Google goes Grand Canyon rafting
Google has taken its all-seeing eyes on a trip that few experience - the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
The search giant partnered with the advocacy group American Rivers to showcase views of nearly 300 miles of whitewater rapids, towering red canyon walls, and rich geologic history.
The 360-degree views that went live in Google's Street View map option were once reserved largely for rafters who were lucky enough to board a private trip through the remote canyon, or those willing to pay big bucks to navigate its whitewater rapids.
Google project lead Karin Tuxen-Bettman hopes the images educate the public about the US waterway that American Rivers listed as the most endangered last year due to drought and overuse.
"We hope this inspires viewers to take an active interest in preserving it," she said.
Federal officials and environmentalists have been raising alarms recently about demand outstripping supply on the river serving 40 million people in seven western states.
The imagery Google captured, from Lees Ferry south of Page to Pearce Ferry, shows signs of drought around Lake Mead, and the impacts of damming the river.
"It's just a valuable snapshot in time of what the river is like right now," said Amy Kober of American Rivers.
Google used two clusters of cameras mounted on two rafts to capture the images in August and then stitched them together. The crew of nearly 20 people, including guides, spent eight mostly sunny days on the river, but got drenched by rain on two of those days.
The company said the images are the first river views it has published on Street View from the United States. In 2011, Google mounted its Street View trike on a boat and went up the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, Ms Tuxen-Bettman said.
The company also has used carts and snowmobiles to map places where vehicles cannot travel. In late 2012, Google mapped the most popular hiking trails at the Grand Canyon using cameras mounted on a backpack. Those panoramic views were released early last year.
For rafters on the Colorado River, trips can cost up to 3,000 dollars (£1,800) a person, depending on the length and whether they are private or commercial trips. Grand Canyon National Park limits the number of people who can go on self-guided trips through a highly competitive lottery system and has an annual cap on the number of commercial, motorised trips.
One of the first things virtual visitors might notice is the remoteness of the canyon where rafters spend a few days or nearly a month navigating whitewater rapids, hiking side canyons, snapping photos of waterfalls and endangered species, and savouring the solitude. It is a place where mobile phones do not work and rafters pack only what they need.