From my GPS’ing Blog

Entry #1 – “GPS Receiver”

I didn’t know what to call this blog as it will likely have a little something to do with all aspects of using GPS’s, mapping, etc and probably lots of my own personal comments. GPS’ing seems as good a name as any…

I’ve always wanted a GPS receiver, but could never justify to myself the amount of money one costs versus their use, even though their price have come down a lot and continues to do so. I was checking used and new ones on eBay on and off for quite sometime.

One day one of my customers mentioned he’d trade me the brand new one he bought and that he had only taken it out of the box once, in exchange for putting an additional video card in his computer, setting up his software for it, etc. What the heck, I thought.

So I agreed after looking at it again (I played around with it before when he said he couldn’t figure it out), it’s a Magellan eXplorist 100 (Yahoogroups mailing list that covers it, in case you got one and are interested. They don’t talk about the 100 much – maybe they consider it the mentally handicapped brother to the nicer models or something). Fairly basic, no maps but it does the job.

Reading info from the manufacturer’s website says that there is no computer interface built into it but some hackers found that there is a place for one, and a simple interface cable is all that’s needed, this company makes them. This may be my next acquisition. Another website also shows how to make your own.

Nice device, well-made, looks fairly waterproof. It fits in my padded cellphone case real nicely, and a lanyard from a waterproof flashlight fits on it.

It shows routes and guides you back to waypoints, does 2000 waypoints, shows an odometer and pedometer/speedometer, has a compass of sorts (it depends on the satellite signal, it’s not a real magnetic compass), has WAAS (for more accuracy), and pops up a message to tell you when you are close to your destination. Super geekalicious.

Just watch out in 2011 or so when solar flares are going to play hell with the GPS sats.

Wish this one had the built-in roadmaps though but not missing it so far. Maybe someday I’ll want a better one with the roadmaps (though I can’t see myself saying “Tom-Tom, where the f*** am I?”).

Entry #2 – “A little trip and playing around with the GPS receiver”

Well, got behind on this. I’ll catch up with what I’m doing with the receiver a little at a time.

Once I received the receiver I hurried through as much work as I could do well in a short time and took a trip out onto the small trail I have cut through the woods, and played around with ‘finding’ my way back using the GPS receiver’s trackback feature, marking waypoints, etc. A little something to get comfortable with it. Then it was back to work, I had a number of those small website-related things that seem tiny but take up an hour each.

Later in the day I had finished or nearly finished everything. I headed out and went into some no-man’s land that I know the location of, that I’ve been wanting to get back out to. There’s some interesting cliffs and natural formations out there so I thought I could gain a little experience in using the functions of the GPS receiver by waymarking them, maybe trying to find my way back, and to have fun with plotting the interesting points I run across on USAPhotoMaps.

USAPhotoMaps is a great program for downloading Terraserver sat and aerial photos (including color sat ones of some major cities) and topographical maps, plot points and routes, etc, plus it can interface to a GPS.

Anyway, I started walking out in this no-man’s land (it’s not really, the owner just hasn’t done anything with the land, due to its inaccessibility and roughness, I would guess – lots of hunters and local people use it). As soon as I started walking out there I found a whole series of trails that someone had painstakingly cut through the area – they hadn’t been there a few years ago when I went out there. I immediately started marking out the trail on the receiver and watching as the screen started showing where I had been and where the other parts of the trail was in relation to me. Very nice. Very geeky.

I then headed over toward the location of the cliffs I knew about. I had been over in this section a few years before, and walked along the cliffs until I could find a good place to climb them. This area is extremely dense with brush, and there are places where a person can’t even walk – even bullying through the brush, and I had to walk back and forth in some locations to find a better path through this brush.

If you’re not familiar with the denseness of the brush in some parts of the North Country of NY state it may be hard to imagine. Some people I’ve mentioned this to, even some who are avid outdoors-people, I think sometimes haven’t run across some of the bad areas that are almost impassable like this.

I remember once I was hiking and got into some brush that was extremely bad. I bulled my way in further and further but got to a point where I was walking on top of a layer of the brush below, because it was so thick and still pushing through more of it. It was like walking on a springboard or something. But at one point I couldn’t go forward even with walking on top of the brush, for a panicked moment I couldn’t go back or in any directions. Pretty bad.

Anyway, I didn’t run into anything quite as bad on this trip, just a lot of dense stuff.

While walking through some moderately heavy brush I saw something through it. What looked like a domed building.

As I got closer I could see that it was a dense pack of vines. They must have started growing over a tree (the tree underneath was dead) and killed it, then kept growing over and over itself, creating a dome-shaped thing, which was hollow inside except for the rotting skeleton of a scrub tree. The inside would be hard to get to but it was less dense at the bottom, a natural shelter which could be enhanced with some bark, leaves, and wood on top, if so desired. There were also three or four more of them, but none as impressive or well-defined as the one in the photo at the right. Of course I waypointed it so I could find it again. I took off my backpack, hauled out the digital camcorder and got some videotape of these (see still capture from video at right- I didn’t take shots with my regular digital camera on this trip, though of course I had it with me).

Nearby was a large hill, looking like a giant had plopped down a chunk of limestone and dirt – which was so surrounded by vines and brush I had a hard time finding a side that I could climb (and it was fairly steep). This hill was partially on the windward side, which would protect the vines from the heavy windows blowing through this slightly higher elevation.

On top of the hill (again, marked on the GPS so I could return later) I could see in all directions, a large power line was nearby, and I could see the cliffs that were my destination, as well as a stand of Pine trees. I knew within a mile was another much large woods of them, but this was a small group near the foot of the other end of the cliffs.

I could also see some open space leading up to this area – I’d be able to mountain bike back here quicker then walking next time, without much trouble (plus I could walk back this way, and still use my first waypoint as reference).

Looking over the edge of the hill I could see a brown plastic pail that someone had thrown over the edge. There didn’t seem to be any other signs of tracks or anything, nearby on the leveler ground I had seen what looked like old ATV trails and, of course, the cut trails were behind me at this point. Why did someone come out here and go through dense brush to throw an old pail over a hill? I don’t know.

The top was certainly a great spot and afforded a great view in 360 (you can see in the still capture the heavily brushed valley that I was getting set to head across).

After a few quick video shots from this location I descended and, after another look at the viney domes, I headed toward the cliffs. Passing over the stream that I knew ran through the lower elevation of the valley I could see how much it was used by local animals, the few game trails didn’t do me too much good at this point. A lot of coyote poop everywhere, and occasional deer bones. There’s a lot of deer and a lot of coyote around here.

I finally reached the cliffs. This was at a different location as when I had been here before a few years ago. I waypointed it and looked for a way to get up.

The cliffs here aren’t real tall and I could climb them if I really wanted to take a few chances. I didn’t, but I found a few places where the stone had fallen and climbed up enough to peek over the edge. Woods, blowing wind. Nice place to look around and relax but this trip was going to be a short one.

I stood at the foot of the cliffs for a moment. Geez, I hadn’t told anyone or left a note of where I was going – something I never forgot to do. I was in such a hurry to try out the GPS I had forgotten. Never a good idea.

Some of the locals tell about seeing bear around here, and things like that. It may be pretty dense woods but it’s surrounded by lots of civilization, and it’s really not that large of a wilderness area, I doubt any bear would or could live here. Though they might be passing through. Fort Drum has a Black Bear population – a story was done on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet recently. Despite the denseness there’s not that much area right here; plenty of wildlife and food for smaller animals like coyote but probably not large and more aggressive stuff. Some locals to this little area say they see bear, lynx, and other stuff that probably are figments of their imaginations, like occasionally seeing UFO’s and Bigfoot.

Anyway, I had accomplished what I was looking to do so I turned around and headed back, trying to find the same ‘path’ I had taken across the valley, or something easier – the dense brush was terrible here, catching my hat, my safety glasses/sunglasses, and any protruding piece of my backpack (like the hunting knife in easy reach on the side). Finally, after getting to a bit clearer area and referring to my GPS I got back to the viney hill, and headed along the much-easier walking of the clear almost-fields. I made good time, traveling at 4.5 miles per hour or so according to the GPS. Yea, very geeky stuff.

At one point I came across a large sinkhole, looked like a group of woodchucks were using it for woodchuck city. I could have easily gotten inside the sinkhole, and after waypointing it and looking around, I couldn’t find any others or even a sign of rock holes nearby.

I continued back, passing over a couple old stone fences and some signs of old wooden fences. Remembering looking at this area on the satellite map the signs of old fields could still be seen, though from the ground the definition of these property lines were hard to pick out.

Watching the GPS I headed back to the cut trails and caught up with one. On the way on another leg of the trails I found some surveying stakes.

Fun, wish I had more time for hiking and/or mountain biking.

After I got back I copied (gotta get that interface) all the waypoints and entered them into USAPhotMaps.

Entry #3 – “Geocaching”

I’ve been moderately interested in the idea of Geocaching (originally called something like “GPS Stash Hunt“).

Basically, it’s like a game – someone hides a cache somewhere and provides coordinates to others (usually over the Internet), who use their GPS receivers to find the general location of the cache, then usually search by sight for it. Some people really hide them in hard places to find, some caches are simpler to find, and some provide clues to finding other caches and are multi-legged hunts. They also have geocaching events, etc.

When a person finds a cache they may sign a logbook, log it on a website, leave something for the cache or take something and leave something in exchange. It’s a little like a treasure hunt with symbolic “Treasures”. Thousands of people all over the world do it, as well as clubs and organizations. There’s also different twists on it and lots of “in-words” and phrases.

So I gave it a try. Not far away there are two caches, walking around in the woods with my wife and the dogs I found the coordinates but not the cache. Having written down the coordinates and converted them to the default latitude and longitude format my GPS showed – cut off a few decimals places, so I was kind searching a large area instead of pinpointing the location as much as I could have. Next time out I’d write down the full coordinates down to the last decimal.

A few days later I went back, taking my father along this time, and armed with the coords down to the last decimal. I walked around a bit, getting used to which directions to go to increase and decrease the latitude and longitude for a search pattern and pinpointing the exact place I want to be, and using the compass (on the GPS and on my watch) to help with this. I climbed a slight hill, pushing through some viney trees and finally got to the exact location. I looked down, to the side and there it was, partially hidden with pieces of bark and in a bit of a depression. An ammo box, with the Geocache sign on the side.

I took it out, marking the place with a piece of paper, and carried to down and out to the car to show my father. He is in his late-80’s and always interested in everything, but this really caught his interest and he asked me a number of questions about it.

Inside there were a few toys and things like that. I didn’t bring anything to leave or exchange but I did sign the logbook. Also inside were four numbers, which according to the entry on the website for this cache – is a clue for the cache nearby, on the other side of the dam from where this one is located.

So I signed the logbook and packed everything back up and took the cache back, hid it in the same way as I found it and headed over to find the other one. This one I couldn’t find on this trip.

But a few days later, getting more familiar with the GPS I went back and found it right away (not giving any clues here). Then I knew what the numbers in the clue from the other box were for – the combination for the lock. I’m terrible at remembering numbers but not wanting to go back to the other one I again I racked my brain and finally, after a few jumbled tries, got the right combo.

Inside were some toys, patches, pens, a log book, and a disposable camera. I took my own pic, took one with my camera phone for myself, and looked through the rest of the stuff for a minute before I signed the logbook. I noticed the plastic bag everything was sealed in inside the cache was ripped (maybe I did it taking it out).

I also have looked for a couple more public geocaches. One is on the edge of a parking lot for a local mill. Some dude came out and stared at me, I of course didn’t want him to see it if I did find it, plus I would suppose that technically I was on private property, so we left. The other one was on the edge of Walmart parking lot – it was raining, people were going by and staring; a little too strange and geeky for my taste. I’ll stick to more private caches thank you.

I like the whole geocache thing, it’s fun. But in moderation only.

That evening when my wife came home we went back down so I could show her the cache (it’s the first one she’s seen/found) and I took her pic and replaced the torn bag with a new one.

Entry #4 – “Trails and GPS”

Nearby the previous geocache we also walked on a trail (link for my trails page about this trail and others nearby). The trail was a little rough and needs cleaning out but it’s still a good trail. Playing with the GPS some more, still have some learning about making waypoints (and remembering to do so on course changes). Nice to have the speedometer/odometer to pace yourself, and give yourself the ability to make an informed decision on how far you can comfortably walk before you should turn around.

It occurred to me to start adding coordinates/waypoints to my trail pages at Northern NY trails pages – coordinates for the trails themselves as well as parking for the trails and maybe some waypoints on the trails. I want to go back and visit each one anyway to update them. Maybe get a mount for my mountain bike for the GPS receiver?

Fun stuff – mapping out each trail on USAPhotoMaps.

Entry #5 – “Geographing”

Another fun-sounded website/thing to do with a GPS. Taking pictures of interesting spots, marking them on your GPS, uploading the pics and geographic location to the Geographing website. It combines two of my interests. Something more to look into.

Entry #6 – “Confluences & Benchmarks”

Confluences are where the latitude and longitude lines on a map meet (totally artificial points of reference). The website at lets people enter their pics and stories about visiting these sites. The ultimate goal of the website is for every confluence site (outside of those at points over the ocean and in Antarctica) to someday be visited by someone. People log their visits (either to new ones or ones visited before), take photos, provide info.

There’s one a short distance from me (everyone is within 50 miles of one) but it’s on private property – 44N, 76W. A future interest; and one I’ll watch out for on trips to other places that may be more accessible.

Benchmarking is using your GPS and finding NGS survey markers. These geodetic control points are markers in various locations all over the US, and uses for land surveying, civil engineering, mapping, etc. They are usually metal disks or something similar.

This is another fun little thing to do with my GPS receiver but, again, for me – in moderation it can be interesting.

I found one at Seven Bridges at Perch River. It was pretty easy to find, the coordinates weren’t real close but a little looking around and reference to the directions let me find it easily. It was a small metal disk, as described, on the first bridge (heading from Watertown).


Krazee Eyez Killa said…

Yo, just wanted to stop by and let you know that I dig your blog.


Krazee Eyez Killa
May 9, 2007 8:43 AM
lectrichead said…

Thanks, krazee.
May 9, 2007 8:59 AM

Entry #7 – “Pretty good GPS book and stuff”

At the local library I found what looks to be a brand new GPS book called “Outdoors – A Practical Guide for Outdoor Enthusiasts” by Russell Helms. Pretty basic stuff, good for the beginner. You gotta like this dude – he straps a GPS to his push lawnmower so he can see how far he’s pushed it.

Entry #8 – “Another Cache Found, and people too dumb to use GPS receivers”

My wife and I decided to take the dogs out for a walk, and maybe a trip near the water. Our pup – a Boxer, has never been in the water and we’re hoping that we can get him to swim and to be comfortable in the water.

Anyway, there’s this place we know of and we’ve went to many times before, though it’s a bit of a drive, I have it listed on my trails websiteBlack Pond, a nice nature area with walkways and sand dunes (one of the few places in Jefferson County with sand dunes). I decided to check and see if there were any caches near there – yep, there is. Surprisingly (or maybe not so) there was one near the parking lot. After spending some time with the dogs on the trail we came back and used the GPS until we got close, and found the cache right away. A lot of things in it, as usually I signed it but didn’t take anything. I cut my note in the log short as a group of loud people had entered the parking lot, real loud, and the dogs had to go investigate, plus our car was all unlocked and open.

Getting used to finding a latitude and longitude quicker and easier, even while going around large obstacles and going through heavy brush.

Here’s an interesting news article – about dumb-asses who have GPS’s and not a lick of common sense. When in Doubt, Blame it on Technology Basically they relied on looking at their GPS instead of their own eyes while driving.

As far as I’m concerned if you’re that stupid perhaps going out into the world un-assisted isn’t your cup of tea…

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