2016 Sept: Oregon: Wallowa: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpack

From September 11-13, 2016, we enjoyed walking 22 miles in 3 days backpacking to Mirror Lake and idyllic Glacier Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, within Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, in the Wallowa Mountains, on the Columbia Plateau of northeastern Oregon. Scenery of “the Wallowas” resembles that of California’s Sierras but is much closer to Seattle!


Click here to reach my “Oregon: East: Wallowa: Eagle Cap Wilderness” Portfolio gallery to Add images to Cart (to buy Downloads, Prints, or Products such as canvas wraps or picture puzzles).

Our 3-day, 22-mile route was as follows:

  1. Hike 7.3 miles gaining 2000 feet from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). This excellent base camp has lots of sites (but adjacent Sunshine Lake may be more photogenic and less crowded), with three good day hikes for extended stays:
  2. Day hike from Mirror Lake to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain), highly recommended! Other options from Mirror Lake include (not done by us):
    • Ascend Eagle Cap, a short and steep 3.5 miles round trip gaining 2000 feet.
    • Loop via Moccasin Lake to Douglas Lake and Horseshoe Lake, 8.6 miles gaining 500 feet (or omitting Horseshoe makes 5-mile loop).
  3. Backpack out 8.7 miles via scenic Carper Pass (800 feet gain) to remote Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. Walking out this different route adds variety to the trip but creates a more-punishing 3000-foot cumulative descent back to Two Pan Trailhead. Minam Lake suffered from low water levels this September, but the outlet West Fork Lostine River was pleasant to explore.

If you have 4+ days, considering reversing the loop and camping the first night at less-crowded Minam Lake, then the second/third nights at one of the following: Upper Lake (good base for ascent of Eagle Cap), or popular Mirror Lake, or nicer Sunshine Lake, nearby Moccasin Lake, or most-beautiful Glacier Lake (which is more effort over a ridge 1000 ft up, 200 down).

Directions: In the northeast corner of Oregon, from Pendleton, take Interstate 84 east to La Grande. Turn north on State Highway 82 through Elgin to Lostine (10 miles west of Enterprise). In Lostine, go 7 miles south on Lostine River Road to the National Forest boundary where it turns into Forest Road 8210, up Lostine Canyon for 11 more miles to the end of the narrow gravel road with some washboard roughness. At the trailhead, backpackers self-issue their own Wilderness Visitor Permit, one per group. Horse-packers can be booked to assist your trip.

Other good hikes in the Wallowa Mountains:

From Wallowa Lake Trailhead, attractive Ice Lake is 15.4 miles round trip (not yet done by Tom). From Ice Lake, the scenic white granite Matterhorn is 1977 feet gain in 3.4 miles round trip to an impressive view. A good inexpensive base with hot showers is Wallowa Lake State Park (just south of Joseph and Enterprise, Oregon). Optional extension:

  • From the Ice Lake Trail junction (2.6 miles one way from Wallowa Lake Trailhead), the following scenic extension adds 21.3 miles round trip: a lollipop-shaped loop to Horseshoe Lake, Douglas Lake, Moccasin Lake, Mirror Lake and Glacier Lake.

See also our nearby hikes in Hells Canyon and Eastern Oregon.

2016 August: Switzerland via Alpenwild tours

In one of our best trips ever, Carol and I hiked in Switzerland 25 days out of 35 from July 27 to August 30, 2016. We walked about 200 miles via trailheads connected by the world’s handiest public transportation. Included was my professional photography of two wonderful tours by Alpenwild.com, the world’s largest provider of English-language Alps tours.


The above favorite Switzerland images from 2016 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).

For more images, see my complete 2016 Switzerland galleries.

See my illustrated online guide to the Alps to plan your next trip.

Switzerland itinerary map 2016

Switzerland travel map: Zurich, Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais, Engadine. (Tom Dempsey)

A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe.

Alpenwild.com

As an Artist in Residence for Alpenwild.com in summer 2016, I captured 4000 images in Switzerland (see my galleries) for company promotion. Alpenwild is the world’s largest provider of English-speaking tours in Switzerland. In response to my photos, Alpenwild founder Greg Witt said:

These are absolutely stunning—I couldn’t be happier. Some of us in the office today going through your 342 favorites and each one brought back a lot of memories and also generated a lot of excitement as we discussed where and how we can best use these for maximum impact.

While I had already designed a detailed self-guided trip covering 5 weeks, Alpenwild’s expert guidance further refined the trip, adding much to our comfort and enjoyment, including the following two wonderful week-long packages:

Sony A6300/A6000, best APS-C dim-light sports/action camera; rivalled by RX10 III

Are you looking for a great camera having an APS-C-size sensor? The best, most-portable APS-C camera can capture quick sports action and subjects in dim light with fast autofocus: Sony Alpha A6300 camera (buy at Amazon with 16-50mm lens) (2016, 14 oz body + 4 oz 24-75mm equiv zoom). Or save hundreds of dollars on earlier Sony A6000 (2014, 12 oz body), nearly as capable.

However, a smaller 1-inch-Type BSI sensor can now equal or beat virtually every advantage of APS-C cameras (which at best have no more than 5% advantage in real resolution or maximum print size). Compared to Sony’s RX10 III camera (read my review) which has an amazingly bright 25x zoom lens and more advanced stacked backside illumination (BSI) sensor, both Sony’s A6300 and A6000 now demand only the sharpest zoom or prime lenses to justify their APS-C sensor, for example:

Sony A6300 camera

Sony A6300 mirrorless digital camera

  • Sony 10-18mm f4 OSS E-mount lens (8 oz, SEL1018, 2012) captures exceptionally crisp wide angles for architecture & landscapes at 15-27mm equivalent (mostly wider than the 24mm equivalent of RX10 III, though you can easily stitch images to compensate).
  • Sony E-mount 16-70mm F4 Vario-Tessar T ZA OSS SEL1670Z lens (2013, 11 oz) clearly beats Sony’s 16-50mm kit lens, but costs $600 more! SEL1670Z lens is sharpest around f/5.6 across its range. However, my June 2016 field tests surprisingly revealed that a SEL1670Z mounted on A6300 isn’t much better than the new Sony RX10 III camera. In side-by-side tests, from about 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) in direct sunlight, and for closest focus in dim light around 45mm equivalent, SEL1670Z can resolve enough extra detail to make about 5% wider/taller prints than Sony RX10 III, but otherwise not. From 75-105mm equivalent in most lighting situations, or in dim indoor light across its range, SEL1670Z is equaled or beaten by RX10 III in half of my hand-held shots at optimally-sharp apertures. RX10 III’s remarkable performance in dim light is probably explained by its efficient BSI sensor design, plus its larger diameter lens of 72mm (versus just 55mm filter size on SEL1670Z), gathering more light.

While Sony’s E-mount 16-50mm kit lens is exceptionally compact, it isn’t as sharp as SEL18200 or E 18-55mm lenses. And since the May 2016 introduction of Sony’s RX10 III camera with superior optics, I no longer recommend using the following 10x or 11x zoom lenses on Sony A6300 or A6000 or NEX:

In order to equal or beat RX10 III, owners of a Sony A6300 or A6000 may need one of the following hefty, pricey Sony FE Series (full-frame) lenses:

  • Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM SEL2470GM lens (2016, 31 oz) is brighter than the F3.2-4 of RX10 III at this 36-105mm equivalent zoom range on A6300.
  • Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS SEL70300G lens (2016, 30 oz) reportedly grabs good sports & wildlife shots on A6300. But within this range from 105-450mm equivalent, I suspect that the significantly faster F4 of RX10 III rivals the image quality of SEL70300G lens when tested side by side. RX10 is a better value and more portable for travel.
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS SEL70200GM (2016, 52 oz) has bright, premium glass, advantageous for dim light photography, a full stop faster than RX10 III (which is F4 within this 105-300mm equivalent range). Has anyone compared this side-by-side with RX10 III in the field? — please “Leave a Reply” at bottom.
  • Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS SEL70200G lens (2014, 30 oz) has premium glass, but is no brighter than the F4 of RX10 III within this 105-300mm equivalent range.
  • Sony FE series lenses support Sony A7 series full-frame cameras, and also APS-C-sensor E-mount cameras (A6300, A6000 and earlier NEX-6 & NEX-7).

Clearly, Sony’s A6300 & A6000 are now outgunned for outdoor travel photographers, as Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III camera (buy at Amazon) packs the ultimate all-in-one travel tool into just 37 ounces. The RX10’s weather-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens (72mm filter diameter) with remarkable 25x zoom is sharp across the frame from 24-600mm equivalent, well into birding territory (read my Telephoto article). With the latest 1”-Type stacked BSI sensor, RX10 captures great depth-of-focus details, everywhere from close flower shots to distant bird feathers. In my testing, RX10 III clearly beats the 11x SEL18200 lens (62mm filter diameter) on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 anywhere above 90mm+ equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400, due to the faster lens and BSI technology compensating for sensor size difference. At wider angles, 27-80mm equivalent, they capture similar quality in bright outdoor light — but in dim or indoor light, A6300’s larger sensor can sometimes resolve more detail on SEL18200. The sharper zoom SEL1670Z is only about 5% better than RX10 in bright light, and no better in dim light.

Conclusion: Among APS-C sensor cameras, Sony A6300 is my pick for top quality and best value; but now the Sony RX10 III with a smaller 1-inch-Type BSI sensor, combined with superb 25x lens, is a much better value than APS-C for travel, sports or wildlife photography. To gain up to about 5% in real resolution over RX10 III, the Sony A6000/A6300/A6500 cameras require interchanging only the brightest, highest-quality lenses (such as pricey f/2.8 lenses, Sony FE 24-70mm or FE 70-200mm). Lesser-quality lenses on APS-C are now antiquated by the all-in-one Sony RX10 III camera.

Sony A6300 camera improves upon earlier A6000 as follows:

  • 425 phase-detection autofocus (AF) points across the sensor (versus 179 in A6000). These cameras use a hybrid of on-sensor phase detection (for depth awareness) and contrast detection autofocus (for high precision).
  • Big viewfinder OLED 2.36 million dots with optional 120 fps refresh (versus 1.44 million in A6000).
  • Battery life increased to 400 shots, or 350 with EVF (versus 360 shots, or 310 with EVF in A6000).
  • A6300 is one of the top APS-C cameras at high ISO: A6300 improves ISO 1600 clarity by about a half stop, ISO 3200 by a full stop less noise compared to A6000.
  • A6300 introduces UHD 4K video (3840 x 2160 pixels at 30p). With Samsung apparently orphaning its NX1, the A6300’s video abilities are only rivaled by Panasonic GX and GH models.
  • Horizontal level gauge added.
  • Body is now magnesium alloy, environmentally sealed.
  • 14-bit raw format introduced (when using mechanical shutter) versus 12-bit raw in A6000.
  • improved Auto ISO settings

All these improvements in the A6300 come in a slightly heavier 14.3-ounce body weight (with battery & card; versus A6000’s 12.1 oz), still significantly lighter-weight than most DSLR-style cameras.

Suggested accessories for Sony A6300 and A6000:

If you don’t need a viewfinder, a cheaper Sony A5100 adds touchscreen and includes A6000’s hybrid autofocus system.

Read about A6300’s predecessors and more lens analyses: Sony A6000 & NEX top Nikon for travel, 11x lens.

Panasonic ZS100 pocket 10x zoom bests Sony RX100 for travel

In 2016, the most portable 10x zoom on a 1-inch-Type sensor is Panasonic LUMIX ZS100 camera (Amazon) (2016, 11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent, 21mp). ZS100 is now my favorite camera which can fit a large shirt pocket. Read why larger sensors can improve image quality.

Although rival Sony RX100 (read my review) is admittedly sharper throughout 3x zoom, Panasonic ZS100 focuses closer at more zoom settings and enormously extends optical telephoto reach. Anywhere from 3x to 10x zoom (70-250mm equivalent), the ZS100 easily beats digital cropping of Sony RX100’s furthest reach (70mm in versions III & IV). ZS100’s good telephoto remarkably expands your capture of wildlife and distant small subjects, more sharply than pocketable rivals or smartphones (see heron photo further below).

Panasonic ZS100 vs Sony RX100 III size

Compare lens and size of Sony DSC-RX100 III with Panasonic ZS100 digital camera. The ZS100 is definitely fatter but can still squeak into a large shirt pocket.

Compare body sizes:

  • 102 x 58 x 41 mm (4.02 x 2.28 x 1.61) Sony RX100 versions III and IV
  • 111 x 65 x 44 mm (4.37 x 2.56 x 1.73″) Panasonic ZS100

Panasonic ZS100 beats macro focus of Sony RX100

ZS100 captures best macro (close focus) when zoomed by 2x, near 44mm equivalent, to minimize excessive corner softness seen at wider angles of view. You must first press the Macro (Flower symbol/left toggle) button to focus closest. In contrast, Sony RX100 III focuses closest only at 24mm equivalent (widest angle of view), lacks a dedicated macro mode, and cannot enlarge subjects as much. Panasonic ZS100 can enlarge small subjects more sharply than Sony RX100.

Because macro was one of my main reasons for carrying an RX100 (to supplement a larger-sensor APS-C system with 11x zoom which captured poor macro), a ZS100 now serves better as our backup travel camera for my wife to carry.

Surprisingly good telephoto sharpness

Carrying a pocket camera with 10x zoom around town lets me capture unexpected moments like this at a distance:

Panasonic ZS100 shot at 250mm

Above: A Great Blue Heron on a boat spears a fish along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop in Seattle, Washington. At 250mm equivalent zoom in sunny conditions, the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 camera captures surprisingly good detail in the heron’s head and feathers (portions shown at 100% pixel view). Even the shadowy “Yamaha” letters look reasonably sharp at the edge of the frame. Photographed at ISO 125, f/5.9, 1/1000th sec.

The above overall image (originally 20 megapixels, 5472 x 3648) can be cropped to isolate the heron at 1764 x 1348 pixels, which is enough to print sharply about 7″ high (at 250dpi). Much better than a smartphone camera, Panasonic ZS100 gives you lots of leeway to share digitally cropped telephoto shots on the internet, as in the example below shrunk to 600 pixels high:

Great Blue Heron spears fish

A Great Blue Heron spears a fish. Photographed along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop in Seattle, Washington, USA.

Sony RX10 III superb 25x travel zoom outshines 11x on APS-C

New in May 2016, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III (buy at Amazon) is now my ultimate travel camera. Its weather-sealed body includes a bright f/2.4-4 lens with incredible 25x zoom, sharp across the frame throughout its remarkable 24-600mm equivalent range, well into birding territory. I no longer need to carry a pocket camera for improving close-focus shots, as RX10 already has a 1”-Type sensor. With deeper depth of focus than APS-C or larger-sensor cameras for a given f-stop, it enhances details from close flower shots to distant bird feathers at 600mm equivalent telephoto. This all-in-one marvel is also my top pick for portable wildlife telephoto. The chunky RX10 III weighs just 37 ounces (including battery & card; plus adding 5 oz for strap, lens filter, cap & hood makes 42 oz). RX10 III is the world’s most versatile camera for on-the-go outdoor photographers. Further below, compare with rivals and learn about important hidden settings and accessories.

Sony RX10 III camera

The versatile Sony RX10 III weather-sealed camera has a 25x zoom range, 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 lens.

In a breakthrough for travel photographers, Sony has more than doubled my former zoom range while improving image quality. The professionally-sharp, bright 25x zoom of RX10 III resoundingly beats the resolution of my previous favorite Sony 11x zoom lens SEL18200 on flagship APS-C Sony A6300 anywhere above 90mm+ equivalent telephoto, even as high as ISO 6400. To my delight, RX10’s faster, larger-diameter lens (72mm filter size) plus backside illumination (BSI) sensor technology together magically compensate for the sensor size difference. At wider angles, 27-80mm equivalent, both capture similar quality in bright outdoor light. Advantageously, RX10 stretches to a wide view of 24mm equivalent. In dim/indoor light, A6300’s larger sensor can sometimes resolve more detail than RX10III, but not consistently in my real world comparisons using SEL18200 and SEL1670Z lenses. Impressively, Sony claims SteadyShot stabilization of up to 4.5 stops of benefit (in terms of slower shutter speed handheld) for this model DSC-RX10M3.

For me, RX10III’s only weakness is frequent failure to lock focus on the far telephoto end 400-600mm equivalent in dim light or on low-contrast subjects, which can be worked around by using Manual Focus (or by switching brands for faster AF on rival Panasonic FZ2500 compared below).

Superb quality and unprecedented versatility now make Sony RX10 III my main travel camera. 

Three extracts from the edges and center of this Chilean Flamingo image show the crisp 600mm-equivalent telephoto reach of Sony RX10 III:

Chilean Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo

Field tests confirm that Sony RX10 III is sharp across the frame at all zoom settings (optimally sharpest around f/4 from 24-400mm equivalent and at f/5.6 from 500-600mm). Even at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent), extracts from both the edges and center are notably crisp (enlarged at 100% pixel view in the above photo). {Shot at optimal aperture f/5.6, for 1/1600th second at ISO 100. In Adobe Lightroom, raw file exposure was adjusted +1.86 EV, Highlights -84, plus Sharpening. The photo is from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington.}

More details:

As of 2016, I rank the world’s top travel cameras as follows, shown best first and smallest last:

  1. Sony RX10 III (May 2016, 37 oz, 25x zoom 24-600mm f/2.4-4): the best travel camera of 2016 handily beats its closest rivals having 1” BSI sensor. It has a nice tilting LCD, but no touchscreen.
  2. Panasonic FZ2500 (December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom 24-480mm f/2.8–4.5): costs 25% less, adds a fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, increases viewfinder magnification (EVF 0.74x versus 0.7x), autofocuses faster, has better menus and improves video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K), in comparison to Sony RX10 III. But FZ2500’s lens collects a half stop less light, slightly lowering image quality; its telephoto doesn’t reach long enough for birders; and its CIPA battery life of 350 shots is shorter than RX10III’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)
  3. Panasonic FZ1000 (2014, 29 oz, 16x zoom 25-400mm f/2.8-4.0): best price value (costs half of RX10 III). Adds fully-articulated LCD and autofocus for action & sports is a bit faster than RX10 III.
  4. Pocketable: Panasonic ZS100 (price at Amazon) (2016, 11 oz, 10x zoom 25-250mm equivalent f/2.8-5.9): Read my ZS100 review. ZS100 introduces the first pocketable 10x zoom on a 1-inch-Type sensor, capturing close macro at more zoom settings and enormously extending optical telephoto reach beyond my 3x-zoom Sony RX100 (read my 2012-15 review). Anywhere from 3x-10x on Panasonic ZS100 beats digital cropping of rival Sony RX100 (which stops at 70mm equivalent in versions III and IV).
  5. Half-price pocketable: Panasonic ZS50 (2015, 9 oz, 30x zoom 24–720mm f/3.3–6.4, 12 mp) is a nice little camera with a rare viewfinder and a small 1/2.3″ sensor that still beats smartphone quality. (TZ70 outside of North America.)

Sony RX10 III beats the following midsize rivals for versatile lightweight travel:

  • APS-C flagship Sony Alpha A6300 (2016, 33 oz = 14 oz body + 11x zoom 27-300mm equivalent f/3.5-6.3 lens): its interchangeable-lens capability is made redundant by RX10’s sharp and bright 25x zoom. See my side-by-side test images further below.
  • Canon PowerShot G3 X camera (2015, 26 oz, 25x zoom, 20mp) has 24-600mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens (which is neither as bright nor as sharp as Sony RX10 III). The G3 X buys you lighter travel weight, but you must separately add a pricey $240 viewfinder. Also its older, poorer 1″ sensor is a stop or two worse at ISO 800+ compared to FZ1000 or RX10.
  • The following 44-ounce Nikon 1 interchangeable lens system of 2014 is now outdated:
    • Nikon 1 V3 camera (2014, 14-oz body, 18mp) mounted with Nikkor VR 70-300mm CX format lens (19 oz) has a sharp 189-810mm equivalent zoom but relatively slow f/4.5-5.6 aperture. Capturing normal angles of view requires inconvenient swapping of the 70-300mm lens, such as to 10-100mm CX-format lens (27-270mm equiv, 10.5 oz) for Nikon 1.
    • With fewer megapixels (18mp versus 20mp) shot on a poorer, noisier sensor (at least 2 stops noisier at ISO 400+) using a slower lens, Nikon 1 V3 cannot beat Sony RX10 III.
  • In February 2017, Nikon cancelled its proposed DL camera line of premium compact cameras (DL 18-50, DL 24-85 and DL 24-500 announced in 2016). Nikon DL24-500 would have had a relatively slow f/2.8-5.6 lens (28 oz, 21x zoom, 21mp).

Recommended accessories for Sony RX10 III:

What do I know?

For lightweight travel gear capturing publishable images, I’m not tied to any one system or brand. Instead, I prefer upgrading to the latest, best tool for the job (then selling the old gear locally via Craigslist, in-person for cash). I’ve enjoyed the 24mp APS-C sensor in Sony NEX-7 from 2012-2016 and successor A6300 using Sony’s 18-200mm SteadyShot lens (27-300mm equivalent). Before that, Nikon gear served me well over 11 years (see Tom’s gear history), such as Nikon D5000 APS-C with 18-200mm VR II lens. I began photography in 1978−97 with the classic Olympus OM-1N 35mm-film camera. But switching to digital Canon PowerShot cameras from 2003-07 gave me instant feedback and more freedom from the tripod. Now as of 2016, the 1-inch-sensor Sony RX10 III preserves publishable image quality while radically extending zoom range to 25x. The proof is in the pudding: check out my portfolio.

What do others say? Reviewer Ken Rockwell says the RX10 III is “superb for sports; it really does lock-on to faces and track them as they run down the field, and its non-rolling electronic shutter lets it run silently at 5 real frames per second as it tracks everything…and the RX10 III is astonishing in how much it does so well.” Be sure to turn on Eye AF for instant focus on humans.

Sun starburst (at f/16 using Sony RX10 III camera) shines on lichen growing on twisted old tree wood at Glacier Pass. Backback to Mirror Lake in Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, Wallowa Mountains, Columbia Plateau, northeastern Oregon, USA. Hike 7.3 miles from Two Pan Trailhead (5600 ft) up East Lostine River to camp at popular Mirror Lake (7606 ft). Day hike to Glacier Lake via Glacier Pass (6 miles round trip, 1200 ft gain). Backpack out 8.7 miles via Carper Pass, Minam Lake and West Fork Lostine. From September 11-13, 2016 Carol and I walked 22 miles in 3 days. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sony RX10 III can create a special sun starburst effect, only at aperture f/16: see Recommended settings: secrets of the Sony RX10 III” further below. The photo is from Eagle Cap Wilderness (read Tom’s article), Wallowa–Whitman National Forest, northeastern Oregon, USA.

RX10 III rivals a sharp 4x zoom F4 lens on APS-C sensor

According to my side-by-side testing, Sony’s RX10 III camera has a remarkable equality to the flagship APS-C Sony A6300 in dim light, due to RX10 III’s more-efficient BSI sensor design plus its large diameter lens of 72mm gathering more light (versus the much smaller 55mm filter size on the pricey SEL1670Z comparison lens).

Details: In my June 2016 side-by-side tests in bright sunlight, Sony’s sharp F4 16-70mm 4x zoom lens (SEL1670Z, 24-105mm equivalent) mounted on A6300 can resolve linear details only up to 5% better than my Sony RX10 III camera at wide angles of view. SEL1670Z is also sharper for macro in dim or bright light (using closest focus at around 45mm equivalent). But in dim light or at 75-105mm equivalent telephoto, the two systems on average capture equally sharp images, despite the sensor size difference (APS-C versus 1-inch-type).

These field tests demote the APS-C flagship A6300, making it no longer my top travel camera. The gain is nearly insignificant for A6300 to make at most 5% wider or taller prints compared to Sony RX10 III; and A6300’s advantage requires direct sunlight at wide angles of view, or macro. From 75-105mm equivalent in most lighting situations or in dim indoor light across its range (except 45mm macro), SEL1670Z is equaled or beaten by RX10 III in half of my hand-held shots at optimally-sharp apertures, with image stabilization turned on.

You must inconveniently interchange a much heavier, pricier set of lenses on A6300 to rival the quality of RX10 III’s sharp 25x F4 zoom.

My Sony A6300 (read Tom’s review) can still be useful as a lightweight camera for action and indoor event photography (such as weddings) at wider angles of view, such as at 24-105mm equivalent using Sony’s 16-70mm F4 SEL1670Z lens. (The SEL1670Z lens has good macro when set at 30mm, which is 45mm-equivalent in terms of full-frame’s angle of view.) The A6300 has a bit quicker autofocus such as for tracking of moving subjects, which I rarely use. But future upgrades to Sony’s A6300 will require new advances, such as more megapixels and the creation of backside illumination (BSI) sensors at APS-C size, in order to gain a clearer advantage over the groundbreaking Sony RX10 III.

How does Sony RX10 III compare to full-frame?

For a significant jump up in quality, night photographers and big-print professionals can consider using fast lenses on Sony a7R II (price at Amazon) (2015, 22 oz body), a big 42-megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera, featuring the world’s first 35mm-size BSI CMOS sensor, plus a 5-axis image stabilization built into the body, hybrid autofocus, and 4K video, good for capturing the northern lights or indoor action.

But for me, full-frame systems are too bulky and expensive for travel, especially in terms of zoom range. If money is no object, using Sony’s 10x zoom FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (28 oz) on A7 IIR’s 42mp sensor (50 oz total camera+lens) should buy quality at wide angles better than RX10III’s smaller 20mp sensor (37 oz). But RX10III’s f/4 quality should beat cropping down the 42mp to reach the 500-600mm equivalent necessary for wildlife and bird photos. Realistically, A7 IIR’s incredible sensor so greatly exceeds the quality of the FE 24-240mm lens that only sharper, faster lenses should be considered. In comparison, RX10 III is much more portable (37 oz versus 50+ oz) and its 20 megapixels are plenty for my professional publishing needs.

In historical perspective, the Sony RX10III makes prints far bigger than my full-frame 35mm film cameras used 1978-2004.

Compact 25x zoom RX10 III beats APS-C travel systems using 11x to 19x

In 90% of my test shots (see examples below), the RX10 III beat image quality from the much bigger sensor (APS-C) in Sony’s flagship A6300 mounted with 11x Sony SEL18200 silver lens (27-300mm equivalent). Similarly, I expect RX10 III should also beat the 10x zoom Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS E-mount SEL24240 lens (see at Amazon) on A6300. RX10 III should likewise outperform Tamron’s 19x zoom 16-300mm equivalent lens and best all current 11x-17x zoom lenses by Nikon, Canon and Sigma (when mounted on APS-C systems of up to 24 megapixels), based upon how similarly SEL18200 compares to them in reviews at SLRgear.com, DxOMark.com, and others.

According to my practical field tests, the 20-megapixel RX10 III excels at close focus (best macro enlargement around 40-50mm equivalent), at 24-27mm wide angle, and at stunning telephoto from 80-600mm equivalent, well into the range of wildlife/bird photography. No rival comes close in its weight class.

In comparison, Sony’s flagship APS-C camera, the A6300 mounted with my trusty 11x travel zoom (silver model SEL18200 with relatively slow aperture f/3.5-6.3) resolved slightly more image details only within a sweet spot from 30-60mm equivalent (where 24 megapixels could beat RX10’s 20mp), especially at ISO 640+. But to my delight throughout 90-600mm equivalent, the RX10 III consistently beat the SEL18200 lens through ISO 6400, due to brighter lens, superior optics and BSI technology, a stellar performance from a sensor 3 times smaller!

Note: Sony’s 11x SEL18200 lens suffers substantial bloating from barrel distortion at its widest angles of view (27-42mm equivalent) and is squeezed by pincushion distortion at 50-150mm equivalent (which I corrected using Adobe Lightroom’s Enable Lens Profile Corrections in the examples below). In contrast, the RX10 III captures crisp rectilinear lines, great for architecture photography — thankfully recorded with distortions and chromatic aberrations all auto-corrected by default using a “Built-in Lens Profile” in both JPEG and raw, straight out of the camera!

Despite superior autofocus performance by Sony Alpha a6300 (price at Amazon), especially in dim indoor light, its success rate capturing detailed images suffers when using Sony SEL18200 lens, which is sharp at center but rapidly fuzzier towards the edges, especially at 100-300mm equiv.

To rival the crisp 25x zoom of 37-ounce RX10 III, an APS-C-sensor camera would need to interchange lenses on a pricier system weighing more than 55-66 ounces − inconvenient for travel. For example, Sony’s 14-ounce A6300 body now begs for the following bulkier, pricier system to replace the Sony 11x SEL18200 lens:

  1. Sony E-mount 16-70mm F4 Vario-Tessar T ZA OSS SEL1670Z lens (Amazon) (2013, 11 oz).
  2. Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS SEL70300G lens (2016, 30 oz).
  3. Sony DSC-RX100 (IV, III, II, or I) pocket camera for decent macro.
Critical photo comparisons of Sony RX10 III versus A6300 with SEL18200

For realistic comparison, test images on this page have been shot as raw files, corrected, and optimized. Sony RX10 III images shown at 100% pixel view have been upscaled from 20 to 24 megapixels to line up against the Sony A6300 images shot on SEL18200 lens (for normalization as in a same-size print comparison). Active animals were shot at 1/500 second in Shutter Priority mode to freeze motion blur. Static subjects were shot near camera-equivalent apertures to equalize depth of focus (for example, f/4 on 1” sensor has same pupil diameter as f/7.1 on APS-C, as calculated from their relative diagonal crop factor of 1.77). ISO was shot on Auto then reported for each shot.

In the following comparison at 340mm equivalent, the RX10 III captures superior sharpness in the bird’s feather details:

Compare Sony at 340mm, ISO 2500

Above: Shooting in challenging shady lighting at 340mm equivalent at ISO 2500 using Sony RX10 III camera clearly beats the sharpness of Sony’s 11x SEL18200 lens at its maximum 300mm equivalent on A6300.

In the following dim indoor image shot at high ISO 6400 without flash, the superior optics of Sony RX10 III clearly beat a Sony A6300 with SEL18200 lens, both zoomed to 195mm equivalent:

Test 195mm ISO6400 Sony RX10III vs A6300 SEL18200

Above: Two test shots are compared at 195mm equivalent at ISO 6400 using Sony RX10 III versus A6300 using 11x silver SEL18200 lens. RX10 is slightly sharper at center and clearly superior at upper left and lower right edges. Tests confirm that Sony’s SEL18200 lens is notably soft around the edges anywhere from 100-300mm equivalent, causing it to lose against Sony’s brighter RX10 III lens despite the sensor size difference.

In the following image at 27mm equivalent at base ISO 100, the RX10 III wins by a hair over A6300 with SEL18200:

Sony RX10III vs A6300 at 27mm

Above: Compare at 27mm equivalent, ISO 100, Sony RX10 III versus A6300 with 11x SEL18200 lens.

Other testing shows that after correcting for distortion, the Sony A6300 with 11x SEL18200 lens can only beat RX10 III in dim lighting within a sweet spot from 30-60mm equivalent (assisted by its 3-times-larger sensor). But in bright outdoors, you see little difference at wide angles of view. In effect, the A6300 begs for a sharper lens, such as Sony 16-70mm F4 or a set of prime lenses which require interchanging (too inconvenient for my travel photography). Comparatively speaking, A6300 with 11x zoom now lacks sufficient quality and versatility for a given travel weight. For my typical outdoor nature photography on the go, RX10 III captures superior edge-to-edge details at more zoom settings.

Recommended settings: secrets of the Sony RX10 III

  • Through most of its 25x zoom range, RX10 III is sharpest when shot about f/4 aperture; but f/5.6 is sharpest at 500-600mm equivalent. In effect, these optimal f-stops give you the best balance between diffraction (through smallest apertures) versus chromatic aberrations (possible in all cameras at brightest openings; luckily hardly noticeable in RX10 III due to automatic in-camera corrections before writing JPEG and raw files to the memory card).
  • Stopping down to f/16 aperture, RX10III creates a wonderful starburst effect emanating from intense pinpoints of light such as the sun, lightbulbs, etc (see starburst photo further above). Warning: as on most cameras, f/16 looks notably softer in focus when analyzed at 100% pixel view, nearly halving the resolution compared to f/5.6 or brighter apertures, due to diffraction through the tiny f/16 hole. (At all apertures brighter than f/16, the starburst is NOT created, such as at f/2.4 to f/4, where rounded blades smooth the opening for more attractive bokeh, the appearance of the out-of-focus areas.) Using Adobe Lightroom CC, I like to stitch panoramas where the shot with the sun has an f/16 starburst, but the remaining combined shots without the starburst use the much sharper f/4 or f/5.6.
  • For sharper hand-held shots at 600mm maximum telephoto, leave Image Stabilization ON and use 1/100th second shutter speed or faster.
  • Increase zoom racking speed: from 24 to 600mm in just 2 seconds, by setting Zoom Speed = “Fast” in Menu > Settings Tab 2 > Set #3. That’s twice as fast as the 4-second Normal default. I mostly prefer Normal, for finer framing control, except for fleeting wildlife or sports. The Zoom Speeds of Fast and Normal apply to still shots; but Movie recording mode thankfully automatically invokes a slower, virtually silent zoom to avoid jarring video viewers. RX10III’s power zoom being locked on track at all settings avoids the annoying zoom creep (slippage when pointed upwards or downwards) behavior of most 11x manual (non-power) zooms made by Sony, Nikon and others for APS-C cameras. The short 2 or 4 seconds to rack through RX10III’s incredible 25x zoom beats the longer inconvenience of changing lenses required on interchangeable lens systems such as APS-C or full frame, which I formerly used 1978-2015.
  • Assign the following to the Fn button for quick access: ISO Auto Min SS = minimum shutter speed at a given ISO = STD (standard), SLOW, SLOWER, FAST, FASTER
  • Turn on Eye AF for instant focus on human eyes throughout the zoom range, especially for action/sports.
  • Turn OFF the Pre-AF option, for more reliable half-press focus-locking and quicker autofocus in the telephoto range, especially 400-600mm equivalent.
  • Use the quick Memory Recall (MR on mode dial, initially set within a hard-to-understand menu) to quickly set a whole palette of settings, which otherwise would be frustrating to find and set separately in the disorganized menus.
  • Instead of hunting through MENUs, put favorite settings on the Fn button as follows: MENU Tab 2 > item 5 > “Function Menu Set“. For example, I set these: Drive Mode, Flash Mode, Flash Compensation, Focus Area, ISO, Metering Mode, Smile/Face Detection, SteadyShot for video, HFR Frame Rate, Center Lock-on AF, ISO AUTO minimum Shutter Speed.

Video tips:

  • Video settings are scattered across Tab 1 (items 2, 8, 9), Tab 2 (items 1, 2, 5, 6) and Tab 6 (item 3). Some of these settings can only be changed when the top Mode Dial is set to Movie mode (icon shaped like a film frame with spindle perforations). But luckily the MOVIE button can record with the current video settings no matter where the Mode Dial is set.
  • For videos, you can set hidden P, A, S and M exposure modes using MENU Tab 1 > item 8 > “Movie” (when Top Mode Dial = Movie mode): press Center button then scroll through PASM video options. To get a constant exposure during a video, use video M (Manual) mode: set ISO 100 (or as desired to a constant ISO number, but not AUTO ISO), set Aperture with ring on lens, and set Shutter Speed with either of the back two dials. To control subject-motion blur, set slow S (Shutter Speed) for more blur (as slow as the inverse of the frame rate in frames per second, fps). A Shutter Speed about twice as fast as the frame rate gives the most “normal” look. Set a faster Shutter Speed (more than twice the frame rate) for a choppier, more jittery video, like in the film “Gladiator”.
  • Play with the amazing High Frame Rate (HFR) video mode, shot in XAVC S 1080p HD format. For example, slow down action by 8 times at 480p (shooting frame rate) at 60p50M (frame rate of movie playback). I like setting Shoot Time Priority; and REC Timing=End Trigger, which records the 2 seconds BEFORE you pressed the Record Button! Limitations: only 2 seconds of real time are recorded (with 10-20 second delay writing to card); minimum ISO is 800; you must lock focus and exposure before recording; and HFR requires fast SD Memory Card Speed Class 10 or UHS Speed Class 1.
  • Assign a dedicated button to Focus Magnifier for use in Videos (else none is available). Tips: Focus is faster at brightest apertures (lowest f-number). Use S-Log2 for high contrast scenes to better see shadows and highlights simultaneously, as in wildlife videos (but will likely require editing to compensate for the flat dynamics).

RX10 III negatives, problems for Sony to fix

  • RX10III frequently fails to lock focus on the far telephoto end 400-600mm equivalent in dim light or on low-contrast subjects. Sony, please add Phase Detection AF pixels to the sensor. The work-around is to use Manual Focus (or switch brands to faster AF on rival Panasonic FZ2500; or use Sony A6000, A6300 or A6500).
  • Sony menus are extremely disorganized, slowing access to important features. For example, video settings are scattered across Tab 1 (items 2, 8, 9), Tab 2 (items 1, 2, 5, 6), and Tab 6 (item 3). These badly need consolidating. AF settings are also scattered across different menu tabs. The workaround, as with past Sony cameras, is to memorize or write down where things are randomly hidden. Also, please allow MENU Tab 1 > item 8 > “Movie” (setting PASM modes for video) to be assigned to the Fn button.
  • RX10III lacks an electronic ND filter (Neutral Density), which is especially important for video in bright light, at bright apertures for shallower depth of focus. Workaround: simply attach a glass ND filter to the threads on the front of the lens when needed, the old-fashioned way. This could be almost as quick as trying to find settings in the notoriously disorganized Sony menus. Otherwise, RX10III is reputedly great for video. However, Panasonic FZ2500 has an ND filter and is probably superior for videographers.
  • In M/Manual mode, you must turn off Auto ISO every time, set ISO manually, then set back to Auto ISO when switching back to P, A or S mode. I prefer Manual mode to always default to manual ISO. Sony, please don’t force Manual mode’s ISO to that of the other PAS settings, and vice versa! Manual means manual.

Conclusion

For travel in 2016, the all-in-one Sony RX10 III overpowers its rival superzoom cameras with 1″-Type sensors. More significantly, the above field tests show that RX10 III resoundingly beats my previous favorite travel system, the Sony 11x zoom SEL18200 lens mounted on the larger-sensor APS-C Sony A6300 camera. Moreover, this APS-C flagship is at best 5% sharper than RX10III when using the wider end of a premium 4x zoom lens, but no better in dim light! I would rather have an all-in-one 25x zoom which astoundingly extends sharp f/4 telephoto reach to 600mm equivalent. For portable outdoor photography in 2016, nothing beats the superb, fast optics of the 25x-zoom Sony RX10 III (price at Amazon).

2015 Sept: Garibaldi backpack + Canadian Rockies tour

See Tom Dempsey’s photos from hiking in Canada September 9-21, 2015 in day-by-day order:



Go to “Gallery: 2015 Sep 9-21: Garibaldi + Canadian Rockies” to Add images to Cart: click tab for Downloads, Prints, or Products (gallery canvas wraps, picture puzzles).

Trip description:

  1. Three gloriously sunny days with no wind made for perfect backpacking to Garibaldi Lake! Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range, British Columbia, Canada. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. The top of Panorama Ridge is 17 miles round trip with 5100 feet gain from Rubble Creek parking lot (or 6 miles/10k RT with 2066 ft/630m gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Backcountry Campground). The vibrant turquoise color of Garibaldi Lake comes from glacial flour suspended in melt water from Sphinx and Sentinel Glaciers. The volcanic pinnacle of Black Tusk (2319 m or 7608 ft) rises above Mimulus Lake, Black Tusk Lake, and Helm Lake, best seen from Panorama Ridge Trail. The Black Tusk is a remnant of an extinct andesitic stratovolcano which formed 1.3-1.1 million years ago: after long glacial erosion, renewed volcanism 170,000 years ago made the lava flow and dome forming the tooth-shaped summit.
    • Global warming/climate change: The Helm Glacier had an area of 4.3 square kilometers in 1928, but declined by 78% to 0.92 square kilometers as of 2009. The Helm Glacier’s melting trend mirrors that of all glaciers in the Pacific Northwest and fits into the pattern of glacier retreat across Canada (measured in the Canadian Glacier Retreat Index). From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (reference: Koch et al. 2008, web.unbc.ca). The record of glacier fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand throughout the last century (the 1900s), suggesting a common, global climatic cause.
  2. Clouds and rain stopped us from a 20th anniversary hike to Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park, so we continued on to Jasper NP.
  3. Snow-dusted peaks rose above fall colors at Medicine Lake in beautiful Maligne Valley, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies, Alberta. Medicine Lake is not really a lake but is a natural back up in the Maligne River that suddenly disappears underground. Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1984.
  4. Viewpoints at Upper and Lower Sunwapta Falls are worth seeing in Jasper National Park – a good rainy-day activity. The falling water originates from the Athabasca Glacier.
  5. Snow magically dusted Mt. Chephren (3307 m or 10,850 ft) which soared majestically above orange and yellow fall colors in Mistaya River Valley along the Icefields Parkway, in Banff National Park, Alberta.
  6. Snow covered the Waputik Range above beautiful turquoise Peyto Lake (1860 m or 6100 ft), in Banff National Park. Bill Peyto was an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area. Suspended particles of glacial rock flour create its bright turquoise color. Bow Pass (2068 m or 6787 ft) is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, and a side road leads to a crowded nature trail to Peyto Viewpoint (and higher bus road to wheelchair access, a much safer way to walk in icy conditions like we found). The lake is fed by Peyto Creek, which drains water from Caldron Lake and Peyto Glacier (part of the Wapta Icefield). Peyto Lake is the origin of the Mistaya River, which heads northwest. (Early snowfall cancelled our backup plan to backpack the Rockwall in Kootenay NP, which had more than a foot of snow at Floe Lake.)
  7. In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Chester Lake is a delightful hike of 5.2 miles round trip with 1000 ft gain through larch forest. Larches are deciduous conifers (with needles turning yellow-orange and dropping in autumn) in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. Extending the hike to Three Lakes Valley is up to 7.8 miles RT with 1800 ft gain to a lake-dotted limestone barrens. Kananaskis Country is a park system in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, in Alberta. I grabbed quick photos of a grizzly bear, a cute pica, and a ptarmigan.
  8. Sunrise nicely highlighted Mount Kidd which reflected in Kananaskis River near Mount Kidd Interpretive Trail (at convenient Mount Kidd RV Park). Kananaskis Country equals the majesty of neighboring Banff National Park with less crowding.
  9. Hike along beautiful Galatea Creek to Lillian Lake (7.5 miles round trip with 1614 gain) or on to Galatea Lakes (10 miles RT with 2214 ft gain as we did) in Spray Valley Provincial Park, from H40 south of Kananaskis Village.
  10. Wind whipped water waves created rainbows at Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. In 1932, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park joined Glacier National Park in Montana with Waterton. UNESCO honored Waterton-Glacier as a World Heritage Site (1995) containing two Biosphere Reserves (1976).

See also my related articles (with multiple trips consolidated):

2015 October Southeast USA (TN, NC, VA) + Indiana fall color trip

See Tom Dempsey’s photos from our fall color driving loop October 7-23, 2015 from Indianapolis to Southeast USA (Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia), shown sequentially in day-by-day order:

The above October 7-23, 2015 trip 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). 

Trip description October 7-23, 2015

Description of sights along our itinerary October 7-23, 2015 (round trip from Indianapolis to family visits in Kingsport, Durham, and Gloucester Courthouse):

  1. Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium Kingsport, Tennessee.
  2. Cherohala Skyway: Atop the Unicoi Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, the Cherohala Skyway reveals far-reaching views in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a subset of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Vibrant fall foliage colors begin in mid October at highest elevations then work their way down the Cherohala Skyway. Long in planning since 1958, the Cherohala Skyway opened to automobile traffic in 1996 – a new National Scenic Byway. The Skyway climbs over 4000 feet, starting at elevation 900 feet along Tellico River and reaching 5400 feet on the slopes of Haw Knob in North Carolina. The 43-mile paved road of the Cherohala Skyway follows Tennessee State Route 165 (SR-165 or TN 165) for 25 miles from Tellico Plains to the state line at Stratton Gap, then continues on North Carolina Highway 143 (NC 143) for 18 miles to Robbinsville. Cherohala combines the names of the two National Forests traversed: “Chero” from Cherokee and “hala” from Nantahala NF. The Skyway accesses various protected and recreational areas including Citico Creek Wilderness, Bald River Gorge Wilderness, and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
  3. North Carolina’s section of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mileposts 305-316 and 445-469: Beacon Heights Trail, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Falls and Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, Pisgah National Forest, Waterrock Knob Trail, various overlooks and fall foliage colors. The scenic 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway was built 1935-1987 to aesthetically connect Shenandoah National Park (in Virginia) with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, following crest-lines and the Appalachian Trail. It is both a National Parkway and an “All-American Road” (one of the best of the National Scenic Byways).
  4. Beautiful Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina.
  5. Virginia’s section of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mileposts  1 to 55: vibrant fall foliage colors on October 18-19, 2015; a lovely sunset view at Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook (Milepost 44.9, elevation 2485 feet), near Buena Vista; Indian Rocks, a beautiful short stroll at Indian Gap.
  6. The attractive Cataract Falls State Recreation Area features Indiana’s largest-volume waterfall, located an hour southwest of Indianapolis, near Cloverdale. Bright autumn foliage colors glowed for photos captured on October 21, 2015. Altogether, Cataract Falls drop a total of 86 feet including intermediate cascades. Mill Creek plunges 20 feet in the set of Upper Falls and a half a mile downstream the Lower Falls drops 18 feet. The park’s limestone outcroppings formed millions of years ago when the region was covered by a large shallow ocean. The 148-foot wooden Cataract Falls Covered Bridge was built in 1876 at the Upper Falls of Mill Creek (formerly known as Eel River) and was open to automobile traffic until 1988. The bridge now serves pedestrians and was extensively repaired starting in 2000. It is the only remaining covered bridge in Owen County.

New galleries created from the above trip:

Tennessee: Appalachia: Bays Mountain Park

In Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium in Kingsport, Tennessee, enjoy walking a 2.3-mile loop (and other trails) on boardwalks and easy paths around the old Kingsport city reservoir which provided water 1917-1944 and now serves as lake habitat. This attractive nature preserve is the largest city-owned park in Tennessee and was declared a State Natural Area in 1973. As part of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, the ridge of Bays Mountain runs southwest to northeast, from just south of Knoxville to Kingsport, in eastern Tennessee.

Above, browse the gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse device. 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).

Tennessee/North Carolina: Cherohala Skyway

Atop the Unicoi Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, the Cherohala Skyway reveals far-reaching views in the Blue Ridge Mountains (a subset of the Southern Appalachian Mountains). Cherohala combines the names of the two National Forests traversed: “Chero” from Cherokee and “hala” from Nantahala NF. Vibrant fall foliage colors begin in mid October at highest elevations then work their way down the Cherohala Skyway. Long in planning since 1958, the Cherohala Skyway opened to automobile traffic in 1996 – a new National Scenic Byway. The Skyway climbs over 4000 feet, starting at elevation 900 feet along Tellico River and reaching 5400 feet on the slopes of Haw Knob in North Carolina. The 43-mile paved Cherohala Skyway follows Tennessee State Route 165 (SR-165 or TN 165) for 25 miles from Tellico Plains to the state line at Stratton Gap, then continues on North Carolina Highway 143 (NC 143) for 18 miles to Robbinsville. The Skyway accesses various protected and recreational areas including Citico Creek Wilderness, Bald River Gorge Wilderness, and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

Above, browse the gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse device. 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).

Virginia: Appalachia: Blue Ridge Parkway

This gallery illustrates Virginia’s section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. (See separate gallery for North Carolina’s section.) Photos by Tom Dempsey include: vibrant fall foliage colors on October 18-19, 2015; a lovely sunset view at Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook (Milepost 44.9); and beautiful Indian Rocks. The scenic 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway was built 1935-1987 to aesthetically connect Shenandoah National Park (in Virginia) with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, following crest-lines and the Appalachian Trail.

Above, browse the gallery and thumbnails easiest with a mouse device. 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).

IN: Cataract Falls State Recreation Area

The attractive Cataract Falls State Recreation Area features Indiana’s largest-volume waterfall, located near Cloverdale (an hour southwest of Indianapolis). Bright autumn foliage colors glowed for Tom Dempsey’s photos below captured on October 21, 2015. Altogether, Cataract Falls drop a total of 86 feet including intermediate cascades. Mill Creek plunges 20 feet in the set of Upper Falls and a half a mile downstream the Lower Falls drops 18 feet. The park’s limestone outcroppings formed millions of years ago when the region was covered by a large shallow ocean. The 148-foot wooden Cataract Falls Covered Bridge was built in 1876 at the Upper Falls of Mill Creek (formerly known as Eel River) and was open to automobile traffic until 1988. The bridge now serves pedestrians and was extensively repaired starting in 2000. It is the only remaining covered bridge in Owen County.

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).

See the following master articles which consolidate galleries geographically for all Tom’s trips:

2015 July hikes, history: Eastern Sierras + Castle Crags SP, California

On a hiking trip via our VW Eurovan camper July 5-23, 2015, we rediscovered the beauty of the Eastern Sierras, and for the first time hiked spectacular Castle Crags State Park in Northern California. Below, I share our itinerary and my favorite images in day-by-day trip order.

Photo gallery: “2015 Jul  5-23: favorites: Sierra Nevada + Castle Crags, California”

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).

For a wider scope, see Tom’s separate article covering all his images from California (which integrates all photos seen above and below).

More details

Below is a more extensive 239-image gallery of our July 2015 Sierra hikes and museum visits, ending with Castle Crags State Park in Northern California, in day-by-day order:

Photo gallery: “2015 Jul  5-23: all: Sierra Nevada + Castle Crags, California”

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).

Our July 5-23, 2015 California itinerary notes, in order of visit:

  1. Off Highway 88 near Carson Pass (near South Lake Tahoe), hike a varied loop through lush wildflower fields from Woods Lake Campground to Winnnemucca Lake then Round Top Lake, in Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest. The excellent loop trail is 5.3 miles with 1250 feet gain (or 6.4 miles with 2170 feet gain if adding the scramble up Round Top).
  2. McGee Creek Canyon makes an excellent moderate day hike through fields of summer wildflowers in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, near Mammoth Lakes. Swirling patterns of fractured red and gray metamorphic rocks rise impressively above this hike of 6 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain to the beaver pond on McGee Creek.
  3. View Indian baskets and history, plus outdoor machinery used in the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct 1908-1913, at the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant Street, Independence, California, 93526. The Museum was founded in 1928 and has been operated by the County of Inyo since 1968. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret objects, photos and information related to the cultural and natural history of Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra, from Death Valley to Mono Lake.
  4. See Mobius Arch and other curious rock formations in BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area, in the Owens Valley, west of Lone Pine in Inyo County. The Sierras tower 10,000+ feet above you to the west, and Inyo Mountains rise to the east. At a certain angle, Mobius Arch frames Mount Whitney (14,505 feet or 4421 m elevation), the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada. The Alabama Hills are a popular filming location for television and movie productions (such as Gunga Din, Gladiator, Iron Man, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), especially Westerns (Tom Mix films, Hopalong Cassidy films, The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, How the West Was Won, and Joe Kidd). Two main types of rock are exposed at Alabama Hills: 1) orange, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock 150-200 million years old; and 2) 82- to 85-million-year-old biotite monzogranite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders.
  5. We were enthralled at the Museum of Western Film History, at 701 S. Main Street, Lone Pine. Fans of movies and television shouldn’t miss this trove of memories, including their good video presentation. Scenes of actor Russell Crow riding through “Spain” in Gladiator (2000) were filmed in nearby Alabama Hills Recreation Area with looming Sierra Nevada peaks as backdrop. See the actual car from the film High Sierra (1941) – in the climactic movie sequence, “Mad Dog” Earle, played by Humphrey Bogart, flees from police by accelerating this 1937 Plymouth Coupe automobile up the old Whitney Portal Road. See the exploding head graboid puppet from the film Tremors (1990), starring Kevin Bacon.
  6. Along the Cabin Trail, see an historic mining cabin built of old-growth bristlecone and limber pine logs, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Schulman Grove, Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, near Big Pine. In terms of its ancient logs, you can think of this as one of the world’s oldest cabins. The Mexican Mine for extracting lead and zinc ore was first established in 1863 as the Reed Mine, but it suffered various weather and supply problems at 10,000 feet elevation and was abandoned in the early 1950s. The world’s oldest known living non-clonal organism was found near here in 2013 — a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) 5064 years old, germinated in 3051 BC. It beat the previous record set by the famous nearby 4847-year-old Methuselah Tree sampled around 1957. Starting from the visitor center at 9846 feet, we hiked the Cabin Trail loop, returning along Methuselah Grove Trail (highly recommended, to visit the world’s oldest living trees), with views eastward over Nevada’s basin-and-range region. An important dendrochronology, based on these trees and dead bristlecone pine samples, extends back to about 9000 BC (with a single gap of about 500 years).
  7. My favorite hike in the Bishop Creek watershed goes from South Lake to Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake, looping back via a steeper, poorly marked route to Ruwau Lake, Chocolate Lakes, and Bull Lake, in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. The rewarding semi-loop is 9 miles with 2220 feet cumulative gain. (An easier walk is 7.2 miles round trip with 1500 feet gain to Saddlerock Lake, out and back via beautiful Long Lake.) One of my favorite shots of the trip is cirrus clouds streaking over Mount Goode (13,085 feet) and Hurd Peak (12,237 ft, center) in a panorama stitched from 12 overlapping photos.
  8. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from Lake Sabrina to beautiful Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes, and Dingleberry Lake. The good trail is 8.5 miles round trip with 1850 feet cumulative gain. (Beyond Dingleberry Lake, the trail splits to Midnight Lake and Hungry Packer Lake.) A memorable image is Mt Thompson (13,494 feet) and Thompson Ridge rising above beautiful Blue Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
  9. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from North Lake to Lamarck Lakes. The moderate trail to Upper Lamarck Lake is 5.5 miles round trip with 1550 feet cumulative gain, which we day hiked along with other family members who were backpacking onwards.
  10. Enjoy an easy, very rewarding hike from Mosquito Flat through Little Lakes Valley to Chickenfoot Lake and Gem Lakes. An impressive array of pyramidal peaks reflect in the creeks and lakes in spectacular Little Lakes Valley. To reach the trailhead, turn off Highway 395 at Toms Place (15 miles south of Mammoth Junction) onto paved Rock Creek Road, and drive 10.5 miles to the end. We hiked the moderate trail to Morgan Pass, 7.5 miles round trip with 1250 feet cumulative gain; but you should skip the left turn to redundant Morgan Pass and instead turn right to visit the pretty Gem Lakes.
  11. At Mono Lake, intriguing towers of calcium-carbonate decorate the South Tufa Area and reflect photogenically in the lake, in Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Don’t miss the Visitor Center in Lee Vining along Highway 395. The Reserve protects wetlands that support millions of birds, and preserves Mono Lake’s distinctive tufa towers — calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Mono Lake has no outlet and is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Over the past million years, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams and evaporation has made the water 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies. Since 1941, diversion of lake water tributary streams by the city of Los Angeles lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. In response, the Mono Lake Committee won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially restore the lake level.
  12. Bodie is California’s official state gold rush ghost town – Bodie State Historic Park lies in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, near Bridgeport. Bodie fascinated me for 4 hours photographing reflections in glass, dilapidated historic buildings, mining equipment, doors, interiors, and more. Afternoon thunderstorm clouds loomed over my panoramas of historic Bodie and the Standard Stamp Mill. After W. S. Bodey’s original gold discovery in 1859, profitable gold ore discoveries in 1876 and 1878 transformed “Bodie” from an isolated mining camp to a Wild West boomtown. By 1879, Bodie had a population of 5000-7000 people with 2000 buildings. At its peak, 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Bodie declined rapidly 1912-1917 and the last mine closed in 1942. Bodie became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and Bodie State Historic Park in 1962. .
  13. Peaks of Desolation Wilderness rise above a popular lake in Wrights Lake Recreation Area, in Eldorado National Forest, near South Lake Tahoe. In summer, reservations are required to get one of the crowded campsites. Arrive early before 9am or mid week to get a parking spot for great hikes; or park as we did in the day use area for a nice walk around the lake (which connects to excellent Twin Lakes Trail and Grouse Lake Trail). Directions to Wrights Lake Campground: 23 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, 11 miles north on Ice House Road (Forest Road 3), 9 miles east on Forest Road 32 (Wrights Lake Tie Road), and 2 miles north on Forest Road 4 (Wrights Lake Rd).
  14. On our way back to Seattle, in Castle Crags State Park in Northern California, granite pinnacles soared majestically above krumholtz-formation trees atop Castle Dome Trail, just west of Interstate 5, between the towns of Castella and Dunsmuir. One of my favorite hikes in the state is to Castle Dome, an excellent trail 5.8 miles round trip with 2100 feet gain. Geology: although the mountains of Northern California consist largely of volcanic and sedimentary rocks, granite plutons intruded in many areas during the Jurassic period. Heavy Pleistocene glaciation eroded much of the softer surrounding rock leaving soaring crags and spires exposed. Exfoliation of huge, convex slabs of granite made some impressive, rounded towers (California’s look-alike for Huangshan, the Yellow Mountains, in China).

See the above photo gallery for the following Sierra flower photos:

  • Giant blazingstar or smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis)
  • Opuntia fragilis (brittle pricklypear)
  • white Datura flower flower blossoms
  • Coville’s columbine or Sierra columbine (Aquilegia pubescens)
  • Alpine Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii)
  • Iris missouriensis (or Iris montana)
  • tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum)
  • prickly poppy (Argemone Genus)
  • Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-fire).

Previous California trips:

In 2015, we were overdue to return to the Eastern Sierras, having last visited 15 years ago, when we saw Mono Lake & Bodie and backpacked the scenic Virginia Lakes – Summit Lake – Green Lake loop. More recently in 2011, we enjoyed camping in Yosemite Valley (see gallery) in November, a time highly recommended to avoid the overwhelming crowds of summer. A separate article covers all my images from California (and integrates all photos seen above).

2015 spring hikes in Utah & Colorado

In Spring 2015, we returned to southwest USA to experience lesser-known, yet remarkable hikes and sights shown in the following day-by-day gallery:

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The Colorado Plateau (centered upon the Four Corners region of Utah, ColoradoArizona, and New Mexico) has the highest concentration of parklands in North America. You could spend a lifetime exploring the astounding natural wonders of this remarkable desert region.

Spring/fall desert canyon hiking itinerary, round trip from Salt Lake City

The above photos are from the following itinerary, which makes a good round trip in 2 weeks from Salt Lake City:

Key to ratings: *** Must do. ** Do. * Maybe if time allows.

  1. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
    • * Capitol Gorge (Golden Throne Trail, The Tanks, Pioneer Register)
    • ** Hickman Natural Bridge and ** Rim Overlook Trail
    • * Grand Wash
  2. Goblin Valley State Park
  3. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
    • ** Leprechaun Canyon (on BLM land 8 miles north of GCNRA on Highway 95)
  4. ** Natural Bridges National Monument
  5. Needles District of Canyonlands  NP
    • ** Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Arch
    • * Slickrock Trail
    • * Cave Spring & Historic Cowboy Camp
    • * Needles Outpost Campground has nice *** hot showers to wash off the desert dust. (The scenic ** Canyonlands National Park’s Squaw Flat Campground was full on Thursday and Friday during Easter week 2015.)
    • ** Shay Canyon’s petroglyph gallery (on BLM land outside of Canyonlands National Park, a few miles up the highway from Newspaper Rock)
  6. We skipped ** Moab this year because its campgrounds were overbooked due to the crowded Easter Jeep Safari (Saturday, March 28 – Sunday, April 5, 2015), and instead headed into less-crowded spring destinations in Colorado:
  7. * Dallas Divide, Colorado (a pretty pass in the San Juan Mountains which will look fantastic with *** fall foliage colors on some future trip)
  8. *** Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, Colorado
    • *** The Painted Wall viewpoints around sunrise and sunset
    • * Campground
  9. ** Colorado National Monument, Colorado
    • ** Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument
    • ** Devils Kitchen
    • ** Rim Drive views
  10. ** Dinosaur National Monument, near Jensen, Utah

See related articles: 

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
March 25-April 10, 2015

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.

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:

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