The West is on Fire: Here’s How Travelers Can Avoid the Burn

Google Map US wildfiresColorado has their most destructive wildfire on record this season, while a massive California blaze is currently threatening Yosemite National Park. Several of Montana‘s most scenic highways were closed this week due to fire conditions, rerouting many travelers and affecting local businesses. Other recent blazes have plagued Idaho, including the popular Sun Valley resort, and Utah. Travelers hoping to visit one of the many excellent national and state parks out west this summer can keep track of current wildfire conditions and closures with a Google Map.

Google’s Crisis Response project provides critical information to the public during a disaster. The wildfires map is regularly updated with info from the US Geological Survey and InciWeb, as well as local resources and shelter information. If you are traveling to an affected area, be sure to check the map as well check for park alerts.

Google Makes Travel Easier For Lazy People

Google Takes on Hawaii's Hiking Trails
Google’s ongoing world digitization is opening up some very cool travel experiences to people sitting in front of their laptops and tablets. Now, rather than spending thousands of dollars, lots of vacation time and a decent amount of physical exertion to see these places, you can arrive by a click and multi-task your exploring as you commute to work, procrastinate a project or tune out in a meeting.
Last fall Google Maps debuted a “street view” of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs, allowing armchair travelers with no diving or even swimming ability to take a peek at the world’s greatest underwater treasures.

More recently the site teamed up with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to feature Hawaiian hiking trails on Google Street View. Hiking guides on the Big Island will carry Google’s cameras on roughly 20 of the Islands’ best trails, stitching together a 360-degree experience that people can enjoy anywhere.

Another recent addition to Street View will please Harry Potter fans who can’t make the trip across the pond to London’s Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Muggles can now tour Diagon Alley and the wizarding shops it houses through Street View.

Google Maps isn’t the only thing bringing travel experiences to the masses. Though still in its infancy, Google Glass is expected to change the way people document and share their travel experiences. This year a Running of the Bulls competition invited two Google Glass users to Pamplona to view the annual San Fermin festival events. While the Glassers aren’t expected to actually run with the bulls (too bad, that’s something we wouldn’t mind having Google do for us!), they’ll be watching the bull run from a balcony and sharing the experience via a daily webcast.

It’s doubtful that Google’s online presentations will actually keep people from wanting to experience these places in real life, but we’re intrigued about what other experiences will become available to interactive travelers. Climbing Mount Everest? Surfing Jaws? Space travel?

Where do you want your maps app to take you next?

Sailing The High Seas With Marinetraffic.com

sailing
It’s a beautiful weekend here in Santander, Spain, and my son and I can see the Hanoi and the Barbet Arrow, two giant container ships, moored in the harbor. The Finland-registered Misana, which I saw sail in from my office window, is moored out of sight in the dock beyond. The Cape Cee, a 118-meter-long Spanish vessel, left Santander a few days ago and is sailing towards the Strait of Gibraltar at 10.1 knots.

We know all this because of my kid’s latest online obsession. Marinetraffic.com combines Google Maps with an online database of ships from around the world, updating their position in real time. Zooming in on spots like the Strait of Gibraltar or the Bay of Biscay, you realize just how many ships are out there, linking far-flung economies. There are profiles of the ships with details of their registry and dimensions, and ports have their own profiles too.

Marinetraffic.com relies on voluntary registration, so some spots like the Red Sea are almost blank. With pirates hiding out in Puntland ready to swoop down on container ships, you can understand why captains on that route would be hesitant to join the website.

While incomplete, it’s a fun site that show kids an aspect of our world that we mostly take for granted. You can also use Google Maps as an educational tool. Used correctly, they can siphon some of your child’s obsession with your computer into something educational. Just don’t expect them to replace that persistent question, “Can I play video games?”

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Google Maps Adds Data For 38 Ski Resorts

38 ski resort maps are now integrated into Google MapsFor my money, Google Maps is one of the greatest technological advances of all times. Whether I’m at home or traveling to some new destination, it helps me to find restaurants, museums, shops and other points of interest, then routes me to those locations by car, foot or mass transit. Over the past few years, Maps has continued to evolve and add new features, making the system even more useful as time goes by. Earlier this week, Google announced yet another upgrade to Maps, this time adding data for 38 ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada.

This new addition to the Maps database is already live both on the web and in the Android and iPhone apps. When viewing popular ski resorts such as Big Sky, Mammoth or Park City, skiers and snowboarders will be able to quickly and easily see all of the runs and lifts that are available, with their skill levels clearly marked. Blue, green and black runs are displayed on the map as solid lines while chair lifts are designated by dotted red lines. Parking is also clearly marked and when zoomed in close enough, restaurants, lodges and bars are also visible. There are even Street View options for a few of the resorts, letting you scout out the terrain before you ever visit.

The complete list of mountains that are currently available in Google Maps can be found in the blog post announcing their addition to the system. Google promises more locations will be coming soon, so check back often to see if your favorite ski destination has been added. The maps may just help you discover some new runs and make your day on the slopes a bit more enjoyable.

[Photo Credit: Google]

Google Maps Now Lets You Explore The Grand Canyon

Google Maps brings Street View to the Grand CanyonHave you always dreamed of hiking the Grand Canyon but just can’t get past all of the walking that would entail? Then you’ll be pleased to learn that the latest update to Google Maps brings Street View technology to the national park, allowing us to take a virtual tour of its trails without ever leaving home.

Back in October we told you how Google planned to capture images from the trail by using their new high-tech Trekker camera system. The device is worn like a backpack and automatically snaps photos while some lucky Google employee wanders the landscape. Yesterday, the company announced that it has now incorporated the images and data that were collected on that October excursion, bringing more than 75 miles of Grand Canyon trails directly to your browser.

Amongst the more well known routes that are now included on Google Maps are both Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail, both of which provide superb views in their real and virtual states. You can even explore nearby Meteor Crater or wander along the banks of the Colorado River, the force responsible for carving the Canyon over many millions of years.

Now we at Gadling would never advocate using Street View as a substitute for actually visiting any destination, let alone one as amazing as the Grand Canyon. But we do think that this makes an excellent tool for someone who wants to explore the site before they go so they have an idea of what to expect when they get there. It also serves as a great reminder of just how amazing travel can be on those days when you are stuck at your desk for hours on end. The next time that happens, just open your browser, hop over to Google Maps and spend a little time hiking the Canyon. It’s not as good as the real thing, but it sure beats the work you’ll be avoiding.

[Photo Credit: Google]