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 are my favorite 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.

Vanier Park: MacMillan Space Centre

Fans of astronomy will enjoy H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vanier Park, at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver, BC. It was founded 1968 and named for a British Columbia industrialist and philanthropist. See worthwhile 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 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.

Below is a more extensive set of Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:


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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

In galleries below, click “i” to display informative captions.


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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.

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


Click here for a more extensive gallery of All Photos from our March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip in my Portfolio (where you can Add images to your Cart for purchase).

The following related articles 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):


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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:


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Oregon favorite images (consolidated from many trips)


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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


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2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park


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3. Caverns of Sonora


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4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area


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5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site


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6. San Antonio: the Alamo


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7. more photos of Texas


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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 to capture 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
  7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope
  8. White Sands National Monument

…on our 2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California: March 15-April 9, 2014. My Southwest USA states articles include: Arizona, ColoradoNevada, Utah plus Texas.

1. New Mexico favorite images


Click “i” to display informative captions. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. More extensive images are shown below for each area we explored in New Mexico.

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park


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Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the wonderful Carlsbad Caverns National Park can be found in the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert of southeast New Mexico. Hike in on your own via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. Geology: 4 to 6 million years ago, an acid bath in the water table slowly dissolved the underground rooms of Carlsbad Caverns, which then drained along with the uplift of the Guadalupe Mountains. The Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted part of the ancient Capitan Reef which thrived along the edge of an inland sea more than 250 million years ago during Permian time. Carlsbad Caverns National Park protects part of the Capitan Reef, one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian-age fossil reefs in the world. The park’s magnificent speleothems (cave formations) are due to rain and snowmelt soaking through soil and limestone rock, dripping into a cave, evaporating and depositing dissolved minerals. Drip-by-drip, over the past million years or so, Carlsbad Cavern has slowly been decorating itself. The slowest drips tend to stay on the ceiling (as stalactites, soda straws, draperies, ribbons or curtains). The faster drips are more likely to decorate the floor (with stalagmites, totem poles, flowstone, rim stone dams, lily pads, shelves, and cave pools). Today, due to the dry desert climate, few speleothems inside any Guadalupe Mountains caves are wet enough to actively grow. Most speleothems inside Carlsbad Cavern would have been much more active during the last ice age-up to around 10,000 years ago, but are now mostly inactive.

3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park


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Chaco Culture NHP hosts the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in remote northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, USA. From 850 AD to 1250 AD, Chaco Canyon advanced then declined as a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 1800s. Climate change may have led to its abandonment, beginning with a 50-year drought starting in 1130.

4. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument


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See fantastic hoodoos and a great slot canyon in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, in New Mexico, USA. Hike the easy Cave Loop Trail plus Slot Canyon Trail side trip (3 miles round trip), 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, on the Pajarito Plateau. Distinctive cone-shaped caprocks protect soft pumice and tuff beneath. Geologically, the Tent Rocks are made of Peralta Tuff, formed from volcanic ash, pumice, and pyroclastic debris deposited over 1000 feet thick from the Jemez Volcanic Field, 7 million years ago. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan.

5. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness


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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is south of Farmington, in San Juan County, New Mexico, USA. This fantasy world of strange rock formations is made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt. These rock layers have weathered into eerie hoodoos (pinnacles, spires, and cap rocks). This was once a riverine delta west of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. Swamps built up organic material which became beds of lignite. Water disappeared and left behind a 1400-foot (430 m) layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal. The ancient sedimentary deposits were uplifted with the rest of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 25 million years ago. Waters of the last ice age eroded the hoodoos now visible. The high desert widerness of Bisti is managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

6. Petroglyph National Monument


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Ancestral Puebloan people chipped various figures into the desert varnish (oxidized surface) of 200,000-year-old volcanic basalt rock, here in Boca Negra Canyon, in Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Archeologists estimate the 23,000 petroglyphs in the monument were created between 1000 BC and AD 1700.

7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope



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The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, active 24 hours per day. Visit the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, in New Mexico, USA. US Route 60 passes through the scientific complex, which welcomes visitors. The VLA is a set of 27 movable radio antennas on tracks in a Y-shape. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter. After being built 1973-1980, the VLA’s electronics and software were significantly upgraded from 2001-2012 by at least an order of magnitude in both sensitivity and radio-frequency coverage. The VLA is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about interstellar radio emission. The VLA was prominently featured in the 1997 film “Contact,” a classic science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel, with Jodie Foster portraying the film’s protagonist, Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, a SETI scientist who finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life.

8. White Sands National Monument


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White Sands National Monument preserves one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here in the northern Chihuahuan Desert rises the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Visit the park 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo, in New Mexico, USA. White Sands National Monument preserves 40% of the gpysum dune field, the remainder of which is on White Sands Missile Range and military land closed to the public. Geology: The park’s gypsum was originally deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered this area 250 million years ago. Eventually turned into stone, these gypsum-bearing marine deposits were uplifted into a giant dome 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were formed. Beginning 10 million years ago, the center of this dome began to collapse and create the Tularosa Basin. The remaining sides of the original dome now form the San Andres and Sacramento mountain ranges that ring the basin. The common mineral gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because rain dissolves it in runoff which usually drains to the sea; but mountains enclose the Tularosa Basin and trap surface runoff. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) comes from ephemeral Lake Lucero (a playa), which is the remnant of ice-age Lake Otero (now mostly an alkali flat) in the western side of the park. Evaporating water (up to 80 inches per year) leaves behind selenite crystals which reach lengths of up to three feet (1 m)! Weathering breaks the selenite crystals into sand-size gypsum grains that are carried away by prevailing winds from the southwest, forming white dunes. Several types of small animals have evolved white coloration that camouflages them in the dazzling white desert; and various plants have specially adapted to shifting sands. Based on an application by two US Senators from New Mexico, UNESCO honored the monument on the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites in 2008.

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


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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.

A shocking 2018 MIT study found that false news spreads 6 to 20 times faster than does real news on the social network Twitter – caused by people retweeting inaccurate news items! Apparently, much of the fake news posted around the 2016 presidential election was motivated primarily by greed – earning money from click bait targeted across the political spectrum. A disturbing 2016 study found that most people retweet news by headline without ever seeing the contents! (Computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute reported that 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.) Sadly these blind peer-to-peer shares promote what gets circulated and demote other topics. So the thoughtless retweets of you and your friends actually shape our shared political and cultural agendas. Please, let’s all read critically before forwarding.

Despite the onslaught of negative daily news, deliberately sensationalized to sell more ads, I’ve found new hope in what Bill Gates calls his new “favorite book of all time”: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), by Steven Pinker.

Check the validity of facts, news, and rumors

Check news reports
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.”
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.
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.

A shocking 2018 MIT study found that false news spreads 6 to 20 times faster than does real news on the social network Twitter, caused by people retweeting inaccurate news items! Surprising or anger-provoking items spread faster than other lies, tapping into humans’ attraction for novelty. The researchers subtracted the affects of automated bots and tracked roughly 126,000 cascades of news stories spreading on Twitter, which were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by about 3 million people, from the years 2006 to 2017. To determine whether stories were true or false, the MIT team used the assessments of six fact-checking organizations (factcheck.org, hoax-slayer.com, politifact.com, snopes.org, truthorfiction.com, and urbanlegends.about.com), whose judgments overlapped more than 95 percent of the time.

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

2018: 2012: 2012: 2012:
2011: 2013:

  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker (February 13, 2018): This must-read book of the decade demonstrates the scientific approach necessary to defeat present-day extremist demagogues who are trying to hijack democracy with dysfunctional ideas. “If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.”
  • 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.

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.


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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).

Sony RX100 review: best pocket camera 2012-15

The world’s best pocket-sized travel camera improved in 2015:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version IV (best-ever pocket camera 2015, 10.5 oz) bests earlier version III with:

  • a new Exmor RS stacked CMOS sensor, with faster operation but same image quality
  • 15 fps electronic shutter
  • viewfinder dots 2.36mp (formerly 1.44mp)
  • new 4K (UHD) video
  • improved dynamic range in video and JPEG (using S-Log2 gamma setting under Picture Profiles)
  • greatly-improved Auto ISO
  • fast eye-tracking AF
  • instant magnification of AF point in playback

The 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens remains the same, but battery life has decreased to 280 shots (down from 320 shots in version III).

The earlier Sony RX100 camera version III (best-ever pocket camera 2014, 10 oz) beat previous version II with the following new features:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version III Digital Camera

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version III Digital Camera

  • Widens its angle of view to 24mm (with brightest aperture f/1.8).
  • Significantly sharpens its 70mm telephoto, which is now brightened to f/2.8. (Zoom reach was shortened from 3.6x to 2.9x, but generous 20 megapixels allow much cropping for a good digital zoom.)
  • Adds a pop-up SVGA OLED electronic viewfinder with 1.44M dots!
  • Tilts its 3″ LCD further to a full 180 degrees.
  • Adds a Nuetral Density (ND) filter, great for allowing slow shutter speeds (such as to blur moving water) in bright sunlight.
  • Compared to Sony RX100 III, the rival Canon PowerShot G7X camera has no viewfinder, poor battery life, unreliable focus and poor manual focus magnification. In its favor, Canon G7X has brighter lens from 24-50mm equiv (up to 2/3 stop better), longer zoom 24-100mm equiv (versus 24-70mm), touchscreen and LCD that flips 180-degrees for selfies, in a body having the same weight, size and sensor, capturing similar image quality in studio comparisons.

Earlier versions:

Look for a great value on a used Sony RX100 version 1 (model DSCRX100/B) at Amazon (worth the price premium over a used Canon S110, both introduced in 2012).

Sony RX100 beats rival brands of pocket-sized cameras with unusually fast 0.15 sec autofocus, an unprecedented 20 mp 1″ sensor (capturing 2.6 times the light area of a Canon S110), and sharp LCD (1,228,800 dots). To better grasp its slippery body, add Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Below, read my full review of version I:

Tom’s review of Sony RX100 version I

The world’s best pocket-sized camera of 2012, Sony RX100 camera version 1 (8.5 oz, model DSCRX100/B), packs the largest sensor (1-inch Type) ever designed into such a small body. Its high image quality and autofocus speed beat any other zoom camera under 16 ounces! Both RX100 versions I and II have 3.6x optical zoom (28–100mm equiv), with brightest aperture f/1.8 at wide angle zoom and f/4.9 at telephoto. But as expected, images will be sharpest when shot at a few stops down, around f/4 to f/5.6. A trip to Italy in summer 2013 reconfirmed my excitement about the RX100: its 20-megapixel sensor can resolve more detail than my former 12mp Nikon D5000 DSLR camera using kit lens at ISO 200 to 400. 

Compared to the competing Canon PowerShot S110 camera (7 oz, 2012) or Canon S95 (7 oz, 2010, pictured below), Sony RX100’s high-resolution 20mp sensor can actually double the area of sharp prints. Also, cropping a 20-megapixel image from its shorter telephoto easily beats the quality from an 120mm-equivalent image from the S110. The RX100’s sensor pixels dedicated to phase-detection AF impressively accelerate hybrid autofocus to as fast as 0.15 second at wide angle (0.26 sec at tele). In its favor, a Canon PowerShot S110 (2012) is 25% smaller by volume, starts its zoom wider at 24mm equivalent, adds touch screen, has friendlier menus, and costs around 40% less when new (but costs about the same when used: see Sony RX100/B version I at Amazon). Compare features in the Table at bottom. [These compact designs have a good 3-inch LCD but no viewfinder, unless you upgrade to RX100 version III, which also widens its angle of view to 24mm equivalent.]

Pocket-sized wonders: Compare camera lens and size of Sony DSC-RX100 (left) versus Canon PowerShot S95.

Pocket-sized wonders: Compare camera lens and size of Sony DSC-RX100 version I (left) versus Canon PowerShot S95.

To better grasp the slippery body of a Sony RX100 (and other compact cameras), order a Custom Grip from Richard Franiec (shown above) or Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Protect your RX100 in a Tamrac Digital 1 Photo Bag, with room for extra Wasabi Power NPBX1 batteries.

The unusually large 1-inch Type sensor inside a Sony RX100 is 2.8 times bigger in surface area than a 1/1.7-inch Type sensor in a Canon S110, S95, or G series camera. (Compare sensor sizes in separate article.) The larger-diameter RX100 lens gathers more light onto its sensor than any other pocketable zoom camera, capturing superior quality.

To beat the image resolution recorded by an 8.5-oz Sony RX100, competitors require increasing camera weight to 16 ounces or more! For example: a 16-oz Sony Alpha NEX-6 (16mp) with 16-50mm Retractable Zoom lens beats RX100’s quality above ISO 800 (and adds a fantastic viewfinder with 2,359,296 dots). Surprisingly, studio tests show that a little 8.5-ounce Sony RX100 can beat or equal image quality from a 29-ounce Nikon D5000 DSLR with kit lens (12mp APS-C sensor, 2009) from ISO 200 up to 1600. Image quality and resolution is judged 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).

1895 Heritage House (Kanab, Utah) illustrates the high resolution of a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 compact camera (18mm, f/5.6, 1/400th sec, ISO 125) - PhotoSeek.com

100% pixel enlargements from the 1895 Heritage House (Kanab, Utah) illustrate the sharp resolution of a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 compact camera (f/5.6, 1/400th sec, ISO 125, zoomed to 18mm, which is “48mm equivalent”).

More details:

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 version I digital camera has a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T Lens with

  • 3.6x optical zoom: 10.4 – 37.1mm (28–100mm equivalent)
  • good “Optical SteadyShot” Image Stabilization
  • fast f/1.8 brightest aperture at 10.4mm wide angle
  • f/4.9 brightest aperture at 37.1mm tele
  • As expected, images will be sharpest when shot at a few stops down from brightest aperture, best around f/4 to f/5.6. Beyond that, due to physics, higher f-stops will soften images with diffraction, especially at f/11, the RX100’s smallest lens opening.
  • For telephoto subjects, an RX100’s moderate 3.6x zoom easily beats the quality of cropping images from a fixed-lens (non-zoom) camera in this size class.

The RX100 captures full HD 1080/60p video with stereo sound. Its aluminum body pops up an effective flash. Record stills using raw, JPEG, or both. Its unusually fast autofocus and 10 frames per second burst mode capture action much easier than previous pocket cameras.

My test shots on a Sony RX100 (20mp) were more than 50% sharper than a Canon S95 (10mp) throughout the zoom range, from close focus to infinity. Note that in studio comparisons, Canon S110 (12 mp) is less than 10% sharper than Canon S95. Cropping images from my RX100 beats the real resolution of a bulkier Canon PowerShot G9 from wide angle through 150mm equivalent.

Purple flower close-up, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada, USA.

The Sony RX100’s 20-megapixel sensor has plenty of room to crop from native 5472 x 3648 down to 1500 x 1000 pixels to frame the above close-focus image. Purple desert flower, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. (Zoomed to 10.4mm widest angle, f/7.1, 1/400 second, ISO 125, manual focus)

Table: Compare Sony RX100 version I with Canon PowerShot S110 and S95

For travel portability with top image quality, a Sony RX100 version I camera clearly beats my former Canon PowerShot S95 (2010) and rivals my DSLR camera quality of  just 3 years ago. Get a great value on a used Sony RX100 version 1 (model DSCRX100/B) at Amazon (around $200 as of May 2015, same price as a used Canon S110, both introduced in 2012).

Green boxes or green text indicate features beating the other camera(s) in that row:

CAMERA FEATURES Sony RX100 camera version I Digital Camera (2012) model #DSCRX100/B

 

Canon PowerShot S110 camera (2012) Canon PowerShot S95 (2010)
Total weight with battery and memory card: 240 g (0.53 lb / 8.5 oz). Sony RX100 is only 23% heavier than Canon S110 or S95

 

198 g (0.44 lb / 7 oz). 195 g (0.43 lb / 7 oz)
Camera body size: 4.00 x 2.29 x 1.41″ / 10.16 x 5.81 x 3.59 cm (only 22% larger volume than S95)

 

3.9 x 2.32 x 1.06″ (9.9 x 5.9 x 2.7 cm) 3.94 x 2.28 x 1.18″ ( 10.0 x 5.8 x 3.0 cm)
Megapixels (mp) resolution: 20 mp, 5472 x 3648

 

12 mp, 4000 x 3000 10 mp, 3648 x 2736
Sensor type: 1-inch Exmor CMOS Low-Light Sensor (13.2 x 8.8 mm): 2.8-times-larger sensor area than Canon S110 or S95

 

1/1.7″ CMOS (7.44 x 5.58 mm) 1/1.7″ CCD (7.44 x 5.58 mm)
Lens (“equivalent” in terms of 35mm full frame): 3.6x optical zoom, 28–100mm equiv, f/1.8
– f/4.9. Cropping down from the RX100’s 20mp resolution at telephoto
easily beats image quality from the extra telephoto reach of the Canon
S110.
5x optical, 24–120mm
equiv, f/2 – f/5.9. Canon S110 has a widest angle of view of 74 degrees
horizontally (versus 66 degrees for Sony RX100 and Canon S95)
3.8x optical zoom, 28–105mm equiv, f/2.0 – f/4.9
Autofocus (AF): Hybrid autofocus as fast as 0.15 seconds at wide angle (0.26 sec at tele)

 

Contrast-detection autofocus Contrast-detection autofocus
Drive speed: frames per second (fps): 2.5 and 10 fps

 

2.1 fps 0.9 fps
Close focus distance: 5 cm (1.97″): Cropping RX100 beats the macro enlargement resolution of S110 or S95

 

3 cm 5 cm (1.97″)
Battery life (CIPA): 330 shots

 

200 shots 200 shots
LCD (no viewfinder): 3-inch Xtra Fine TFT LCD Display with WhiteMagic: 1,228,800 dots

 

3-inch LCD: 461,000 dots TFT PureColor II G Touch screen LCD 3-inch LCD: 461,000 dots
Movies/video: Records stereo sound, 1920 x 1080 (60 fps) progressive or interlaced, 1440 x 1080 (30 fps), 1280 x 720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

 

Records stereo sound, 1920 x 1080 (24 fps), 1280 x 720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps) Records stereo sound, 1280 x 720 (24 fps) 640 x 480 (30 fps), 320 x 240 (30 fps)



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CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi, Joffre Lakes

Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is not only one of the most scenic ski areas in North America, but also hosts great summer hiking and mountain biking. Whistler has become a thriving center for year-round outdoor sports in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada. Hiking at Whistler is well worth the 10 hours round trip drive from Seattle, if you stay for a minimum of 3 nights — but allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. (Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.) Stay in a condominium or campground and hike the scenic trails featured below. The official visitors’ web site www.whistlerblackcomb.com helpfully books lodging and provides hiking, mountain biking, and skiing maps. Nearby Garibaldi Lake is one of my favorite wilderness trips (day hike or backpack).

Photo gallery of Whistler Resort, Garibaldi Provincial Park, and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park


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The Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler Village Gondola with Solar Coaster Express on Blackcomb Mountain for sightseeing or skiing variety. Buy a season pass if using lifts more than 2 days. Built in 2008, Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometers or 1.88 miles) and highest point above the ground (436 meters or 1430 feet).

I recommend the following hikes near Whistler:

  • On Whistler Mountain, hike the High Note Trail to views of turquoise Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park and onward to Harmony Lake, back to Whistler Village Gondola at Roundhouse Lodge (6 miles or 10k, with 2200 feet descent and 1000 feet ascent). Start the walk with a ride to the top of Whistler Peak Express Chairlift, which is a short walk downhill from Roundhouse Lodge.
  • Hike the Overlord Trail on Blackcomb Mountain (2440 meters) for flowers and good views in the Spearhead Range across Fitzsimmons Valley. Starting from the top of Solar Coaster Express Chairlift on Blackcomb Mountain, walk round trip for 1 to 6 miles (2k to 10k), with up to 1700 feet of ascent, ending with a chairlift back down to Whistler Village.
  • Driving 25k south of Whistler, backpack 1 or 2 nights to turquoise Garibaldi Lake, hiking to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. Panorama Ridge is 6 miles (10k) RT with 2066 ft (630m) gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Campground (or 17 miles RT with 5100 ft gain from Rubble Creek parking lot).
  • Drive an hour on the main highway northeast from Whistler to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC. A rough, rocky, steep hike of 10 kilometers round trip ascends (400 meters up) by a rushing stream to three beautiful turquoise lakes. The Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes are colored by glacial silt which reflects green and blue sunlight. The road onwards to Lilloet is very scenic.
Global warming/climate change:

As of 2005, Overlord Glacier had retreated 880 meters from its terminus of year 1929. From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (Koch et al. 2008, web.unbc.ca). The record of 1900s glacial fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand, suggesting a common, global climatic cause. Read more about global warming/climate change.

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Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com. Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.

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2012: 2011: 2011: 2010: