Bisti serves as classroom for GPS class

Community Learning Center class will teach students how to use GPS navigation, using the vast Bisti wilderness as a prime example

San Juan College Community Learning Center
Special to The Daily Times
Encore students Verlene Mott and Charlotte Hebert inspect a petrified tree stump in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness during last year's "Using GPS Technology and Maps to Explore the Bisti" class.

San Juan College's Community Learning Center is offering a GPS class with an ideal practice area.

The class, entitled "Using GPS Technology and Maps to Explore the Bisti," begins Feb. 23.

"The Bisti Badlands wilderness south of Farmington provides an excellent opportunity for learning to use a GPS unit to navigate within enchanting, arid fantasyland terrain without obvious trails," said instructor Linda Wheelbarger.

A GPS receiver collects and receives satellite data to establish the current geographic position of the receiver. It also displays that spatial data for collection as points, lines or polygons.

Students are asked to bring a hand-held GPS to the first class on Feb. 23 at San Juan College to learn the basics of using their units.

An Encore student studies a layer of hematite within the mudstone under a hoodoo cap of volcanic tuff-infused sandstone in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness during last year's "Using GPS Technology and Maps to Explore the Bisti" class.

On Feb. 25, the class will explore the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness while plotting waypoints at hoodoos and petrified wood logs, finding previously plotted waypoints, tracking their route through the wilderness and finding their way back to the vehicles.

Wheelbarger has previously used her GPS unit to take Community Learning Center classes to the Bisti and found that students wanted to learn GPS navigation techniques so they could explore backcountry on their own without fear of getting lost.

After the trip, on March 2, students will return to the college's computer lab so they can download and manipulate their collected data in Google Earth.

Google Earth is a free Geographic Information System software that can be downloaded on your home computer from the internet.

"It consists of satellite imagery of Earth, which can be investigated through the use of data layers such as place names, roads, photos, park or recreation areas and even 3-D imagery," Wheelbarger said. "Students can apply the techniques learned in this class to begin an activity called geocaching. Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using a GPS or GPS-enabled device, such as a smartphone. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. There are over 2,000 caches in San Juan County."

Students should plan to carpool and pay money to drivers for gas and to walk 2 to 3 miles at a slow pace over varied terrain in the field trip. The class costs $39 for 10 hours of class time. For more information and to enroll, visit or call the Community Learning Center at 505-566-3214.

Encore instructor Linda Wheelbarger, far right, leads students Elliott Hebert, Ken Russell and Charlotte Hebert through Hunter Wash amid towering hoodoos and eroded sandstone formations in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness during last year's "Using GPS Technology and Maps to Explore the Bisti" class.