Relieved to see this is a relatable topic, experienced by other photographers. Concerned I was being too picky. Was thinking if NatGeo thought that image was good enough to publish who am I to judge.
Thanks for the link, Farmer. One of my favorite new terms is "Mach Band". However, I disagree with the points on how much detail we see in a landscape in the "Resolution & Detail" section in that linked article. Who looks at a landscape at a single glance? I don't.
Years back in a LuLa discussion on sharpening (titled "Hey, Schewe The Sharpener" or something) a contributor with the user name, DaBreeze, posted a huge 1200 pixel wide shot he took with his Canon 5D Mark II of the Grand Canyon to demonstrate a similar distance sharpening technique bill t. mentioned. It was so captivating and optically perfect that I was actually experiencing vertigo from its stark 3D appearance. This image kept haunting me for several years to the point I hunted up DaBreezes real name which led me to his website to where I located that same Grand Canyon shot.
I nearly fell out of my chair in absolute disappointment. He had added further contrast, sharpening and saturation edits that totally eliminated its 3D look to where it was almost to the point of a cartoonish HDR. Noticed the rest of his landscapes exhibited the same look.
Thing is I do the same thing to my landscapes as well. Afterwards, I have to go back and retrace and dissect all the steps I added to find the place of normalcy which is sometimes impossible before my eyes adapt.
Just found the LuLa link to the dabreeze posting unfortunately the original link to the image is gone...http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?topic=16827