FRESNO — Imagine being the only driver on a two-lane asphalt highway as the stark desolation of Death Valley National Park passes on each side and the crystal blue sky stretches up from the horizon.
Or picture a tight left turn on Yosemite’s Glacier Point Road where in the east iconic Half Dome suddenly appears against a backdrop of the snow-capped High Sierra.
The Google Street View service that has brought us Earth as we might not be able to afford to see it — as well as criticism that some scenes along its 5 million miles of the globe’s roadways invade privacy — has turned its 360-degree cameras on road trips through five national parks in California.
“Everyone likes to take a road trip through a national park,” said Evan Rapoport, the Street View project manager, who was inspired by a cross-country camping trip he took after graduation. “Bringing unique places to people that they might not go into the real world is unique to Street View.”
The company sought permission from the Department of the Interior before filming in May as drivers hit the road in vehicles rigged with 15-lens cameras that point in all directions, Rapoport said. The camera fires off still images at intervals depending upon the speed of the vehicle, then custom software blurs faces and stitches all of them together into an ever-advancing 360-degree panorama.