Google Maps is taking an interest in nature

Google’s new initiative is to explore those places on Earth that you can’t get to using a car for their Street View feature on Google Maps. Plenty of the places will be non-nature-centric, such as sites with ancient ruins and narrow Italian streets. But the first step in this ambitious project is squarely in the realm of the Great Wide Open… or in this case, a great wide divide.

Google teams are trekking around the Grand Canyon, photographing its beauty with a specialized cluster of cameras mounted to their backs. That’s no easy task; Google engineering director Luc Vincent began his day of collecting images Monday with a 10-mile hike down the canyon’s Bright Angel Trail. Then he hiked back up from Phantom Ranch, located at the bottom of the canyon. That hike involves scaling an elevation of 4,500 feet.

The purpose for capturing something like the Grand Canyon is twofold. First, Google wants to provide those who can’t see these places in their lifetime an opportunity to do so. And second, being able to see the trail beforehand can help hikers properly prepare for the trek.

And the Google trekker is definitely suffering for their benefit; the specialized camera backpack weighs 40 pounds, no easy weight to deal with should you take a misstep on the trail.

In other canyon-related news, the first image of Mars’ Valles Marineris was released by NASA. The canyon is so long, it would stretch across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and our own Grand Canyon could fit snugly in one of its branching side gullies.

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