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  Show - Winter
National Parks on CD
By Jeff Porcaro

Combine computers, cell phones, the Internet, faxes, email, MTV, and MP3 and you'll end up with a bad case of technology overload. The cure for such an ailment? Time away from the craziness. Hence the surging popularity of outdoor recreation. For many, America's National Parks are just the place for that needed mind- and attitude-altering respite from the real world. John Muir wrote it best when he said: "Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

Today that very technology you want to leave behind makes it easier to make the most out of your National Park adventure. I reviewed Wildflower Production's Trails Illustrated TrailSmart National Parks edition CDROM and Maptech's Digital National Park Guide CDROM. These programs not only give you the USGS Topographical maps for each park, but also give you information on places to stay, weather, points of interest, and much more.


TrailSmart: 15 Major National Parks of the USA
Maptech Digital National Park Guide


TrailSmart: 15 Major National Parks of the USA

Wildflower Topo! Wildflower has taken National Geographic's award-winning Trails Illustrated maps for 15 National Parks and formatted them for use with their Topo!GPS software which has all of the features of Topo! plus GPS integration (see our review of Topo!). The maps include all the information you'll need to plan your trip, such as trailheads, campsites, and hiking trail specifics. Topo!GPS also works on the Topo! made by Wildflower.

From the first screen, where you choose the National Park, to the detailed terrain, TrailSmart is simple to use. Seamless maps, which treat separate quads as if they were part of a single larger map with no borders or seams, make it easy to manage areas on the edges of conventional USGS Topo Maps. Seamless maps are one of our test crew's favorite features of mapping software. Marking maps is also very intuitive.

Our testers liked the information available about the park, but preferred Maptech's Digital National Parks interface for displaying park information. We felt that including more pictures of the areas covered could enhance the informational experience.

Topo!


I enjoyed the simplicity of TrailSmart's GPS integration. TrailSmart supports GPS receivers from Magellan, Garmin and Eagle/Lowrance for waypoint upload and download. It also supports any NMEA compliant receiver for real-time tracking. The clean maps and enhanced trail markings make it easy to find the places you want to go.

Wildflower Summary: Seamless maps, enhanced marking, and annotation features make the TrailSmart interface a favorite among our testers. With coverage of Yosemite, Denali, Hawaii Volcanoes, Yellowstone, Shenandoah, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, Arches, Grand Canyon, Zion, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Olympic, Grand Teton, and Acadia, this may be the only CD you will need to purchase. Other packages are available with coverage of other National Parks. See Wildflower's web site for additional park coverage at www.trailsmart.com.

System Requirements: PC compatible running Windows 95, 98, or NT; 16 MB available RAM; 1 MB hard drive space; 8-bit (256 colors) monitor; 2X CD-ROM drive.

Price: $69.99 for 15 major parks and $49.95 for the other TrailSmart products.

Maptech Digital National Park Guide

Maptech Digital National Park Guide. Maptech uses Terrain Navigator software, the basis for all of MapTech's land based CD mapping products, and combined it with the 1:100,000 and 1:24,000 scale maps located in the National Parks, along with information and pictures for each National Park. (See our review of Terrain Navigator.)

Each Maptech National Park Digital Guide CD is like having your own personal Park Ranger. The Guide includes information on attractions, historical background, local wildlife, geology, as well as practical notes on lodging and dining. Color photographs are also included in an extensive guidebook section.

Our testers loved the layer included in the software that allows you to click on icons that show different features in a park. For instance, there is an icon showing a camera at a lookout point in the Zion National Park map. Clicking on this icon pops up a picture taken at that point. There are other icons for geologic formations as well as trails. The park information has a high quality appearance, unlike the photocopied look of the TrailSmart CDROM.

Park information.


The interface is simple to use. You are able to mark the maps with waypoints but MapTech's software lacks some annotation abilities, like changing font size and face, featured on the TrailSmart CDROM. I was also disappointed by the lack of GPS integration.Maptech now includes GPS integration as well as seamless maps in their Terrain Navigator.

The seamless feature allows you to view border topos as if they are one map. The GPS integration is easy to use and supports Lowrance, Eagle, Delorme, Magellan, Trimble, Garmin, and NMEA compliant receivers for real-time tracking. One of the features I really like is the GPS utility which gives you the ability to sync your PC clock with a receiver.

MapTech Summary: With the plethora of park information and pictures, the Maptech Digital National Park Guide is a must buy. Also, if you want complete coverage of all of the National Parks in the USA, then Maptech Digital National Park Guide is a welcome addition to your trip planning resources for your next trip to a National Park. See Maptech's web site for park coverage at www.maptech.com/topo/nationalparks.html.

System Requirements: PC running Windows 95, 98 or NT; 486 CPU or better; 2X CD-ROM (4X recommended); 16 MB RAM or more; mouse or drawing equivalent

Each park CD is $29.50. In addition, regional CDs with multiple parks are available for $69.50. The entire set, with all 54 parks, may be purchased for $179.50.

Overall Summary: If extended annotation abilities are a critical feature for you, and basic park information is all you need, then the TrailSmart 15 Major National Park Maps is a good choice. If you value extensive park information and full park coverage over annotation -- then you can't loose choosing the Maptech National Park Digital Guide. With the new version of Terrain Navigator driving the National Park CDROM it is GearReview.com's product of choice.

Jeff is co-founder of GearReview.com and a contributing editor specializing in navigation and alpine mountaineering.



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