Tag Archives: review

My Review of Mindshift Gear’s Rotation 180 Panorama

RLatson_Panorama At The Top

The National Parks Traveler just published my latest gear review:  The Rotation 180 Panorama camera pack.  If you are interested in reading about this, click on the photo above.

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Filed under Big Bend, camera backpack, Equipment, Mindshift Gear, National Parks, Photography, Travel and Photography

Becky’s 2013 Photographic Review

Becky At The Window Overlook

While perusing several other blogs which I follow, I noted one of the photographic bloggers was preparing a year in review post.  I decided to do the same.

Going through all of my photos taken over the course of year gave me pause in which I realized that I had a really good year.  Oh, of course I had ups and downs, but all in all, I had a great deal more ups than downs.

In February, I traveled to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse State Park – all in Utah.  This was my first winter trip in many years (most of my trips are mainly during the late summer or fall seasons).  During that time, I hiked up to Delicate Arch and had the entire area all to myself for a good 30+ minutes, and was also fortunate enough on the previous day to witness a magical snow fall in an otherwise arid region.

On Top Of The World

Steps Up To North Window

In early April, I had the pleasure of conducting a portfolio photo session for  a stunningly beautiful belly dancer.

Zaras Veils

And in late April, I photographed the wedding of a former co-worker and her musician fiancee (who now has a jazz CD out on iTunes).  The weather was perfect, the bride was stunning, the wedding went off without a hitch, and the day couldn’t have been better – we all had a great time.

Bride Relaxing On The Chairs

Newly Wedded

In July, I flew to Alaska for the first time in my life, spending a week with Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris in Katmai National Park and Preserve.  There, I captured some fantastic photos of the awesome coastal brown bears as they fished for the salmon along the Brooks River.  Prior to the trip to Katmai, I spent a few days just tooleying around the Anchorage area in a rental car, further cementing my desire to return in August 2014.

Becky At Brooks Falls

Caught One

And I wasn’t finished with July travel.  Work required me to travel to London;  this time, it was via Business Class, which is a heck of a lot sweeter than economy, believe me.  In between work at the London office,  I managed to do things in that great city that I had not been able to accomplish during a visit two years prior (tour the National Gallery, ride on the London Eye at night and purchase a ticket to see Spamalot).

Becky At Trafalgar Square

At The Top Of The Eye

In October, I flew to Maine and spent a week on Mount Desert Island where I captured the gloriously-saturated colors of autumn.  Because this trip coincided with the  government shutdown, I investigated Acadia National Park via biplane rather than hiking.

Becky And The St. Augustine

Maine From Above

The Road To Cadillac Mountain

Starting on the 7th day of September, I helped my 88-year old mother hang 3 hummingbird feeders;  throughout the month, I had the wonderful privilege of photographing the beauty and antics of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that made their annual migration through my part of southeast Texas.  During those days and evenings of photography, I digitally captured hummingbird behavior that I had never witnessed before.

Becky And The Hummingbirds

Pulling The Head Feathers

In November (well, actually, that last day of November and the first day of December), I spent the weekend with my friends The Merchant Prince and his Lady Michelle, photographing their food & beverage venues and some crazy characters out at the Texas Renaissance Festival.

Christmas Becky

The Kings Feast Staff

Basil Drake and Fans

Gypsy Dance Theatre

In December, I managed to salvage enough vacation days for a 13-hour drive to Big Bend National Park, where I spent 4 full days in this incredible southwest Texas park.  I was so taken with this place that I will be making the long drive back in late April 2014 for a week’s stay.

I Made It

The Chisos Mountains And Chihuahuan Desert

Casa Grande and A Gibbous Moon

And, throughout the year when not traveling far and wide, I have visited and photographed the nearby Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge as well as Brazos Bend State Park.

A Golden Burst

Evening At Creekfield Lake1

Things have gone well, workwise.  My health has been good, as has the health of other members of my family.   I continue to contribute articles and photographs for the National Parks Traveler and my Facebook photography page has over 6000 Facebook Fans. Open-mouthed smile

Throughout the year, I got to do a lot of traveling and photography – the two things I love doing the most.  I guess I could have eschewed many of the trips and bought the big honkin’ prime lens that I’ve been lusting after for a couple of years now.  Instead, though, I chose to spend my discretionary income on traveling.  An old “rockhound” friend of my parents once told us “You can’t take your stuff with you but you can take your experiences with you”.  I totally believe that.  So, I opt for the travel experiences and thank my lucky stars for lensrentals.com Winking smile

Yes, there have been a few tough times, but not as many tough times as good times.  I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my tummy, a good job, and my family.  It’s been a really good year.

I look forward to next year and hope that it’s as good as this year has been.

Official Big Bend Fan

How has 2013 treated you?

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Filed under Acadia National Park, Alaska, Arches National Park, Big Bend, Blogging, Katmai National Park, Life, Maine, National Parks, Parks, Photography, Texas, Travel, Utah, Vacation

A Review of the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW Camera Pack

Lowepro Flipside

Hi Everybody!  Happy Holidays!

I have been a super-busy gal during my holiday time off, having written three different articles for upcoming photography columns in the National Parks Traveler.  I also recently finished up and just had published a review of the Lowepro Flipside 500 AW camera backpack.

If you are considering getting this pack for your camera adventures, then click on the photo and you will be taken to the Traveler’s site to read my article.  And, while you are at it, take a look around the Traveler’s site and become a member.  I am!

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Filed under Big Bend, Camera Bag, Equipment, Lowepro, National Parks, Photography

My Thoughts On Lowepro’s Nova Sport 35L AW Bag

I know – three posts in a row for me!  I’m feeling prolific! 😀

The National Parks Traveler site has just published my review of Lowepro’s Nova Sport 35L AW bag.  If you are interested in reading my thoughts on this, click on this link.

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Becky’s Review of the Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW Camera Pack

The website National Parks Traveler has just published my recent short review of the Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW if you want to take a look. At first I was skeptical of this type of bag but now I really like the concept.

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A Canon 6D Body, A Canon 14mm Lens, And A Wedding

  The Bride The Groom And The Bentley

I recently had the pleasure of photographing a wedding at the San Luis Resort in Galveston Texas.   The weather was perfect, the bride was stunning, the groom handsome, and the entire event went off without a hitch.   It was an awesome day, as all wedding days should be.

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I’m a list maker.   This task helps me remember events, appointments, and what gear to take with me for various events like said wedding.   As I reviewed my camera/lens list, I thought about  how neat it might be to rent a really wide-angle lens to capture the guests, the ceremony, basically the whole wedding venue.   So I went on to my favorite Lensrentals.com and reserved one Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens.

A couple of weeks later, as I was reviewing my gear list for the umpteenth time, the thought dawned on me that the two cameras I planned on utilizing during the ceremony would already each have a specific lens on them.  Wedding ceremonies are one of those events that brook no do-overs of the day, and I sure as heck didn’t want to waste valuable time switching out lenses between the 14mm and one of the other two lenses (the Canon 24-70 f2.8L II and the Canon 70-200 f2.8L II).   So, I went back to Lensrentals.com and decided this wedding might be a great opportunity (and also kind of fun) to try out the new Canon 6D full-frame camera  onto which I would affix the 14mm and just leave it there.

Canon 6D Body

Ok, my bad: I did *not* think to take a photo of the 6D next to my 5D Mk III and 1-DX camera bodies.   Mea culpa.

Out Of The Box:

· It takes a SD/SDHD card.  Period.  I figured as much, since Canon’s other small cameras have accepted only that particular type of memory card.

· Suffice it to say that the 6D is a little camera.  It’s smaller than the 5D Mk III, and miniscule compared to the 1-DX.  It fits my small hands perfectly, but I think anybody with larger hands might find it a little awkward to handle.

· The buttons on the camera back are positioned a little differently – I got a bit confused trying to find the delete button.

· The battery for this camera is the same as the battery for the 5D Mk II and the 5D Mk III (that was good, because I have a number of spares).

In Use:

· It’s much quieter than my 5D III and literally silent compared to my 1-DX (one of the noisiest cameras I have ever used).

· It’s slow.   Probably as fast as the 5D Mk II, but definitely slower than the 5D Mk III, so I don’t know that it would be so great for sports or wildlife action shots. If you used a flash, then sure it would probably be fine.   Oh, and there is n0 built-in pop-up flash, btw.

· It’s got GPS and WiFi capabilities. I turned on the GPS menu function to tag my locations.  I never used the WiFi function, but both are pretty neat, considering the lack of either on my other two cameras .  I can’t believe the 1-DX doesn’t have at least GPS.  Heck, for the amount of money I paid for that camera, it should be able to make me a cup of coffee in addition to taking pictures. ;-).

· Because it is small, and because the 14mm lens is light and relatively small, too, the combo fit nicely into the Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW backpack I carried with me during the wedding day.

· The camera does a pretty good job with low-light situations but I still had to use noise-reduction software for those images.

· The AF points are like the 5D Mk II.

· It’s got in-camera HDR settings.  Unfortunately, I could never get it to work correctly for me and I forgot to bring along the instruction booklet.  Oh, and  the 6D  doesn’t let you make an HDR in Raw – it’s jpg only.

Conclusion:

This is the kind of camera I would carry around with me in my purse.  It would make a nice little back-up camera and would definitely make a great full-frame starter camera for someone wanting to make the leap to full-frame but not willing to fork over the dollars for a 5D Mk III or 1-DX.  Of course, this camera doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that my other two cameras have, but this camera does have WiFi and GPS.  The resolution is somewhere between the 1-DX and the 5D Mk III – well, allow me to amend that: the megapixel count is somewhere between those two cameras – resolution looks about the same what with all the improvements made to the newer digital SLRs nowadays.  I don’t like the fewer number of AF points on this camera; I personally like the multitude of AF points of my 5D Mk III much better.

If you want a detailed review, try Ken Rockwell’s review (although I don’t always agree with everything he has to say about a camera or lens and I know some photographers get quite vitriolic over Mr. Rockwell’s reviews).  DP Review also has a much more detailed, in-depth discussion of this camera which I really like. You can also check out Lensrentals.com’s short review of this camera.

Ok, so now, what did I think of the Canon 14mm f2.8 Lens?

I LOVE this lens!  It’s fun!  I have never used such a wide-angle lens before and I was able to get some funky shots with it on the 6D.  I think I might have to rent this lens for one of my upcoming trips this year.  The only caveat is that because of the curvature of the lens glass, I’ll have to use a special rear filter for any polarizer shots.

What is this lens like on a full-frame camera?  You know the wording you  see on a car’s passenger-side mirror: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”? Well, that’s true of the 14mm. I ’d have the camera/lens to my eye getting closer and closer to my subject, and when I’d bring the camera down from my face, I found I would be standing practically on top of my subject.

On The Dance Floor

To get this shot above, I lay down on the dance floor (narrowly avoiding the feet of a couple of dancers) and aimed the camera up toward the bride, groom, the bride’s brother and his wife (who was also the bride’s matron of honor).  Funny story which highlights  the previous remark about objects being closer than they look.  I was on the floor, snapping away and all of a sudden this little face looms large in my lensview.  The bride’s 7-year old daughter was looking down at me intently (her face must have been practically on top of mine) and finally she said “Hey, did you know your face is red?!”  LOL.  I was hot and sweating, so I’ll bet my face was, indeed, red.

There is no image stabilization with this lens, so my modus operandi was to aim, focus, and hold down on that shutter button for 4-5 shots in succession. Of course, in good lighting (like outdoor lighting or flash), any lens shake shouldn’t be a problem as long as the shutter speed is high enough or the aperture is bumped up.

The color, clarity, and depth of images produced by this lens are really sweet. Take a look for yourself!

EntryWay_U9A0553_4_5_tonemapped

This is an HDR image of my hotel room at the San Luis.  For this, I had attached the lens to my Canon 5D Mk III because I wanted to use a tripod and this camera had the L-bracket to fit onto my tripod.  I had forgotten to bring a tripod plate for the 6D.  Oh well, that was the only thing I forgot, so I was doing pretty well.

San Luis Resort Entryway

The resort’s entryway

Outside Entryway

Right outside of the resort’s glass-enclosed entryway

The Ceremony

The bride’s procession down the rose petal-strewn grass aisle

The Ceremony

The Officiant presenting the bride to the groom

The Ceremony Wide-Angle

The ceremony

Ceremony Over

Ceremony over.  Cameras and cameraphones pulled out!

Reception Hall - Mainsail Room

The reception hall

I’ll have a separate blog about my wedding session and the gear/lighting equipment I used for that day.  Stay tuned!

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Filed under Canon Lens, Equipment, Photography, wedding

Spending Your Nights In The Historic Lodges of Glacier National Park

In 2008 and 2009, I traveled from Texas (where I currently live) back to Glacier National Park, Montana.  I’m a Montana native, having been born some 20 miles from the park.  Something I’d always wanted to do but never had the time (after moving away) and could never really afford (until my job in Texas) was to stay at each of the lodges within the park.  I had not returned to Glacier NP for about 10 years and it was time for me to once again breathe in not the chlorox fumes or gas flare that I normally inhale on the way to work in the mornings, but rather the cool, crisp, pine-saturated air of the park’s mountains.  While I will be adding future posts regarding my Glacier National Park photo trips, what follows here is a description with photos of the lodges in which I stayed over the course of those visits in ’08 and ’09.

The National Park Reservations site http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/glacier.php?gclid=CJHkvuuwkqsCFec65QodfTivwg lists quite a few lodging options within and outside of the park.  The lodges to which I refer in my post title are the lodges I remember seeing and hearing about while living in Columbia Falls: Village Inn at Apgar (not exactly what I would consider a rustic lodge, but still within the park boundary), Lake McDonald Lodge, Rising Sun Motor Hotel (a little more “rustic” than Apgar), Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Inn, and Glacier Park Lodge (aka The Great Northern Hotel).  It is those lodges to which I returned during my visits to the park.

The very first place in which I overnighted within the park was the Village Inn at Apgar, which is accessed via the West Glacier entrance (or, via Going-To-The-Sun Road from the eastern part of the park heading toward the west entrance).  West Glacier is about 20 miles away from Columbia Falls.  Apgar is located approximately 2.5 miles inside the west entrance to the park.

I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of my room for that night – sometimes I remembered to photograph my lodging and sometimes I forgot.  Since 2008 was my first time back to the park in 10 years, I guess my excitement to get out and photograph the mountains eclipsed my self-appointed duty as a room reviewer to capture the interior of that night’s stay.  I vaguely remember there being a screen door, and the bed was comfortable and the room was clean.  I’m not too terribly picky about my rooms, except that I do expect them to be clean.  I don’t require a television, which is a good thing, since the rooms I stayed at in the park were not equipped with TVs or air conditioners (AC? In the Montana mountains??) or radios or even WiFi (come to think of it, though, there might actually have been WiFi in some of those places – I just never gave it much thought as I was perfectly happy to be away from the world wide web and could always tether my Blackberry to the computer whenever I found cell service – which is slim to none out there in the mountains).

The view from the south shore of Lake McDonald at Apgar Village is what I was really after during my first evening in the park:

There’s a little restaurant as well as a cafe and snack shop along the road next to the lodging, so I ate my dinner and breakfast there before heading on to Lake McDonald Lodge, a few miles further up Going-To-The-Sun (GTTS) Road.

Lake McDonald is a real lodge with large wood logs and beams and local stonework, with a rustic atmosphere and decorations.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_McDonald_Lodge

I really wanted to stay in the main lodge, but nothing was available, so I spent the night in one of their “cabin-ettes” (my term) – one of a number of small cabins near the main lodge, which have been divided into two separate units, each with their own entrances and parking areas.  Furnishings in my unit consisted of a queen-sized bed, a desk, nightstand, two chairs, a heater, lamps, and a bathroom with an extremely small (can you say “closet-sized”?) shower.  It was clean and comfortable (really my only two pre-requisites for a decent room) and I didn’t stay much in the room anyway.  I naturally did not get a photo of that room either, although I proceeded to capture a gazillion shots of the main lodge lobby.

Oh, before I forget: if you stay at any of the lodges within the park, make sure you bring along a 3-prong-to-2-prong outlet adapter.  Some rooms in the lodges have 3-prong outlets, but the majority of the rooms have only 2-prong outlets, thus making it a bit difficult to plug in a laptop or any other electrical appliance with a 3-prong cord.  I was clueless about this, though, until I wanted to plug in my laptop.  So just remember to visit your local hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) or discount store (i.e. Wal-Mart, Fred Myer, Target) to purchase one of these adapters.

At Lake McDonald lodge, one of my first tasks after dropping all my luggage onto the bed was to grab the cameras and tripod and march into the lobby for some interior photos.  I think the Lake McDonald Lodge lobby is my favorite of all the lodges (the Glacier Park Lobby comes in a close second – though it’s cavernous size makes it not as warm and inviting).

Those painted chandeliers you see were once made from buffalo hide.  Time and the effects of the light bulbs damaged the original hides, so graphic artists were called in to hand-paint the original designs onto a sturdier type of material for a longer-lasting light fixture.

After photographing the lobby, I marched back outside and down a path the short distance to the waterfront to snap a few photos of the view from the lodge shore.

From the boat dock in the photo above, I hiked back up the short trail to the lodge entrance to find a parked Red Jammer.

Red Jammer buses are these wonderful historic tour buses http://www.glacierparkinc.com/tour_detail.php?id=1 which are an iconic part of the park, offering a number of different tours along GTTS Road.  The roof of the bus even rolls back for riders to enjoy the fresh mountain air during clear, sunny days.

I generally ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge restaurants.  The Lake McDonald Lodge restaurant is pretty standard for park food (i.e. it’s nothing special, but generally OK although a little pricey – the local microbrews are great, though, and oftentimes these larger lodge restaurants also have a nice wine list).  The dining room is large, lovely, and staffed by seasonal employees from all over the U.S. and the world.  The waitstaff at all of these lodges are usually required to introduce themselves to the diners, who are always interested in finding out just how far the waiter/waitress travelled to work in the park.

The next lodge en route along GTTS Road is the Rising Sun Motor Inn.  GTTS Road bisects the park from West to East (or East to West, depending upon the entrance taken).  The entire distance from one end to the other is approximately 51 miles, with the midway point at Logan Pass.  Rising Sun Motor Inn is about 33 miles from the Lake McDonald Lodge.

The inn is a complex consisting of a hallway of rooms adjoining the General Store, a separate building housing the restaurant, and a number of cabins and buildings with motel-style rooms.  I stayed in a separate building with the motel-style rooms in 2008 during the photo workshop I attended in the park.  In 2009, I stayed in a room adjoining the General Store.  I naturally took no photos of my room in 2008, but had the foresight to do so in 2009.

There’s a nice long front porch the length of the General Store and adjoining rooms.  I remember sitting outside my first evening there in 2009 next to a table of four Germans, as the sky darkened from the rain/snow storm whipping through the mountains.  After flying to Montana from hot, humid Houston during that late August, I luxuriated in the feel of the crisp cold air as we all drank our local microbrews.

My very favorite lodge of all within Glacier National Park is the Many Glacier Hotel, approximately 25 miles from Rising Sun Motor Inn.

To get to the Many Glacier Hotel, you’ll actually leave GTTS road at the St. Mary entrance to the park boundary and travel north along Hwy 89.  Before arriving in Babb, you’ll pass by a funky little purple building: the Two Sisters Cafe, serving some of the best food around – I’m even told they bake an awesome huckleberry pie.  Unfortunately, every time I ate at the cafe, they had run out of that particular pie (huckleberry anything is a well-known delicacy of the region and I have wonderful memories of going huckleberry picking with my parents and Granny).  Anything you order at Two Sisters Cafe will be tasty, and there will be plenty of it, so make sure you bring a hearty appetite.

From Babb, you’ll take a left fork in the road to head into the Many Glacier portion of the park.  Warning:  drive slowly!  Not only is the road on open range (the Blackfeet Reservation) with cows that like standing in the middle of the pavement and alongside the road, but the road itself is not the best-maintained and there are potholes and gravel portions that would wreak havoc with your vehicle, be it a bicycle, car, truck, van, or bus.

I LOVE the Many Glacier Hotel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many_Glacier_Hotel

It’s my favorite place to stay in the entire park.  I love the architecture (modeled after Swiss chalets) and the location, which is – to me – the loveliest area of the park.  This, of course, means I have alot of photos of this place.

The rooms are essentially the same as at the other lodges within the park.  I stayed at the hotel in both 2008 and 2009, and in 2009 I got a room with a balcony!

The main dining room (The Ptarmigan Room) overlooks Swiftcurrent Lake and the mountain vista beyond.

The deck at the rear of the hotel has plenty of chairs for guests to sit and sip their brew while viewing the mountain vista beyond Swiftcurrent Lake.

A sunrise view from the shore of Swiftcurrent; the hotel was directly behind me when I captured this image.

During the photo workshop in 2008, I stayed a night at Swiftcurrent Inn.  http://visitmt.com/categories/moreinfo.asp?IDRRecordID=2482&siteid=1 which is maybe a mile or two up the road from the Many Glacier Hotel.  There is also a huge campground alongside the road between the hotel and the Swiftcurrent Inn.

As you can see from the website, there are cabins and buildings with motel-style rooms, which is where I lodged with the workshop for a night, after we had spent the previous night at the Many Glacier Hotel (we all wondered why on earth we couldn’t have just stayed at the hotel rather than have to pack up our stuff for yet another lodging for another night).

From the St. Mary entrance to the park, it’s about 50 miles to East Glacier, Montana and the Glacier Park Lodge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_Park_Lodge

This lodge is impressive in its size and architecture.  While none of my photos of the exterior turned out (I only took a couple, I think), the interior lobby photos look wonderful.

My room was on the second floor, which is reached by staircase.  I think they have an elevator, but it’s a service elevator which the porters use to transfer luggage to and from rooms.  I don’t have much to say about my room.  Of all the rooms in all the lodges at which I stayed, I must say the room at this lodge was a little on the dark, somewhat somber side.  The bathroom was really nice – it was newly-remodeled with a huge shower.  Plus, I got a room with a balcony (I’m a balcony-kind of gal), which afforded me a lovely view of the mountains beyond while I sipped my microbrew (by now, I am sure you know I like craft beers 😉 ).

The Great Northern dining room is also a little more upscale than the other restaurants, with perhaps the exception of the Lake McDonald Lodge dining room.  If you stay at the Glacier Park Hotel, make sure you order a huckleberry daiquiri with “extra huckleberry” (otherwise it will be a little on the bland side).  The drink is not cheap, but it sure is tasty.  If you choose to dine outside of the lodge, I highly recommend Serranos in East Glacier http://serranosmexican.com/ which serves awesome food at a great price and is always packed.  This place is a short drive or walk from the Amtrak train station, which is across the road from the lodge.

If you decide to stay at any of these lodges within the park, I highly advise you make your reservations at least 6 months ahead of time.  With so many visitors to the park each year, rooms are at a premium – even during the off-season.  And don’t go with the high expectations of staying in a 5-star luxury hotel.  The rooms in these lodges are clean, but  on the rustic side, with simple furnishings, no televisions (who wants to watch TV when there is a whole park to explore?) , no air conditioners, and no cell service (actually, my Verizon cell service worked just fine at Glacier Park Hotel, because it’s right on the outskirts of the mountains).  Each of the lodges host various ranger-led programs and there is always a helpful staff member happy to answer any questions you may have about the park.  The Red Jammers stop at each of the lodges, too, but for tour purposes and not for lugging you and your luggage from one lodge to the next.  Check out the site link I’ve listed in this post for more information, if you are interested in a tour.

If you’ve never been to Glacier National Park in Montana, then I hope this post, the photos, and the links provided help you plan your trip to The Crown of The Continent.

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