Sunday, October 12, 2014

Where the Gravel Ends

Google Earth screen capture of the earthen roads of Otoe and Cass counties. 
I mentioned the county maps previously in discussion the Stream Crossings project, but this post will discuss them in more detail.  In Nebraska, there are three classes of  "dirt" roads: gravel surfaced, unimproved, and primitive.
Legend excerpt from county maps.
Primitive and Unimproved types are generally referred to as "MMR's" or minimum maintenance roads and are denoted in Nebraska with caution type signage.

Photo from "Where are the Plastic Animals" blog.

This summer I have been studying the county maps and making routes in the following fashion: My process was to take the PDF's of the county maps, use a digital high-lighter, mark the MMR's, then use another colored high-lighter to draw a route which maximized the usage of MMR's. I would then recreate the route in Google Earth to get a digital file that I could use with my mobile's GPS app.

MMR's marked in yellow, route in purple.
The process was effective, but tedious, but because I couldn't afford a copy of MicroStation, a CAD-like application, in which the county maps are built, there wasn't a way for me to digitally extract the data layers I needed. Finally, late one night I noticed the following at the bottom of the map downloads page:

Please let us know how you use the maps and what would be helpful for you.
Although we can't promise anything, we will make every attempt
to reasonably meet your county map needs via this site"

So, I did.  I explained what I was doing and what I needed in the web form and the next day received a phone call from Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR).  Could I explain in a little more detail?  Of course. Stop me when you've had enough.

A few days later, I received an email.  The attachment was a .kml file, which is Google Earth's file format, containing the "earthen"  roads of Dakota, Dixon, and Cedar counties.  In a few clicks I was able to import this file directly to my mobile.  I was pretty much ecstatic.  With this file type, I didn't even really need to create routes anymore. I could simply load the file, set my ultimate destination, and hten take MMR's as they came into view in my mapping app.  This allows for a more free-form exploration of the countryside.  Since then, I've received a few more counties and each time, I add them to a single Google Earth layer.  This is enormously helpful to me and I cannot express enough thanks to NDOR which has taken on the tedium.  While not needing to use a highlighter or recreate lines, MN at NDOR has graciously cleaned and tidied the files.  If you look at the legend again, note how the MMR roads are dual lines, not a single line.  I think this means that MN is taking the time to go into the file and delete the extra lines for each and every length of MMR.

So, what I am I going to do with this data?  Well, I have this idea of a route around Nebraska that parallels the scenic byways, but maximizes the use of MMR's. I plan to include good places to camp, recommended restaurants and pubs, and other things of interest.  All this information will be available in a few easily downloaded files.  In future posts, I will get into more detail about how to use these files and which apps I am finding most useful. If this is of interest to you and you have routes you like already, or wouldn't mind doing some testing, please do let me know.

If you already know your way around .kml files, then you may enjoy playing with these two:

Edited: 10/24/2014 to fix broken links.


desmoducati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
desmoducati said...

Can't download the files. :-(

Scott Redd said...

This is an amazing resource! It's fun to go looking for dirt roads, but it's also pretty nice to document them to help plan routes.

Thanks for sharing.

Sydney Brown said...

Sorry about that, desmoducati. I have discovered that my keyboarding ways are undermining my link integrity.

I have fixed the links, please try again.