Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting lost in rural ______, in spite of (I mean, thanks to) the GPS

A double-wide deer trail called a "road" in the Ozark National Forest, Arkansas 
This story on NPR this morning, "In Maine, Even with a GPS, You Can't Get There From Here," could have been about any state with rural reaches.  Jennifer Mitchell reports on how GPS technology is not always a reliable way to get or know where you're going--especially in rural and remote areas--and she uses Maine to illustrate:
Maine has actually had several incidents in recent years of motorists driving into remote bodies of water, most recently in the small coastal village of Roque Bluffs, where two women on a foggy evening accidentally drove their car right into the ocean and drowned. It's not known if the women were using a GPS device, but driving along that same road, here's what happened when a GPS was set for Roque Bluffs: "Your destination is straight ahead." 
But, "straight ahead" at that point is actually the ocean.
Mitchell closes with this:
In time, as more remote areas are digitally mapped, GPS services WILL be improved for remote parts of the United States, but for now, when taking the road less traveled, you might also want to take along an old fashioned map — even if you can't fold one.
Newton County is the last county in Arkansas to number
and signpost its roads.  
On that mapping point, I note that GPS also has limited utility where places have not been mapped at all--as where roads have not been named and signposted.  My home county (Newton County, AR) has only recently undertaken to name and signpost roads in the county (see photo left; the signs are minimalist with "NC" standing for Newton County), and it is the last in Arkansas to do so.  As a related matter, I once followed my GPS onto what proved to be a double-wide deer trail in the southern part of the county.  My GPS gave no indication that what it labeled Forest Service Road No. ??? (in the Ozark National Forest) was not quite a road at all. By the time the road petered into a deer trail (see photo above), it wasn't really possible to turn around or to back up to "civilization." Thankfully, it was deer season and some deer hunters on a quads found us and helped escort us out of the wilderness, but only after we'd forded a couple of small streams.  Whew!

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