In Death Valley, a GPS Might Steer You Wrong

NPR Morning Edition reports that in remote places like California’s Death Valley, over-reliance on GPS navigation systems can be a matter of life and death. Each summer in Death Valley, a quarter-million tourists pry themselves from air-conditioned cars and venture into 120-degree heat to snap pictures of glittering salt flats. They come from all over the world, but many have the same traveling companion suction-cupped to their dashboard: a GPS.

But when dozens of abandoned dirt roads lie between you and that destination, things can get tricky.

According to the NPR broadcast, Death Valley Ranger Charlie Callagan has been working with GPS companies to update the road maps in the area, to prevent travelers from winding up on closed and abandoned roads. Callagan wondered if part of the problem was that out there, GPS companies might be relying on old maps with roads that have long been closed.

Now Callagan is working to update maps for TomTom, Navteq and Google Earth. But, he points out, at the root of these mishaps in the desert is something much older than GPS technology.

In 1849, Death Valley got its name when a wagon train from the east tried to find a shorter route to California, and got lost.

“Somebody had a map, and somebody said, this is a faster way to get to the gold fields,” Callagan says. “Deep down back in the brain, the common sense says, you know, this is not the wisest thing.”

Used by permission of Expedition News 

Jeff Blumenfeld is the founder, publisher and editor of Expedition News, a monthly review of significant expeditions, research projects and newsworthy adventures. It is distributed online and by mail to media representatives, corporate sponsors, educators, research librarians, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts.

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