HOWTO import USGS elevation data
The US Geological Survey offers a variety of digital elevation models through the Seamless Distribution System. Here is an approach to working with them in GRASS.
Importing USGS 1/3" NED datasets into GRASS
1. Download the datasets you desire. They will arrive in a zip archive of a directory containing a subdirectory containing a file called w001001.adf, which is the main data file (tip: this is the biggest file).
2. Create a new GRASS location to work with the DEMs.
From a GRASS shell:
cd 18437824/18437824(example directory names --- replace with your actual names)
r.in.gdal location=name_of_your_new_location in=w001001.adf out=dem
3. Start GRASS (or restart) in the new location.
4. Import additional files as needed (note the
-e flag, which causes the location's bounds to be extended to accomodate the new data):
r.in.gdal -e in=w001001.adf out=dem2
- .. etc.
5. Use r.patch to combine the tiles into one continuous map, if desired.
Note that you can also download SRTM 90 data in tif format from http://srtm.csi.cgiar.org/. These come in 5 degree by 5 degree tiles.