Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for May, 2007

Arctic Grayling Still Thrive in Isolated Montana Lakes

posted: May 26th, 2007 | by:Bert


Arctic Grayling Schooling

©Bert Gildart: The last congregations of spring-spawning grayling have just about completed their mission, as Tom Ulrich, a photographer friend (with world photo coverage), and I recently discovered.

This past week Tom and I made the one-hour drive from Kalispell to Roger’s Lake and found this small group of Arctic Grayling. The sight was fascinating, and we watched as several individuals attempted to fling themselves up and over a small but substantial log jam. They have a mission and that is to perpetuate their kind, and do so in spring by broadcasting their eggs over gravel bottoms in moving streams.

Once the species was found throughout Michigan and Montana, but the Michigan population is now extinct. In Montana, the species is found in the upper Big Hole River (not too far from Yellowstone National Park) and in about 30 or more lakes in the western half of Montana. In the Flathead Valley, Roger’s Lake is one such area.

When discovered by Lewis and Clark the explorers noted the species as a “new kind of white or silvery trout.” The species, as I’ve learned from various fishing expeditions, is readily identified by its huge dorsal fin, and in the right kind of light can appear silver and almost iridescent. This species is, in fact, a member of the family Salmonidae, which does include both salmon and trout. Experience has shown me grayling are gullible, and at times easy to catch, particularly on silver Mepps lures.

Though I’ve caught Arctic grayling in Glacier National Park, I am most familiar with the species from a month-long backpack trip Janie and I made through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Stopping for the evening by a small stream feeding into the Chandalar River on the south side of the Brooks Range, we began fishing for anything that would take our lure, but were instantly rewarded when a huge grayling took our bait. Now, we had the beginning of supper, for this fish was large, reaching its maximum length of 20 inches. It was full bellied, and probably weighed several pounds.

Enthusiastic now, we continued fishing and immediately landed another, which we also kept. Then—and I have never in my life had such luck—we continued landing grayling, after grayling after grayling. These, however, we returned to the Chandalar.

grayling schooling

Author and Arctic Grayling School

For Tom and me, the dense populations we saw last week at Roger’s Lake made wonderful photographic subjects, and we worked hard for several hours trying with our images to show just how dense these spring spawning populations could be. Unlike salmon, they don’t die after releasing egg and milt, rather they return to the lake and live to spawn again.

Because their habitat and numbers have so drastically declined, many believe the species should be protected, but last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled the grayling did not deserve federal protection, although the agency since 1994 had maintained the fish was in trouble and deserved listing. The reversal was due to political pressure from the Bush administration, according to those who declared their intent to sue.

They blame Julie MacDonald, former deputy assistant secretary of the Interior, who recently resigned after accusations that she interfered with government scientists and leaked sensitive information to industry groups fighting the listing of different species.

Politics aside, the sight of all these grayling was one of the high points of the past week, not only because of the photographic opportunities, but because of the wonderful memories the experience evoked.

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posted: May 23rd, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Neither the old ranch hand known as “Whispering Jack” shown in picture number one, nor the sheep herder (Jerry Jacobs) wrote down the wisdom that follows.

In reality, I found the advice posted below on the bulletin board of a doctor’s office this afternoon and thought it sage. However, I believe these men suggest the types of personalities that gave rise to these words.

Once, I knew Jerry and “Whispering Jack” and wrote several stories about each, because they were such characters. Jerry (below) worked out of an old sheep-herder wagon along the east slopes of the Continental Divide, and he tended a flock. Because of his isolated life, he always welcomed company.

This evening I needed a “vehicle” through which to relate the “Old Farmer’s Advice” and thought that because these two men could tell such offbeat stories–and because they were at times so full of earthy philosophy, I’d associate the wisdom with them. I think they look the part of land-shaped narrators and, sometimes they were. What’s more, no one really knows where this adivce came from and much of it probably evolved from people such as these.

What follows is deep, and if we all adhered to these ideas, we’d probably live more amicably. So, here, for what it’s worth, is some “Old Farmer’s Advice.”

*Your fences need to be horse-high, pig tight, and bull strong.

*Keep skunks and bankers and lawyers at a distance.

*Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

*A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

*Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.

*Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.

*Forgive your enemies. It messes up their heads.

*Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you!

*It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

*You cannot unsay a cruel word.

*Every path has a few puddles.

*When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

*The best sermons are lived, not preached.

*Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen, anyway

*Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

*Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

*Live a good honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.

*Don’t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t botherin’ you none.

*Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

*If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

*Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

*The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every mornin’.”

*Always drink upstream from the herd.

*Good judgment comes from experience and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

*Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.

*If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

*Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

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In Defense of Dandelions

posted: May 21st, 2007 | by:Bert

Dandelions Fort Connah

Dandelions, Fort Connah

©Bert Gildart: I doubt whether one of our farming friends realizes the impact of his comments, but few have prompted a greater response than one he made the other day.

“Bert,” he said, “it looks like you’re cultivating dandelions.”

The comment prompted me to run into town on Saturday and purchase several bags of Weed and Feed, as well as the very best ($35.99) cart for dispersing the stuff. Next day, I awoke early and peered out over my lawn. The sun was just peeking over the nearby mountain range, and, lo, it appeared as though I might not need the chemicals. Satisfied, I eased back to the kitchen to make coffee.

Half an hour later, I returned to my deck and what a transformation. Our lawn was now a spotted field of yellow heads interspersed with familiar globular seed heads. The transformation prompted me to dig out a botany book, informing me that the flowers are light dependent, blooming when the sun shines, but closing with the advent of fog, clouds and rain.

That information then propelled a series of responses to include a backyard photo expedition, an experiment with various dandelion dinning concoctions, a random seed count, and a rush to brew dandelion beer and wine. From previous outings, I knew dandelions can add color to photographs, such as the image of Fort Connah, an old historic trading post back dropped by the Mission Mountains. Though the old stucture is about 50 miles to our south, there’s every reason to believe seeds from this field have found there way to our yard. With their built-in parachutes, that ain’t nuthin’ for a dandeline.

Sunday, however, I added to that appreciation, learning that dandelions are one of the most ubiquitous plant species known to man. Though some books say they were first introduced from Europe into Minnesota, other books say they have inhabited both the old world and the new world since time immemorial. They derive their name, however, from an Old French word Dent-de-lion, which means “lions tooth.” Look at the lance shaped leaf and you can easily see why.

Dandelion blossom

Dandelion Blossom

As I read more about the species, I wanted to see firsthand some of the features described in my botany book. And, so, with trowel in hand (fertilizer now completely forgotten), I began wandering about my field, digging here and there, for I was intent on an experiment that was part culinary.

Long I have known that dandelions are edible—just not the extent. Textual descriptions, however, say the benefits from eating the plant are innumerable, and can benefit the liver, kidneys, and stomach. Certainly, that’s a good reason to fill your yard with dandelions—and explore their epicurean delights.

Specifically, you can slice the taproot, cook it and eat it as a vegetable, or you can incorporate it into a soup. Leaves are easier to work with, though they, too, can be boiled as a dish or incorporated into a salad.

So, too, the yellow flowers, but they are also an excellent source for dandelion wines, something Janie and I know about from a business trip we made several years ago to a Hutterite community in eastern Montana. We had spent several days with the colony’s residents and become friends with several families. As time went by, at the end of each day, we found on the seat of our truck a bottle of dandelion wine. Ingredients, they said, included three quarts of dandelion flowers, raisins, a gallon of water, sugar, lemons, orange and yeast.

Perhaps it was all these memories coming together with the profusion of dandelions growing in our yard that helped motivate my day’s research. Continuing my digging, I discovered it was easy with a trowel to gather the parts under consideration, for indeed the yard appeared to be a cultivated field. In short order I amassed roots, leaves and yellow flowers.

Dandelion seed

Each globe yields about 200 seeds

Returning to the house, my first thought was to count the number of seeds in the familiar globe, which I accomplished using a set of tweezers. I found my random sample yielded 126. I then took about a dozen of the seeds (they look like miniature parachutes), arranged them on a clean glass, and with two strobe lights placed behind the seeds, photographed them.

I continued reading and learned that seed numbers per globe can vary from 54 to 172 seeds—and that a single plant can produce 2000 seeds a year, and that a dense stand of dandelions (such as our one-acre yard), can produce about 39,271,255 seeds a year.

Hey, this is fascinating stuff!

Returning to the leaves, I then began preparing a salad, something we do each day. However, I substituted the dandelion leaves for lettuce. To this I added the normal ingredients and doused it all with olive oil and a splash of vinegar. The combination was delicious, and though we thought dandelion leaves to be slightly bitter, we read that if we harvest after the flowers have dropped, the bitterness is reduced. Now we want to see what the results of my first winery will produce, but the results require six months of fermentation.

Before closing, here are a few other interesting facts about dandelions, focusing mostly on the root: Dandelion root is a registered drug in Canada, sold as a diuretic. Many use the milky latex from the root as a mosquito repellent. As well, the “milk” is applied to warts and a mixture of roasted roots is sold as a coffee known as DandyBlend.

Though there’s much more, I close with a fact that should interest my son-in-law, defensive about his home state. Each year Minneapolis, Minnesota, celebrates Dandelion Days, started apparently by a lady from Maine who is said to have introduced them, as she missed their brilliant color.

Dandelion seeds

"Parachute" adds to seed’s mobility

For me the celebration is sufficient justification to forget about the Weed and Feed and let the darn things grow. Expect another report in about six months, when the wine we’re making has properly aged. But be forewarned; I might get carried away then…

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Turkey Smarts, Or More Bird Feeder Tales

posted: May 18th, 2007 | by:Bert

Turkey Smarts

Turkey Smarts

©Bert Gildart: What would you do if you suddenly saw the massive head of a GRIZZLY BEAR peering at you through the small trap door that permitted your dog’s egress to and from your house?

That happened several years ago to one of our neighbors, and though we weren’t there to witness the shock, we certainly heard about it.

The bear, according to reports, had walked through our yard. Realizing, perhaps, that the seeds in our bird feeder were impossible to reach, it kept on going, exploring our small farming community for food.

Next in line was the aroma seeping from the lady’s kitchen, which attracted the bear. As it investigated, the grizzly discovered a small opening into which it inserted its head, setting off a chain reaction. The dog howled, the lady screamed, then ran, and all that prompted the bear to pull its head from the dog’s access hole.

Panic stricken, the huge grizzly raced several hundred yards to the Flathead River, which it swam, not to be seen for another year. But return it did, this time to tear up another neighbor’s property–the farmer’s bee hives. Again, the beast disappeared, and so far this year no one has seen the bear.

Such are the tales from our small country road, and the only comparable story we can offer tells of the many turkeys that love our feeder.

Throughout the year, if we don’t monitor the feeder, at times turkeys fly onto the railing of our porch where they then pry off the lid to access the seed, which they then scatter onto the floor of our deck. Here they settle to feast.

Our National Bird

Our National Bird?

After that their intelligence seems to runs amuck…

Angry that these birds could create such havoc Janie and I have tried to haze the turkeys from our deck. But the birds panic and don’t seem to have the intelligence to realize they must fly up before they can fly over the railing. The railing and supports become a pen around our deck, and the turkeys scurry frantically from side to side.

And Ben Franklin believed the turkey should have been our national bird?

Though it has been tempting at times to have turkey for dinner, we’ve never given in to our temptations, realizing, of course, that eventually the birds will figure out how to depart if left alone.

Shutting the door leading to the deck, some still tear around, but eventually one figures it out and leads the way. With a few flaps of its wings “Smart Turkey” rises above the deck and then soars back to the nearby field. Others follow. Chuckling we replace the lid to the feeder, trying to seal the opening a bit better, realizing, of course, that this is really just another interesting anecdote resulting from the placement of bird feeders.

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Pleasures Derived From Bird Feeders

posted: May 16th, 2007 | by:Bert

Pileated Woodpecker chows on Suet

Pileated Woodpecker chowing on suet

©Bert Gildart: On the back porch of our yard we have three items intended to attract birds. The items: a standard bird feeder into which we place various types of seeds; a hummingbird feeder into which we place sugar water; and a “cage” into which we place suet. The items are all placed within several feet of one another and with them we’ve attracted about 40 different species.

The pleasures we derive from such simple investments are immense.

Most frequently we attract chickadees, wrens, and blackbirds but in the past few days our feeders have been luring in Crossbills and Grosbeaks—and much to our surprise, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, which is normally confined to areas east of the Continental Divide. The male is dark red on the underside of its neck and wings, and with the complementary colors of black and white is simply one of the most colorful birds I’ve ever seen. So far, it has eluded my camera set ups, but if it sticks around I have hopes that persistence will pay off. Stay tuned.

Our feeders have also attracted the Eastern Blue Jay, rare in the valley and its presence convinces us that something is happening in regards to our climate. As well, we’ve attracted the Pileated woodpecker, one of the largest of all woodpeckers and one we now recognize from a unique call our Peterson Field Guide describes as kik—kik—kikkik. That may come close, but the call is loud and once you’ve seen the bird and the call together you won’t forget it.

Because we’ve located this huge woodpecker with binoculars high overhead in the cottonwood that graces the far side of our property we also know it nests on our one small acre of land.

Female Rufous Hummingbird

Female Rufous Humming Bird

One bird I photographed this morning includes the hummingbird, and in this case it is the Rufous. Because the sides are a dull rufous coloration, I know it is a female

Our bird book tells us that hummingbirds are among the most pugnacious of bird species, and as we watch two males bombard one another, we can certainly concur.

Rufous are among the smallest of hummingbirds, weighing in at about 0.1 ounce and measuring between 3 and 4 inches. Because of its size and fast-paced life, it has one of the highest rates of metabolism of all animals, a necessity in order to support the rapid beating of their wings, which can reach well over 50 beats per minute. Heart rate may soar to 1,260 beats per minute. Phenomenal!

Watching the birds move back and forth at our feeder prompts interest and so we continue our research, learning that these tiny birds are hours away from starving. To conserve energy, at night they reduce their metabolism, and if food is not readily available, they enter a state known as torpor. During torpor, the heart rate and rate of breathing are both slowed dramatically (the heart rate to roughly 50-180 beats per minute), reducing their need for food.

Female Red Crossbill

Female Red Crossbill

Other species lured to our feeders include the crossbills, and if you look closely, you might notice that one mandible crosses over the other, naturally. The arrangement enables the species to shear nuts and seeds. Males are red, so this is a female Red Crossbill.

Bird feeders and the birds attracted to our feeders provide us with much pleasure, almost as much as watching huge waves of birds lift off wildlife refuges such as Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico or Freezeout Lake here in Montana.

The difference is that one is fleeting, the other sustained—and the latter occurs in your own backyard.


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

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The Natchez Trace National Parkway

posted: May 13th, 2007 | by:Bert

Natchez Trace Book

Natchez Trace Book

©Bert Gildart: For a period of time I lived in the South and though I now live in Montana, I am constantly drawn back to renew acquaintances with friends I knew while in high school and then again in college (before transferring to Montana State University). In those years I was drawn to the countryside mostly for its excellent hunting opportunities–but also because of a growing interest in the history of the Old South.

In recent years, Janie and I have returned often to the South, because there now exists an incredible national parkway that allows me to see friends and renew my fascination with both the area’s natural history and history. It does so because the parkway travels past such places as Florence, Alabama, and places me within striking distance of Huntsville, where I graduated from high school. And because I’ve returned so often, several years ago I convinced interpreters at the Natchez Trace that I knew this region and that they needed a book that documented in both text and photographs some of the features this incredible area preserves.

Some call the Natchez Trace National Parkway the nation’s longest national park, and though it may be that, it is also an area that explains the foundations of our country. To gather all material we needed Janie and I lived out of our Airstream for several months, traveling this area at all seasons.

We feel fortunate that we have had the opportunity to add to the interpretive material this slice of the South now offers…

A most beautiful drive

A most beautiful drive

Stretching from historic Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, is a highway that parallels an old trail, a trail which once was a major thoroughfare for an emerging nation. Stepping from a pullout on the modern highway, Janie and I walked down a short path that ended where the much older trail began. Spanish moss on the branches above drooped over this pathway, while along the ground lay dense carpets of darkening leaves. Deeply eroded, the trail appeared ancient.Here ran the Old Natchez Trace, a trail of sublime beauty that once had seen the passage of Pushmataha, Meriwether Lewis, Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, John James Audubon, General Ulysses Grant, Abe Lincoln’s father—as well as thousands whose faces remain nameless. Fate had smiled kindly on many of these travelers, but not all. One black night Lewis was mortally and mysteriously wounded.

The Old Natchez Trace harbors many secrets, and we took a few more steps, to learn more about the lives of those who had preceded us and to absorb the path’s pristine beauty.

Park rangers say any time of the year is excellent for touring the Natchez Trace, but spring and fall are ideal. On a number of occasions we’ve meandered the entire 500-mile long parkway, part for pleasure and part for the business of collecting photographs and conducting research for a book ultimately published with the cooperation of the National Park Service. In the course of our travels we simultaneously explored portions of the rural South and walked existing portions of the ancient trail.

Over the years the parkway has become one of our favorite drives, and the uncrowded highway has allowed us to cruise for mile after mile, stopping only because of some point of interest or because one of the Trace’s 200-plus species of wildlife demanded that we diminish our speed.

General Grant: "Too beautiful to burn."

Many years ago the Daughters of the American Revolution began laying the groundwork for a trip such as ours by explaining to Congress that agriculture and the development of new towns were smothering the Old Southwest’s first national highway. Spurred into action, in 1938 Congress designated moneys for the Natchez Trace Parkway. Its purpose would be to commemorate the Old Natchez Trace. Construction began soon after and, by 1995 only a few more miles needed to be completed.

No one knows precisely the age of the Old Trace. Some say bison cut the trail while Indians refined it. But it was the “Kaintucks”—men who began traveling the Trace shortly after the settlement of Fort Nashborough in 1778—who provided it with a touch of immortality. Years later Andrew Jackson described these men. “I never met one,” said Jackson, “who didn’t have a rifle, a pack of cards, and a bottle of whiskey.”

Dogwoods and spring along NT

Dogwoods and Spring

By and large, Kaintucks were entrepreneurs who floated goods downstream along such rivers as the Pennsylvania, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee. They continued their great adventure when the rivers merged with the Mississippi by floating farther downstream—slow and easy—until their trips ended at the major ports of either Natchez or New Orleans. Here, they sold their wares as well as the dismantled wood from their boats. Then, with pockets a-jingling, they returned home, making use of several paths.

But the one that Indians, boatmen, itinerant preachers, soldiers and post riders beat into the archives of history became known as the Natchez Trace.

Though you can easily drive the parkway in several days, you should allow at least a week (we’ve spent months). Not only does the parkway allow you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of the country, but as well, there are opportunities for biking and hiking. In fact, some consider a several week long bike trip along the Trace to be one of America’s great adventures.

Of course we suggest you purchase our book and you can do so by E-mailing us, or you can do so by contacting the park’s bookstore. (If you contact us, we’ll provide an autographed copy of our full-color informative 8 ½ x 11 book). Regardless, now is a perfect time to visit the Trace, for flowers are in bloom and in many places the catfish are just waiting for you make them an offering.

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Observations From The Nest of a Great Horned Owl

posted: May 10th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Great horned owls begin nesting in February, and following an incubation period of 35 days and another 45 to 55 days of time for hatchlings in the nest, owlets are ready to fledge. If nesting took place in mid February, that means these three young owls (this is not an adult pair with its young) are about ready to fly the coop. Give them just a few more days and they’ll be gone.

Great-Horned Owl young

Great-horned owl young

I took this photograph near Nine Pipes Refuge, which is adjacent to Montana’s National Bison Range. Though I recorded these owlets years ago, I know I made the picture in late April. However, May is an acceptable time to post this image for these young could linger in their nest through mid May. It all depends, of course, on when in mid winter the owl couple built their nest and laid their eggs.

Though I have photographed owls at many other settings over the years, the image of these three owlets is particularly instructive. Because they are so large and so well feed, the surrounding area had to contain a great deal of food; else the two strongest owlets might have pushed the weakest owlet one from the nest. Obviously that didn’t happen here so food was abundant.

Owls have gotten a bad rap, one they really don’t deserve. Essentially, some people dislike them because laws have prevented them from logging the last remaining old-growth forests in the West. Not much is left, and where these beautiful stands remain small populations of Spotted Owls eke out a living. Hard feelings, however, generally occurred long ago, and most developers have established a truce with spotted owls, though not all—and sadly these feelings carry over to all species of owls.

Instead of disliking owls, owls should really be admired for their traits. They work hard to feed their young. During my photographic vigil at this nest the adults consistently returned with mice and voles and, once, with a red-winged black bird.

What’s more, adult owls are highly protective parents, and when I approached this nest to set up a strobe I was bombarded by both parents even though I remained at some distance, relying for the image on a long telephoto lens. I set the strobe so that it would overpower the existing daylight, imparting a somewhat nocturnal cast.

Though not all owls are long lived, Great Horned owls may live 18 years, surpassed only by the long-eared owl, which may live 28 years. In captivity, the Great Horned may live 38 years but is then surpassed by the Great Grey owl, which lives 40 years under similar conditions.

Great horned owls are one of 14 different owls found in Montana. They are not, of course, confined to the Big Sky and range throughout the United States and Alaska and most of Canada as well. We’ve heard their familiar hoots often as we camped in our RV throughout the country and frequently in the evening at home—and always they add a bright note to our lives.

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Arrowleaf Balsam Root, Chapter Two

posted: May 8th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: If I were producing a musical about Montana flowers, it would be appropriate to steal from the classic The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music, staring Julie Andrews.

Arrowleaf Balsam Root & Flathead Lake

Arrowleaf Basalm Root & Flathead Lake

In part that’s due right now to the Arrowleaf balsam root, still making its gaudy appearance on so many dry slope areas of Montana. In part I use the hills surrounding the Conrad Cemetery in Kalispell as an indicator for spring boat trips to Wildhorse Island, for all of the cemetery’s dry north facing slopes are now running wild with yellow. The hills face the highway as you drive into town.

I mentioned some of the specie’s qualities in my last post, but did not mention its scientific name, which is reflective of its food value. That’s part of the reason for this post—Chapter two if you will.

Another reason is that this photo is an instructive photo, and I thought the information might be useful to some. Of course, we also want to post reminders that some of this material on Wildhorse is covered in our new book. The link will take you to Falcon guides and to access our book, click the Book category, then the exploring catetory. The book can also be purchased by E-mailing us.

Indeed, the scientific name Balsamorhiza sagittata, speaks to the specie’s palatable properties. “Balsamon” means balsam and “rhiza” means root. The sap in the tough woody roots smells and feels like balsam fir pitch. “Sagittata” means arrow-leaved. Other information about the way in which local Native Americans used the species is included in my last posting.

This photo was made just as the sun was appearing, imparting the warm cast to the photograph. I made the photo with a 4×5 camera, and used a wide angle lens. Even with the advances in digital photography—and I am an advocate—it is virtually impossible to beat the old view camera for detail and depth of field.

Patience, however, is required, as you must generally wait for the flutter of leaves to cease so you can stop down your camera’s lens. Technical data for this photo includes a 1 sec exposure at f32—rendering everything tack sharp throughout this landscape’s extensive sweep.

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Arrowleaf Balsamroot—Another Of The Flathead’s Spring Spectacles

posted: May 6th, 2007 | by:Bert

Arrowleaf Balsam Sweeps Over Wildhorse

Arrowleaf Basalm Root Sweeps over Wild Horse Island

©Bert Gildart: May 6th, and right now, this week—and not much later—is the time to see fields of Arrowleaf Balsamroot running from hill to hill on Montana’s Wildhorse Island. In turn, this combination is surrounded by Flathead Lake, largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. Reaching the island requires a two-mile boat ride from Dayton, Montana, on the lake’s east side, which we usually accomplish using our Johnboat.

Wildhorse Island is one of the many features we describe in our book Explore! Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley, and it can be purchased by e-mailing us or by contacting Falcon Guides. The link will take you to Falcon guides and to access our book, click the Book category, then the Exploring catetory. In our book we describe the beauty of Wildhorse Island focusing not only on the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, but also on the wild sheep, deer and incredible floral displays, such as the one now occurring.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot is one of the first flowers to rear its head in spring and does so in late April and early May. It blooms for several weeks and then fades, leaving behind only its arrow-shaped leaf.

I first became familiar with the species in graduate school at Montana State University, when I took a course in botany as an elective. As part of the curriculum, I had to submit a collection of plants properly labeled with both scientific and common names. As well I had to provide facts about the species.

That was long ago, but annual forays and a sustained interest have kept the information alive.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot was collected and described by Lewis and Clark as part of a directive from President Jefferson. In this case Captain William Clark collected the plant, and on April 14, 1804, explained in his journal entry how he came across it. As always, he employed his own unique spelling.

“I walked on shore with Shabono on the N. Side through a handsom bottom. Met several parties of women and boys in serch of herbs & roots to subsist on maney of them had parcels of the stems of the sun flower.”

Clark’s description was made in what would one day be Montana, but it concerned Indians to the south. However, local Indians also made use of the plant, but whether or not they paddled out to Wildhorse is not known. More than likely they relied on the profusion also found in other parts of the valley.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf Basalm

Indians collected Arrowleaf Balsmroot and then ate raw the tender inner portion of the young immature flower stems. They also ate the seeds and large roots, which are tough and woody and taste like balsam. To make them more palatable, the Flathead Indians would bake them several days in a fire pit. Indians also used the large coarse Balsamroot leaves for burns. They boiled the roots and applied the solution as a poultice to wounds, cuts and bruises. Indians also drank a tea from the roots for tuberculosis and whooping cough.

That’s the science of the plant, but what must not be overlooked is the plant’s beauty, which can be enjoyed for another week or so. Though we’ve kayaked to the island, generally on photo expeditions we take our Johnboat (if the waves aren’t too choppy) so that I can transport my heavy large-format camera with lenses that produce such incomparable detail and depth of field.

We leave before sunrise and land early enough to catch the sun’s first rays as they first peak over the Swan Mountain Range. Views from the island are panoramic and everywhere wonderful. To the north are the ranges forming Glacier National Park while to the west are the Salish Mountains.

And then, of course, you are surrounded by largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, usually tranquil in the early morning. At your feet sweeps the spectacle of field after field of the gold-colored Arrowleaf Balsamroot; and it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting.

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Alaska Boating Adventure

posted: May 3rd, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: The February issue of Boating (claiming to be the “World’s Largest Powerboat Magazine”), featured a story about one of the many river trips Janie and I have made in Alaska in our Johnboat.

The title for its story was “Great Adventures, Why are you still tied to the dock,” and described three other outings under separate titles in addition to ours.

Camped on Porcupine River, searching for caribou

Looking for Caribou

Our adventure was entitled “North to the Yukon,” and the story resulted from telephone interviews editors in New York conducted with us in our home in Montana.

Answers were easy to provide as we had written stories about these lengthy boat trips for several different publications, including the environmental section of the Christian Science Monitor.

Our Alaska boat trip was certainly an adventure, but if you’re willing to invest the time required for organization you can also make the trip, and do so in a manner that will not make it a misadventure.

Obviously, there are some things you must have and one of those is flat-bottomed boat, for despite the fact that the Yukon is a huge brawling river, in places it is also a very shallow river, and it is difficult to predict just where those places might be.

So you need a Johnboat, and one of substantial size. Ours is 20 feet long, and it is considered small.

We power it with a 50 hp four stroke Yamaha, and because you must often travel hundreds of miles without access to fuel, you’ll need to carry about 50 gallons of gas.

In other words, you need space.

The other thing you need is a good tent, and we carried a wall tent constructed from a burn-proof fabric.

Fish Camp, McKenzie River, Yukon Territory

Fishing Camp in Yukon Territory

Because weather is at times harsh, you need a place to hole up for several days that is comfortable, and without the

capability of a tent that can handle a small wood stove (“called a sheep-herder stove”) you’ll be uncomfortable.

We also carried collapsible cots, a Coleman lantern, winter cloths and lots of dried food.

Why embark on such an adventure? In part to experience the raw country, for there were nights when caribou surged in mass across the Porcupine River, one of the tributaries of the Yukon up which we traveled.

And then there were simply nights we spent in the tent listening to the wind blow—realizing that no other human beings were anywhere within a hundred miles or more.

Just the wolves, which often howled, and the curious bears that sometimes left tracks within feet of our tent.

Fishing upstream from Fort Yukon

Fishing upstream from Fort Yukon

And then there were days with the few inhabitants who do live along the Yukon and Porcupine located in their small villages. Essentially, all were Native Americans belonging to a tribe known as the Gwich’in.

Once we worked as summer school teachers in a number of these Gwich’in villages, responding to a call from a friend (then the assistant superintendent) for people willing to explain their profession, which in my case was journalism and photojournalism.

We continued for three more summers as teachers and some of these villagers we now consider friends whom we will always want to know about.

In fact, several have visited us here in Montana, and one of our web pages is devoted to this group.Trips along the Yukon and Porcupine later compelled us to take other trips, and one of them took us up the ALCAN to the Dempster Highway.

The Dempster is a 500-mile long road that leads from the ALCAN to the McKenzie River and to more Gwich’in Indian Villages, but located in Canada.

Here, we traveled with a friend down much of this historic river to the Peel Channel of the McKenzie, and then to the Arctic Ocean, all in our Johnboat.

Along the route, we stayed at fish camps, and met remarkable people such Caroline Kay, a woman who had lived a life in the bush.

And so our lives go on, and we are particularly enjoying the recounting of these adventures the day before our anniversary, happy we’ve been blessed to lead such a life and anxious for the time to come when we can embark on yet other excursions, some of which will certainly be made by boat or travel trailer.

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

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