New Electronic Applications Aim to Enhance Your National Park Visit

Where once we had guidebooks, topographic maps, and campfire talks to help us appreciate and understand the national parks, there's now a growing number of electronic applications for your iPhones, iPod Touches, and other cellphones and media devices to overwhelm the senses.

The folks at GeoQuest Technologies recently came out with ZionQuest, a pocket guide to Zion National Park that you can download onto your iPhone for $4.99 from the Apple Store, and they soon plan to release an app that leads you around Bryce Canyon National Park. A similar application -- one that tracks your progress along the Blue Ridge Parkway, lets you add notes to document your travels down the parkway, take pictures, and even note your change in altitude -- is available for free for your iPhone or iPod Touch thanks to an agreement between the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Spanware (although they do ask you to donate to the foundation.)

Yes, we've come a long, long way from printed guidebooks and early versions of cellphone guides, such as the Park Basix produced by Adventure Crossing, and even GPS Rangers. No longer do you need to tote a printed and bound guidebook in your daypack or backpack. No need to worry if there's no ranger around for a little interpretation.

Let's take a look at two of these applications.


Developed, appropriately enough, by a company based in Hurricane, Utah, not far from Zion National Park, this app is indeed an electronic guidebook. Turn to the Trip Planner and you'll find your basic guidebook rundown: Directions to Zion, operating hours, what it costs to get into the park, do you need any special permits, and a rundown on the park's campgrounds (although for backcountry sites they direct you to the park's website, which might not be of much help if you don't have WiFi access).

Narrated by Lynn Chamberlain, a Zion-area photographer, the Trip Planner also lays out the landscape in terms of ranger-led activities, such as hikes and talks. The section on kids activities details the usual Junior Ranger programs and associated activities. For instance, ZionQuest notes that the Junior Ranger Discovery Program "is a family-oriented program. Children will learn about Zion National Park and the natural world through hands-on activities, hikes, and lessons designed especially for them. Kids will earn a Junior Ranger Badge."

You'll also find a wildlife encyclopedia of sorts that features full-color photos of various animals you might spot in the park. The accompanying video suggests locations in Zion where you might see some of these critters. And, as with any guidebook, there's also a short listing of hikes and the requisite information on difficulty, length, elevation change, and average time to complete the hike. You'll also find on this app a listing of area restaurants (with no reviews, though) and lodging (from motels to charming B&Bs) in the towns surrounding Zion. Heck, there's even a section on art and gift shops.

One of the pillars of this app, though, are the video tours of the park. There's a page (Explore Zion Map) that features a map of Zion Canyon with various points of interest listed. Tap on "Court of the Patriarchs," for example, and you'll open a page that offers a quick video tour of that area. Other video tours offer glimpses and some history into such points as Angel's Landing, the Riverside Walk, and Emerald Pools. A quirk of these videos is that they were filmed in winter, with Mr. Chamberlain dressed to ward off the cold and backed at times by a snowy setting. Too, the park map primary includes destinations within Zion Canyon, so don't expect to find anything on Kolob Arch in the park's northwestern corner or along the Lower or Upper Kolob plateaus.

Somewhat curiously, while there are pages calling out Scenic Vistas of Checkerboard Mesa, Patriarchs Overlook, and Big Bend, they aren't accompanied by photos depicting the scenery. You can, though, find images and even video of these areas by going back to the main Explore Zion Park page and tapping on these locations.

A bonus, one that might convince you to head to get to Zion as quickly as possible, is the Michael Fatali Gallery. Mr. Fatali is a noted landscape photographer with a rich portfolio, and the collection of 26 photos that capture the park in this section of ZionQuest are exemplary.

From time to time the folks at GeoQuest offer updates to this software. One of the more recent, applicable only if your iPhone or iTouch is GPS-equipped, tells you how to get from your present location to the park


Another recent arrival in the personal media world, this company offers both audio ($14.95) and video ($19.95) tours of national parks that you can download to your own media device. NaturePods recruits naturalists from around the country to provide scripts, then goes out and shoots the video and records the audio to match them. For instance, their program on Grand Canyon National Park was written by naturalist Stewart Aitchison and narrated by Daniel Kraker.

The content, which you can sample here, is broken down into chapters, much like a book, allowing you to skip around to what interests you. In the case of Grand Canyon National Park you'll find more than two hours of content divided into 36 one-to-five-minute segments that range from geologic interpretation and biographies on architect Mary Jane Colter and President Theodore Roosevelt to wildlife, vegetation, and, naturally, hiking options.

I haven't sampled this beyond viewing the sample chapter on the Grand Canyon on the NaturePods website, so I'll be curious to hear what any users have to offer.

So far NaturePods has produced programs on Grand Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Zion National Park, Acadia National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Shenandoah National Park.


"Kids will earn a Junior Ranger Badger."

Speaking as a parent, I'd really rather my kid earn a Junior Ranger badge. I hear badgers are messy, bite and generally do not make good pets. ;-)

[Ed: Nice catch. We fixed it.]

Glad you caught that error. I run that Junior Ranger Program and I would hate for parents to start expecting a badger!

Ranger Holly

Saves paper and money. Doesn't replace people, only paper. A great example of how private, free-market companies provide an alternative to government-produced interpretive products.