traverse the Grand Canyon and capture 360-degree images of the breathtaking natural landscapes.

Google staffers have been hiking with the Trekker to capture portions of the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park, as well as the famous Bright Angel Trail, and South Kaibab Trail.”

Google said the new imagery would soon be making its way to Google Maps.

See details on the project in this report from the Associated Press. 

Pioneering condor chicks soaring in Grand Canyon

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Two of three California condor chicks that hatched in the Grand Canyon of Arizona earlier this year are doing well, including one that recently took its first flight from the nest.

The other surviving chick is flapping its wings and hopping around its cliff-cave nest, indicating it's ready to fledge, too.

The third chick recently perished, possibly from a fall from the nest, but not before the three chicks and their parents set milestones for recovery of the endangered species:

  • The greatest number of chicks hatched in the wild in one breeding season since the effort to recover endangered condors in the Grand Canyon region began in 1996.
  • The first time during recovery efforts that three chicks were producedin the wild in a single season.

“We remain hopeful that the two remaining chicks will join the ever-growing flock,” said Eddie Feltes, field manager for The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based conservation organization that oversees the condor recovery program in Arizona and southern Utah.

Read on for more details.

Brushes with greatness/obsession

www.rrfw.org

Thinking about my college days (see earlier post) reminded me of the late Professor Harvey Butchart. I took one of his math classes.

He is said to have logged 12,000 miles hiking/rafting in the Grand Canyon over decades of exploring the big ditch.

Some of the kids in his classes thought he was just this genial Mr. Peepers nobody. They were wrong.  

GU student hikers help save man near Grand Canyon

BACKPACKING — Two Gonzaga University students vacationing in May near Grand Canyon National Park Gonzaga played key roles in saving a man's life.

According to a story from the GU News Service, nursing student Maggie Clark and accounting student Julia Biemann saved a man from drowning after they'd hike in 11 miles to Havasu Campground.

The man had been swimming in whirlpools churning beneath 200-foot Mooney Falls on Havasu Creek, a Colorado River tributary in the Grand Canyon some 120 miles northwest of Flagstaff.  The vortex caused by the falling water apparrently suck him back toward the falls where the currents forced him underwater for several minutes.

The story explains how a nursing student put her skills to work and how an accounting student with climbing skills honed in GU classes gave the story a happy ending.

Spokane rafters off the Grand Canyon trip of a lifetime

RIVER RUNNING — We're just getting the first reports from a Spokane group that bagged their Grand Canyon rafter permit after 15 years on the waiting list.   Sounds like it was a great reward for years of anticipation.

“Off the river and all is well!” reports Penny Stauffer Schwyn, known to Spokane outdoors enthusiasts for her Specialty Outdoors gear repair business.

“Temps did exceed 115 at times,” she said. “Great runs through Crystal, Hermit, and Lava.”

Great runs and no carnage through the biggies is whopper good news.

A movie that aspired to say something

Just noticed that the Lawrence Kasdan film “Grand Canyon” is 20 years old.

I remember being excited about it when it came out.

In the end, not many people were all that impressed. And certainly it had its shortcomings. But at least it tried to be a fairly honest look at some of the gulfs that divide us in contemporary American society.

 At the time it was released, two of the stars, Danny Glover and Kevin Kline, went on “Oprah” to promote it. There was a lot of earnest talk about Hollywood getting more serious and thoughtful. And then, at the end, Oprah mentioned that Glover would also be appearing in another of those zany buddy-cops flicks with Mel Gibson. THAT got the biggest applause of the whole segment.

The audience wants what it wants.

www.whatwouldtotowatch.com 

Overloaded kayakers tell tale of surviving Grand Canyon

PADDLING — Typically the Grand Canyon is floated by raft because of the length of time it takes to boat the roadless stretch of the Colorado River.

Most trips take 12-21 days to negotiate big whitewater and long stretches of flatwater.

All the skills requirements are amplified for the few self-supported kayakers who attempt to carry all their gear – including the required “groover” and fire pan.

But Scott Sills and Mike Copeland proved it could be done in a 16-day December adventure they launched in creek boats stuffed with 250 pounds of gear.

They’ll present a program on the trip (and tell whether they could Eskimo roll a kayak that heavy in the canyon’s huge water) Monday, 7 p.m., at the Corbin Community Center, 827 W. Cleveland, sponsored by Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club.

Grand Canyon river float applications due

RIVER RUNNING — Rafters who have the do-it-yourself skills for big water have until Feb. 23 to apply for a coveted permit to run the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.

The National Park Service is holding its annual lottery this month to assign launch dates for private river trips through the cayon.

The lottery system replaced a years-long waiting list in 2006.

The Park Service will award 436 permits for 12- to- 25-day noncommercial trips on the Colorado River. The permits are for specific launch dates in 2012.

Additional draws will be held for the self-guided trips that are canceled or left over after the Feb. 23 application deadline.

The main applicant must be 18 years or older, and at least one person on the trip must be experienced in whitewater rafting.

Check out the video above to see if you're ready to handle Lava Falls.

WHAT ARE YOUR ODDS?

A rafting trip on the Colorado River requires the luck of the draw or a hefty withdrawal from your savings account.

Not many years ago, rafting permit applicants got on a waiting list that ran as long as 20 years.

Since 2006,  around 8,000 applicants vie for permits in a lottery system. 

Chances of drawing a permit for a specified date are about 1 percent.

Therefore, most people who want to go on a Grand Canyon rafting trip before they die pay dearly for the privilege.  An 18-day trip through 47 major rapids rated 5 or above on the Grand Canyon scale of 1-10 will cost around $4,800.