Writers with a big advance from their publishers can often travel to faraway places, take pictures, and do research. Most of us can’t do that. Fortunately, Google Maps and Google Earth can help.
I live in Georgia and am writing about a speeding motorcycle on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. I’ve been there with family but wasn’t taking notes. I can’t afford to go back, even if there weren’t COVID restrictions. So, how do I learn more about the road from far away?
- I’ve picked a popular tourist destination. So, for almost every trail, a section of road, or mountain in the park, there are going to be “How to” guidebooks easily found via my search engine. The best of these give you plenty of information about hiking a trail, climbing a mountain, or sightseeing along a highway.
- Fortunately, Google Maps has “street view” activated for Going-to-the-Sun Road. Using that, I can see the road from a driver’s point of view, including points of interest visible from the highway such as trailheads and parking lots. In a sense, this allows me to “go there” and see what my characters will see.
- Once I’ve done that, I can switch to Google Earth and set my search terms on Logan Pass and go straight there, first as though I’m seeing it from a satellite view, and then–better yet–as though I’m looking at the road and the visitors center and the nearby mountains from a helicopter. I can hover as close to the road or the mountains as I want or gain some altitude and see many miles of highway or trail at once.
It’s better to go there, of course, but using these tools, I can gather enough information to make the novel work.