Thursday, April 15, 2010

Matching My Photos with Google Earth

Here’s a glimpse into my latest research…

I'm writing a scene in Emma's Outlaw which entails traveling through a web-like system of ravines known as Pine Tree Draw. There's going to be a bit of excitement happening to Emma in this setting so I needed to get the vegetation down accurately. Except, I've googled for hours and can't find any kind of reference to Pine Tree Draw. And the botanical sites needed more info for identification than I could provide.

I could just say she's hiding behind a pine tree but I need a more accurate descriptions so I'm not repeating 'pine tree' all the time. And anyway, I like using details.

Now, picture this… Emma and the outlaws are standing on a ridge above Pine Tree Draw which is a huge web-like system of ravines and valleys which follow ancient water paths. The total system is over 20 miles long and 4 plus miles across at its widest. Here’s a Google Earth (GE) image looking straight down at a portion of it:

Now look in the center of that photo where I've added a red push pin at the heel of that L-shaped boundary line. That's where I've zoomed in for this next shot:

The trees look like conifers and it is called Pine Tree Draw, but what variety of pine? This next photo is taken while standing on that bare patch of high ground. Okay, maybe I'm not standing on the ground since GE says my elevation is 1782 m high, but it's the lowest I can go and even at this altitude, I lose all definition.


So my next step was to look through my photos and see if I actually took some of Pine Tree Draw. Wyoming doesn’t allow stopping on the side of the hwy unless it’s an emergency, so most of my photos were taken on the go with my outstretched hand holding the camera toward the open window and clicking away every few minutes. Using this technique, I was able to capture about 1200 photos. I took photos of every sign for reference but when I looked at the maps, there was no corelation between the green sign with 118 that I had in my photo to actual numbers on the maps. However, the good people at GE have taken camera shots every 75 ft on hwys all over North America. (They were here in Regina a couple weeks ago.) In this next photo, the white line between 2 camera icons is where I used the GE measuring tool to measure the distance between them.

Then it became a game of sleuthing to pick the place where I thought I took a photo and go down and look at it through the GE camera lens. As in the case of the above photo, I started way back and moved in closer and closer, camera by camera, until I found this next view...

... which matched this one I had taken:

Except I hadn't taken any others of Pine Tree Draw. Probably because I wasn't aware of where I was. Like I said, I wasn't allowed to stop and look at a map. I would have if there'd been a wide enough shoulder but without that, I didn't want to take the chance of getting a ticket out of my own country.

But back to my research, while still 'in' the same GE camera above, I turned left to look south and this is what I saw:

It proved to me the magnitude of Pine Tree Draw. But it still didn't identify the pines. So, I started checking out Google Images for 'Wyoming trees'. All sorts of images showed up from golden aspens to metal artwork. Very few identified the actual trees. But I kept searching the images until I found one that talked about 'Historic Repeating Photogrpahy'. This type of photography has always fascinated me because it shows you two photos - before and now. The photos I found show the rates of growth and spreading of tree species in Wyoming between landscapes from early in the 20th century and what those same landscapes look like today. The website listed a contact person for more information.

So, I sent a couple emails off to Prof Stephen Jackson at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and included many of the pics I've shown you above. And in the ensuing emails, Prof Jackson was able to identify Pine Tree Draw thusly:  'Everything I see in the PTD  (Pine Tree Draw) images is Ponderosa pine. It’s certainly the dominant conifer throughout that region. I would expect to see – on closer inspection – some RM (Rocky Mountain) junipers scattered about. And limber pine occurs in the area too, sometimes intermixed with the Ponderosas. Limber pine would have occurred mainly on the rockiest, gnarliest spots – butte summits, etc.'

Here's a photo of a Rocky Mountain juniper...

I asked Prof Jackson if they called them junipers back in the late 19th century. He confirmed that Emma would have known this tree as a cedar or maybe even a red cedar.

... And Limber pine.

I was worried when I first saw the Ponderosa pines because they don't bush out until a couple feet above the ground and I need places for Emma to hide behind. But now that Prof Jackson has said their should be some Limber pines and Rocky Mountain junipers mixed in there, I can go ahead and write my scene and still maintain the accuracy of Pine Tree Draw.

It's been about a year since I first introduced you to the wonders of Google Earth.

So tell me, have you checked it out? Have you used it for research? Recreation? Shown it to your kids? Or have your kids shown it to you? For a neat destination in the 'Fly to' box, type in 'Dubai' and look at the 8th wonder of the Middle East. My youngest showed me that one. : )


Nayuleska said...

I haven't used Google Earth before - or even really seen it. It looks particulary good for research! And procrastinating :D Thanks for walking us through how you found what you were looking for.

DebH said...

wow Anita, you are definitely very thorough with your research. i wouldn't have thought to be more specific about pine trees in a manuscript, i did laugh at the thought of your repeated use of pine tree.
i'm impressed with how creative you are with getting information you need. of course i love the pictures you show because that is "home" territory for me. i miss the ol' west sometimes even if the beach here on the east coast is nice. i miss my rocky mountains the most.
and i'm really wanting to read Emma's story - i'll be first in line when you get it pubbed!
with all the love and care you've put into the writing and research, i know it'll be a great read.

Karyn Good said...

Holy cow, Anita. Can I hire you to do some research for me? Like Deb said, Emma's Outlaw will be all the better for your dedicated research.

I haven't used Google Earth for anything but entertainment, however it seems like a very useful tool! I'll have to check it out again as it's been a while since I've used it to look down on anything but my own house :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

You're welcome, Nayuleska. Like most technology, they keep improving Google Earth. Last year, they added a historical scan where you could go back in time and see what an area looked like. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how it works - either that, or the areas I'm interested in only go back 20 yrs. Go figure.

You can also switch to ocean mode and go check out the ocean floor. I haven't done it but I believe my son has.

Last year, I could look down at my mom's parking lot and see her van although she lives half way across the country.

This year, because of the cameras, I can stand on her street and look at her van from street level.

Amazing technology. Go check it out, okay?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ah Deb, I'd forgotten you're from the west. You seem like such a 'beach bunny'. LOL

I keep thinking I'm going too far with my research and it's not really necessary and why don't I just put 'pine tree' and leave it at that...

But as you can see from the photos, there's a big difference between a pine that bushes out close to the ground and one that branches out six feet up. With my luck, I'd get the one reader who knows the area and writes up an amazon review that I don't know what I'm talking about because Emma is hiding behind a pine tree and everyone knows you can't hide behind a Ponderosa pine. But now that I know there are also the Limber pines and cedars growing there, I'm off the hook. Phew. I would hate having people not read my next book because they thought I didn't put enough effort in my research.

Thanks, Deb. I appreciate your confidence in me.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Karyn, as I mentioned, the Google Earth vehicle was in Regina a couple weeks ago.

Not only that, but they came down Hwy 48 taking photos as well. I didn't know until I was looking for a nice GE photo for my personal blog and saw all the camera icons on 48. When I zoomed in, I saw them go past my hometown of Montmartre and then circle in to Main Street. They took a photo of the 30 ft Eiffel Tower the town erected last summer.
The GE photo is on my blog today.

Hire me? Mwahahahahah. Don't tempt me woman!

Thanks, Karyn.

Silver James said...

I. Love. Google. Earth. And maps! I used the street views of Google maps extensively when working on a story set post-Katrina in New Orleans. I'd been there before the hurricane but had no idea how much things had changed in the aftermath.

Personally, I'm about as...uhm...meticulous (though that wasn't my first choice of word. ;) ) when it comes to researching local. I have to be able to *see* it in my mind's eye before I can describe it enough to draw in a reader. Thanks for a great post!

Susanne Dietze said...

This is so cool, Anita. Wow. What a fascinating resource. You inspire me with your devotion to detail! Emma's Outlaw will be all the richer for this amazing detail.

Janet said...

Wow, that's some research, Anita. And good for you for sending out e-mails to strangers asking for assistance (I'm not there, yet).

I love Google Earth and use it often. What say you about the contraversy over GE 'filming' people's streets? I believe there's some unhappy people out there!

Just think, you'll be able to write a 'companion' book to Emma's story with all the information you've gathered. Like Diana Gabaldon did with Outlander. Or put the information up on your website for readers to discover when they come looking!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver - a woman after my own heart! I need to 'see' it too.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit because I have a vivid imagination and yet I'm adamant about sticking to details. How do other people who write fantasy and SF do it? But I've come to the conclusion that if I were to create a whole new world, I'd probably have to paint pictures and create 3-D mock-ups before I started writing anyway.

Good job using GE for your wip and checking out the post-Katrina damage.

Thanks for your input, Silver.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Susie, nice to see you here. Me, inspiring? Woo hoo!

Yes, I love the details. Now I just have to ensure I put the same amount of effort into the plot. LOL

Thanks for dropping in.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, sending out emails to strangers is easy for me... it's meeting people face-to-face that I have trouble with.

What say you about the contraversy over GE 'filming' people's streets?

Really? I hadn't heard. Do you mean filming as in 'live action' or do you mean taking pics of residential streets?

About that companion book... I'll have to check hers out. I'm already working on a page for my website which will use a lot of these pics and info. I figure I have to give the readers something while they wait for the book to become a reality. :)

Thanks, Janet.

Joanne Brothwell said...

I love Google Earth. I first used it when I bought some land at a lake that was completely undeveloped and could hardly access the water. Google Earth helped us to see what the land actually looked like.

Then we bought our acreage and it's cool to see it - the pictures show old barns and cattle - none of which are still there.

Looks like you are really doing your homework - you go girl!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Joanne - you were very wise to check the land out ahead of time.

When I first looked at our land through GE, the closest I could get before losing focus was to look at the complete section. But last night when I looked again, I could zoom in and cover the screen with our quarter. It was a different time of year than last time, too so that's proof that GE is updating their satellites as well as their camera images.

Thanks for the cheer!

Janet said...

Taking pics of residential streets - people worried about an invasion of privacy. I believe it was a Canadian news station and the majority of complaints were coming from the Toronto area.

I'll have to relook at GE - the last time I check our area, the place where we've bought the house, it was still fuzzy. Maybe there's been recent updates...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Oh Janet - we can come visit you! We can stand on your street and look at your new house, perchance?
Won't that be lovely.

About taking pics of residential areas, I wouldn't mind it. It's no different than taking photos as you drive by. And if people have things to hide they shouldn't have it outside in plain view. We've lived in so many houses since I was a kid, I've tried to show my kids some of them but couldn't get close enough. Maybe I should revisit some of them on GE now, too.

Thanks for the update.

Jana Richards said...

Wow, Anita. I'm impressed with your meticulous research. It will certainly make your readers feel like they're truly in your setting.

I haven't used google earth yet, but I'm definitely going to have to get on it.