My Random Excursions on Google Earth

When I was a kid,  I loved looking at maps.

I still do, especially aerial photos, which are basically maps in real life.

Back in the 70’s,  satellite photos were rare.  It was a big deal to see a handful of them in a National Geographic issue.

Now Google Earth has super high resolution photos of  pretty much everywhere.

Now I’m like a kid in a  candy store.   Google Earth has been out for almost a decade, but it still fascinates me.

Here are some random things I found, in no particular order.

Take this golf course in Vegas, for example.

Google Map Vegas Golf Course.

If you zoom in on one of the greens, you can actually see the individual flag at the hole.    This is a resolution of ~ 6 inches.

Google Map Vegas Golf Flag

Here’s another photo  I randomly found, somewhere in Minnesota.    In this case, the lighting is at just the right angle where you can actually see the individual phone lines!

Google Map Phone Lines Capture

This is a resolution of literally 1-2 inches.

If this is what’s available to the general public,  I can just imagine what the government has access to.

You hear urban legends of militiary satellites being able to read a newspaper headline from orbit.

I almost believe it.


Another thing that fascinates me…is how humans have been EVERYWHERE.

Take northern tip of Quebec, around Ungava Bay.     This is about as remote as you can get in continental North America.

Yet each little icon represents a photograph where someone has been…either kayaking, or exploring, or part of a geological survey, etc.

Basically, there are very few unexplored places left on this planet.

Google Map Cemetery 1

Not only have people been there, but they’ve settled there.   Long enough to leave a cemetery, for example.

Google Map Cemetery Capture

Just think…for whatever reason,  someone had taken the trouble to drag heavy tombstones and build a cemetery on this God-forsaken coast.    What an effort that must have taken.

If you randomly follow the Arctic Coast,  sooner or later, after miles of nothingness, you’ll come across a village of some kind.

Google Map Chesterfield Inlet 2

Chesterfield Inlet, for example.  Originally a Hudson’s Bay post, according to Wikipedia, it has a population 322.

Google Map Chesterfield Inlet

With pre-fabricated houses and an airfield and everything.

Again, I can’t imagine the money and resources it took to ship all this infrastructure up here, in order to build a village for a few hundred people.

Google Map Chesterfield Inlet 3


Now heading further south.    When we think about Nevada, we tend to think about hot and dry desert, but not snow and ice.

Yet Nevada actually does have a glacier.

One:  on Wheeler Peak, at about 11,000 feet.

Google Map Wheeler Peak


One of the more famous glaciers in Alberta is the Athabasca Glacier.   It’s quite large: at least half a mile wide, and several miles along.

You can see it from the highway.  It’s commonly (though incorrectly) referred to as “The Columbia Ice fields”.

Google Map Columbia Icefield Ground Photo

But if you look at it from above, the Athabasca  Glacier forms only a tiny part of the actual Columbia Icefield.     Most people don’t realize this.

Google Map Columbia Icefield


Here’s the border of Yellowstone National Park.   You can literally see the Park boundary from space, where the clear cutting has stopped.

Google Map Yellowstone Boundary

More evidence of clear-cutting is around the Redwood National Park in Northern California, with the tree-line perfectly matching the Google Map version.

Google Earth Redwood Park

Google Map Redwood Park

The Great Plains fascinate me.    They’re all pretty flat…but I found the flattest table-top sections are in Iowa.

Google Map Iowa Gridsquare

It’s very rectilinear, with all the roads running East/West and North/South, and the towns as grey dots forming larger rectangles.  This is the only place on the continent where the roads are laid out in squares like this, over such a huge area.

If you zoom in, you can see each grid square more clearly.

Google Map Iowa Gridsquare M

Zooming in even further, it turns out one of these square is 1 mile across and contains one or two farms.

Google Map Grid Squares 2

Hard to imagine that not that long ago, this was virgin tallgrass prairie where buffalo roamed and Indians hunted.  Iowa didn’t’ start to get settled until around 1830.

But now, less than 200 years later, pretty much every squire mile of land has been parceled off.

What was once endless plains, has now been divided into thousands and thousands of farms, with basically NO wilderness left.

Which kinda makes me sad.

Southwestern Ontario isn’t much better.   It has its own grid square pattern of farm land, which also used to be forest.    The little green stripes are the remaining bit of trees left that each farmer left  on the “back forty”.

Google Map Deforested Ontaro

You do get some forests:  small islands of trees surrounded by farmland and towns, called “Conservation Areas”.

Southern Ontario Milton

Which you have to pay to go into.   Just for the privilege of walking in the woods.  (Used to drive me nuts when I lived in Hamilton).

The farms in Quebec are different.   They’re long and narrow.  This comes from the Seigneurial System, which is how they allocated land to settlers back in the 1600’s when this area was known as “New France”.

Google Earth Deforested Mountains e

This is just on the outskirts of Montreal.    The three green areas are mountains (extinct volcanoes, actually), which are the only areas left forested.

On the other hand, there are still lots of unspoiled places left.    Take Pukaskwa National Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior, for example.    There’s about 80 miles of shoreline with no road access.

Google Earth Superior Capture

Apparently this is this is the longest undeveloped freshwater shoreline in the world.

I think that’ pretty cool, for being within 1 days drive of Toronto or Detroit.

Heading into Nebraska, you can really see the how dry it is West of the Mississippi.

Google Earth Nebraska

Compared to Northern Ontario, which has a bazillion lakes and water is not a problem.

Google Map Northern Ontario Lakes.

One of the lake-iest regions I’ve found is the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories.    Imagine crashing your plane here and trying to find your way out.

Google Map McKenzie River Delta


In the Southwest, they have a “reverse tree line”,  where it’s sand and desert, and the trees don’t start until you get up to higher altitude.

Here’s the Mount Lemon area near Tuscon Arizona.   The island of green starts as you head up the mountains.

Google Map Mt. Lemon Reverse Treeline. Capture


I’ve been there in real life.   You start driving through sand and cactus, but when you get to the top at about 8700 feet,  there’s a lush pine forest and it feels like British Columbia.

There’s even a ski hill.  Mt. Lemon is the most southern ski resort in the U.S. and is only 75 miles from the Mexican border as the crow flies.

Google Map Mt. Lemon


Another thing I’m amazed at with Google Earth, is how accurate the 3-D maps are.

Take Mount Washington in New Hampshire, for example.

Mount Washigont

If you rotate the map, you can put yourself on the top of Tuckerman’s Ravine,  overlooking Wildcat Ski Resort across the valley.

Tuckermans Ravine

This compares quite well to the real-life photo I took while hiking there a few years ago.



Pretty accurate !!!


Anyway, that’s about it for now.

I might have more map excursions later.









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4 Comments on “My Random Excursions on Google Earth”

  1. sushiday Says:

    I never thought of myself as much of a map person, but I found this post absolutely fascinating. More map excursions, please! 😀

  2. Mike Says:

    Cool. I sometimes use Google Earth to try to figure stuff out. There was a fire a year or two ago at Royal Gorge in Colorado. I was trying to learn if the park was damaged, but all that was online at the time were pictures of the fire. I compared Google Earth against the pictures to determine that it was probably going to be close. I turned out that the park took a direct hit from the fire, with many structures and attractions damaged or destroyed, but not the bridge.

    So far as the Athabaska Glacier, I knew that it was just a tongue off of the Columbia Ice Field. It’s actually the only glacier I’ve ever walked on. We took the snow coach out onto the ice.

    The image of the Nebraska sandhills shows the region north of where I lived until I was 15. In fact, North Platte, my home town is at the bottom at the intersection of US 30 and and US 82. The sandhills are actually stabilized sand dunes and, rather than being dry, are the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the United States. The Sandhills’ thousands of ponds and lakes replenish the Ogallala Aquifer.

    My great-uncle and great-aunt had a ranch out there. I helped plant a few of the trees. Here is an overhead view:

  3. Jebberjay Says:

    Super cool! The 3D image from mount Washington, compared to your photo is incredible! Wow!

    I’ve been up Mt Lemmon. There are huge saguaro cacti at the bottom, then they disappear and the landscape becomes more lush and finally you get into the big pines you talk about. All in about 40k of climbing road. It’s quite impressive.

    It makes me sad too, to see how thoroughly our population has taken over certain areas of the globe. Thank goodness for national parks and preservations.

    Thanks for this! It was great.

    Seestor J

  4. Friar's Mom Says:

    I was so impressed with the vastness of the Athabasca Glacier. During one of our visits out west, we put on crampons took a guided hike part way up the glacier. What a thrill to be standing on age old ice and peeking down icy-blue crevasses.

    Other tourists preferred to take a bus which made it’s way up the glacier and parked way above us. They too were able to step out on the glacier.

    I didn’t realize the vastness of the glacier above us. Thanks to your Google photos, now I know.

    Your vast knowledge of geography never ceases to amaze me.

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