Top 10 Google Map Adventures of 2015: Photos
First launched in the U.S. back in 2007, Google Street View is now providing 360-degree panoramas on every continent.
It’s been quite the year for armchair travel. Google Maps cameras took the path less traveled, scaling dizzying cliffs with climbers, hitching a horse-drawn ride across a frozen lake, hiking to Machu Piccu (above) and ziplining through the Amazon. First launched in the U.S. back in 2007, Google Street View is now providing 360-degree panoramas on every continent. In the coming months, Google plans to expand Street Views in India, trek through the Northern British Columbia wilderness and map remote areas in Ireland. Explorers can borrow a camera through the
, which is an effort to share new perspectives with the world. While we await the next adventures, here’s a look back at the ones Google introduced in 2015.
Over the summer, Google introduced Street Views from their 3,000-mile journey
. The previous fall, the team had bolted the camera to a rugged pickup truck, but they frequently found themselves far from actual roads. At times their trekker Ariuntuul strapped the camera to her back and hiked along. At another point they hauled the camera on the back of a horse-drawn sled to cross Khuvsgul Lake, which had become a frozen solid block. The journey also took them through the Gobi Desert, where they encountered locals taming wild horses. “On the opposite side of the country, closer to Mongolia’s border with Russia, the ‘roads’ look a little different in the winter,” Street View program manager Cynthia Wei wrote on
. The Street View showed their pickup truck’s deep tracks in seemingly endless snow.
Dinosaurs once roamed the land in Colorado and Utah near the Yampa River. Nearly 1,500 of their fossils are still in one large cliff at Dinosaur National Monument. The area’s famous canyons are also a scenic draw for hikers and whitewater rafters. A team from the nonprofit conservation organization American Rivers and the rafting outfitter O.A.R.S. borrowed the Google Street View Trekker camera and
, capturing panoramic river views for a 72-mile stretch of the river. They wanted to spotlight the waterway’s natural beauty. “We hope this inspires viewers from around the world to take an active interest in exploring, protecting, and participating in this beautiful intact ecosystem,” Google Earth Outreach program manager
. Mapping the Yampa was their second River View project after following the endangered Colorado River through the
In the fall, Google released Street View of Kenya for the first time. The maps included the Samburu National Reserve and a chance to see elephants up close with the organization Save the Elephants, which has been studying the animals for 20 years. They’re helping the elephant population recover from ivory poaching. Inside the Reserve, a Google camera was attached to one of the organization’s research vehicles. The elephants there are so accustomed to seeing the truck that they come right up to it. On this virtual tour, viewers get to know some of the elephants by name. “While you make your journey through Street View, you may be surprised what awaits,” David Daballen, head of field operations at Save the Elephants, wrote on
. The elephants aren’t alone out there. Samburu warriors, a leopard, and even a pride of lions appear in the frame.
More than 2,000 years ago, a group of people called the Nabataeans carved a city called Petra into brightly colored sandstone rock faces. Now this iconic area, considered to be among the world’s greatest wonders, is accessible on Google Street View. Visiting Petra this way is essentially an audio-guided walking tour. The city’s sites are narrated by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who also helped consult on the project. “People all over the world now have a window into our beautiful Kingdom in the heart of the Middle East,” she wrote on
. Her silky voice takes virtual visitors from Petra’s main sandstone gateway all the way to the large Al-Dier monastery, which is surrounded by cliffs that form a natural amphitheater. Movie buffs might recognize the intricately carved rock face at Al Khazna, known as The Treasury, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Long before it became an operating system for Apple computers, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park was a rock climber’s dream. Soaring 3,000 feet high, this spectacular rock formation is the world’s largest granite monolith, the National Park Service
. World-renowned rock climbers Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwell, and Alex Honnold took Google’s camera along for
(video). The views aren’t just panoramic. The photos they captured are part of an interactive journey that begins at the base, where the climbers ready their gear. Audio clips and videos accompany the panoramas. Hill free-climbed The Nose route on El Cap in 1993 -- a feat many told her would be impossible. Caldwell did the first ascent of the nearby Dawn Wall, considered the hardest big wall climb in the world. Honnold climbed El Cap by himself in five hours, mostly without a rope. “I think it’s very human to want to explore something that’s unknown,” Hill told Google. “Once you step off the ground, you have to navigate whatever challenges come your way.”
We almost lost the giant tortoises that helped give the Galápagos Islands their name. For centuries they were over-exploited by humans and targeted by predators. The Galápagos Conservancy
that between 100,000 and 200,000 were lost. Several species were on the brink of extinction. But determined conservation efforts saved these gentle giants, which have an impressive ability to survive without food or water for up to a year. Two years ago, Google along with the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galápagos National Park
showing the diverse local wildlife and landscapes. A second Google project began in 2014 to map the giant tortoise’s habitat. The Street View Trekker even got to visit areas that are off limits to tourists, project lead Raleigh Seamster
. Those unique images were released in September 2015. Now anyone can see the thriving tortoises having a snack or traversing the islands.
Rising nearly 8,000 feet above sea level in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, the Peruvian historical site Machu Picchu has been called one of the world’s greatest wonders. Winding walls, terraces, and buildings are lasting evidence of the Inca Empire. The site’s exact purpose remains a mystery, but the breathtaking views from its stone steps don’t have to be since Google added a Machu Picchu Street View in December. Google Maps Tech Lead Daniel Filip told
that the team had been working on getting permission for years. Crisscrossing the sacred World Heritage site with the heavy high-resolution camera took seven days. The team also went inside the
, where virtual visitors can click on more than 130 artifacts to learn about their significance. “Machu Picchu, a true wonder of the world, is now just a click away,” Filip wrote
Want to get lost in the Amazon rainforest? Well, it’ll be harder now with Google Street View. For the first time, their bright green and black Trekker camera took a zipline to record images. The Amazon rainforest-mapping project was done in partnership with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation to show off the forest’s wonder and open a window onto conservation efforts there. Although Google’s cameras have been photographing the rainforest since 2010, they hadn’t been on a zipline before. This custom one allowed the Trekker to reach 62 miles per hour,
. Overhead, the tree canopies are so thick they nearly blot out the sun. Below, the mossy trunks of old growth trees and hanging vines provide perfect hiding spots for the millions of flora and fauna that thrive there. Besides ziplining, Google Map visitors can float down rivers that connect to one of the Amazon’s largest tributaries, and virtually hike more than 12 miles of trails. Fortunately, as Google Earth’s Karin Tuxen-Bettman
, you can leave the bug repellent at home.
Legend has it that spirits roam the top of Malaysia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu. The name itself is said to come from “Chinese widow” after a tale about a woman hiked up daily for a glimpse of her departed husband. The spirits, touched by her devotion, ultimately turned her into stone at the summit. Her vantage point can now be yours, without having to pay for a climbing permit or jump through any bureaucratic hoops. In October, Google released views from the mountain’s 13,400-foot-high granite perch. “Scaling the Mount Kinabalu peak is even tougher with an 18-kg Trekker on your back,” local operations lead Nhazlisham Hamdan captioned a photo showing the ascent on
. Street View visitors can also make their way down virtually along rope lines into Kinabulu Park, home to orangutans and the fleshy red
, the world’s largest flower. The nature-filled views continue down the Kinabatangan River and into the clear blue waters around Mabul and Mataking Islands.
When director Peter Jackson was looking for places to film his Lord of the Rings movies, New Zealand was a natural stand-in for Middle Earth. The country’s lush landscapes, alpine peaks, and native forests formed the perfect backdrops. In real life, the country boasts several “Great Walks” -- multi-day treks to scenic remote areas. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and Google collaborated on hauling the Trekker camera out to
. From Street View, visitors can now see the country’s tallest waterfall, cross a giant suspension bridge, and amble through the mossy forest along
. While the Google team didn’t spot any hobbits, they did come across adorable baby seals in the wilderness.