We’ve all had to learn to type, use a mouse, text with a cell phone, and bank online. Learning GPS basics isn’t that much harder. The different coordinate formats are confusing. But that problem can be usually solved by finding out which format your device prefers or sticking to a format used by the guidebooks or map services you employ.
The format below is fairly universal. If you cut and paste it into a browser window a map will be returned. Simple. Of course, you will need Google Earth and high quality paper maps to actually pick out a road to get to these coordinates, but at least you have a point to navigate to.
34.0534, -107.1706 — Strozzi Prospect, New Mexico
Different sites exist to convert one format to another. An easy site is Earth Point (external link) Go to that page, then enter the above coordinates into the blank field marked “Position”. Click “Calculate.” Voila! Different formats will pop up, all expressing the same location but in a different way. You may need to do this conversion to get the right format for your handheld or mobile device.
Getting comfortable with GPS is as easy as buying a Garmin navigation unit for your car and then typing in the coordinates for a location. With a GPS coordinate you have something to navigate toward, even if you are driving in the desert on a road that has no name, taking intersections that aren’t signed, with jogs here and there that aren’t on any map.
Armed with printouts of photos from Google Earth or Maps, as well as hardcopy maps of an area, an understanding of GPS will make you a far more confident driver than one relying on a hand drawn map that is often missing vital information to keep you from being lost. Also, navigating back to the main road with a known GPS coordinate is much less nervous than trying to remember every single turn you came in on (Although I take photos on my way in, with GPS coordinates stamped to the image). Get a handheld unit, too, as a backup.
Not trying to preach here, but GPS is now such a vital survival tool that everyone should learn the basics. I’ll share what I know.