USA Northeast: peak fall colors camping tour: NY, VT, NH, ME, PA, ON, NB

View Tom’s photos from a trip seeking peak fall colors across Northeast USA (New York, New England, Pennsylvania) to the dynamic Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick, Canada), for three weeks in October 2014. At bottom is my recommended camping itinerary for chasing a month of bright autumn leaf colors through scenic Northeast parks.

Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy: 41 favorite images + map from October 2014 trip

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All 272 images + map from October 2014 fall color trip, Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy

Our camping itinerary let us chase and hit the peak of fall colors at each destination from September 29 to October 20. Below is a bigger gallery of my day-by-day images chasing peak fall colors across Northeast USA to scenic Bay of Fundy:

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This photo gallery includes: New York (Niagara Falls/Ontario, Adirondacks, Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP Gorges, and Corning Museum of Glass); Vermont (Mt. Philo SP, Smugglers Notch and Shelburne Museum); New Hampshire (White Mountains, Mount Washington); Maine (Acadia National Park, Pemaquid Lighthouse, DeLorme’s Eartha globe); Pennsylvania (Ohiopyle SP); New Brunswick, CANADA (Bay of Fundy, Hopewell Rocks sunrise, St Martins and Fundy Trail Parkway); and Indiana (Indianapolis Zoo).

Driving MAP for October peak fall colors: Northeast USA – Bay of Fundy –  Indianapolis

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Progression of peak fall color dates for Northeast USA & Bay of Fundy

In Northeast USA, fall colors generally peak first at high interior continental locations, and peak last at low elevation areas near the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting a trip from late September through October as follows (varying year to year):

  1. New York: Adirondack Mountains: September 26-Oct 1 peak colors
    • Colors reach peak first in the Lake Placid / High Peaks area in late September. Most of Adirondack Park is blazing with color by the first week of October.
    • The Lake Placid region has good mountain scenery with alpine lakes and brooks making perfect fall color reflection photos. Drive up ** Whiteface Mountain for easiest high viewpoint (or hike a fire lookout).
    • The latest Adirondacks color peaks along Lake Champlain & Lake George in mid to late October.
  2. Vermont’s central mountains: Mt Mansfield, Smugglers Notch, Green Mountains: October 1-7 peak colors
  3. New Hampshire: White Mountain National Forest and Mt Washington: October 1-8 peak colors (with various color stages from mid-Sept to mid-Oct)
  4. New Brunswick, CANADA: Bay of Fundy: October 5-13 peak colors
  5. Maine: coastal/Acadia National Park: October 8-14 peak colors
  6. Vermont: Lake Winnipesaukee & Squam Lake: October 10-21 peak colors
  7. New York: Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks: Oct 12-25 peak colors
    • Fall colors brighten the forests of New York’s Finger Lakes region in the last three weeks of October.
    • In Letchworth State Park, renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Genesee River roars northeast through a gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 550 feet, surrounded by diverse forests. See rainbows, mist, and picturesque waterfalls up to 107 feet high. Off Interstate 390, 45 minutes south of Rochester.
  8. Pennsylvania: Ohiopyle SP and Fallingwater: Oct. 13-28 peak colors

Recommended fall color itinerary with camping & hiking options

In a 25-foot RV rented from CruiseAmerica (in Noblesville; near my wife’s family in Indianapolis, Indiana), we drove  3847 miles in 22 days (Sept 29-Oct 20) visiting:

Niagara Falls (Ontario) > New York’s Adirondacks > New Hampshire’s White Mountains > New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy > Maine’s Acadia NP > New York’s Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP gorges > Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle SP and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house > then back to Indianapolis

TRAVEL TIPS:
In autumn, always call private campgrounds ahead to check for early season closure. Some Walmarts allow overnight RV parking if you call first. Beware that due to their size, RVs cannot drive through Acadia NP’s four low-clearance bridges, New England’s covered bridges, or Mt Washington’s self-drive Road Tour in the White Mountains – all which pose no problem in a car. To save money on a compact 19-foot RV (not available in Eastern USA but available in the West), rent from CruiseCanada.com in Montreal or Toronto. In price per day, a rental car + gas + motel can be cheaper than CruiseAmerica.com’s 25-foot RV + gas + campgrounds; but we enjoyed the RV’s handy kitchen, bathroom, shower, and comfort for sleeping close to nature in campgrounds. Check websites, look for relocation deals, and enter discount code in reservation form. In October 2014, we noticed various motels with vacancies in the popular White Mountains even on weekends, encouraging us next time to try touring by car. As mountain weather often differs from nearby cities, get a better forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

ITINERARY KEY:  ***Impressive/Must see.  **High priority.  *Do it if time allows.
Abbreviations:  CANADA: ON=Ontario; NB=New Brunswick. RT=round trip. SP=State Park.
USANY=New York; VT=Vermont; NH=New Hampshire; ME=Maine; PA=Pennsylvania.

  • DAY 1 of 22:  Sept 29:
    • Rent an RV or car. CruiseAmerica.com has afternoon pick-up 1-4pm in Noblesville, Indiana or various other locations in Northeast USA. Gas expenses for a 25-foot RV add up quickly to around $50/day on this 3847-mile itinerary in 2014.
    • OHIO: Toledo: * Maumee Bay SP Campground (5 hrs from Noblesville RV). Many sites available.
  • Sept 30: 
    • ONTARIO: ** Niagara Falls views are better from the CANADA side. (4.8 hrs from Toledo/Maumee Bay SP via Detroit to Niagara Falls, ONTARIO)
    • ONTARIO: ** KOA Campground, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
      • or NY: * Golden Hill SP Campground (60 min); or * NY: Lakeside Beach SP Campground (75 min)
  • Oct 1:  
    • NY: * Chimney Bluffs State Park, Syracuse. (1.6 hrs from Lakeside SP; 2.3 hrs Niagara Falls)
    • NY: ADK: *** Fish Creek Pond Campground, near Saranac Lake.
    • NY: Adirondacks: hike *** Mount Jo Trail (ADK Loj) 2.6 mi RT, 710 feet gain (55 min from Fish Creek Pond)
  • Oct 2: VT: Burlington: ** Mt Philo SP Campground (reserve ahead). ($20 Essex ferry, short ride; or drive around 90 mi in 2.3 hrs from Mt Jo via Crown Pt/Lake Champlain Bridge)
    • VT: Burlington / Lake Champlain: ** Shelburne Museum. (20 min from Philo SP; 1.8 hrs from Mt Jo.)
  • Oct 3 camp: VT: Stowe: ** Smugglers Notch SP Campground (1 hr from Shelburne).
    • VT: ** Stowe Pinnacle Trail, Green Mountains (hike 2.8 miles, allow 3 hrs).
  • Oct 4: NH: White Mountains: H302 ** Beechhill Campground & Cabins, east of Littleton. (No reservation needed Oct 2014.)
    • NH: Lincoln: H112 / *** Kancamagus Hwy. White MountainsVisitor Center.
    • NH: H112: *** Sabbaday Falls, Kancamagus Hwy.
    • NH: H112: ** hike UNH Loop Trail (4.8 miles circuit, 1600 feet gain) on Hedgehog Mountain, Sandwich Range Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest.
    • * Scenic driving route: NH H302 to H112: Bear Notch /Albany Rd midway to Bartlett.
  • Oct 5-6: NH: White Mountains: H112 ** Covered Bridge Campground USFS. (Note: RVs must drive around Albany Covered Bridge’s height restriction via Conway and Passaconaway Road.)
    • NH: White Mountains: walk to ** Diana’s Baths with hiking extension to ** Moat Mountain hike, North Conway (hike 1-10 mi/2800 ft).
    • NH: White Mountains: * Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, H16
    • NH: White Mountains: * Mt Washington Road Tour, H16 (RESERVE AHEAD).
  • Oct 7: ME: Newport: * Christies Campground or Walmart. (3.7 hrs from Covered Bridge Campground via H16/Pinkham Notch)
    • or NH: White Mountains: Timberland Campground on US2 NW.
  • Oct 8: NB: * Fundy Trail Parkway is a pleasant side trip adding 1.4 hours. See * Fuller Falls.
    • NB: Fundy NP * Headquarters Camp + * Dickson Falls. (4.8 hrs from Christies Camp, ME; or 6.2 hours if adding Fundy Trail Parkway)
    • NB: * Cape Enrage Lighthouse & Barn Marsh Island Beach: see on the way to Hopewell. (30 min from Fundy NP Headquarters; 46 min to Hopewell)
    • NB: *** Hopewell Rocks Park, Bay of Fundy. (5.7 hrs from Acadia NP; 8 hrs from North Conway)
  • Oct 9 camp option: NB: ST Martins: Sea Side Tent & Trailer Park (CALL AHEAD: CLOSED early in fall 2014), adjacent to Fundy Trail Parkway.
  • Oct 9-10-11: ME: Acadia NP: *** Blackwoods Campground (MUST RESERVE AHEAD)
    • ME: Acadia NP: ** Cadillac Summit (but several low bridges restrict RV access)
    • ME: Acadia NP: *** Acadia Mountain Trail with loop option via Mt. Sauveur (2.5-4.5 mi RT/700-1300 ft gain)
    • ME: *** Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound serves delicious lobsters boiled in fresh seawater over a wood fire, plus other seafood. 1237 Bar Harbor Rd.
    • ME: *** Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. (8 hrs south of Acadia NP; 7 hrs from Hopewell Rocks)
    • ME: Brunswick: ** Hermit Island Campground option. (50 minutes side trip)
  • Oct 12: 
    • ME: Freeport: ** Recompence Shore Campground (at Wolfe’s Neck Farm nonprofit oceanfront)
      • or Bradbury Mountain SP Campground.
    • ME: Freeport: ** LL Bean Outlet Store, Freeport Village Station. (2 hrs from Pemaquid)
    • ME: Freeport (Yarmouth): * DeLorme map store: see Eartha, world’s largest globe. (10 min from LL Bean)
    • NH: Center Harbor: * Keepsake Quilting (for fabric lovers), Lake Winnipesaukee. (Drive 2 hours from Freeport)
    • NH: Holderness: *** West Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to overlook Squam Lake (hike 2-5 miles RT)
      • or ** Mt Major SP hike, Lake Winnipesaukee, Alton Bay (hike 3.4 mi RT, 1159 feet gain). (Drive 36 min from Center Harbor; 1.8 hrs from Freeport.)
    • MA: Lowell: * New England Quilt Museum
  • Oct 13: VT: Bennington: * Greenwood Lodge Campsites
    • VT: Bennington: Silk Road Covered Bridge + Paper Mill CB + Burt Henry Covered Bridge.
    • NY: Ithaca: Buttermilk Falls * Upper hike (Camp option).
  • Oct 14-15:
    • NY: *** Watkins Glen State Park: walk the spellbinding Gorge Trail 2-4 miles RT. (Drive 36 min from Buttermilk SP; 4.4 hours from Greenwood Lodge; 7.2 hrs from Alton Bay)
    • NY: * KOA Campground Watkins Glen/Corning
    • NY: *** Corning Museum of Glass.
  • Oct 16NY: ** Letchworth State Park Campground: wander the ***Gorge Trail #1 including Inspiration Point, Middle and Upper Genesee Falls (1-4 miles or drive and park). The huge campground has lots of space in October.
  • Oct 17-18 camp: PA: * Ohiopyle SP, Kentuck Camp. Reserve ahead on weekends. (Drive 5.8 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 18 or 19 tour: PA: *** Fallingwater house tour, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – MUST RESERVE AHEAD, especially weekends. (5.5 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 19: OHIO: east of Columbus: KOA-Buckeye Lake Campground (on I-70, 3.5 hours from Ohiopyle).
  • DAY 22 of 22: Oct 20: Indianapolis, Indiana: return RV before 11:00am to Noblesville’s CruiseAmerica RV.

New England and Northeast USA guidebooks

Search for the latest New England guidebooks on Amazon.com (buying at this link supports my site).

Historical tip: As a Westerner traveling “back East” I learned that New York is NOT part of New England. New York and its Harbor were originally settled by the Dutch, who named it New Amsterdam in the colony of New Netherland. The British renamed the New Netherland colony to New York in 1664 (in honor of the then Duke of York, later James II of England) after English forces seized control of the Dutch colony.

USA: Eastern Oregon

View Tom Dempsey’s photos of Eastern Oregon, including:

  1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains
  3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking
  4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF
  5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

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2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains

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Much of this area is within the extensive Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking

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For more details, read my separate article about backpacking Eagle Cap Wilderness.

4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

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Wenaha River Trail starts from the Wenaha River’s confluence with the Grande Ronde River in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon.

5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

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Oregon favorite statewide images (consolidated from many trips)

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Index of my Oregon articles:

Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Oregon travel” books at Amazon.com.

2014 spring training hikes in Washington & Eastern Oregon

Where can Seattle hikers go in the spring when high Cascades trails are covered in snow? Motivated to train for summer trekking in Peru, we enjoyed the following series of early season hikes in Washington and Oregon, traveling 1-4 days at a time out of Seattle between April 14-Jun 13, 2014:

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As driving trips out of Seattle, these spring hikes (photos above and links below) gave lots of variety, including wonderful wildflowers and snow-free footing with altitude acclimatization as high as 7140 feet in Washington’s Kettle Range:

  • Oregon (camping in RV parks in our VW Eurovan Camper)
    • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (click to article or see photo show below): March 15-16 was an excellent time for us to visit, with pleasant temperatures; snow-free most of the year.
    • Troy: Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF, Grande Ronde River:
      • Wenaha River Trail (8.2 miles/600 ft gain): on May 19, this pleasant trail was dry and snow-free.
      • We enjoyed being the sole campers next to the Grande Ronde River in quiet Shilo Troy RV Resort (hot showers; electric hookup).
    • Enterprise: Wallowa Mountains
      • Imnaha River Trail (9.3 miles/800 ft gain), Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: May 20 was perhaps a week too late to avoid an overgrowth of poison ivy and blackberry thorns across the trail – next time, early to mid-May should be best. Bring a machete. For sure, avoid midsummer heat on this trail which is hikeable from late March through November.
      • In Enterprise, Log House RV Park had friendly staff and good views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    • Pendleton:
      • Ninemile Ridge Trail (5.3 miles/1250 ft gain, plus more if you want): May 21 had excellent Lupinus luteolus (Pale Yellow or Butter Lupine) flowers; usually best from mid- to late-May.
  • Washington
    • Blewett Pass (camping for 2 nights):
      • Iron Creek to Teanaway Ridge Trail (7.2 miles/1850 ft): May 28 had excellent footing, with some easily crossed snow patches at the top. Camp in nice quiet Forest Service pullouts along the gravel access road.
      • Ingalls Creek Trail (11.2 miles): Excellent on May 29; best mid-May to early-June for wildflowers and rushing high-volume water; hikeable May to October. Camp conveniently in Blu-Shastin RV Park near Leavenworth.
      • Table Mountain Trail #1209, near Blewett Pass, Wenatchee National Forest (5 miles/800 ft): on May 30, one snow blockage in the access road forced us to walk a mile to the trailhead, discovering beautiful rafts of Glacier Lilies, Grasswidow, and Columbian lewisia flowers under the burnt forest!
    • Mt Si Trail, North Bend (9 miles/3170 ft): snow-free most of the year, except summit Haystack area.
    • West Tiger Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Cougar Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Wallace Lake, Gold Bar (loop 8.5 miles/1500 ft): snow-free most of the year.
    • Kettle Range, Colville National Forest, near Republic, for the highest snow-free, early-season hikes in Washington, above 7000 feet elevation:
      • Copper Butte Trail (9.2 mi/2150 ft, reaching 7140 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 12.
      • Wapaloosie Mountain Trail (6.2 mi/1850 ft, reaching 7018 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 13.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a late-Winter visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

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Index of my Oregon articles:

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
Apr 14-Jun 13, 2014

CANADA: Vancouver, BC

The City of Vancouver in British Columbia makes a pleasant winter getaway from Seattle (or vice versa). Allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. [Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.] A trip to Vancouver can be efficiently combined with a visit to Whistler Village for summer hiking or winter skiing. Below I share Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:

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Downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour

Staying in a downtown condo or hotel makes for convenient walking exploration of Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver Harbour, Stanley Park, and Vancouver Aquarium. We liked using the web site AirBnB.com to locate private condo lodging along Coal Harbor.

Stanley Park and Vancouver Aquarium

Stanley Park is a great place for walking, skating, or bicycling. Vancouver Aquarium is excellent, including live shows of Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales.

Bloedel Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

Bloedel Conservatory (4600 Cambie St.) is a domed lush paradise where you can experience the colors and scents of the tropics year-round, within Queen Elizabeth Park, atop the City of Vancouver’s highest point. From Little Mountain (501 feet), see panoramic views over the city crowned by the mountains of the North Shore. A former rock quarry has been converted into beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park with flower gardens, public art, grassy knolls. In Bloedel Conservatory, more than 200 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and flowers thrive within a temperature-controlled environment. A donation from Prentice Bloedel built the domed structure, which was dedicated in 1969 “to a better appreciation and understanding of the world of plants,” and is jointly operated by Vancouver Park Board and VanDusen Botanical Garden Association.

The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is a good astronomy museum worth visiting in Vanier Park, at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver. It was founded 1968 and named for a British Columbia industrialist and philanthropist. See science exhibits and shows in the GroundStation Canada Theatre, Cosmic Courtyard, and cool Planetarium Star Theatre. The building was designed in the 1960s by architect Gerald Hamilton to house what was then called The Centennial Museum. The Space Centre shares the building with the Museum of Vancouver. Outside, the Crab fountain sculpture was made in 1968 by George Norris. In First Nation legend, the crab is the guardian of the harbour and it was also the zodiac sign at the time of the Canadian Centennial in 1967.

Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

Admire waterfalls in Lynn Canyon from the Suspension Bridge continue on a pleasant walking loop of several kilometers through wild rainforest. Lynn Canyon is a municipal park established in 1912 at 3663 Park Road, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7J 3G3, Canada. Phone 604-990-3755.

PERU 2014: Around Alpamayo & Cordillera Huayhuash Circuits

During my third visit to Peru (June 19-July 18, 2014), our family group of eight Dempseys trekked vigorously 10 days Around Alpamayo in the Cordillera Blanca and 9 days on the spectacular Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, in the Huaraz area, Andes, South America. We prepared for the breathtaking altitudes with three day hikes of acclimatization out of Huaraz: 1) Callan Punta (in the Cordillera Negra), 2) Lake Churup, and 3) Lake 69. The tough itinerary was rewarded by memorable images shown below.

Favorite Peru photos from 2014, 2003, 2000

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Peruvian trekking season, climate, guide service

The Andes climate is generally wonderful for trekking in the mountain dry season from May through September. Days are about 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, nights about 38 degrees, with frequent morning frost if the night was clear. Encounter fewer fellow travelers in May or September, when weather is also good. Coastal Peru, including the megalopolis of Lima, has a climate opposite to that of the mountains: a short summer of sunny, sticky days from January to March, followed by 9 months of gray mist called the garua. Coastal Peru is one of the driest deserts on earth, watered only by rivers descending from the Andes. As mountain weather often differs from nearby cities, get a better forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

We booked our treks of 2014, 2003, and 2000 directly via e-mail and wire payment using the excellent Peru-based trekking company Aventura Quechua. (See my earlier article PERU 2000, 2003.) Our group enjoyed their good food and confident leadership on tenting treks with guide, cook, and arrieros (donkey wranglers). Experienced, flexible trip leader Dante successfully guided our 22 days of hiking in 2014.

Peru is one of the best exotic travel bargains from the USA (much closer than Nepal). Visitors from the Americas will have little jet lag to Lima because Peru Time (PET) equals Eastern Standard Time (EST) without a Daylight Savings shift.

Around Alpamayo in 10 days, Cordillera Blanca 2014

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We walked for 10 days Around Alpamayo in Huascaran National Park, as high as 15,950 feet or 4830 meters elevation at Caracara Pass. (A side trip to Punta Union Pass reached 15,600 feet in better weather than the rainy day of our Santa Cruz Valley Trek in year 2000.)

Alpamayo mountain weather forecast: www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Alpamayo

Cordillera Blanca is the highest tropical mountain range in the world, reaching 22,205 feet at the top of snowy twin-peaked Huascaran. In 1985, UNESCO listed beautiful Huascaran National Park as a World Heritage Area, a label for special places worth seeking worldwide.

Cordillera Huayhuash Valley Circuit in 9 days, 2014

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Trekking around the stunning Cordillera Huayhuash requires altitude acclimatization and good physical fitness. We averaged walking about 9 miles and 2000 feet up/down each day in good weather. Donkeys carried gear and arrieros (donkey drivers) set up camp ahead each day, leaving us to carry light day packs. We crossed many passes over 15,000 feet in elevation above sea level reaching as high as 16,500 feet. The scenery and thin air took my breath away!

Portachuelo de Huayhuash and Punta Cuyoc passes on the Huayhuash Circuit gave us sweeping views of Cordillera Raura. The source of the Amazon River lies on the east side of the Cordillera Raura, as determined by the Royal Geographical Society in 1950: the tiny glacial lake Laguna Niñococha feeds Rio Lauricocha, then Rio Marañon, then the Amazon. [From May 21-28, 2003, I trekked with 10 other men for 55 miles in eight days halfway around the Cordillera Huayhuash on a route is known as the Backwards C, which exits in the Cordillera Raura. In 2014, I repeated those first 5 days then added the southern portion to finish the amazing Huayhuash Circuit route.]

Cordillera Huayhuash is currently a Reserved Zone, which recognizes the rights and traditional land use by the eight communities of the area. Please respect the area by informing yourself before going. The following book helps plan a trek, identify routes, and name peaks during the trip (and includes several of my photos):

Climbs and Treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru” by Jeremy Frimer 2005  ISBN #0-9733035-5-7

Touching the Void

The Cordillera Huayhuash challenged mountaineers in the gripping 2003 British docudrama “Touching the Void.” In 1985, climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates scaled the treacherous West Face of Siula Grande (20,800 feet / 6344 meters), one of the last unconquered faces in the Andes, but after Joe broke his leg, their descent became one of the most amazing survival stories in mountaineering history. The movie is based upon the harrowing book, “Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival” by Joe Simpson (published 2004, 1993, 1989).

Huayhuash weather forecast

Weather forecast for Siula Grande (and other selectable peaks in the Peruvian Andes or worldwide): www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Siula-Grande

Huaraz; Lake Churup hike; Callan Punta hike (Cordillera Negra)

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Peruvian History

While Lake Titicaca (on the border with Bolivia) is an earlier and more important cradle of Andean civilizations, Cuzco Valley gave birth to the powerful Inca Empire. Peru’s greatest native legacy to the world is the potato plant, which is now a staple crop spread world wide.
An ancient mummy seems to cringe in sorrow or intense feeling at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Arqueologia (National Anthropology and Archeology Museum), Lima, Peru, South America.)

The Inca Empire and Spanish Conquest

Archeology suggests that in a 700-800 AD military expansion, the Wari people may have settled the Cuzco Valley and become the Inca’s ancestors. Quechua oral history says that the first Inca, Manco Capac, the son of the sun god (inti), founded the city of Cuzco in the 1100’s AD. After 1430 AD, the Incas burst out of Cuzco and quickly imposed their culture from southern Colombia to central Chile.

The Incas used their absolute rule and organizational genius to build vast terraces for growing food on the steep Andes mountains in a moderate climate, away from the dry desert coast and above the mosquito-filled Amazon Basin. The Incas developed textiles, pottery, metals, architecture, amazingly fitted rock walls, empire-wide roads, bridges, and irrigation, but never discovered the wheel, arch, or writing. Despite their amazing accomplishments, the Inca Empire lasted barely a century.

Over in Europe, Catholic Pope Alexander divided Africa and Brazil to Portugal, and gave the Americas to Spain. With Church approval, Spanish fortune hunters accompanied by priests sought riches in the Americas. With lucky timing, conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in 1532 at a moment that found the Incas vulnerable from a just-ended civil war. With just a few dozen conquistadors bringing superior weaponry, horses, and guile, Pizarro captured the Inca Emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca. Despite receiving a fabulous a gold-filled room as ransom fulfillment, Pizarro soon killed Atahualpa. After realizing that the Spanish were here to stay, the successor Inca Emperor, Manco, met with fellow Inca chiefs at Lares in spring 1536 to plan a rebellion, raising an army of 100,000 to 200,000 to surround Cuzco against just 190 Spaniards (including 80 on horses). Despite vastly superior numbers, their clubs, spears, slingshots, and arrows were no match against armored and mounted Spanish Conquistadors brandishing steel swords. Manco Inca’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, and he was forced to retreat to Vilcabamba in the Amazon jungle, where he was killed in 1544. In 1572, the Inca Tupac Amaru organized another rebellion, but was also defeated and executed by the Spaniards. The Spanish Conquest lasted 40 years, from the ambush of Inca Atahualpa at Cajamarca, to Tupac Amaru’s beheading.

Sadly, the near-socialistic support system of the Inca was now destroyed by the cruelty of feudal Europe. The “Indians” (now known as Andeans or campesinos) were now triply-exploited by 1) their native chief (curaca), 2) their Spanish governor (encomendero), and 3) their Spanish priest, who all exacted undue tribute payments. The Incas’ mita system of forced labor for the common good was misused by the Spanish for mining gold and silver for the Crown. Eventually the Spanish forced 80% of the former Inca Empire to work for tribute, mines, or textile mills, stopping just short of slavery. After the Spanish Conquest, Peru’s population declined from 7 million to 1.8 million due to disease, war, famine, culture shock, and demoralization.  Read The Conquest of the Incas (2003), first published in 1970 by John Hemming.

Today, despite turbulent politics, Peru makes a wonderful vacation. Allow one or two extra flex days in your schedule to handle delays in transportation due to frequent strikes.

Recommended books for Peru

Search for latest “Peru travel books” at Amazon.com.

May 2013: 2013: 2014:
2011: 2011: 2004: 2004:
2008: 2003/1970:

2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California

From March 15 to April 9, 2014, my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas (6000-mile loop), gathering images in great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. The trip photos are shown below in day-by-day order.

Favorites (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)

Above, images automatically play in a show. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

All photos (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse (or press the Start Slideshow button). But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

See also my related articles which consolidate our multiple trips by state:

My photo galleries consolidate multiple trips into labeled geographic areas.

USA: Oregon: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a trip on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

Above, images automatically play in a show. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Photo favorites of 2014 spring trip from Seattle to Texas via Oregon

The above John Day Fossil Beds images are from our 6000-mile trip from March 15 to April 9, 2014, where my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas and back, visiting some great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. That trip produced these favorite photos:

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Oregon favorite images (consolidated from many trips)

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Recommended Oregon guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Oregon travel” books at Amazon.com.

USA: Texas

In spring 2014, Carol and I visited a variety of sights in Texas, USA, and captured the following photo galleries:

  1. USA: Texas favorites
  2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  3. Caverns of Sonora
  4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
  5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
  6. San Antonio: the Alamo
  7. more photos

These Texas photos date from March 27-31 and April 2-3, 2014.

See also:

1. USA: Texas favorites

Above are favorite Texas images automatically played in a show. Below, view more extensive galleries. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

3. Caverns of Sonora

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

6. San Antonio: the Alamo

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

7. more photos of Texas

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Recommended Texas guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search at this link for latest Texas travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).

USA: New Mexico

In March 2014, Carol and I visited photogenic sights in New Mexico and captured the following evocative image galleries:

  1. New Mexico favorite images
  2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  4. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, fascinating eroded badlands
  5. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
  6. Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque

…as part of our 2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California: March 15-April 9, 2014. See also my other Southwest USA articles (Arizona, ColoradoNevada, Utah) plus Texas.

1. New Mexico favorite images

Above, favorite images from New Mexico automatically play in a show. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos). Galleries below show more extensive images from each area.

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park

is honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

4. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

5. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

6. Petroglyph National Monument

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Southwest USA favorites from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada

Above, browse gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse. (START SLIDESHOW or PAUSE || as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices display just a fixed picture, so please touch (click) to enlarge as a set of images with full captions (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Separate state articles cover travel tips & photos for southwest USA and Texas:

Recommended New Mexico guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search at this link for latest New Mexico travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).

2004: 2012: 2012: 2010:

Truth in journalism: how to check the facts, ma’am

With the rise of anonymous internet chatter and demise of traditional printed newspapers, where do we find the “truth” in a raucous world? Below are suggested information sources and tips on how to skeptically parse facts from evidence, belief, and opinion.

Check the validity of facts, news, and rumors

Check news reports
Research general knowledge

Ironically, internet crowd sourcing has created a remarkably deep and reliable source of worldwide knowledge in Wikipedia:

  • www.wikipedia.org — Wikimedia Foundation, San Francisco, California
    • can be as accurate as printed encyclopedias (albeit with inelegant prose).
      • A study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopedia Britannica and had a similarly low rate of serious errors. When Encyclopedia Britannica disputed the study, Nature refuted their main objections point-by-point.
      • From 2008-2012, various studies comparing Wikipedia to professional and peer-reviewed sources in medical and scientific fields found that Wikipedia’s depth and coverage were of a high standard (such as in pathology, toxicology, oncology, pharmaceuticals, and psychiatry).
      • I’ve found Wikipedia accuracy to be remarkably high. When I spotted a few errors on minor topics, I corrected the articles. For example, under the entry for my home town of Chico, California, someone had entered a joke name for the town’s founder, which I corrected back to John Bidwell.
    • should be read with a bit of skepticism, as with anything you read or hear, due to possible editor partisanship or rare mischief.
    • can enlighten you with a global perspective on almost any topic, as refined by the consensus of an army of anonymous collaborative editors.
    • democratizes knowledge by letting anyone edit articles, within quality control guidelines enforced by the global community and the small non-profit Wikimedia staff.
    • ranks in the top-ten most-visited websites worldwide.
Check political facts and claims
  • www.factcheck.org — a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, operated by the University of Pennsylvania
    • carefully analyzes claims made by national politicians and other newsmakers.
  • www.politifact.com — a project of the Tampa Bay Times and partners
    • won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for its “Truth-O-Meter” ratings of national politicians’ claims.
    • includes links to affiliated state fact-checking sites.
Fossilized sand dunes, Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, Arizona (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Peel back the layers to find deeper meaning. Fossilized sand dunes, Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, Arizona. © Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com

  • votesmart.org
    • finds “Biographies, voting records, issue positions, ratings, speeches, campaign finance information. All politicians. Instantly.”
    • “At a unique research center located high in the Montana Rockies and far from the partisan influences of Washington, our staff, interns, and volunteers are working hard to strengthen the most essential component of democracy – access to information. Project Vote Smart is a non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization funded exclusively through individual contributions and philanthropic foundations.”
Examine extraordinary claims and religious beliefs
  • www.csicop.org — Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publishers of Skeptical Inquirer magazine
    • promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason to examine controversial and extraordinary claims (UFOs, astrology, paranormal and supernatural ideas, Creationism, urban legends, etc).
    • was founded by scientists, academics, and science writers such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, James RandiMartin Gardner, and others.
    • refers to additional sites: www.csicop.org/resources
  • skepticsannotatedbible.com — Skeptics Annotated Bible (SAB) website
    • Steve Wells shines the light of reason on the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon to open the eyes of believers and non-believers alike.
    • Read how quotes from the Bible address modern human rights issues such as sexuality, women’s issues, slavery, etc.
    • Admirably, the site keeps an open mind by linking to stakeholder responses from believers and apologists.
    • Read what reviewers say about Steve Wells’ book at Amazon.com: The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (2013) .

How not to get fooled by false claims or hidden agendas: be skeptical

While trust is the foundation of civil society, skepticism is still required to parse facts from evidence, belief, and opinion. When you hear a questionable message, examine its source, motivation, evidence, and conclusions:

  1. Is the source of the message
    • firsthand or from trustworthy informants?
    • independent, free of conflicts of interest?
    • expert, experienced, or proven reliable in the topic?
    • transparently clear?
  2. Consider the messenger’s motivation:
    • Are they selling something, someone, or a point of view?
      • Check the politics/background of whoever owns the radio, television, print, web site, or other media.
      • On all media, beware the following warning signs (red-flag phrases) for an agenda that may unexpectedly depart from the host media:
        • “From around the web” links
        • Sponsored Links
        • “Sponsored Content”
        • Advertisement
        • “501 (c) (4) American tax-exempt nonprofit organization”
        • “Opinion or Editorial”
    • If the motivation is persuasion, be skeptical.
      • Persuaders such as lawyers, publicists, and campaigning politicians often omit relevant contrary information.
      • The more you feel urged towards a particular point of view, be especially doubtful.
      • A more-reliable source may have a tone which is unemotional and informative, and carefully quotes and attributes other proven sources.
  3. Examine the evidence and conclusions drawn.
    • Extreme claims require rigorous proof. The more consequential the claim, the more evidence is required.
    • Is the evidence logical?
      • A heartfelt story is just one data point.
      • Correlation doesn’t imply causation.
      • Be wary of simple solutions, as most issues have multiple factors.
      • Ask if alternate explanations are equally compelling.
    • Is a relevant fact or context left out?
      • Are all stakeholders given say?
      • Look for the inconvenient truth.
      • Consider other contexts that may change the meaning: research how other sources have covered the same topic.
    • Is the evidence reproducible or proven from direct observation?

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) also applies to consuming information and voting. Read more in the book, Don’t Be Fooled: A Citizen’s Guide to News and Information in the Digital Age (2012) by John McManus, a communication professor and longtime journalist.

Recommended nonfiction books to expand your mind

2012: 2012: 2012: 2011:
2013:

  • Ideas That Matter: The Concepts That Shape the 21st Century (2012) by Anthony Clifford Grayling, “winnows a universe of ideas, ideologies, and philosophies into a personal dictionary for understanding the new century.”
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) by Jonathan Haidt, explores the origins of our divisions (culturally dependent moral intuition) and points the way to mutual understanding. Our tribal groupishness leads to our greatest joys, religious divisions, and political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) by Steven Pinker, analyzes and describes historical declines of violence since ancient hunter-gatherer societies evolved into civilizations with centralized authority and commerce. Progressive morality has risen to a peak, which suggests grounds for guarded optimism. The most violent societies per person have been pre-state tribes. Violence has declined per person over human history because nation-states (the “Leviathan”) and rule of law have assumed a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Desperately poor countries are the most likely to have civil wars. Most murders are done by people taking the law into their own hands, in moralized self-interest. Religions have been a net negative violent force, often against Enlightenment values, against the flourishing of individuals, and against human rights. Excessively moralistic ideologies (tribal, authoritarian, or puritanical) throughout history have caused the most war, conflict, and death. Pinker warns that historical trends in the decline of violence (especially after World War II) are not necessarily guaranteed to continue. His thesis is descriptive, not predictive. Books, reading, and education have an empathetic value to reduce violence through the understanding of others. Reason allows us to extract ourselves from our parochial vantage points.
  • The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells (2013)

Photography is communication

At PhotoSeek.com, I carefully check all facts quoted in my photo captions and articles, especially for social and environmental issues, such as:

Hidden agendas can threaten democracy − a personal anecdote

A dog peers through a window in a white fence at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, USA.

A dog peers through a window in a white fence at historical Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, USA.

As a provider of photographs to commercial interests, non-profit organizations, and individuals, I prefer my images to be used in socially positive ways. But in August 2013, I learned to ask more questions before donating images:

A phone caller asked me to donate a photo to his “501(c)(4) tax-exempt nonprofit” website which advocated home schooling. But after exchanging a few emails, I learned that the site promoted a far-right Christian Bible-based agenda of anti-scientific thought. (I instead favor empirical and scientific methods to determine the facts of the world.) The author later password-protected his controversial blog articles, including his weird discussion of the supposed “science bias” (an oxymoron) taught in public schools.

In a democracy, corporations shouldn’t have the rights to freedom of speech and religion like individuals.

On a national scale, some extreme political, religious, and anti-scientific organizations are now hiding their big contributions to political campaigns under umbrella organizations sanctioned by the IRS tax code, 501 (c) (4): 

  • 501 (c) (4) American tax-exempt nonprofit organizations
    • are designed for Civic LeaguesSocial Welfare Organizations, and Local Associations of Employees reputedly for the common good and general welfare of their community;
    • are allowed to address controversial topics; and
    • are not required to disclose their donors publicly.

In 2013, the 501(c)(4) “dark money” spending on political TV ads exceeded spending from Super PACs, both of which undermine democracy.

  • Super PACs, or “independent-expenditure only committees,
    • may not contribute to candidate campaigns or parties, but may otherwise spend unlimited amounts of money for promoting political agendas;
    • were made possible by two judicial decisions in 2010: “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” and “Speechnow.org v. FEC”; and
    • can raise unlimited funds from corporations, unions, other groups, and individuals.

The voices of powerful corporations and the rich shouldn’t be allowed to secretly bias political dialogue with money laundered through Super PACs and 501 (c) (4) organizations. Corporate hierarchy gives employees (and stockholders) little voice over donation decisions by the CEO or Board of Directors. To best serve public interest, corporations should be governed by certain social responsibilities and rights that should be distinct from those of individuals.

To improve the democratic system, the trail of all large political donations should be tracked by named source and publicly reported by law. Voters and consumers deserve to know who is behind political and commercial messages. We shouldn’t tolerate anonymous or hidden power brokers gaming the system. Read more at:

  • Opensecrets.org — Center for Responsive Politics
  • On November 26, 2013,”The IRS and Treasury Department on Tuesday issued proposed rules that could sharply cut back the amount of political activity that 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations can undertake and still maintain their tax-exempt status.” — www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/11/irs-issues-proposed-new-rules-to-cu.html
  • www.wamend.org — a state initiative to “get big money out of elections.” It urges the Washington State Congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment clarifying that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations; that spending money is not free speech under the First Amendment; that governments are fully empowered to regulate political contributions and expenditures to prevent undue influence; and that political contributions and expenditures must be promptly disclosed to the public.

—  Tom Dempsey, December 12, 2013

Note regarding the title of this article: Joe Friday, the fictional Dragnet TV series detective, famously said “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Popular culture restates this today as: “Just the facts, ma’am.

Compare digital camera sensor sizes: 1″-Type, 4/3, APS-C, full frame 35mm

To optimize the portability of a serious travel camera (recommended here), get 1-inch Type sensor size or as large as APS-C sensor. Above this range, full-frame sensors overly increase camera weight for most travelers. Below “1-inch” size, sensors can suffer from poor image quality (especially in dim light) when making large prints. The archaic inch-sizing of sensors is clarified in the illustration and the table further below with relative sizes and millimeters.

For a given year of technological advance, a camera with physically bigger sensor area tends to capture better image quality by gathering more light, but at the cost of larger-diameter, bulkier lenses. Recent digital sensor advances have shrunk cameras and increased optical zoom ranges while preserving image quality. If you avoid using their poor digital zoom, even top smartphones such as Google Pixel, Samsung S6/S7 or Apple iPhone 6s can potentially make good 18-inch prints, and they excel at instantly sharing images. A powerful image can be created any decent camera in the hands of a skilled or lucky photographer. But for superior optical zoom, better performance in dim light and sharper prints, get a bigger camera.

Below, compare sensor sizes for digital cameras:

Sensor sizes for digital cameras.

In the above illustration, compare digital camera sensor sizes: full frame 35mm, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, 1-inch, 1/1.7″ and 1/2.5” Type. For new digital cameras, a bigger sensor area captures better quality, but requires larger diameter, bulkier lenses. To optimize the size of a serious travel camera, consider 1-inch-Type sensor or up to APS-C sensor size. “Full-frame 35mm” sensor / film size (36 x 24 mm) is a standard for comparison, with a diagonal field-of-view crop factor = 1.0. In comparison, a pocket camera’s 1/2.5” Type sensor crops the light gathering by 6.0x smaller diagonally (with a surface area 35 times smaller than full frame).

Click here for my latest camera recommendations

1″-Type sensor size is now optimal for travel camera portability:

I upgrade my digital camera every 2-4 years because the latest devices keep beating older models. As of 2016, a 1″-Type sensor size is perfect for a portable, lightweight travel camera, as in the following which capture excellent dynamic range (bright to dark) with exceptionally fast autofocus:

Or the following top APS-C-sensor camera lets you interchange lenses (though I prefer the above all-in-one solutions for travel convenience):

The next step up to full-frame-sensor cameras costs extra, adds bulk, and is only needed if you regularly shoot in dim light higher than ISO 6400, or often print images larger than 2 or 3 feet in size to be viewed closer than their longest dimension by critically sharp eyes.

But huge effective billboards can be printed from compact 3-megapixel cameras (read my article)

How to compare cameras

  • My CAMERAS article updates Light Travel camera recommendations several times per year.
  • If possible, compare cameras shot side-by-side under a variety of actual field conditions (which I do just before selling a former camera to confirm the quality of the new replacement camera). I like to “pixel-peep” a side-by-side comparison of two different cameras capturing the same subject under same lighting conditions. Be sure to mentally or digitally normalize any two given shots to compare their fine detail as if printed with equal overall image size.
  • I judge image quality and resolution not by megapixel (mp) count but instead by comparing standardized studio test views at 100% pixel enlargement and checking resolvable lines per picture height (LPH), at the authoritative dpreview.com (owned by Amazon since 2007) and handy Comparometer at imaging-resource.com. Check other review sites analyzing a camera’s telephoto in addition to standard lens.

For me, yearly advances as of 2014-16 put the sweet spot for a serious travel camera between 1”-Type and APS-C size sensors. Most cheaper compact cameras have smaller but noisier sensors such as 1/2.3″ Type (6.17 x 4.56 mm) — tiny enough to miniaturize a superzoom lens (above 15x zoom range), but poor for capturing dim light or for enlarging prints much beyond 12-18 inches.

Smartphones can have even tinier sensors, such as 1/3.0″ Type (4.8 mm x 3.6 mm) in iPhone 5S. Top smartphone cameras have improved miniature sensors to the point where citizen journalists can capture newsworthy photos with image quality good enough for fast sharing and quick international publication. My Samsung Note 5 smartphone (same camera as S6/S7 with 1/2.6″ sensor) captures sunny 16mp images sufficient to make a sharp 18-inch print, virtually indistinguishable from that taken by a larger camera. Tip: avoid the digital zoom on smartphones, and instead move closer before shooting or crop at editing time, if needed to isolate subjects.

Read this pointed perspective on how far image quality has progressed from early DSLR to 2014 smartphone cameras. Historically, evocative images can clearly be captured regardless of camera size or modernity. But for a given year of technological advance, tiny-sensor cameras can have severe limitations compared to physically larger cameras in terms of print enlargement, autofocus speed, blurred performance in dim or indoor light, and so forth. The “best” travel camera is the one that you are willing to carry.

More details:

The non-standardized fractional-inch sensor sizing labels such as 1/2.5-inch Type and 1/1.7″ Type confusingly refer to antiquated 1950s-1980s vacuum tubes. When you see those archaic “inch” size labels, instead look up the actual length and width in millimeters reported in the specifications for each camera:

Table of camera sensor size, area, and diagonal crop factor relative to 35mm full-frame

Sensor Type Diagonal (mm) Width (mm) Height (mm) Sensor Area (in square millimeters) Full frame sensor area is x times bigger Diagonal crop factor* versus full frame
1/3.2″ (Apple iPhone 5 smartphone 2012) 5.68 4.54 3.42 15.50 55 7.6
1/3.0″ (Apple iPhone 5S smartphone 2013) 6.00 4.80 3.60 17.30 50 7.2
1/2.6″ Type (Samsung Galaxy S6 & Note 5 in 2015) 6.86 5.5 4.1 22.55 38 6.3
1/2.5″ Type 7.18 5.76 4.29 24.70 35 6.0
1/2.3″ Type (Canon PowerShot SX280HS, Olympus Tough TG-2) 7.66 6.17 4.56 28.07 31 5.6
1/1.7″ (Canon PowerShot S95, S100, S110, S120) 9.30 7.44 5.58 41.51 21 4.7
1/1.7″ (Pentax Q7) 9.50 7.60 5.70 43.30 20 4.6
2/3″ (Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone with 41mp camera; Fujifilm X-S1, X20, XF1) 11.00 8.80 6.60 58.10 15 3.9
Standard 16mm Film Frame 12.7 10.26 7.49 76.85 11 3.4
1” Type (Sony RX100 & RX10, Nikon CX, Panasonic FZ1000) 15.86 13.20 8.80 116 7.4 2.7
Micro Four Thirds, 4/3 21.60 17.30 13 225 3.8 2.0
APS-C: Canon EF-S 26.70 22.20 14.80 329 2.6 1.6
APS-C: Nikon DX, Sony NEX/Alpha DT, Pentax K 28.2 – 28.4 23.6 – 23.7 15.60 368 – 370 2.3 1.52 – 1.54
35mm full-frame (Nikon FX, Sony Alpha/Alpha FE, Canon EF) 43.2 – 43.3 36 23.9 – 24.3 860 – 864 1.0 1.0
Kodak KAF 39000 CCD Medium Format 61.30 49 36.80 1803 0.48 0.71
Hasselblad H5D-60 Medium Format 67.08 53.7 40.2 2159 0.40 0.65
Phase One P 65+, IQ160, IQ180 67.40 53.90 40.40 2178 0.39 0.64
IMAX Film Frame 87.91 70.41 52.63 3706 0.23 0.49

* Crop Factor: Note that a “full frame 35mm” sensor/film size (about 36 x 24 mm) is a common standard for comparison, having a diagonal field of view crop factor of 1.0. The debatable term crop factor comes from an attempt by 35mm-film users to understand how much the angle of view of their existing full-frame lenses would narrow (increase in telephoto power) when mounted on digital SLR (DSLR) cameras which had sensor sizes (such as APS-C) which are smaller than 35mm.

With early DSLR cameras, many photographers were concerned about the loss of image quality or resolution by using a digital sensor with a light-gathering area smaller than 35mm film. However, for my publishing needs, APS-C-size sensor improvements easily surpassed my scanning of 35mm film by 2009.

An interesting number for comparing cameras is “Full frame sensor area is x times bigger” in the above table.

  • In comparison to full a frame sensor, a pocket camera’s 1/2.5-inch Type sensor crops the light gathering surface 6.0 times smaller diagonally, or 35 times smaller in area.
  • An APS-C size sensor gathers about 15 times more light (area) than a 1/2.5” Type sensor and 2.4 times less than full frame.
    • APS-C sensors in Nikon DX, Pentax, and Sony E have 1.5x diagonal field of view crop factor.
    • APS-C sensors in Canon EF-S DSLRs have 1.6x diagonal field of view crop factor.
  • 1 stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of gathered light. Doubling a sensor’s area theoretically gathers one stop more light.

Lens quality & diameter also affect image quality

For improving image quality, the quality and diameter of the lens can rival the importance of having a physically larger sensor area. Prime (non-zoom) lenses usually are sharpest for larger prints, but zoom lenses are more versatile and recommended for travelers.

Small sensor can beat larger with newer design (BSI) plus faster optics:

In my side-by-side field tests, the sharp, bright 25x zoom of Sony RX10 III resoundingly beats the resolution of 11x SEL18200 lens on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 at 90+ mm equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400. (Wider angle zoom settings show little quality difference.) Apparently RX10’s faster f/2.4-4 lens plus backside illumination (BSI) technology magically compensate for the sensor size difference, 1″-Type versus APS-C. Like most APS-C-sensor cameras in 2016, A6300 lacks BSI. Surprisingly little noise affects RX10’s image quality at high ISO 6400 in dim light. Its larger lens diameter gathering more light also helps in this comparison (72mm filter size of RX10 III versus 67mm SEL18200 on A6300).

Larger lens diameter can help dim light photography:

In my field tests, the linear sharpness of Sony’s high-quality SEL1670Z 3x zoom f/4 lens on flagship A6300 is only about 5% better than Sony RX10 III f/2.4-4 in bright light in the wider half of its 24-105mm equivalent range, but no better in dim light. I expect that RX10’s catch-up in quality under dim light is due to superior light sensitivity of BSI sensor plus larger lens diameter gathering more light, 72mm versus 55mm.

Using sweet spot of full-frame lenses on APS-C may not improve quality:

In principle, you might expect a slightly sharper image on an APS-C sensor when using the sweet spot of a lens designed for a full frame (which has a larger imaging circle), but results actually vary, especially when using older film-optimized lenses. In fact, a lens which is designed and optimized specially “for digital, for APS-C” can equal or exceed the quality of an equivalent full-frame lens on the same sensor, while also reducing bulk and weight (as in the Sony E-mount example further below).

Theoretically, new full-frame lenses “designed for digital” (using image-space telecentric design) may perform better on a digital sensor than would older lenses designed for film:

  • Unlike film, digital sensors receive light best when struck squarely rather than at a grazing angle.
  • Digital cameras perform best with lenses optimized specially “for digital”, using image-space telecentric designs, in which all the rays land squarely on the sensor (as opposed to having incoming rays emerge at the same angle as they entered, as in a pinhole camera). The light buckets (sensels) on digital sensors require light rays to be more parallel than with film (to enter at close to a 90 degree angle to the sensor).
  • Film can record light at more grazing angles than a digital sensor. Because older film-optimized lenses bend light to hit the sensor at more of a glancing angle, they reduce light-gathering efficiency and cause more vignetting around the edges (which is somewhat mitigated by the image circle being cropped by the APS-C sensor, which uses just the center part of the full-frame lens).
Side-by-side testing works better than theory to distinguish lenses:

Compare the following two Sony E-mount zoom lenses, full-frame versus APS-C:

  1. 2015 full-frame “Sony E-mount FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS” lens (27.5 oz, 36-360mm equivalent).
  2. 2010 APS-C “Sony E-mount 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS (silver SEL-18200)” lens (18.5 oz, 27-300mm equiv).

Both lenses are optimized for digital, yet the APS-C lens is much lighter weight and performs equal to or better than the full-frame lens. Side-by-side comparisons and also DxOMark tests on a Sony A6000 camera show that while they are about equally sharp, the Sony 24-240 has more distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration than the 18-200mm.

Raw format and advantages of large sensors over small

Cameras with larger sensors can achieve a shallower depth of focus than smaller sensors, a feature which movie makers and portrait photographers like to use for blurring the background (at brightest aperture setting, smallest F number value) to draw more attention to the focused subject. Conversely, smaller-sensor cameras like the Sony RX10 III and RX100 III tend to be much better at capturing close-focus (macro) shots with great depth of focus (especially at wide angle), at ISO up to 800. But the macro advantages of small-sensor cameras can diminish in dim light or when shooting at ISO higher than 800.

Landscape photographers often prefer to capture a deep depth of focus, which can be achieved with both small and large sensor cameras (often optimally sharp using a middle aperture F number value such as f/4 to f/5.6 on 1-inch Type sensor or f/8 on APS-C, while avoiding the diffraction of small pupil openings at high F number values such as f/22 on APS-C or full-frame).

To maximize raw dynamic range of brightness values from bright to dark, use base ISO (around ISO 100 or 200 in most digital still cameras), rather than higher ISO settings which amplify noise (blotchiness at the pixel level, most-visibly in shadows). However, using the latest full-frame sensors at high ISO values 6400+ can capture unprecedentedly low noise and open new possibilities for dim-light action photography at hand-held shutter speeds, indoors or at night.

Without the help of a flash, night and dim indoor photography is best with a full-frame sensor to gather more light with less noise. Low-noise night photography is usually best shot on a tripod at slow shutter speeds in raw format between ISO 100 and 800 (or as high as 1600-3200 on the latest large sensors).

For a given year of technological advance, cameras with larger sensors typically capture a wider dynamic range of brightness values from bright to dark per image than smaller sensors, with less noise. In 2016, Sony’s 1″-Type backside illumination (BSI) sensors capture sufficient dynamic range for my needs.

Camera raw format allows editing recovery of several stops of highlight and shadow detail which would be lost (truncated) in JPEG file format (if overexposed or underexposed). Alternatively, PC software or camera firmware using HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging lets any size of sensor greatly increase an image’s dynamic range by combining multiple exposures. But for me, the great dynamic range of a single raw file (from 1″-Type BSI or APS-C sensor) usually makes shooting extra images for HDR unnecessary.

Despite advanced circuitry, cameras are not smart enough to know which subjects are supposed to be white, black, or midtone in brightness. By default, all cameras underexpose scenes where white tones (such as snow) predominate, and overexpose highlights in scenes where black tones predominate. IMPORTANT TIP: To correctly expose for all tones, you need to lock exposure upon an actual midtone (such as a gray card; or on a line halfway between light and shadow) in the same light as your framed subject.

For greatest editing flexibility, rather than shooting JPEG format, serious photographers should record and edit images in raw format, which is supported in advanced cameras (but often not in small-sensor devices). Editing raw format fully recovers badly-exposed images − allowing you to “point and shoot” more freely than with JPEG. Even so, I carefully shoot to expose each histogram to the far right while avoiding truncation of highlights, in order to capture the highest signal-to-noise ratio in each scene. Try to stay close to base ISO 100 or 200. I typically first shoot a test shot on automatic Aperture-preferred priority, inspect the histogram, check any blinking highlight warnings, then compensate subsequent shots using Manual Exposure (or temporary Exposure Lock grabbed from the scene). Tonal editing of JPEGs can quickly truncate color channels or accumulate round-off errors, often making the image appear pasty, pixelated, or posterized. White Balance (Color Balance) is easily adjustable after shooting raw files, but tonal editing often skews colors oddly in JPEG. 12-bit Raw format has 16 times the tonal editing headroom and color accuracy compared to JPEG (which has only 8 bits per pixel per red, green, or blue color channel). In their favor, automatic point-and-shoot JPEG camera exposure modes get smarter every year, making advanced larger cameras less necessary for many people.

Detailed full-frame comparison of low-light Sony A7S 12mp versus A7R 36mp

How can we distinguish the image quality captured by different cameras? Images are best compared at a normalized pixel level (with fine detail examined on a monitor as if printed with equal overall image size) after shooting side-by-side in the field with comparable lens and shutter speed settings. Consider two sibling full-frame-sensor cameras:

  1. Sony Alpha A7S (12 mp of large-bucket photosites optimized for high ISO, low light, and videography plus stills, new in 2015) versus
  2. Sony Alpha A7R (36 megapixels of smaller-bucket photosites optimized for high resolution, new in 2014)

Despite its tinier but denser photosite buckets (also called sensels or pixel wells for catching light photons), the 36mp Sony Alpha A7R beats the dynamic range of 12mp Sony Alpha A7S in a normalized comparison of raw files (see dpreview article). While both cameras spread their photosites across the same surface area of a full-frame sensor, the 36mp A7R trumps the 12mp A7S for exposure latitude flexibility in raw post-processing at ISO 100 through 6400. Overall image quality of the 12mp A7S doesn’t beat the A7R until ISO 12,800 and higher (but only in the shadows through midtones under low-light conditions). Sony A7S is better for low-light videographers, whereas A7R is better for low-light landscape photographers who value high resolution and dynamic range.

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CROATIA: Plitvice Lakes National Park

On a sunny August morning 2013, we walked the well-worn boardwalks of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes as part of a month starting from Venice, day-hiking the Dolomites of Italy, and looping into Slovenia and Croatia.

Above are images of Plitvice Lakes National Park automatically played in a show. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvicka jezera) was founded in 1949 and is honored by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Waters flowing over limestone, dolomite, and chalk in this karstic landscape have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, beautiful lakes and waterfalls. Warming conditions after the last Ice Age (less than 12,000 years ago) allowed the natural dams to form from tufa (calcium carbonate) and chalk depositing in layers, bound by plants. Plitvicka Jezera is a municipality of Lika-Senj County in the Republic of Croatia, in Europe.

Practical tips for visiting Plitvice Lakes

  • Try to visit in the off season, as Plitvice Lakes National Park suffers severe overcrowding in the summer. Park hours are 7:00-20:00 for ticket booths, boat, and shuttlebus, but you can stroll into the park any time without boat/bus. The park is most crowded 10:00-15:00. On a Friday in early August, a 7:00am start helped us for a few hours before boardwalks became mobbed with people. Jostling with people shoulder to shoulder hurts the natural ambiance.
  • If you need to prioritize, the Upper lakes (Gornja Jezera) are most impressive. Walking briskly, you could spend a minimum of an hour at each of Lower and Upper Lakes plus half hour connection by boat or 40 minutes by trail. Hike uphill for the best views. Most people are satisfied after visiting a few hours. But dedicated photographers may want to allow an extra day or two to allow for changing weather and lighting.
  • Croatian currency is the kuna (HRK). Park entrances require cash. Paying in Euros gave change in kuna coins and bills, which may be worthless outside of Croatia.
  • Drive one way from Venice to Plitvice Lakes in about 4.5 hours (394 km).
  • The decaying infrastructure of Croatia still needs a bit of repair after the Croatian War of Independence 1991-1995, in contrast to wealthy northern Italy.

Accommodation and daily park entrance fees

  • The park entrance fee is 110 kuna per day (for entry, boat, and shuttle bus) if staying in offsite lodging, although it is paid just once if you stay in one of the following pricey park hotels:
    • The park’s on-site Hotel Bellevue (cheaper but dreary), Hotel Plitvice, and Hotel Jezero are expensive for basic rooms, costing much more than local Bed and Breakfasts (B&B). These hotels have convenient free parking, whereas the lots at Entrance 1 or 2 charge 7 kuna per hour.
    • Croatian currency is the kuna (HRK), and park entrance requires cash. Paying in Euros gave change in kuna, which is only good inside Croatia and may be hard to exchange outside.
  • In peak season, reserve lodging for Plitvice Lakes at least a day or two in advance to get more comfort per money spent.
    • After we searched among “no vacancy” hotels in mid afternoon, mid week, we settled upon a supposedly “3 star” lodging at Plitvice Lakes (Hotel #7) which sadly matched the quality of a “1 star” of Italy. A shared bathroom down extremely narrow stairs, thin walls, worn furnishings, and no air conditioning on a hot day gave us a bad memory of Hotel #7. Try these:
  • Certain local Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) may be your best bet (2013 prices), conveniently reserved at Booking.com (which doesn’t charge booking fees like referral links via airline websites), or call each directly:
    • Vila Vuk $87 double, plitvice-lakes-vila-vuk.com, address: Mukinje 45. Contact: Tibor Vukmirovic, Tel + 385 (0) 53 774-030, Email: tibor.vukmirovic@gs.t-com.hr
    • Telephone tips: Only within Croatia do you dial the number (0) shown within parentheses. How to dial Croatia from Slovenia: 00 + 385 + Areacode + #. For mobile phones: 00 + 385 + 9xx.xxx.xxx.
    • Villa Lika $80 double, address: Mukinje 63, just south of the lakes, Tel +385 53 774 302.
    • Pansion Breza $80 dbl, Plitvica Selo 21, Tel +385 91 559 9600
    • Villa Mukinja, +385-98-1877-346, www.plitvice-lakes.com
    • House Tina, www.housetina.com, address: Grabovac 175, north of park. €40-112 double with breakfast. Tel 00385 47 784197 Mobile: 00385 98 9634048.
    • Knezevic Guest House $85/night double, www.knezevic.hr, in Mukinja, Tel 053-774-081, mobile 098-168-7576.

For great travel tips updated each year, get Rick Steves’ books on Croatia at Amazon.com (buying at this link supports Tom).