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 October, 2007

How Our Rural Community Responded to the Presence of Two Escaped Criminals

posted: October 30th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Two criminals escaped as parolees from an Oregon prison were apprehended the other day just north of Bigfork, Montana. They were less than a mile from our home near Creston. Both were hardened criminals and one had committed murder.

DIVERSION FROM USUAL THEMES

For those of you who follow this blog, that’s old news, but some of the interesting facts learned after their apprehension are not. How the community–and particularly how some of the neighbors in our small community responded–is a commentary in itself. And so, I’m going to deviate here from my usual themes of travel writing and photography and from RV travel. Still, there’ s moose photo waiting just below–taken in Yellowstone National Park–just above Mammoth Terrace. It suggests the potential that still exists.

From all reports, one of the escapees had been housed in this rural community by a single lady, who was apparently romantically involved with the man. He’d been there for over a month and had even worked locally as a plumber. But apparently something went sour in their relationship, for that night she (she’s now under arrest, too) and another lady friend were beaten by the escaped convicts and their home trashed.

SHOT AT SWAT TEAM

Somehow one of the women managed to call the sheriff’s office, which brought in a SWAT team. The men shot at the SWAT team, which responded by shutting down our rural road. No one could come or go without a search. Then, because authorities were uncertain were the men had gone, they used a provision in the Amber Alert and closed down the grade school in Creston.

Fifteen miles away, my granddaughter’s school was also affected. Though they didn’t shut down her school, all children were made to follow a drill, meaning authorities directed youngsters to rooms they believed to be secure.

NEIGHBORHOOD RESPONSE

More than anything else, what was particularly interesting is to learn about the way in which neighbors responded. Everyone we talked checked to make sure their guns were loaded, and here in this rural community, where so many hunt, everyone had them–and seemed ready to use them. One lady, whom we knows well, loaded a rifle and went out to her barn, apparently scared, but more scared of the idea of having a potential killer loose on her property. Her husband was away on a business trip.

End of rut for moose, heralding the end of fall

End of rut for moose, heralding the end of fall

Though she and other neighbors were ready to use their weapons if they had to, as it turned out, no one had to.

One of the criminals, wearing only his underwear, approached a private citizen sitting in his car (not sure why and no one seems to know) and asked for a ride. The citizen responded by taking the criminal down and then holding him until men from the sheriff’s department could respond.

The other criminal was captured along the Flathead River, again very close to our home.

RESUMPTION OF USUAL THEMES

So all is well that ends well and this drama certainly had a satisfactory ending. And now, least anyone thinks this blog is straying too far from the theme of travel writing and photography and from RV travel in general, I want to post a moose photo, one from Yellowstone National Park, certainly one of my favorite places to venture in the fall.

There’s lots of great photo opportunities left there, ones that you shouldn’t miss.

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Escaped Criminals and the Way Moose Achieve Status

posted: October 25th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This morning we were startled by a call from my daughter, Angie, followed shortly thereafter by a call from the sheriff’s office in Kalispell, Montana. They were calling to tell us that two escaped parolees from Oregon were in our IMMEDIATE area (Creston, Montana), that they were armed and dangerous, that they had shot at a SWAT team and that we should lock our doors.

Moose eyes

Are you safe? Watch its eyes.

About the same time we started getting calls from all over Flathead Valley asking us if we’d heard the news? “Lock your doors,” everyone said. “Stay inside.”

Now, two hours later, and we’ve just heard they were caught. Though we don’t yet know the specifics before posting this blog I will have that information.

In the meantime, I want to talk a bit about moose, specifically bull moose, which can also be dangerous. First, I should mention that just a few weeks ago I was turned back from an intended visit to the Tetons while in Yellowstone. Snow had temporarily closed the park’s southern entrance, the one leading to Jenny Lake and to the Grand Tetons. But two years ago it didn’t, and two years ago I had some of the best luck I’ve ever had.

In photography, you have to size every opportunity, and that’s what we attempted to do.

EVIL EYE

Photographing moose is a always a ticklish situation–like going out this morning with a .44 magnum pistol to make sure the escaped parolees weren’t hiding out in our Airstream. In other words, it’s something you do with some caution and certainly some means of protecting yourself.

With moose, however, you’ve got a bit of an advantage, ’cause if you see one from a respectful distance you can scope it out. With escapees, it seems you could easily stumble into something totally unexpected. Not so, it seems with bull moose, if, that is, you pay attention to your surroundings.

When spotting a moose you can further assess the situation by checking out the animal’s eyes, and I must admit, I did not like the look in this fellow’s eyes. Nevertheless, he was laying down, and continue to remain prone even as I approached from behind a grove of aspen trees.

Back dropped by the Tetons, moose fight

Back dropped by the Tetons, moose fight

Still, as I continued my search of the marsh, I gave this fellow a wide berth, simultaneously checking behind me, to the sides and to my front. About a half hour later I came upon a cow moose with a young of the year. They were grazing placidly, and could have cared less whether or not I was there.

But then I came across two large bull moose. These were gladiators sporting large antlers and both were on the verge of using them.

ANTLERS AND SOCIAL STATUS

Often antler size alone prevents fights, for other moose evaluate them and it tells them much about the individual. There’s nothing magic about it, and, not surprisingly, large antlers mean the moose has a high social status among other bull moose. But these two moose apparently couldn’t make that judgment call, and so they continued circling one another; probing, searching for an area of vulnerability, like two boxers in a ring, jabbing; constantly jabbing, jabbing, jabbing.

moose battling

Moose battling

Biologists say that bull moose do not inflict great injury to one another. Bulls may meet head to head and use their antlers to push and knock each other around, but, generally, unlike other species, they don’t try and kill one another. Usually the only physical contact between rivals is antler to antler, which allows males to settle disputes over who is the better, without causing serious injury. Not so with sheep and particularly with mountain goats, which may stab one another with their horns. In such cases if a stab wound occurs in the area of the stomach, peritonitis may follow, then, in some cases, death.

Why such a long nose?

The object of their affection

In the case of my two moose, the animals apparently had little to resolve. The fight continued for a long time, but then suddenly ceased with the two animals simply walking away from one another.

APPREHENSION

But not so with the two criminals who managed to evade the SWAT team for hours. As I’ve just learned, one of the escapees was caught in his underwear about a mile from our home in this very rural setting. He was caught near the river.

The other man somehow managed to evade immediate arrest but was eventually apprehended several miles away near the highway. Apparently he had dashed across plowed fields then tried to flag down a ride. One of the people whom he attempted to flag down had heard the alert and responded by calling the police–specifying location. Shortly thereafter–at gunpoint–the man was arrested.

Both men were, in fact, armed and dangerous. They had invaded the home of someone nearby. They had beaten the woman and her friend and then tried to escape. But there, they were foiled…

LADY LOVE

This isn’t the first time the criminal element has invaded our community. Obviously things are changing in our once quiet valley, so give me an evil-eyed moose any day, even a belligerent one looking for his lady love-and probably not willing to let anything stand in the way of his ardor. That’s a much better scenario; in fact, it’s a great scenario.

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Fall Foliage Rules the Day

posted: October 21st, 2007 | by:Bert

Launching boat in Swan Lake

Launching boat in Swan Lake

©Bert Gildart: New England, Arkansas and the South are often touted as being some of the nation’s best sites for reveling in the splendor of fall, but I’d like to add another site and that is Montana, particular those places west of the Continental Divide.

For the past few weeks we’ve been traveling in our RV throughout these regions, and seldom have I seen the colors so brilliant. That observation was even further dramatized several days ago when I joined two good friends on a fishing expedition.

Early that morning we launched Bill’s (described in an early blog–and in newspaper and magazine stories–as a Fishing Fool ) boat in Swan Lake, located along the Seeley Swan Highway just south of Bigfork, and as we did, fog was rising and blending with the colors of the Swan Range.

SPECIES SYNCHRONIZATION

That in itself was dramatic, but combine that with the yellows of cottonwoods and aspens, and then add yet further the gold of tamaracks, and you’ve got an incredible palette of colors.

Autumn reflections on Swan Lake

Autumn reflections on Swan Lake

Montana doesn’t always have such color synchronizations, but this year, because of the right combination of temperature and moisture, aspens and cottonwoods have turned a bit later and tamaracks have turned a bit sooner.

Returning pike

Returning pike

That doesn’t always happen.

Nature then had combined to provide a perfect blend of colors, but the drama of the scene was further enhanced but the stillness of the lake, providing an almost perfect mirror-like reflection.

Fishing was our intended objective, but as a hard core photographer I was more inclined to point my camera in the direction of color than my pole toward the lake. As I result I didn’t do as well as my two friends, both of whom caught pike.

In fact, though I did fish after the fog had lifted and a slight wind began to blow, I didn’t catch a thing. Bill caught a small pike and so did Gene, but because of the size, both returned their catches.

Later, we all agreed that it wasn’t the fishing rather the fall foliage that had created such a memorable day.

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Bannack, Montana, Provides Windows into the Past

posted: October 13th, 2007 | by:Bert

Overlooking Bannack

Overlooking Bannack

©Bert Gildart: After two weeks of travel throughout Southwestern Montana, we’re back home in Bigfork, Montana. Friends that we were traveling with have departed in their Airstream for Banff, Alberta, and we’re left now thinking back on all the excitement that our excursion provided.

In addition to the wildlife of Yellowstone, the Wolf and Bear Discovery Center of West Yellowstone—and the enchantment of Virginia City and Nevada City—the last leg of our journey took us to Bannack, Montana, the state’s first territorial capital. Here, legends were made and history was recorded, and what is so incredibly neat about Bannack is that not only is it one of the nation’s best preserved ghost towns, but it is a place where legends really do unfold, for stories are everywhere.

VIGILANTE TRAIL

We arrived in Bannack traveling along a small secondary road that leads about 70 miles from Nevada City to Bannack, all, of course, in Montana. Because vigilantes rode back and forth between these two settlements–supposedly to protect traveling gold miners–the route over which we traveled en route to Bannack became known as the Vigilante Trail.

Vigilante Trail

Vilgilante Trail

The road parallels several creeks, and the evidence of digging and dredging for gold is still abundant in huge piles of rock. Back dropping all this were the beautiful snowcapped Gravelly Mountains whose peaks were all fringed along its flanks by aspens and cottonwoods now turned gold. Within two easy hours of driving (lots of stops), we were pulling into the old ghost town of Bannack.

GOLD DISCOVERY

Bannack was founded on July 28, 1862, when John White and other members of the “Pikes Peakers” discovered gold in creek waters not far from where Bannack now nestles between several mountain ridges.

Gold Discovery on Grasshopper Creek

Grasshopper Creek

According to Wade Hucke, the maintenance man for the park and a man whose great grandfather once dug here for gold, the original site of discovery was on Grasshopper Creek, but not adjacent to Bannack; rather the site is several miles downstream from this well preserved old ghost town.

Relics from the past

Relics from the past

“This is a special place,” says Wade. “It’s a place that really provides us with some windows into the past.”

The State Park provides two campgrounds, and we pulled into the first-known as the Vigilante Campground. Here, after quickly setting up, we began our explorations.

The first thing we discovered was that the old ghost town really does bring the past alive. Old wagons stand ready to transport gold; buildings appear inhabitable, and the old jail, Montana’s first, appears ready to accommodate thieves, drunks and murders.

And, there, up on the hill in plain site is one lone gallows. Though it is a reconstructed gallows, it is located in the exact same spot where many a man took the long drop. Most were deserving, but there is speculation about the hanging of one man.

Henry Plummer

Henry Plummer (historic)

CROOKED SHERIFF

The man’s name was Henry Plummer and he arrived in Bannack in 1863. Glib and persuasive, he was elected sheriff several months later. What was not known by the town’s citizens is that Plummer may well have been the leader of an outlaw gang. Before long road agents began targeting the road between Bannack and Virginia City–the Vigilante Trail–for unwary miners.

Through a brief period of but several years, they killed or robbed over 100 travelers.
To combat the road agents a group of town’s men formed a group, and they called themselves the vigilantes. They operated in an undercover manner, and soon had a list of suspects. Before long, they were painting the thresholds of a suspect’s cabin in blood or in red paint with the numbers 3+7+7+7 . The message was that the individual had 24 hours in which to leave town-or else!

Not all heeded the warning, and one man about to be hung pointed a finger at Henry Plummer. Though not immediately convinced, the vigilantes regrouped for several weeks and meditated heavily. Then, fortified with lots of liquor they concluded Plummer was guilty after all.

Long Drop

Long Drop

“JUST GIVE ME A GOOD DROP”

On January 10, 1864 about 75 men gathered up Plummer and marched him to the gallows. Though Plummer begged and pleaded–even offered to tell where $100,000 of gold was buried–the group ignored him. Story has it that Plummer’s final words were, “Just give me a good drop.”

The Vigilantes accommodated him-but was Plummer really guilty? Today, historians aren’t so sure. In fact, one historian we met in Virginia City believes the Vigilantes may have been trying to divert the blame from the true robbers-themselves. Probably we’ll never know.

CHANGING CAPITALS

Though Bannack holds the distinction of being the territory’s first capital, in 1866, gold was discovered in Alder Creek and the town soon shrank, soon having to relinquish its distinction to Virginia City.

But once again, gold was discovered in another part of the state, this time in Last Chance Gulch, soon giving rise to a settlement known as Helena. Its promise of much gold lured miners from Virginia City and from Bannack, and in 1875 Helena became Montana’s capital.

Once Bannack boasted a population of 10,000, but by 1870, Bannack had shrunk to just a few hundred. Today, a few people still live in the territory’s first capital, though most are state employees watching over the old town and renovating structures that need repair.

Windows On the Past

Windows on the Past

The old town is compelling and it lured Wade Hucke (the maintenance supervisor) from a teaching job in Nevada. He says that each year he and his family gather in Bannack to celebrate his great grandfather’s arrival as a gold miner.

“With all its history and beauty, I can’t imagine a better place to hold a family reunion,” empahsized Wade. “Can you?”

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Outhouse in Montana’s Nevada City is Politician’s Dream

posted: October 9th, 2007 | by:Bert

Politicians Dream

Janie departs "Politician’s Dream."

©Bert Gildart: “That double-decker outhouse was built for politicians,” chuckled Jack Frost. “Can’t you just see them scurrying all around, rushing to the top stall, leaving the one beneath for all the rest of us. Think about it; the message is there. It’s a politician’s dream.”

HISTORIC PRESERVATION

We heard the comment from the caretaker in Nevada City, Montana, as we were traveling with the Luhrs through settings looking far more like winter than like fall.

But for me, that just makes it one of the best of times in Montana. That’s when the summer tourist season is over and when the state returns to those who live here year around. Life is simple, and it reminded me of the way Montana was when I came here out of high school-back in the 1960s. People just seem more relaxed and willing to sit back and share their time and their jokes and, sometimes, their insights into some of the state’s most compelling history. One of those people was Jack, one of the few year round residents of this small settlement located near the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

Nevada City is located two miles along a lonely highway that links with Virginia City, Montana’s first state capitol (not territory capitol) and Jack was one of the first people we encountered. Jack said that he’s here now because he wanted something different from the roofing company he once owned in Dillon, Montana (about 100 miles away). With the help of the local employment service, he found his dream job in 1997. The service agency told him that the History Association needed to take care of all their of old trains and refurbish the historic buildings.

“For me,” said Jack, “it was the perfect job, and I’ve been here ever since.”

FAMOUS MOVIES

But that’s just a part of Jack Frost’s story. Over the years Nevada City has hosted the filming of dozens of famous movies to include Little Big Man and Missouri Breaks, staring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson.

Jack Frost

Though Jack has never appeared in the big movies, a talent scout informed him that his beard would fit for small parts, and that’s how this long-beaded man often spends his off hours.

When we meet him, he was playing the part of a bartender in Boots and Bullets, a movie being created by the film department of Montana State University. But Jack was just one of the many interesting people we met.

Brenda Thyer Montanas Virginia City

Two miles away in Virginia City, we met Dan Thyer, who also has interests in Nevada City. Thyer directs the Living History Program in both Nevada City and Virginia City, and is a profession this former rodeo rider finds highly rewarding. With a degree in History Education, Thyer has a crew of about 70. All are volunteers, but all are devoted volunteers, and the list includes professional historians as well as those who have simply had a life-long passion in the history of this state.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

Because Thyer still looks the part of an old range rider and bronc buster, I wanted to impart the rugged look his face projects, and tried to do so using two Nikon SB-800 strobes, backing off on my camera-mounted strobe by 2/3 of a stop, so creating slight shadows on one side of his face. I wanted to impart the same look to Jack Frost but used natural lighting conditions.

Historian Dan Thyer once a rodeo rider

Historian Dan Thyer once a rodeo rider

For Jack Frost, because of our location, I was able to use natural but very dim light-requiring wide-open f-stops and slow shutter speeds. To avoid a fuzzy image associated with the inherent camera movement and slow shutter speeds, I asked Jack to remain as motionless as possible and then stabilized my camera using a tripod.

We continued to visit the historic Virginia City-Nevada City complex over the course of several days. Snow had fallen over the settlement and the setting provided a better feeling of what life could be like in these often lawless communities.

HISTORY STILL LIVES

In 1862 gold was discovered in Alder Gulch, Dakota Territory, and the discovery inaugurated the birth of a new state, a new overnight city, a high degree of lawlessness, and a legacy that endures to this day. Grave markers line a hill overlooking Virginia City, and the touch of winter set off George Lane’s grave marker. As well, it also set off the old shops and buildings once tended by blacksmiths, and the proprietors of boot shops and old dinning facilities.

George Lane

George Lane

If you’re like us and enjoy a bit of challenge in your travels and in your camping, never pass up late fall travel, for it provides an entirely different ambiance, one that can often bring history alive–and provide insights into the minds of at least some politicians. As Jack Frost concluded in our conversation, “That double tiered outhouse really must be a politician’s dream.”

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History Lives in Montana’s Virginia City

posted: October 6th, 2007 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles, and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Nan Worel relates demise of Vigilantes

Nan Worel relates demise of Vigilantes

©Bert Gildart: According to Nan Worel, a waitress at a restaurant in Montana’s Virginia City, the numbers 3+7+7+7 once had–and still have–immense meaning. 3+7+7+7 was the Vigilante Code, “The Code of Law and Order.” If an undesirable neighbor or road agent found those numbers written in blood or red paint on their doors the message was a warning: Leave and don’t come back.

The message also carried with it a time line. Add 3 plus 7 plus 7 plus 7 and that was the number of hours (24 hours) that person had to leave under his own power.

WARNING WENT UNHEEDED

On January 14, 1864, five people were warned, but because they refused to depart they met their demise at the end of the rope. They were buried, according to Nan, in a grave 3 feet wide, 7 feet deep and 77 inches long.

“You can see those graves on Boot Hill located on a hill overlooking what is today our quaint settlement. They are the graves of George Lane, better known as Clubfoot George; Jack Gallagher; Frank Parrish; and Haze Lyons. We know they’re there because six months later town’s people dug up the grave of Clubfoot George, and cut off his foot. It’s in our county museum, and you can see it.”

Today, the Montana Highway Patrol adopted these numbers to honor the First Law and Order brought to the State of Montana.

We meet Nan after driving 72 miles from West Yellowstone. During the night it snowed hard closing much of the park. In a day or two, when roads are cleared, park passes will reopen–but after a week, it seemed that it was time for us to leave. As those of you recall who read my blog on Grant Kohrs , Virginia City, Montana was part of our scheduled trip.

PHENOMENAL MPG

Because the 72 mile road to Virginia City was wet and the temperature hovered between 31 and 36 degrees, we held our speed to about 50 mph, and when I looked at the gauge that measures miles per gallon, I was amazed to see that our Dodge 2004 pickup with its Cummings Diesel engine registered a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon. That’s better than I’ve ever done, but then I’ve never driven a sustained 50 mph. Because I feared patches of ice, that’s the way I drove while towing our Airstream to Ennis, Montana, located just 14 miles from Virginia City.

Departing Yellowstone

Departing Yellowstone

Because I once produced a book on Montana’s Missouri River, I was familiar with some of the attractions of Virginia City. The settlement is located high in the state’s Gravely Mountains, which form some of the headwaters of the Missouri River. Waters here also feed Alder Gulch, once described as the “The greatest natural sluice in North America.” Miners flocked here and the restaurant in which we found Nan and all of her history is the same saloon I visited years ago for my book. I’d heard the bar contained historic furnishings, and they’re still there.

Behind the counter where Nan now stood was a huge old bar. Years ago I was told the bar was brought up the Missouri River by steamboat to Fort Benton, located just below Great Falls, Montana. From Fort Benton the bar was transported by ox-drawn wagon to Virginia City–about to become the state’s first, but short-lived, capitol.

TWO STROBES BETTER THAN ONE

Nan had an interesting story to tell and I wanted to photograph her telling her story in front of the historic old bar, and did so with two Nikon SB-8OO strobes to better light such an expansive area.  The strobe on the camera served as the master strobe and wirelessly triggered the strobe Janie was holding. The two-strobe-lighting technique is one I’ve used for years but Nikon made my job a little easier when they introduced their wireless flashes.

Infamous man famous hanging

Infamous man; famous hanging

MORE HANGINGS

Virginia City is one of two historic settlements still remaining in southwestern Montana; the other is Nevada City, located just two miles north of Virginia City. Though never as large as Virginia City, it, too, had its violent side and on December 21, 1863, George Ives was hung after what history recalls as one of the nation’s most extraordinary trials.

We plan to spend several days here learning more about Montana’s early and quite violent history. Our friends (see previous posting) Rich, Eleanor and Emma Luhr are parked next to us in an Ennis, Montana, campground, and they, too, seem intrigued by all they are seeing.

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Learning to Talk Wolf

posted: October 4th, 2007 | by:Bert

speaking like a wolf

Listen–and learn to speak like a wolf

© Bert Gildart: This past week we have been camped in both Yellowstone National Park and West Yellowstone with our friends, Rich, Eleanor and Emma Luhr. As we figured out last night, we have rendezvoused with the Luhrs in many places throughout the United States, beginning in Maine. Other states include Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, and once again, Montana.

At first the common denominator of our friendship was the mutual ownership of our Airstreams, but with time we’ve learned that we share many other interests, such as a love of the outdoors. On several occasions we have day-hiked long distances .

AIRSTREAM LIFE MAGAZINE Rich is the owner-publisher of Airstream Life Magazine , which he produces while traveling on the road. I write for his magazine, usually focusing on national parks. The Luhrs are “Fulltime RVers,” meaning that their RV is their home. Because of their circumstances, they home-school Emma, their seven-year old daughter.

Not all children would respond well to such extensive travel but Emma makes friends everywhere, and she is, of course, exposed to a variety of new experiences, such as hiding food for bears at the Grizzly Wolf Discovery Center.

Yesterday, for instance, while we were out roaming the park, Emma was lifting rocks and logs trying to make it tough for the bears to find food, but as she said, “It didn’t work; they found everything.” Food, of course, is hidden when the bears are in their cages.

The center is an excellent place to learn about nature. Though I focused mostly on bears in my post the other day, the center also educates people about wolves, and if you spend enough time at the wolf compound, you can learn to “Talk Wolf.”

SPEAKING WOLF Wolves are extremely intelligent mammals, but because they don’t do well if taken directly out of the wild, all wolves at the center were born in captivity. Still, they communicate just as their counterparts in the wild.

Bear photography requires long lens

Bear photography requires long lenses

For starters, they howl and do so for a variety of reasons. They do so to rally the troops before the hunt, to reunite pack members, to tell other packs of their presence and to reinforce social bonds. Likewise, they play for a variety of reasons. Certainly, they play simply for the joy of playing, but they also learn through such interaction about dominance and submission.

Tail position tells part of the story. If it is out straight the wolf is alarmed. If it is between their legs, it feels threatened. Certainly if you own a dog, you’ve seen some of these traits yourself, but in wolves, individuals must know how others in the pack are feeling, for it helps to insure survival. We saw examples of this “language,” in the course of the many hours we spent at their compound.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES Though the wolves at the center are somewhat tolerant of people, it still helps to have long lenses. Though I used an 80 to 400mm lens for several of the photos I took these past few days, the lens I used most was my 600mm, working off a tripod.

The lens is an older manual focus one, but I find that with animal portraits I turn off the auto focus on shorter focal length lenses. With long lenses depth of field is virtually non existent and so you must manually focus on the eye–nothing else will work, and it is virtually impossible to create a tack-sharp eye with auto focus, particularly when there are branches to confuse the sensor. Not only that but generally you must focus on the eye closest too you, otherwise the animal (or person, too, for that matter) will not appear alert and intelligent.

Because the center works at times with the National Park Service, it also provides some information the activities of bears and wolves in the park. It tells about the various Yellowstone packs and today Rich and I will certainly keep our eyes open for wolves, though our goal is to locate a bull and cow moose Janie and I saw yesterday.

Manual focus lenses work best

Manual focus lenses work best

In Yellowstone, however, you never know what you’ll see. It might be moose, and it might be wolves, and if it is wolves, we’ll know a little more about what they’re saying, for we’ve learned a little about How to Talk Wolf.

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With Some Caution Fall RV camping In Yellowstone Provides Immense Photo Rewards

posted: October 3rd, 2007 | by:Bert

Airstream snow and over weighted awning

Airstream, snow and over-weighted awning

©Bert Gildart: Last night it snowed in Yellowstone National Park and it changed the landscape dramatically. As well, it reminded me that lessons from the past must not be forgotten.

Rain which preceded the snow should have triggered memories, but it didn’t and so I pulled out the awning to protect the generator, which I had started to recharge our batteries. The awning protected the generator, but I forgot that at high elevations rain often changes to snow. At 8 I turned off the generator but didn’t roll up the awning.

Next morning, ice and snow weighed heavy on the awning of my Airstream, and I spent several hours chipping and brushing it all off with a broom. Eventually, with a little help from a much-muted sun, my awning was restored to its normal configuration enabling Janie and me to return to the marvelous landscape that Yellowstone provides. Though that landscape is a year-round one, for me, as a photographer, fall is the most compelling time, and this week has been no exception.

The drama of our time in Yellowstone began near our campground at Madison, about 14 miles from West Yellowstone. Janie and I were scurrying around our trailer when we heard the clear, clarion call of a bull elk. Bulls use their call essentially to warm other bulls from their territory.

Elk bugling creates dramatic fall sound

Elk bugling creates dramatic fall sound

When other bulls don’t heed the warning, often fights result. The time is one of high drama and I grabbed my camera pack, located the bull and then settled in to watch and photograph it. The animal was an impressive one, and on one side of its “rack” the bull carried eight tines while on the other, seven.

Six tines are most typical and is the number characteristic of a bull that is six years old. When an elk has seven tines it is called an Imperial and when it has eight it is called a Monarch. Because the animal was so cooperative I stayed with it for several hours, using a 600mm lens for head shots and an 80 to 400mm zoom lens for body and group shots. Then we moved on.

October bellowing is not unusual

October bellowing is not unusual

One of our great hopes has been to find a Great Grey Owl that so many people have seen and that a good friend had photographed with amazing results. Though Janie and I never found the bird, our search was compensated for in other ways. Normally bison are at the height of their rutting season in July through the end of August, but sometimes a cow will calve late and then come into estrus in fall rather than in summer.

According to Katy Duffy the district interpreter here in the Madison area, that’s not an uncommon scenario in Yellowstone, so when we stumbled across a small herd of bison displaying the dramatic lip curls and roaring loudly, we realized we were seeing something that was dramatic for this time of year, but not exceptional.

Again, we stayed with the situation and after several hours, realized from the images on our digital cameras that our time in Yellowstone was paying off.

Snow and elk add drama to Yellowstone landscape

Snow and elk add drama to Yellowstone landscape

That’s the night snow fell and next day we moved our Airstream to West Yellowstone, passing as we moved a landscape covered with an inch or two of snow. Several elk added balance to the setting, and we couldn’t pass it up. Now we’re bidding our time, taking advantage of the situation to write notes and recharge our batteries and revisit the Grizzly Wolf Discovery Center. And of course we examined our awning. It’s fine, now dry and rolled up into a tight ball.

Camping in Yellowstone at this time of year requires a heads up, but all the drama make the the effort more than worth the effort.

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Before Encountering these Two Species in Yellowstone National Park, Learn About Them at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

posted: October 2nd, 2007 | by:Bert

Looks are not deceiving.

Looks are not deceiving.

©Bert Gildart: Sam, the bear, apparently was hungry. Entering the compound he padded to a large tree and began rocking it back and forth. Food had been placed in a large sack and was located higher than he could reach. When Sam couldn’t bend the tree far enough to reach it, the huge 1,000 pound bear stooped down and with a mighty heave, hefted the tree from it foundation. His reward was the bag of bird seed.

Shortly thereafter we watched as he delivered on a set of facial expressions that sent a hush through our small group.

According to John Heine, director of the Girzzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana, eight grizzly bears are rotated throughout the day, and when they enter the compound, they are hungry. Sam was the largest of all the bears, and when he entered the center he immediately demonstrated the extent to which he could go when hungry.

Though Sam is large for a Montana grizzly, he is not an exceptionally large bear in the area from which he was rescued. Sam and his sister “Illie” were brought to the center in the fall of 1996. Sam is named after the town of King Salmon where he and Illie were rescued.

Like other bears in the center, he was there because of some unfortunate set of circumstances. Orphaned in 1996 when he was six months old, he had not learned had to care for himself. Without a mother to feed them, Sam, and sister Illie, turned to human food and soon became a nuisance. Wildlife managers trapped the pair, but because they were trapped in Katmai National Park mangers attempted to find them a home, and found one in Montana.

Just playing folks

Just playing folks

Though their new home was far from Katmai in Alaska, here at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center they live a life style that seems to provide them with contentment. As well, they are part of a group that serve to educate the public at large in a way that certainly seems to instill respect and awe in all who watch. In fact, the center is so well respected that naturalist in Yellowstone National Park use the huge compound for several of their own educational programs.

Though I was interested in Sam as a photographic subject, I was particularly interested in one of the other bears at the center, specifically a bear that had been removed from Whitefish, Montana, which is near my home in Bigfork. “Spirit” was removed because she had started grazing on lawns and golf courses in the residential areas of Whitefish. In other words, the bear had become a nuisance because it was returning to the area their ancestors had once occupied. Spirit had returned home, but in the course of doing so had become a problem-because her habitat had been replaced with a golf course.

Determination has rewards

Determination has rewards

Biologists in the Flathead Valley had attempted to employ aversive techniques without luck. They had tried firecrackers, pepper spray, even Karelian dogs, but no luck, for the bear had become conditioned to the food found in unattended bird feeders and garbage that had not been properly disposed, conditions the Wolf and Bear Center focus on in their educational programs.

Sam the not-so-gentle giant

Sam, the not-so-gentle giant

Such is the background of bears brought into the center, and here, rather than death, they serve a function that Yellowstone Park recognizes as being one of importance. In fact, not only does the park service conduct programs here but various garbage companies use these bears to test the degree to which garbage bins may prove to be tamper resistant.

Though Janie and I both abhor the exploitation of wildlife for commercial gains, this particular complex is a non-profit organization, one that plows much of its earnings back into their educational programs and into the creation of habitat that benefits the various creatures the center has taken in.

We highly recommend it as a way of learning more about several very controversial animals that roam free in Yellowstone National Park, located immediately adjacent to the Grizzly Wolf Discovery Center.

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