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Desert Explorers - GPS system
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Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:31

GPS system

Written by Jerry DuPree

GPS Global Positioning System by Jerry Dupree

Technology changes so fast I can’t keep up with it.  I am grateful to the U.S. Government for launching 30 satellites that civilians can use for free.  I have a GPS receiver, a navigation unit, a tracker/locator, and a satellite phone.  All of them operate from satellites orbiting the earth. 

I have been wandering around the desert since I was a teenager and have hiked, explored, and blundered my way around a lot of territory.  People are lost or injured every weekend.  Our deserts and surrounding mountains can be dangerous places resulting in some very sad deaths.  Fortunately, modern digital electronics can help save a lot of problems for people who are out in wilderness areas. 

A few years ago I bought a GPS receiver and didn’t know how to use it or all of the functions it was capable of doing.  I learned there was an activity called geocaching where otherwise intelligent adults go looking for hidden treasures which were placed by others so that geocachers can go searching for them with the use of a GPS receiver.   It is a fun thing to do and people benefit from being outdoors looking for containers with completely useless toys like we used to get for free in a box of Cracker Jacks.  People record the location by coordinates of degrees of longitude and latitude.  I have done some geocaching to learn how to use the device, and was out with a friend of ours who is an enthusiastic geocacher who looks for caches everywhere he goes.  In this case we were in Big Bear for the Fourth of July and we had to take a break to look for buried toys.

I primarily use my GPS to locate my game cameras which are left in position which take pictures of anything that passes in front of the lens.  I have  taken a lot of pictures of coyotes, road runners, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, ravens, and a tortoise.  The cameras can be set on video with sound, or on still photography, and have IR night vision.  I leave them in the shade for a week.  Most people think there isn’t much going on out in the desert, but would be surprised to find the amount of wildlife there is at night.  I have two game cameras and place them together, one set on still and the other on video. 

I locate cameras where people are not likely to be near enough to find them.  Sadly they get stolen or maliciously damaged but I haven’t experienced any problems like that.  I record the coordinates of camera locations so I can return and find them.  The GPS also records the route one walks or drives and it shows on an LCD screen as a dotted line on a topo map, known to GPS users as a “bread crumb trail” or a “snail trail” so it can be followed to the exact location.  They are very accurate and can record within inches of their target.  They can also aim nuclear weapons, which is one of the purposes the military has spent the billions of dollars on the system (constellation) of satellites.  They are also used by truckers, police agencies, ships, airplanes, first responders, etc.  Depending on the brand and model, they show distances, compass, speed, altitude, water sources, local businesses, streets, roads, points of interest, etc.  Some include CB radios and cameras.  A GPS would be very important if anyone is lost or needs help with car breakdowns.  One never knows when we may come upon an accident scene, report a fire, or any illegal activity.  I have brought my GPS on an airplane and watched the map on the screen at 450 miles per hour.  The flight crew has told me not to use it. 

When I am out in the desert I leave a copy of my GPS camera location at home so I can be located if I am not home for dinner.  I am frequently out beyond cell phone range, so I have a satellite phone and can reach nearly anyone on planet Earth and have tested it to and from Hawaii and Alaska. 

I recently acquired a GPS tracker/locater which can find my location on a smart phone or computer monitor.  It emits a signal every 30 minutes, which flags my location.  I would prefer one that police use for surveillance or ankle bracelets, or biologists use to tag bears, whales, mountain lions, or bighorn sheep.  I have not found one online  and assume they are not available to the public or are too expensive.  Like I mentioned earlier, technology is rapidly changing, so I expect to see something like that on the horizon. 

I recommend getting a GPS with topo maps of North America.  There are several brands and grades of GPS receivers.  I have had Garmin and Magellan and they are available for about  $200 on up, and are worth it for your safety and help navigating to a desired destination.  Try to find one that you can carry with a strap, lanyard, or carabiner so you can keep your hands free for a walking stick, note pad, etc.  Always bring extra batteries.  I recommend lithium batteries as they last about twice as long as alkaline batteries

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