The GPS: A Fatally Misleading Travel Companion—LISTEN
In remote places like California’s Death Valley, over-reliance on GPS navigation systems can be a matter of life and death.
Each summer in Death Valley, a quarter-million tourists pry themselves from air-conditioned cars and venture into 120-degree heat to snap pictures of glittering salt flats. They come from all over the world, but many have the same traveling companion suction-cupped to their dashboard: a GPS.
But when dozens of abandoned dirt roads lie between you and that destination, things can get tricky. That’s what Donna Cooper, of Pahrump, Nev., discovered last July on a day trip to Death Valley.
After a long day, Cooper and her family asked “Nell,” the GPS, for the shortest route back to their home.
“Please proceed to the highlighted route,” Nell said.
But what came next did not compute. The GPS told them to go 550 feet, then turn right, Cooper says.
“Well, at 550 feet it was like a little path, and then it was like, go a quarter of a mile and turn left. There was nothing there. She had me running in circles for hours and hours and hours,” she says.
Death Valley Ranger Charlie Callagan says Cooper is not the only visitor who’s relied on GPS and been seriously lost. It happens a couple times a year now.
“And they’ll usually volunteer it themselves. You know, it’s like, the GPS told me to go this direction,” Callagan says.