Custom Google Earth Flyovers

I’ve been thinking a lot about past canyon explorations recently and have been talking with a few of my trip veterans. I wouldn’t say we’re making plans, at this point, but there’s definitely chatter.

One of those conversations prompted me to look for an old, obscure trip report I remembered seeing online years ago. I dug up an old backup of my Chrome bookmarks full of trip reports, websites and articles I hadn’t seen in years. Big mistake on a work night — I fell fifteen feet down the rabbit hole before I even knew what happened.

Eventually I paused, suddenly noticing that it was 3am and that I had spent the entire night hunting the canyon on Google Earth, trying to find the wreckage of a 1956 airline crash. “Ahh, how exactly did I get here?”

The crash I was trying to find was a real catastrophe, the worst air disaster of its time. It spurred the creation of the FAA and the creation of a National Monument, erected where the two planes went down near the confluence. Now, it normally doesn’t take me four hours to find a National Monument on Google Earth. This one is just unique. It’s the only National Monument (that I can think of) without a disclosed location. I mean, it has a location — the two planes cratered into the sides of Temple Butte and Chuar Butte, but it’s such a remote, rugged part of the canyon that much of the wreckage is still there. Out of respect to the victims and families, the location remains a closely-guarded secret.

I respect that, but dammit, I really wanted to “crack the case.” My search was fruitless, but man did I enjoy a bit of canyon mystery and lore.

ANYHOW, this led to me falling in love with Google Earth all over again. I experimented with it years ago, and it was interesting, but I always deferred to Google Maps for its everyday appeal and greater accessibility.

The current version of Earth (Google released the PRO version for everyone a year or two ago) is fantastic, not to mention the satellite imagery and terrain data is a heck of a lot better, too.

That led me to spend the next night, staying up late (yes, again) figuring out how Google Earth flyovers and paths are constructed and learning a little bit about KML — Google’s XML-like markup language. Within a few hours I was off and running, programming my own custom flight paths and outputting it to HD video. This one is my second attempt. There will be more!