Adding Topographic Enhancements to Google Earth

Installing and using Google Earth topographic enhancements useful to Big Sur hikers

Below are three Google Earth enhancements recommended for serious Big Sur hikers.  Each is independent of the others, so you can pick and choose if you wish.  These enhancements are:
    • Big Sur Trailmap:  displays Big Sur Ventana/SilverPeak Wilderness trails, camps, etc. over the GE background (Big Sur region only - provided by bigsurtrailmap.net)
    • Seamless USGS Topographic Maps:  displays seamless quadrangle maps as a background (Big Sur region only - provided by bigsurtrailmap.net)
    • Google Maps Background:  displays shaded relief with contours (ala Google Maps) as a background (entire US - provided by gelib.com)

Two "secondary" GE enhancements can be used by those who have a need not covered by the previous enhancements.  Each is independent of the others, so you can pick and choose if you wish.  The "secondary" enhancements are:
    • Borderless USGS and USFS Quadrangle Maps:  displays "de-collared" quad maps as a background (Big Sur region only - provided by bigsurtrailmap.net)
    • Bordered USGS Quadrangle Maps:  displays "collared" quadrangle maps as a background (entire US - provided by gelib.com)

FYI a "non-free" GE enhancement: (I find the shading too dark, obscuring names and contour lines, so no instruction is provided here)
    Seamless terrain-shaded USGS topographic maps  ($10.50 for 2 1°x1° GE-format maps covering Big Sur)

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

You should already have a relatively recent version of GE installed on your computer.  This tutorial discusses only GE enhancements, not GE's basic installation or usage.  But briefly, to install GE you need to go to http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html and follow the instructions there.  It's best to use GE options which fit your needs  To do this, in the "Tools" tab choose "Options", which brings up the "3D View" tab of the Options display - ensure that "Show terrain" is checked and that "Show Elevation" is "Feet,Miles".  Also on that tab, if you have a high-speed internet connection you should push the "Terrain Quality" slider all the way to the right, to its highest quality terrain setting.  GE has many other options which can also be altered to suit your personal preference, such as the format used to display lat/lon values.

INSTALLATION

•  To begin, open both GE and your internet browser

•  The Big Sur Trailmap (Big Sur region only) enhancement installs a GE display of Big Sur Ventana/SilverPeak Wilderness trails, i.e. my on-line Big Sur Trailmap.  To install this, in your web browser click on the following link: Big Sur Trailmap Google Earth Network Link.  That should open a pop-up window asking whether you want to "Open" (Firefox should also say "with Google Earth") or "Save" the file - make sure "Open" is checked, then click "OK".  Downloading will begin.  After it is complete, you should check the bottom of the "Places" section on the left GE sidebar, to make sure that a line "Big Sur Trailmap" appears under "Temporary Places".  It normally will be checked - if not, click on (check) its checkbox.  Doing so will "turn on" the display of Big Sur trails in GE. 

•  The Seamless USGS Topographic Maps (Big Sur region only) enhancement installs a GE plugin automatically providing "seamless" topographic (both 100,000:1 and 24,000:1 "quad") map backgrounds over the Big Sur region - as you moves the GE window, the correct topo background is displayed so long as you remain in the Big Sur region.  Thus you do not have to bother with having to load a new quad map when moving from one quad to another (unlike the Bordered USGS Quadrangle Maps enhancement below) - you simply check/unchecks a checkbox to have the topo background appear/disappear.  To install this enhancement, in your web browser go to Big Sur Topo Maps plugin link which will open a pop-up window asking whether you want to "Open" (Firefox should also say "with Google Earth") or "Save" the file - make sure "Open" is checked, then click "OK".  Downloading will begin.  After it is complete, you should check the bottom of the "Places" section on the left GE sidebar, to make sure that a line "Big Sur Topo Maps" appears under "Temporary Places"[ Note: if you want the seamless quad map display to be really fast in GE, or to be available even without a network connection, you can copy all the map files to your PC (requiring 580 KB disk space): download the entire "SEAMLESS" directory at http://bigsurtrailmap.net/MAPS/QUADS/USGS/ to a directory on your PC, then in GE, under the left-sidebar "My Places", "Add" a "Network Link" linking to the "doc.kml" file in that PC directory. ]

•  The Google Maps Background enhancement installs a Google Maps background option, which is primarily used for displaying the shaded relief with contours background which it makes available (but it can also optionally display the standard Google Maps background).  To install, use your web browser to visit the Google Maps Overlay in Google Earth webpage.  To install this, around mid-page find the blue box with "Download with Google Earth" and click on it.  That should open a pop-up window asking whether you want to "Open" (Firefox should also say "with Google Earth") or "Save" the file - make sure "Open" is checked, then click "OK".  Downloading will begin.  After it is complete, you should check the bottom of the "Places" section on the left sidebar, to make sure that a line "Google Maps" appears under "Temporary Places".  It should be left UNchecked.  When it is later checked, it will provide several choices of a background to replace GE's normal aerial photograph background. 

•  The Borderless USGS and USFS Quadrangle Maps (Big Sur region only) "secondary" enhancement installs a "borderless" (i.e. without the information "collar") quadrangle USGS or USFS topographic background.  This differs from the previous "seamless" enhancement in that you must explicitly choose the quadrangle(s) to be displayed.  Reasons for installing and using this enhancement are:  (1) wanting to see the "enhanced" US Forest Service quadrangle maps created in 1995, and (2) finding the "seamless" USGS Topographic Maps tile downloading to be too slow or annoying.  The US Forest Service quadrange maps have replaced the trails shown on the USGS maps with their own trail and camp data - it was supposedly valid in 1995, but unfortunately much of that data is inaccurate so must be used with caution!  To install these enhancements, in your web browser click on the following links: Big Sur USGS quadrangle map Network Link and Big Sur USFS quadrangle map Network Link.  Each opens a pop-up window asking whether you want to "Open" (Firefox should also say "with Google Earth") or "Save" the file - make sure "Open" is checked, then click "OK".  Downloading will begin.  After it is complete, you should check the bottom of the "Places" section on the left GE sidebar, to make sure that a line "USGS QUADs - bigsurtrailmap" and/or "USFS QUADs - bigsurtrailmap" appears under "Temporary Places".  None of the map boxes will be checked - you must check each individual map to display it as a background. 

•  The Bordered USGS Quadrangle Maps "secondary" enhancement installs a quadrangle topographic map (with its information "collar") background option valid for the entire US, whereas the previous topographic map enhancements only cover the Big Sur region.  Use your web browser to visit the USGS Topographic Maps in Google Earth webpage.  To install this, around mid-page find the blue box with "Download with Google Earth" - find it and click on it.  That should open a pop-up window asking whether you want to "Open" (Firefox should also say "with Google Earth") or "Save" the file - make sure "Open" is checked, then click "OK".  Downloading will begin.  After it is complete, you should check the bottom of the "Places" section on the left sidebar, to make sure that a line "USGS Topographic Maps" appears under "Temporary Places".  It should be left UNchecked.  When it is later checked, it will allow selection and downloading of quadrangle maps to replace GE's normal aerial photograph background. 

•  Now these enhancements should be saved, so that they are automatically available to you whenever you open up GE.  It is possible to cut and paste the lines below "Temporary Places" to a place under "My Places", which will save them - but with a complex sidebar that can be tricky, so instead we will use an easier method.  Ask to exit GE by clicking on the "File" tab on the left-hand top bar and choosing "Exit".  A window will then pop-up saying "You have unsaved items in your "Temporary Places" folder.  Would you like to save them to your "My Places" folder".  You then click "Save" and GE will exit. Now re-start GE and you will see the enhancements you added have been moved to now be under "My Places"

•  Note: all folders can be expanded or un-expanded to display the data within them.  And they can be moved up and down should you wish to re-order them.  When you have an arrangement you like and so wish to have appear every time you open GE, save it by clicking on "File" tab on the left-hand top bar, choosing "Save", and then choosing "Save My Places":

USING THESE ENHANCEMENTS

Here I am only providing some basics to get you started. 

•  Big Sur Trailmap (Big Sur region only):   This enhancement needs no further work.  Assuming the checkbox next to it on the sidebar is checked, every time GE is opened the most recent version will be downloaded and its trails will be overlaid over the GE background. Note that in the sidebar you can choose to expand or leave unexpanded the folders (TRAILS, USE TRAILS, etc) and the list of trails in each folder, whatever meets your personal preference.  If, for example, you do not wish its "Summit" icons to be displayed, you can find and uncheck the "SUMMITS" folder and then on the top-left GE bar click the "File" tab, then "Save", then "Save My Places", so that will become the default each time GE is opened.  Further info is available on the Big Sur Trailmap home page

•  Seamless USGS Topographic Maps (Big Sur region only):   To display/undisplay seamless USGS topographic maps for the Big Sur region, simply check/uncheck the checkbox beside "Big Sur Topo Maps" on the left GE sidebar.  A 100,000:1 scale map will be displayed when viewing from far out, with a 24,000:1 quadrangle map appearing as one zooms in more closely.  Note that the quadrangle maps cover only the Big Sur area, not the entire region covered by the 100,000:1 map - so at some locations as one zooms in the 100,000:1 map display will be replaced by white instead of a quad map. 

•  Google Maps Background:   This background enhancement is normally UNchecked. When you wish to see its shaded relief with contours background instead of the standard GE background, click on (check) the checkbox next to it on the sidebar and it will expand to give several choices, from which you should click "Terrain".  The other possible choices are the normal Google Maps display (which is not very useful in the Ventana/SilverPeak Wilderness areas!) and Satellite (which gives essentially the same background as GE).  It may take awhile for the background to appear, but once it does it is "seamless", i.e. no matter how far you move the viewed location, this background is automatically displayed.  However, a limitation of this "Terrain" background is that you cannot zoom in as closely as you can with other backgrounds - if you zoom in further than is appropriate for its horizontal resolution the background will be replaced by ugly red X's! (This appears to occur when the number above the scale bar is less than 2500 ft.) Also note that whereas in Google Maps this background is 2D, in Google EARTH it overlays GE's 3D terrain and hence gives a 3D effect if you look at an angle instead of directly overhead.  (However, problems can result if you try to look at such a shallow angle that the window covers a huge area - you will then see parts of the background refusing to appear!). To go back to the normal GE background, simply uncheck the "Google Maps" checkbox.  Further info on this enhancement is available on the webpage which you used for the download. 

•  Borderless USGS and USFS Quadrangle Maps: (Big Sur region only):   For this "secondary" enhancement you must choose to display (and to "un-display") each quadrangle map individually, which is done by checking/unchecking the box next to the desired map name in the left GE sidebar display.  [The quad names are displayed here: Big Sur quadrangle map locations.]  Note that you cannot check the folder box - that would cause all the maps to be downloaded+displayed at once, which would put too great a load on my server!  These maps can take quite awhile (30 seconds or more) to download and display in GE, depending on the speed of your PC and your internet connection - especially for the USGS maps, apparently due to the complexity introduced by their green stippling.  ; Note: the USGS maps can cause problems in older GE versions (5 and earlier). 

•  Bordered USGS Quadrangle Maps:   This "secondary" enhancement is the most complex/difficult enhancement to use.  It's maps are not "seamless" - instead you must choose to display (and to "un-display") each quadrangle map individually.  To illustrate it's use, zoom in/out until the entire Big Sur area is showing (and not much more).  [An easy way to do this is to double-click on the "Big Sur Trailmap" sidebar line -- NOT its checkbox -- and GE will "fly" to cover the entire Big Sur Trailmap area - this also expands that folder to reveal the next layer of folders which you can later unexpand if you wish.] Now click on (check) the checkbox next to "USGS Topographic Maps" in the sidebar.  Its icon will animate while downloading, then a grid of selection rectangles will appear, each containing the name of its quadrangle map.  Find the "Partington Ridge" quadrangle area and left-click on the map inside its boundaries (or on its name).  A blue pop-up window will appear with a "View Map" button - click that and the icon will again animate.  Finally (the downloading can take awhile, apparently depending upon server load - and during that time my cursor is very jumpy and unresponsive) the quadrangle map will appear, shown rather coarsely since you are viewing this from very far away. Now zoom in and you will see the details emerge.  Note that you can zoom in very closely, much closer than is possible, say, with TOPO! software. 

"Un-displaying" the quadrangle topo background, to get back to the normal GE background, is not intuitive.  Your first thought might be to simply un-check the "USGS Topographic Maps" checkbox - but when you do this you will find that the quadrangle display is NOT removed, because that checkbox only controls the selection and downloading of a desired quadrangle map, not its display.  So un-checking the box next to "USGS Topographic Maps" only removes the quadrangle selection boxes.  [Personally I normally leave this checkbox UNchecked and check it only when I want to choose a new quadrangle background to display, but your preference may differ - it can be left checked.] To "un-display" a quadrangle map you must go the the bottom of the "Places" section of the sidebar under "Temporary Places", where you will see a somewhat cryptic name - for the Partington Ridge quadrangle it is "o36121b6" (it references the lat/lon of the quadrangle corner).  That is the name of quadrangle map file that was downloaded when you asked to View Map, so you must uncheck its checkbox for its quadrangle display to disappear.  Different quadrangle maps will have different cryptic names, so if you download several in one session you must then keep track of which "cryptic name" is associated with each quadrangle map. 

All downloaded quadrangle files will be lost when you close GE, since they are in the "Temporary Places" section of the sidebar.  On your next GE startup no downloaded quadrangle maps will be available, so you then must go through the selection process of the first paragraph each time you want a new quadrangle background. 

You can partially save a quadrangle map by moving its filename from "Temporary Places" to "My Places" on the sidebar - but this will save only the "Network Link", not the actual file itself which after a GE restart must again be downloaded when the checkbox next to that "Network Link" is checked.  Still, it is advantageous to save a "Network Link" in this fashion since it can be re-named to be the actual name of the quadrangle map instead of its "cryptic name", making subsequent use much easier - to then display/un-display a quadrangle map one simply finds the appropriately named "Network Link" and checks/un-checks it. 

As an alternative to saving the "Network Link", re-downloading of quadrangle maps can be avoided entirely by saving the quadrangle map to your PC - but the required procedure is complicated.  For those interested, here are step-by-step instructions.  As a two-step once-only setup, (1) in GE create a new folder where the quadrangle map names will be displayed for selection (RIGHT-click on "My Places", then "Add" and "Folder", enter a name such as "Quads" then "OK") and (2) on your PC, create a new folder where the map files themselves will be stored (e.g. under "My GoogleEarth" as "Quads").  After this setup, saving any quadrangle map is a two-step process.  First save a downloaded map file by noting its "cryptic name" -- which will be ala "o##121b6" where "##" will be either 35 or 36 -- and then using your web browser go the URL
    http://www.topomaparchive.com/maps/Topos_Current/##121/??.kmz
where ## must be replaced by 35 or 36 and ?? must be replaced by the "cryptic name", and "Save" that file to the PC folder created in the setup above (your PC setup may require you to first download the file to one folder and then afterward move it to the desired folder).  For the second step, go back into GE, go to the quadrangle map folder you created and RIGHT-click on it, then "Add" and then "Network Link" - in the popup window that appears, first enter the "real" name of the quadrangle map and then "Browse" to the file you downloaded, then "Open" and "OK".  Whew!  Hereafter, you can simply click on (check) that checkbox to quickly display that stored quadrangle map (and uncheck it to un-display it).  FYI each file takes up around 5MB of disk storage.  Because the actual quadrangle name is displayed alongside each checkbox, displaying/un-displaying a mp is more straightforward than when there are just "cryptic names". 

Note:  in the quadrangle map display many things which should be "square" will not appear to be square in the display - that is because you are viewing a map which is overlaid on top of terrain, not a simple flat sheet of paper so "distortions" will occur due to terrain height wiggles.  If you ever want a "flat" display, on the "Tools" tab choose "Options", which should bring up the "3D View" tab of the Options display, and un-check the "Show elevation" checkbox. 

Note:  the map rectangles used to select a quadrangle will NOT appear if you are zoomed in too closely - but you can still bring up the blue pop-up "View Map" window by left-clicking on the map (when the "USGS Topographic Maps" checkbox is checked).  However if you zoom out too far then the enhancement is disabled. 

Further info on this enhancement is available on the webpage which you used for the download. 

•  You should recognize that all these enhancements are "third party" additions, i.e. are NOT being run by Google itself, hence their loading can be a bit slow, they can have occasional glitches, etc. But in general I have found them to be quite reliable. 

GOOGLE EARTH TRICKS/NOTES

•  The GE trick which I have found most useful is the following.  When interested in a certain specific feature, first place the cursor over that feature then hold down the "Shift" key and then hold down the left mouse button.  A circle will appear around the spot of interest and moving the mouse forward/backward and left/right (while still holding the mouse button down - the "Shift" key can be released once you have the mouse button down) will tilt and rotate the view around that point.  I've found this trick to be very useful for easily orienting the terrain relative to to a specific point, for example orienting it so that I am looking directly along an ascending ridgeline, which gives a good sense of how the terrain varies in the area. 

•  To quickly go from a tilted, rotated 3D view to a simple 2D view from directly overhead, with North at the top, just hit your keyboard's "r" key (mnemonic: "r" as in "reset"). 

•  Note that a map scale can be displayed by checking "Scale Legend" under the "View" tab (all maps should have a scale!). 

•  Note that if in the "Layers" sidebar tab you check "More" that enables its subtab "USDA Forest Service" (under the "Parks/Recreation Area" subtab) which displays the official USFS campground locations and boundary lines.  That will be confusing since the Big Sur Trailmap displays the same features, so if you need to check the "More" Layers sidebar tab you should uncheck one of those subtabs (unless you want to know where the USFS thinks the camps are - their icons are green tents named "Campground"). 

•  You can "fly" Google Earth to many geographical features by typing a name such as "Cabezo Prieto" into the "Search/FlyTo" entry box.  Apparently this works for all features named on a USGS topo map.  Entering a partial name can also produce useful results, e.g. "Doolans Hole" is not in the database but will be found if entered because "Doolans Hole Creek" is in the database.  Adding ", CA" will limit the results to California.  And entering a latitude+longitude (in a format known to GE) will "fly" GE to that location. 

FINALLY

If you find an out-of-date link or think a correction/addition should be made to this page, you can email Jack Glendening at: