Thursday, December 19, 2013

Getting an Elevation Profile From a Set of Directions (or Why is my baby crying?!)

UPDATE 12/29/2014: I checked again and you can use the new Google Maps URLs for the elevation profiles. Use the tool here: and use the section where is says "Or provide the URL of data on the Web:" to put the URL in. The only quirk is if you get multiple suggested routes on Google Maps directions and select one that isn't the default, you may not get the right elevation profile. In that case add an additional point on the path that you want to force that route to be the default and then use the URL. And now my original post from 2013...

My family and I live in Salt Lake City, UT. My wife's family is from the small town of Joseph City, AZ. We recently drove there for the Christmas holiday to spend time with family. It was our six-month-old daughter's first trip to Arizona and her first drive of this length. Without a baby it would take us about nine-and-a-half to ten hours to make the drive, depending on stops we took. This trip took us 11 hours; five short hours and six very long ones. She was not happy at all on the second half of the trip. It wasn't until we arrived in Joesph City that we realized that perhaps she was experiencing some uncomfortable air pressure differentials and wasn't able to "pop" her ears. That would have been nice to know at the time. We also didn't realize that she's teething and I think she just hated being in the car seat that long.

So my question was this: What's the best path to travel home to avoid elevation changes she might find uncomfortable? There are primarily three ways to travel between Salt Lake City and Joseph City. The first two go from Salt Lake to Kanab, UT, then to Flagstaff, AZ, then to Joseph City. They differ between Kanab and Flagstaff. You can either take 89A through the Kaibab National Forest or you can take 89 through Page, AZ (now temporarily detoured through 89T). According to Google Maps, following 89T instead of 89A is 3 miles longer and 2 minutes shorter. Not bad for an over-nine-hour trip spanning almost 600 miles. The third way is completely different. It travels through eastern Utah going through Moab, UT following Highway 191. This path is shorter than the other two by about 25 miles and 15 minutes according to Google Maps. Before the Route 89 landslide (ADOT updates) we would usually travel through Page, AZ. This time we took the 89A route. Had I known about 89T and that it was recently paved I probably would have gone that way. It's nice to have moderately sized cities along the trip like Kanab and Page. There's pretty much nothing between Kanab and Flagstaff going the 89A route. Our biggest worry was that Illa, our daughter, would break down about an hour past Kanab along 89A. That's exactly what happened.

Here's an elevation profile of the roads traveled following the 89A route (thanks to GPS visualizer):

See that giant peak at around mile 350? That's 89A through the Kaibab National Forest and then descending down to the Colorado River. The canyon is very deep and the bridge elevation is actually at about 3500 ft. This elevation plot uses the earth's elevation, not the road's, which only becomes a problem with bridges. Can you guess where Illa got extremely fussy? That peak. Now previous to this there were other similarly rapid ascents and descents but she had slept through them. This was also about 5 to 6 hours into the trip and she wanted out of that seat. So what do the other two paths look like?

Here it is taking the 89T route:
...stupid peak...

And here is it going through the Moab route:

That looks nice, too.

So I already mentioned and it's shown in the figures that these images were made using the GPS Visualizer website ( and The elevation profiles require either a link to the Google Maps driving directions or a kml file. What I did was download Google Earth for desktop, find the directions there, export it as a kml file, and upload that. The reason is because I couldn't get the links to work. The problem is that the link must be from the "classic" Google Maps and not the new preview version. Doh!

A tip for those who do use Google Earth. In Google Earth there were no alternate route suggestions and I couldn't see a way to add multiple stops. So I typed it in as given in the bold titles in the figures with multiple "to:" labels and locations. And when I say export it as a kml, I clicked this button
which is just below the driving directions box, pasted the contents into notepad, and saved it as a kml file. What a pain. I wish I had realized that Google Maps preview was the problem. To leave the Google Maps preview to go back to classic, find the question-mark-circle in the lower right of the map screen and click on it. There it will give an option to go back. Or you can open an Incognito window in Chrome to temporarily access classic Google Maps.

And a big thank you to GPS Visualizer. What a cool website that offers much more than elevation profiles.

So what will we do about the trip back and the baby? Probably break the trip over two days.

UPDATE (1/17/2014): So the trip back was a couple of weeks ago and I thought I'd follow up. We took the 89T route back, which was good. When we got to Panguitch we decided to keep going and make the trip in one day. That left one large mountain pass to go over. This was state highway 20 between highway 89 and I-15. She definitely got fussy as we climbed and descended but giving her something to chew on helped. Lesson learned.