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How to create a google map of places you want to visit

This post is primarily a screencast tutorial on how to create a custom google map of places you want to visit—or what I like to call an Adventure Map.

An Adventure Map is a handy repository for all of those places on your OMG-I-Want-to-Visit list. It’s a place to store those random campsite tips you get from friends, that instagram post about a backcountry waterfall, or that killer hike your friend just posted on facebook. There are plenty of ways to save this information for later, but I find that a custom map is one of the most useful.

The screencast tutorial

In this tutorial, I show you my personal Adventure Map and explain how I use it. I then teach you how to create your own adventure map. The entire screencast lasts about 27 minutes. If you’re in a rush, the tutorial itself starts at the 8:30 mark. I’ve also added some additional notes below that I didn’t mention in the screencast, as well as another short tutorial on how to load your new Adventure Map onto your mobile phone.

Even if you’ve used Google’s My Maps before, I hope there some nuggets that can you can put to good use. If you have additional tips, please leave them in the comments.

Thanks for watching. It’s quite a bit longer than I would have liked, and I’m not particularly happy with my performance, but I hope you found it useful. Below are some items I didn’t mention in the screencast that you might want to know about.

Additional notes not mentioned in the tutorial

Other ways to add pins

You can also add pins by clicking on the pin icon in the toolbar and clicking directly on the map. This is especially useful if you’re setting pins to investigate on the ground later, like possible indian ruins or dispersed camping sites. In addition, you can also search for a location by gps coordinates, which makes it easy to add destinations that you might have found from blogs, guide books, or someone else’s custom map.

More on driving, biking, and walking directions

Another method to add driving directions is to click the draw a line tool and select the add a driving (or biking or walking) route from the drop-down menu. Then click where you want the route to start and trace the path you want to the directions to follow. Double click to end the route. This will create a new layer containing the directions. Using this tool, Google will calculate a route based on the roads in its database. So if you start your route 1/4 mile from a road, the directions instead start at the nearest point on the nearest road, and only follow roadways. Awkwardly, this is also the case with walking and biking directions, too. Nonetheless, this is still a useful method when you’re trying to force Google Maps directions to follow a particular route.

Drawing lines and shapes

You can also add lines and free-form shapes (using straight lines only) to your map. I find this to be useful when there’s an entire area I want to save for future investigation, such as a long wall of petroglyphs, or what appears from satellite view to be a complex of pueblo ruins. Select the draw a line tool, click to add the starting anchor point for the line, then move to where you want the second anchor point to be and click again. You can continue to add anchor points, creating a multiple angled line. When you’re done, double-click to lock it in.

Or, if you’re adding a shape, follow this same procedure around the edge of the area you want, being sure to end back at the first anchor point. Once you’ve saved your shape, you can go back and adjust the location of the corners or create a new corner by dragging the dimmed circle that’s midpoint on each line. Once you’ve saved your area, Google will calculate the perimeter distance and area for you.

If you’re trying to undo a line or shape, you can easily abort by clicking ESC on your keyboard. If you click ESC again, you’ll be returning to the default select mode where you can click to select items or drag to pan the map.

Measuring distances and areas

This tool functions similar to the one used to add line and shapes, except that it doesn’t add any permanent items to your map. Instead, it simply shows you the distance of the line, or the perimeter and area of a shape. One useful feature of this tool is that when you’re measuring distances, it keeps a running total using “mile markers” along the line path.

How to load your Adventure Map onto your phone

As mentioned in the screencast, one of the benefits of using a custom google map is that you can load it as the base map on Google Maps on your phone. Below is a brief tutorial on how that in iOS.

Here’s how to do the same thing on Android. Even better, the My Maps app for Android allows you to create and modify your custom maps directly from your device [edit: the app is no longer available in the play store, perhaps the functionality has been included in the Google Maps app?].

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Why you should use a camping bin

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Camping? No, I’m just sleeping at a campsite

“I’m not camping, I’m just sleeping at a campsite,” I explained. They looked skeptical, trying to process what that sentence could possibly mean. To them, camping was itself a largely weekend endeavor: full of beer coolers and dutch ovens, carloads of friends, pine trees and hammocks. It was the central feature of the weekend—billed as … Read more

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Campsite 12 at Kodachrome Basin State Park

Sometimes, you find yourself in a really great campsite. Last weekend was one of those instances.

While we often disperse camp on BLM or National Forest lands, we had decided to reserve campsites last weekend, given our rather aggressive itinerary. Kodachrome Basin State Park seemed like the natural first night’s stop, since we’d be driving Cottonwood Canyon north through the middle of famed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We selected site 12 from the available options, and it did not disappoint.

What makes a good campsite?

For me, there are a few things that I tend to prefer in campsites. Please note that I’m referring to developed campgrounds here—not dispersed or backcountry sites, which I’d evaluate using much different criteria.

First, I prefer small to medium-sized campgrounds, usually between about 15-40 sites. Larger campgrounds tend to have very small sites that feel nearly on top of each other, and tend to be more crowded to begin with (hence, their large capacity). Extremely small ones often lack useful amenities, like flush toilets and sinks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine using vault toilets and otherwise roughing it. But if I’m paying $15-30 for a place to sleep for the night, I expect a few additional conveniences. It’s often nice to have showers too, especially if you’ve been outside all day. I tend to sleep better when I feel clean. I don’t rely on firewood being available for purchase at the campground, but it’s always nice to have as a backup or supplemental option.

While campgrounds can sometimes be a fun social experience, I usually prefer more privacy. So I look for sites along the outer loops and especially those that have a visual barrier between my site and neighboring ones. Shade can be an important factor too, especially here in the desert southwest, so some tree cover or a shade structure is often appreciated.

I usually don’t care much about distance to the restrooms or water spigots; neither is usually too far way to cause much hassle. However, the inverse isn’t true—proximity to the restrooms or water can mean a constant stream of visitors passing by your tent. Worse, occasional whiffs of an overly ripe vault toilet can really ruin the camping mood.

If you’re tenting it as I often am, a flat tent pad that’s not too rocky is key. After that, it’s all bonus. Being a westerner, I have a relatively high expectation that really good campsites should offer some sort of expansive or scenic views, too. Proximity to streams or lakes is usually nice as well, though sometimes that means more bugs or higher winds.

Evaluating campsite 12 at Basin Campground

On par, campsite 12 was nearly perfect for our needs last weekend. The campground is the perfect size, and offered just the right amenities. The restrooms were clean and modern, and the shower stalls were spacious. While there wasn’t any way to adjust the shower temperature, it was exactly the right temp for me. In addition, a sink for washing dishes and a self-serve supply of firewood—a handy to carry bundle for just $5, with proceeds benefitting the Boy Scouts—were appreciated conveniences.

The site is well isolated from neighbors with its own mini loop, making it feel like you were alone. Due to the configuration of the campsites, all RVs were on the other side of the campground. Best of all, it was at the far end of the campground near the head of the basin, making for some excellent panoramic views. We’ll be back the next time we find ourselves looking for a campground in the area.

If you go

There are multiple campgrounds atat Kodachrome Basin State Park, but the one you’re looking for is the largest one, Basin Campground. Campsites are $20 per night, plus an $8 registration fee. Check availability on site 12; if it’s already taken, there seemed to be several other sites that looked like quality backup choices. Not all sites are reservable online, so you might be able to snag one on a first come, first served basis, too.


Meet Pando, the world’s oldest living organism

Just outside of Fish Lake, Utah lies a beautiful stand of quaking aspen. But this isn’t just your average aspen forest.

Meet Pando

It’s been named Pando, or alternatively, The Trembling Giant. Scientists believe that this stand of aspen is actually just a single living organism. Each of the approximately 47,000 ordinary looking aspens growing over 106 acres is genetically identical to one another and shares the same root system. It’s estimated to be an astounding 80,000 years old, making it the oldest known organism on Earth. Pando is also believed to be the most massive living thing, too.

A single organism

Like creosote, aspens are clonal plants that can reproduce vegetatively (as well as sexually) from a single individual. What appear to be separate trees are actually stems growing from the lateral roots of a single individual tree. Each new tree shares the same dna and remains connected via the root system, even sharing nutrients and possibly disease. Over time, this single organism can continue to spread and grow, even as particular stems die off. In this way, the organism seems to repeatedly cheat death.

Is Pando dying?

Unfortunately, Pando doesn’t seem to be regenerating new trees to replace the ones that die off. Efforts are underway to study the problem, which includes fencing off several monitoring plots as well as treating plots with understory fire and canopy thinning.

pando sign

Visiting Pando

Unlike other famously-old trees, Pando’s location is well known and easy to access. The grove is located in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah about one mile south of Fish Lake and is bisected by Highway 25. You can easily find it on google maps. As mentioned above, parts of the forest have been fenced off and aren’t accessible. But there’s plenty of Pando otherwise accessible to visitors, including a section of it containing a campground.


Your Pando “moment of zen”

Kayaking the Salt River Under a Full Moon

One of my favorite annual trips to lead is a moonlight paddle down the Lower Salt River east of Phoenix.

The Salt River is a great little trip either early in the morning, or long after the tubers have gone home—it’s serene, has some nice scenery, is convenient to the metro Phoenix area, and offers easy logistics. I think it’s at its best during a full moon.

Armed with water cannons, some adult beverages, and glowstick-decorated kayaks, we met at Blue Point Picnic Area after work, unloaded our boats, and set up the car shuttle. We hit the water just as the sun set and stopped to enjoy the moonrise over the mountains in the first eddy downstream. There’s something special about paddling a river with just the light of a full moon. With the limited light, there’s an interesting incongruity: ripples and small rapids seem more exciting while the overall trip seems more placid.

Generally speaking, our night was more float than paddle. We shared beverages, enjoyed small conversations, and relaxed in the tranquility of the water. We stopped for a break and a group photo at the beach at Goldfield Ranch, joined by about a dozen feral Salt River horses. Drinking vessels sufficiently refilled, we returned to the boats and continued downstream to our take-out at Phon D Sutton Rec Area.

The remainder of the trip was a continuation of the earlier enjoyable night. The water cannons got quite a bit more use, which are particularly fun when you’re not entirely sure who squirted whom. The worst part of the evening was finding ourselves at the take-out; it had arrived much sooner than everyone wanted. Clearly, we’ll need to arrange another one next month.

I didn’t put much effort into taking photos. The combination of low light, the constant rocking of the kayak, and my preference for carrying a small point-and-shoot camera generally make for less-than-stellar photos. However, I post them in the hopes that they paint at least a crude picture of the evening’s moonlight adventure.

A ‘Monumental’ Day of Blogging

30 outdoor bloggers came together to publish posts in support of our national monuments on the 111th anniversary of the Antiquities Act. We called it ‘A Monumental Day of Blogging’ and ask readers to defend #MonumentsForAll.