Thanks again everyone for all the excellent suggestions and tips. I really got some great advice and I’m sure it will be very helpful for lots of other folks too. I looked into every single person’s suggestion and came up with the two following options:
Gitzo - GT-2531 (3 section, 26.46 load, CF)
RRS – BH-40 LR (mid-size 18 lb load)
RRS – B5D3A plate (AS plate for 5D3 body)
Total cost with current rebates $992
Manfrotto - 055CXPRO4 (4 section, 17.64 load, CF)
Manfrotto - 468MGRC2 (Magnesium Hydrostatic Ballhead, 22 lb load)
Total cost with current rebates $540
I’m going with option 1. Is it an overkill for my needs/uses? Probably, but I hoping this will last my lifetime. Although option 2 is very nice gear and nothing to snarl at, I will always wish I had gone with option 1. Later I will pick up a Wimberley P-20 plate for my 70-200 ring and a plate for my 7D.
Now the one piece of advice I’ll give back (and what so many others have already given): Don’t buy a mediocre tripod and head. You will become frustrated like I did and end up spending more money in the long run. I broke my own rule and did not buy a quality item in the first place.A great tripod/ballhead setup is one that you can keep for a lifetime (as a matter of speaking). The added cost doesn't really matter then. A good or mediocre one is one that you'll upgrade sooner or later and in the end it will cost as much or more....
Sounds like a good, future proof plan. Also, given the fact that you have an expensive camera (5D3), I wouldn't go cheap on a tripod/ballhead setup.