Google program brings nature into the digital age

EUREKA, Calif. - Fifty years ago Wednesday, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law to preserve millions of acres of America's natural beauty.

Now, with that same goal in mind, Google has used modern technology to map our ancient lands.

They tower 300 feet into the sky - the length of a football field -- and at almost 2,000 years old, Northern California's Old Growth Redwoods are some of the tallest and oldest living things on Earth.

Ben Blom, the land manager at the Headwaters Forest Preserve, pointed to a mark on a tree.

"That is a mark to cut. That tree was going to be cut down until Headwaters was protected by the federal government and and the state in 1999," he said.

Was that beautiful tree going to be cut down?

"That and every one in this stand," said Blom.

There are more than 3,000 acres of Old Growth Redwoods in this remote area, far from the beaten path.

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Google's Backpack Trekker Program allows users everywhere to take in the beauty of the ancient, towering Old Growth Redwoods in Northern California.
CBS News

The Wilderness Society's Warren Alford is capturing the beauty of this forest for others to see. He's a volunteer with Google's Backpack Trekker Program. The tech company started the initiative last year to allow people to see a panoramic view of scenic but hard to reach places.

Alford's backpack is equipped with 15 high-definition cameras that are constantly taking pictures. Alford hikes with the 45-pound backpack about 18 miles a day.

"A lot of times, I'll look at a still photograph and say, 'Wow, the photographer did a really good job of setting that up.' But I'm thinking, 'What is on the other side of that?' And so this setting allows us to go through the landscape and give people a chance to look around," he said.

Alford's backpack is equipped with 15 high-definition cameras that are constantly taking pictures. Alford hikes with the 45-pound backpack about 18 miles a day.

"There are special places all over the country and we need to connect Americans to these places," said Alford.

Google has partnered with conservation groups around the world to record breathtaking scenes - a view of the Grand Canyon from the Colorado River, the underwater world of the Galapagos Islands.

Luc Vincent is Google Street Views' director of engineering.

Is there any limit to what this program can do?

"I think the only limit is your imagination," he said.

He doesn't want people to just sit back and watch this. He wants them to be involved.

"That would be my hope, yes," said Vincent.

That's Alford's hope, too.

"We need to inspire a new generation of folks to helpo protect places like this," he said.

They're preserving some of the world's most beautiful places by bringing nature into the digital age.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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