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Software Review of:
Big Bend National Park Digital Guide
and Terrain Navigator Technology


Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital, with a keen interest in computers. He and his wife, Marta are raising two children, Zoë, age 9 and Jackson, age 7.

From the June, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Maptech is a strong competitor for DeLorme in many parts of the country. Maptech products are not solidly established in Texas as of this writing. Many readers may be unaware of the mapping products available from this company, but after reading this review, you may want to know more about the company and their products. The Terrain Navigator Software engine (for lack of a better explanation) is a compelling digital mapping technology. Based on USGS (United States Geological Survey) data, the Big Bend National Park Digital Guide is a fascinating and interesting study of the topography including the land area, mountains, valleys and trails found in the park. Terrain Navigator allows the owner of one of these Digital Guides to study, plan for or investigate the terrain without actually being there. Now this might seem to take all the fun out of it, but no, it does not. In fact, it is a great tool to use when you are anticipating hiking, biking or backpacking trips into one of these areas, for example. 

There are supplementary written directions cautioning you to be sure you install the programs in the proper order, which I did, and the program has worked perfectly. The box contains a 3 CD set, with the primary installation CD containing Terrain Navigator version 5.03. Next, you install the National Park Digital Guide (Big Bend, Texas in this example) and finally the National Parks and Take a Hike Series Enhanced Digital Elevation Data CD. Once these are installed, you are ready to begin.

Initially, you have to open a map, using the Open Map Selector, which displays a synopsis of the area included in your digital map CD. Once the map is open, you can view it either “seamlessly” where all the map quadrants are connected or as a single map view, which shows each quadrant of the map separately. Of course, you can toggle back and forth between the views. The program offers several tools, such as a scroll bar, a drag tool, a compass and a centering tool to help you navigate around the map, as you desire. Zooming in or out is handled by “zoom levels,” which are different than some of the other mapping programs I have seen. There are buttons that double the size (zooming in) one that is the actual size, one that zooms out to 50% and another to 25% of the original size. 

You can open two maps at one time (See Figure 3), find and bookmark points of interest and move to adjacent maps as you see fit. The CD I reviewed covered the mapped area in two scales, 1:24,000/25,000 and 1:100,000. The latter scale is much broader of a coverage area and is less detailed while the former scale consists of smaller, standard size (“7 ½ minute”) quads. As I mentioned earlier, you can plan trips using the “Creating Route” tool, which allows you to set points and connect the points with straight lines creating your new “route.” If there are new or existing trails that you want to create and add to the map, you can also do this by adding “Tracks.” This tool is perfect for adding trails or other naturally occurring lines to your map. Once a track is added, the length or shape of the track can’t be changed, but you can edit the color and the name of the particular track. Finally, Layers can be added as you choose and the Layer Selector allows you to temporarily hide or show accessible Layers from your map. The Toggle Layers button lets you remove and/or restore all existing layers from the map. Pressing this button removes all layer data and re-pressing it returns the layer information to the map.

It is good that you have read thus far in the article, because now we get to the tastiest morsel this program has to offer from my perspective. The 3-D view is very intriguing and lots of fun, as well. When I first delved into the box to bring out the contents, I was pleased to see a not-too-large manual, which is useful. However, it also felt as if I had just entered an old movie theater to see a 3-D horror “B” movie from Hollywood, because there was a paper pair of red and blue lens 3D glasses. My first reaction was to think, “Yeah right, I am sure I’ll be using these!” After I spent some time learning and exploring the other features of Terrain Navigator in Big Bend, the 3D aspect kept nagging at me and I gave in. I opened up a map of a portion of the park and toggled the 3D button and put on the glasses. It was rather amazing, the screen looked kind of gray and unfocused before the glasses, but with them, it cleared up and seemed to jump off the screen. Furthermore, the 3D image on the screen “responded” when I moved my head up and down or from side to side. It seemed to sort of move with you as you moved your head. Subsequently, I called my wife upstairs to see and experience it, and she was duly impressed. The 3D experience was a real blast and I would enthusiastically employ it again. You can rotate the digital map image to look at it from any direction you choose or you may want to change your perspective on it from ground level to a view from above at a medium or high distance. Controlling the direction and angle at which you view the selected quadrant is another strong quality. Yes, I did love it and I must highly recommend this program for anyone who is serious about learning their way around one of these National Parks. This program can be bought from the Maptech Web page for $29.95. Check their Website to see the large selection of products available, including many topographical maps of entire states. 

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