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 June, 2008

Departing (Reluctantly) Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

posted: June 30th, 2008 | by:Bert

Sunset over the Knife River park

Sunset over the Knife River park

©Bert Gildart: Last night while hiking back from the Knife River along a park service trail, the wind of the past few days subsided and the sun began to assume a beautiful red glow, so often the case after a series of storms.

To dramatize the sun, I attached a 400mm lens, and then shot through the trees, which I believe further enhanced the beauty of a prairie sunset. That’s one of the benefits of living–or visiting–the Great Plains; here, the sunsets and sunrises may be among the world’s most spectacular.

The sunset served to cap a wonderful day in Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. From strictly the photography perspective, this park is loaded with story-telling images. Essentially, we focused on two areas: the stories told on the bison hide of Mato-Tope, known in English as Four Bears, and on the items located in the earth lodge.

FOUR BEARS JUSTIFIES MURDER OF TWO WOMEN

The Four Bear’s stories were recorded by George Catlin, famous for his early day art work in the Mandan villages located here along the Knife River. Apparently Catlin was horrified when he learned that Four Bears had killed two women, and he wrote about it in his book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and conditions of North American Indians.

Four Bears Kills Two Women

Four Bears Kills Two Women

As we learned from his book, Four Bears had just taken the scalps of two Ojibbeway woman, and Catlin asks the chief if it was manly to do so. Though the man’s pride prevented an answer, Catlin learns from the interpreter that he had seated himself in full sight of the village, seeking to revenge a murder in his own tribe. He stayed there six days without sustenance, then killed two women in full view of the tribe. He made his escape, which he believed entitled him to credit of a victory, even though the victims were women.

SUPERIOR CRAFTMANSHIP

The interpretive center and the earth lodge tell many other stories. By virtue of their displays, they tell of the sophisticated skills inherent in the three tribes that once occupied these sites, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and the Arikara.

Exquisite Native Artwork

Exquisite Native Artwork

When you visit (and you must if you are in the area), take time to study the bead work and then the craftsmanship inherent in the moccasins, the baskets, gloves and vests. For images of the artwork I used two strobes, backing off on the camera-mounted strobe by 1/3 of a stop to add slight shadows.

Though the moccasins are not artifacts from the past, they were created by the ancestor’s of those whose comfort and existence depended on their quality. The skills were passed down, and, some, we were told, were made by Larry Belitz, one of today’s contemporary Indian artists.

BUFFALO-BIRD WOMAN

Because of other commitments, we must depart wishing we had time to canoe the Knife and hike a few of the park’s other trails. Still, we leave with many mementoes to remind us of the beauty inherent in this prairie park, and the stories that abound. Prior to departing the Visitor Center, we purchased a CD detailing in pictures and words life as it existed here over the eons.

Narration is provided by Grace Arlene Henry (Black Corn Women) who portrays the life of Buffalo-Bird Woman, who was born in an earth lodge. In a somewhat lyrical tone Henry explains what life was like during the heyday of the Mandan, and then details what happened after the tribe contracted smallpox. Her voice is haunting.

Though we watched the CD on the park’s large screen we have already watched it again in the comfort of our Airstream. We suspect we’ll watch it yet again before we return home, allowing it–and the pictures we’ve amassed–to remind us of this beautiful site that is so often overlooked by visitors scurrying along Interstate 94, bound for parks whose names carry more cachet.

What a mistake they are making.

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Knife River Is Archaeologist’s Dream…And, Keep Guns out of Our National Parks

posted: June 29th, 2008 | by:Bert

Colors include various shades of red

Colors include various shades of red

©Bert Gildart: Yesterday we pulled our Airstream 60 miles north to the small settlement of Stanton, North Dakota, which is contiguous with a national-park administered area so unique that some believe it should be designated a World Heritage Site. Walking onto a field where a village once stood, we could see bones and pottery shards, brought to the surface by the recent activity of pocket gophers. And later when we walked a trail paralleling the Knife River, we could see dozens of large bones protruding from the banks. Surely this park is an archaeologist’s dream.

On a lighter side it’s also unique in nomenclature. “When we answer the telephone,” laughed Resource Management specialist John Moeykens, “it takes us longer then in any other park. Count the words, we’ve got seven in our title.

“Hello,” quipped John, “this is Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site… See what I mean!”

HE FOUGHT WITH THE FEROCITY OF FOUR BEARS

But there is more to Knife River than a name, and that is something we will be learning about over the next few days. At the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America’s conference, I met Superintendent McCutchen, and he suggested that Janie and I pull our Airstream to the small settlement of Stanton, and that if we did, either he or members of his staff would provide us with a personalized tour.

That’s what we did, and already our visit is paying dividends, for yesterday, John Moeykens provided us with an introductory tour that included an explanation of the Winter Count of Four Bears, a warrior said to have fought with the ferocity of “four bears.” John posed for many of our photos–and said he’d continue to help in whatever way he could.

Scajawea State Park, Stanton

Scajawea State Park, Stanton

We’re looking forward to the next few days, but in the meantime, there is another national park matter of concern discussed at the recent OWAA conference. The matter concerns firearms in national parks, and the issue is now reaching its head.

GUNS IN NATIONAL PARKS?

The National Rifle Association of America believes individuals should be allowed to carry firearms in national parks, and despite the feeling of park personal who manage these precious area, George Bush is bowing to pressure from NRA President Wayne LaPierre. Right now firearms are banned from national parks and for some very good reasons. Some of the best are expressed by the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR):

STATEMENT FROM THE ANPR

“…ANPR echoes U.S. society and existing legislation in believing that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not absolute in all locations nor at all times. Park units are sanctuaries for human and animal alike, and in some cases may be the only viable habitat for a specific species. Unlike some other private, state, and federal property, natural resources in National Parks are protected, unless specified differently in the park’s enabling legislation. Because of this, humans do not have the right to kill an animal in a National Park in order to protect life or property. Allowing firearms in National Parks would increase the risk to animals, primarily predatory species, considerably.

“The current Title 36 CFR § 2.4 allows unloaded firearms to be transported through a park in a mechanical mode of conveyance or possessed in a temporary lodging structure as long as they are rendered temporarily inoperable…”

JUNE 30TH IS DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS

If you want to add your comments you can do so by using the following link . As well, you can view the complete statement of the ANPR by clicking HERE . Personally, I can not see any reason why untrained visitors should have guns in places such as Glacier National Park, where I worked for 13 summers, mostly as a park ranger. If the NRA gets its way, I predict there will me tragic consequences for wildlife–and perhaps, too, for visitors.

MORE LINKS

And now, here are a few links to postings we made last year about this time:

*Night of the Grizzly

*Montana’s Dinosaur Trail

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Cranking Out Ducks

posted: June 28th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Ten thousand years ago huge glaciers covered an area now known as the Coteau Hills. At the time these sheets of ice towered 300-feet high, and had anyone been present in the area, they must have been an impressive sight to behold.

Evaluating Embryo Development

Evaluating Embryo Development

But now, several thousands years after they’ve receded, what is left in their wake is equally as impressive. Over the eons they created a system of prairie pot holes which forms the foundation of life for over 500 species of insects, 200 different species of plants-and over 200 species of birds. Among the birds are literally thousands of ducks.

CRANKING OUT DUCKS

“That’s what prairie potholes and these grasslands are all about,” said Mike Checkett of Ducks Unlimited, one of the biologists conducting a small group of outdoor writer hang-ons. “They’re areas that just crank out the ducks.”

Our group consisted of about 15, and we were all writers who had a specific interest in prairies, prairie potholes and in the vast number of species they produce. Knowing of our collective interest, Ducks Unlimited provided us with a tour, and they selected what may be some of the nation’s very best habitat. Each year this region produces hundreds of thousands of new ducklings, in part because of a deal they’ve worked out with local farmers. Landowners are paid not to plow their land before mid-July and the total sum is a hefty one totally $90M.

Called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP for short), monies for the program are derived from the sale of Duck Stamps, banquets, and a host of other program.

DUCK SOUP

Not all lands qualify for inclusion into CRP, but the lands we toured yesterday certainly were and that was part of what biologists explained, starting with the basics. Jennifer, another of the biologists, began with what she called “duck soup,” saying it consisted of damsel flies and dragon flies, mosquito larva, copepods–and other esoteric creatures such names as water boatmen. “They’ve got an interesting life history,” said Jennifer. “First they inject a fluid into their prey, then they suck out the contents.

Duck soup

Duck soup

As we continued our tour, we stopped at several erratics, rocks that were shoved onto the prairie by a terminal moraine. In turn, they attracted bison, which have used them for thousands of years as “rubbing rocks.”

Bison rubbing rock

Bison rubbing rock

“You can tell that so,” said Mike, “by examining the smooth sides. Almost like glass, isn’t it?”

STAKING OUT NESTS

The biologists had gone to much trouble preparing for our arrival, staking out the nests of waterfowl. They said that ducks were unlike some birds and would return to incubate even if their nests were disturbed. Prior to our arrival they’d located the nests of gadwalls, pintails, canvasbacks, and buffleheads.

And then they took us to the nests and here, Mike reached in a picked up one of the eggs and examined it with a magnifying glass. “Look here,” he said. “See where these lines cross? That’s the embryo and from these lines we can age it. This egg has been incubated for about a week and has got about three more to go.”

Piping plover eggs

Piping plover eggs

The egg was but one of thousands, and when added together number in the hundreds of thousands. And all because of the Conservation Reserve Program, which helps farmers, which helps hunters and bird lovers in general.

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81st Annual Writer’s Convention–Another Success

posted: June 26th, 2008 | by:Bert

Kayak demonstration

Kayak demonstration

©Bert Gildart: The 81st annual convention of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America is over for another year and once again people whom I’ve come to admire have returned to all points of the compass. Some such as Chris Madson and Tom Huggler return with coveted honors for their contributions to our organization and quite simply, for their extraordinary talent as writers and photographers. Chris is the editor of Wyoming Outdoors and a spokesman for outdoor ethics. Tom is the author of many books and has been a voice of reason when OWAA has floundered with internal difficulties. I’ve known both of these men for years and greatly admire them.

The rest of us also return with prizes, but they take the form of wonderful memories, images of new friends, and mental catalogues of much new information. The information was acquired from seminars and from hands-on demonstrations of technological advances from the world of outdoor manufacturers.

Seminars included presentations on global warming and–as is appropriate in a gathering of media-type people–all sides of the issue were discussed. But at the end of the day I doubt if speakers changed anyone’s mind. Certainly all present accepted the fact that global warming is real, but doubters insist that it is not human caused. The other team, of course, say humans are creating global warming and then they wonder which side will generate the most damage-if ultimately proven wrong. Anyone who has followed my blog these past few years knows where I’m coming from -but that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to others.

CAUSES OF DAMAGING FOREST FIRES

The most impressive demonstration (judging from the number who watched) was provided by the Bureau of Land Management–and it concerned the management of fire. For the purpose of the demonstration they had taken a huge piece of plywood and then drilled myriads of tiny holes into it. Into these holes they’d placed over 2,000 wooden matches.

Will Bigfork Burn?

Will Bigfork Burn?

“What we’re trying to demonstrate,” said Mike, “are the conditions we now have because of our changing life style.”

Mike then asked those in the now-assembled crowd if any could explain how our changing life style is contributing to more fire.

WILL BIGFORK BURN?

Continuing, he explained that when the West was settled, most used fire wood to heat their houses-and the easiest place to obtain that firewood was close to the house. “But things began to change in the ‘60s,” said Mike. “We started using gas and fuel oil and so vegetation began to grow up around our houses.” Then, turning to Janie, with her Bigfork, Montana, name tag, he said that he’d fought the devastating Robert’s Fire near Glacier and that he’d now call the houses on the plywood “Bigfork.”

“How do you think Bigfork will fare when I torch off these matches?”

Before torching them off, Mike also talked a bit about the types of forests that generate the hottest fires and how some species, such as the ponderosa with their immensely thick bark, are fire resistant. Mike then lit a match, and said he was going to start a forest fire. I had arrived 30 minutes early, and so had an ideal spot for photography.

Because of local breezes the fire was a little slow starting, but once several of the matches caught, fire swept through the “forest” like a crown fire. “Watch now,” said Mike, again turning to Janie, “and see what happens to Bigfork.”

Popular Demonstration

Popular Demonstration

As we all suspected, those “structures” without much in the way of surrounding vegetation (matches) survived, while those surrounded by “vegetation” perished.

KAYAKS FOR FISHING

Yet another demonstration we enjoyed was the one presented by Hobie Cat on their new kayaks. They’ve produced some excellent portable kayaks that are inflatable and because of that are extremely stable, which makes them better than our sea kayaks for fishing. Representative from Hobie provided us with the opportunity to use them and we did so on the Missouri River, which is where our “Breakout Day” took place. In so using them we discovered they would, in fact, be ideal for fishing–and if some long-range fishing plans we have in mind work out, they will provide us with a loaner.

There were some other very good demonstrations, and I’ll talk more about those in my next posting.

POSTS FROM TWO YEARS AGO, ABOUT THIS TIME: Learning to roll a kayak.

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Judging Photos at the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America Is Humbling

posted: June 23rd, 2008 | by:Bert

Fort Abraham Lincoln and California Joe

Fort Abraham Lincoln and California Joe

©Bert Gildart: This is now the third day of the conference for the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America, held this year in Bismarck, North Dakota, and from my perspective, it has been extraordinarily successful. The gathering has featured some of the very best speakers from across the nation and has been well attended by members .

The convention has also provided me with the opportunity to serve as a photo judge.

Speakers for the convention have included Valerius Geist, a man known for his definitive research on bighorn sheep; a representative of the Outdoor Channel; and keynote speaker Jon Young, from the very prestigious Wilderness Awareness School.

Others in attendance have included C.J. Box, known for his many novels, some of which have made the National Bestseller list. I bought one of his books, In Plain Sight, about game warden Joe Pickett. Box signed the book and then added a note to both Janie and me.

FORT ABRAHAM LINCOLN

So far one of the highlights has included a side trip to Fort Abraham Lincoln. Buses took us from The Best Western Hotel, where the convention is being hosted, for a late afternoon tour and dinner held that evening on the grounds. The Bismarck Tourism and Convention Center had arranged for several professional entertainment groups to greet us, and all members of the troupe looked their part.

Moniseta and Elsworth Kincaid

Moniseta and Elsworth Kincaid

Fort Abraham Lincoln is the post from which General Custer waved goodbye to Libby one May day, and from which he led his 7th Calvary to their deaths on the Little Bighorn several weeks later. Men and women were dressed appropriately and will, in fact, be traveling from the fort to continue playing the role of Custer’s soldiers at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana.

MONISETA & GENERAL CUSTER

One of the people I photographed was a young lady, whom everyone jokingly called Moniseta. Moniseta was the name of an Indian maiden with whom Custer is said to have had an affair. If that’s true, as most historians now believe, then it may also true that the liaison resulted in a child. For the purpose of my photography, I asked her if she would pose with Elsworth Kincaid (AKA Steve Shaw), a man who has distinguished himself as an actor in western dramas–and as a novelist. (See: Beyond the Rio Grande)

PHOTO JUDGING

My role as a judge was in collaboration with Tom Ulrich, who served as the moderator, and with Chris Madson. Madson is the editor of Wyoming Outdoors and I met him years ago. At the time, I had read a book about the Missouri River by his father John Madson. The book was–and still is–a classic, written as it was by one of the nation’s best adventure chroniclers.

OUTSTANDING PHOTOGRAHER

Because Tom, Chris and I all have a bit of the ham in us, I think we were able to criticize photographs and do so in a way that was not too offensive. Some of the photographs were so artful rendered that was there very little that could be said. The judging was well attended, perhaps 150 people, and the photo that generated the most comment was one by Noppadol Paothong, an oriental photographer (www.nopnatureimages.com) who managed to capture a hawk with outstretched talons just mini-seconds before it seized a prairie grouse that seemed frozen in place. Nop, as he calls himself for the sake of simplicity, is the second oriental photographer I’ve known whose work excels, and we wonder if patience is a cultural trait.

Fill flash and tight cropping

Fill flash and tight cropping

Indeed, the contest contained some extraordinary images.

There was, however, room for the three of us to offer suggestions, and my main comment was to move in tighter. As well, I suggested that photographers should use a flash, particularly when rendering images of people in outdoor settings where the light is often so harsh. In fact, all the photographs included in this posting of our evening at Fort Lincoln were made with flash. That’s particularly important with people garbed in western hats and where shadows would otherwise block a person’s eyes.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

For instance, in the photograph of the undertaker I angled my SB-800 Nikon flash toward the man in black. The sign was in full sunlight but the undertaker was in full shadow. Flash added the correct balance and made a picture that would never have worked without flash.

"Last to Let You Down"

"Last to Let You Down"

My other comment was to take a photograph that told the best story that can be told, and so I included the undertaker’s sign, which I think rounded out the tale:

“We’ll Be The Last Ones To Let You Down”

Today, is “Break Out Day,” the day in which the manufactures of outdoor products have the opportunity to display all their tried-and true-products, as well as their many new ones. Think, for instance, of all the well-known manufactures that produce guns, fishing tackle, hiking gear, boating equipment, engines-and the vehicles to transport all this equipment–and most likely representatives and the products will be there.

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The Park that Made a President

posted: June 20th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: I remember well one of the overwhelming longings of my earlier years. Scurrying across the nation in marathon drives, bound for seasonal employment in Glacier and Yellowstone parks during the late Sixties, a group of college chums and I invariably detoured off Interstate 94 on the western edge of North Dakota for a glimpse of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the enchanting Badlands.

Beauty of the Badlands

Beauty of the Badlands

In those years the red, scorched-appearing land mystified us as much as the musty side streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter in spring; and over a period of four or five years we saw from a distance the Badlands by the cool of the evening and the fiery heat of the day.

Always we yearned for added time to explore more intimately the incredible jumble of rocks and benign expanses of grasslands that made, as the French trappers called them, these Mauvaises Terres à Traverser (Bad Lands to Cross).

REALIZING A DREAM

In recent years Janie and I made this long standing dream of mine come true, and on several occasions have spent weeks here, following wild horses, intercepting bison and trying to convince prairie dogs that our body shape do not represent that of a coyote, or the shadow of a hawk or eagle.

Wild horses

Wild horses

These past few days we’ve been trying to convince all these critters that we’re simply photographers-and apparently we worked appropriately. Images included here are ones taken these past two days and only these past two days.

Initially, I was attracted here because of the namesake, and as I became more familiar with this landscape, I also learned of Roosevelt’s considerable involvement.

OUR 26th PRESIDENT

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which takes up a small portion of the Badlands, honors our 26th president, a man who was also a perceptive natural-history writer, an influential conservationist and an intrepid adventurer. It does so by preserving much of the area through which he roamed and worked as a young rancher.

The large park is divided into two main units (North and South) that are separated by a distance of 50 miles. A small section, situated between the two main ones, does little more than mark the site of Roosevelt’s long-vanished Elkhorn ranch house. Most of the land Roosevelt cherished has been protected for the enjoyment of future generations.

MOTHER & WIFE DIED SAME DAY

After Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day in 1883, the young New Yorker escaped to the Badlands, where he found solace in the land and rekindled his exuberance for living. Before leaving the Badlands that year, Roosevelt established his own ranch there and bought cattle.

In the process of managing his cattle during annual visits, he grew physically stronger and overcame a number of childhood afflictions.

Later, he commented, “If it had not been for my experience in the great state of North Dakota, I would never have been President of the United States.”

Still running wild

Still running wild

Roosevelt’s experiences in what is now the park were mostly between 1883 and 1887. He might have continued as a part-time rancher, but the devastating winter of 1887 killed most of his herd and eliminated much of his capital. His love of the land and nature remained, however.

UNPARALLELLED CONSERVATION RECORD

“I hate a man who would skin the land,” bristled Roosevelt, who did more for conservation than any president. He established the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island in Florida and then added 50 others; he also created many national monuments and parks.

Today, we wonder how he might have felt seeing the last remnants of the vast bison herds relegated to a few isolated “islands.”

With those recollection in mind again, we’re departing today for the final leg of our journey to Bismarck, North Dakota. The meeting promises the opportunity to learn more about conservation issues of the times; seminars on improving writing and photography and the posting of blogs.

No where left to go

No where left to go

As well–and perhaps most important–the four-day conference offers the chance to renew acquaintance with people we see all too infrequently.

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Huge Hail, Snake in the Grass & Other Travel Trivia

posted: June 19th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Erick Hanson is generally a reticent man, but yesterday at Montana’s Little Bighorn Battlefield, he hollered out loudly. “Watch it;” he hollered. “Snake!”

Rattlesnake In-the-Grass

Snake In-the-Grass

Erick was yelling at Dave Vedder and there was a real reason. We were hiking along a trail to the Reno-Benteen hold out, when Erick heard a rattlesnake. Dave was no more than four feet from it, and the snake so blended with the grass that neither David nor I saw it nor did we hear the rattle of the rattles. But Erick sure did! And fortunately, he let us know.

HUGE HAIL

That was not our group’s first lucky break in the past 24 hours. The night before while camped in a KOA located about 15 miles from the battlefield, the wind had swelled and it blew with a fury, battering the three RVs our group was now driving on the way to Bismarck for the annual Outdoor Writer’s convention. Thick rain and silver-dollar-size hail had accompanied the wind, and the next morning I rose at the crack of dawn, fearful the pounding had mangled the aluminum on our Airstream. Because of our concerns, neither Janie nor I had slept that night.

The cracking noise of the hail inside the trailer had been deafening, but as I looked around, I could find no denting, which simply amazed me. Likewise I examined another nearby Airstream, but it, too, appeared OK. However, I then walked over to a utility trailer also made of aluminum, and the entire shell of the man’s cargo trailer was pitted in a way that was sickening.

OTHERS NOT SO LUCKY

Apparently (as one would hope) the Airstream’s aluminum is of a very high quality, but I knew that if the hail had been a bit larger we might not have been so lucky. The year before I’d seen an Airstream Bambi pitted from what the owner said had been huge, almost apple-sized hail. That’s somewhat freakish, but still, it can happen.

Peace and Unity

Peace and Unity

And so after thanking the Great Spirit that morning for sparing us, we carpooled from the KOA to the Battlefield, encountered the rattlesnake and then made our way to the new Indian Memorial.

NAME CHANGE

As a writer and photographer, the battlefield has been good to me, and I’ve worked with the park historian on various stories for a number of magazines. Recently, two of the battlefield’s superintendents have been Native American, and one of them, Gerard Baker, has become a good friend. He’s a man I first met at Theodore Roosevelt National Park where he’d been serving as a ranger, and we immediately hit it off because of our love for Ray Charles and for blues music in general.

Not all work for Sue

Not all work for Sue

Several years later the park transferred Baker to Little Bighorn where he was instrumental in securing a name change. It has not been easy, and he had even weathered several death threats.

Previously, the battlefield had been called Custer Battlefield, but, now, rather than celebrating the person who lost and was responsible for the death of over 220 men in his command, the park with its new name celebrates those who won a battle. Now the park celebrates the victory of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and other Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne in a way intended to set aside the animosity that has cropped up during the year, for the theme of the Indian Memorial is “Peace and Unity.”

That message is symbolized through an open slot in the memorial that leads the eye to the obelisk on Last Stand Hill listing the names of all those fallen 7th Calvary soldiers.

CELEBRATING THE SETTING SUN

Our time at the battlefield was limited and so we scurried back to the KOA, loaded up our respective campers and then proceeded on, driving four hours to Makoshika State Park, still in Montana. Pam Vedder and Sue Hanson mixed up a batch of Gimlets using their battery powered blenders, Dave fired up a portable barbeque to cook salmon he’d caught only the week before in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and in that way we recounted all of our good fortune. The snake had not bitten either Dave or me, and none of us had sustained any damage to our RVs.

Celebrating the Setting Sun

Celebrating the Setting Sun

And so we celebrated the beauty of the setting sun and the fun all six of us were now having as a group.

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Montana’s Flathead Valley–Not So Good For Your Health

posted: June 17th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: And so we departed yesterday from our home along what I call “The Last Country Road,” because it is so suggestive of our vanishing rural life. We’re heading to North Dakota, rendezvousing this evening in Missoula with other members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America where we’ll then caravan to Bismarck. Our drive yesterday was short, about 100 miles.

Departing the Flathead

Departing the Flathead

The road you see in the accompanying photograph is 1.5 miles from our house. This section of the road is gravel, and though I’m delighted most is paved, I’m worried that should this bend and dirt section ever be straightened and paved, it will become an “expressway” for those seeking a slightly shorter route from Bigfork to Kalispell. As it is, there’s not a week that goes by in which we don’t now see a dead deer, turkey or some other species along the road because of careless, speeding motorists.

GRIZZLIES IN OUR YARDS

The mountains back dropping our Airstream are known as the Swan Mountains and as I’ve mentioned in previous postings, they offer much good hiking. The snow you see is fresh snow, dropped just a week ago during a not-so-unusual June storm.

The mountains are home to grizzly bears, and my daughter’s family, who live just a few miles north in an area that is similar to ours, called excitedly on Father’s Day and reported they’d seen a grizzly bear running in the neighbor’s field.

Several years ago our neighbor Rand Robbin, whose family was one the valley’s earliest settlers, told us that on the day we’d departed on a trip to Alaska, a grizzly bear had walked through our yard, then (apparently in its search for food), had poked its head into the small door that provided egress for one of the family pets. The lady who owned the home, hearing a strange noise, ran to the kitchen to discover the head of a huge grizzly bear peering back at her. She screamed, ran, and called the sheriff’s office. The bear responded by jerking its head from the hole and galloping to the nearby Flathead River, which it swam, not to be seen again that year.

GARGANTUAN MOSQUITOES & IMPORTANT LESSON

There’s a powerful lesson to be learned from all this, and that is: if you are thinking about moving to the Flathead, you should remember that it often snows in June (has in fact on the 4th of July), that sometimes grizzly bears prowl the area; that the state has had its problems with members of the Freemen militia; that the smoke from forest fires often blanket the valley; that Theodore Kaczynski (the unabomber) hid out in Montana for years; and perhaps most discouraging of all, that the mosquitoes here are so big they can stand flatfooted and make love to a turkey.

My recommendation is that, yes, certainly you should visit Montana and the Flathead Valley, but then leave–never ever to entertain the idea of moving here permanently.

Really, it’s for your own good.

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Open the Arctic Refuge Safely? Mendacity, Nothing but Mendacity

posted: June 16th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Today, we are off for what may seem an activity that contradicts with my passion for preserving some of the nation’s last remaining wilderness area, specifically the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Alpine Complex, Prudhoe Bay

Alpine Complex, Prudhoe Bay

Today we’re rendezvousing with a number of other RVers, all members of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. We’re caravanning to Bismarck, North Dakota, to attend seminars intended to improve our writing and photography skills-and our ability to post meaningful blogs. In the past, our organization has attracted some of the nation’s best key note speakers to include William Least Heat Moon and Charles Kuralt.

MY HERO

Kuralt, of course, gathered his stories by traveling the outback of the United States in a motorhome, and he has always been one of my heroes. On a much more humble fashion, Janie and I are trying to do much the same. Like Kuralt, who had a passion for our national wildlife refuges, we do too, and on this trip will be visiting several.

Though Kuralt drove a motorhome, we tow an Airstream, which we believe is a relatively environmentally friendly way to be traveling. We pull our trailer with a Dodge powered with a Cummins Diesel engine and when we drive 55 to 60 our gas mileage drops but little, from about 19 to 15 mpg. When home, we drive a Chevy Geo, which gets 36 mpg. We’ve owned it for four years.

ORIGIN OF ENVIRONMENTAL WOES

Many believe the problems we are now experiencing at the pump are because many drug their feet when it came to addressing a long-ago identified problem. Both Nixon and Carter warned of such problems, and though environmental concerns began to deteriorate with the Reagan administration, the biggest problems occurred when this current president took office, for he completely ignored all suggestions that we look to alternative fuel sources and develop more fuel-efficient vehicles. As a result, environmental detractors–sensing an opportunity–are now looking to open the Arctic Refuge. “Open the refuge,” said Bush in a recent press conference. “We can do so in an environmentally friendly manner.” Well, either this man is ignorant or he is guilty of mendacity.

In theory technology is improving and we can tap oil angling in from off shore, and so lessen the impact on the land. But humans in their haste make errors and the best example is the EXXON Valdez. Shortly after the Reagan administration, oil companies were poised to began exploratory drilling in the refuge, when the tragic oil spill occurred, killing thousands of birds and other ocean sea life such as the seals and walruses. For awhile, subsequent lawsuits were blocked by judges Reagan appointed. Still, the spill blocked the possibility of oil exploration in the refuge, at least for awhile.

Arctic Refuge fox family

Arctic Refuge fox family

Though oil companies now point to the Alaskan Pipe line as a work of efficiency, what they don’t say is that each year of the pipeline’s existence, there has been, on average, slightly over one spill a day. Certainly those spills are nothing like that resulting from the Valdez, but, nevertheless, they occur–and they can affect all forms of life in the Arctic to include these fox, photographed near the Arctic Ocean.

PRUDHOE IS NO PARADISE

What’s more, Prudhoe Bay is not a paradise, rather it is a spider web of interconnecting staging stations, such as the one posted here. Oil companies almost go so far as to say such derricks benefit caribou. “Mendacity,” as Burl Ives said, playing the part of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, “Nothing but mendacity!”

I want cheap gas as much as anyone, but I’m also inclined to believe with this catastrophic administration about to end that we may see better times. Both Obama and McCain have an environmental conscious and both seem to realize that we need to work on developing a national energy policy. What’s more, John McCain said he would no sooner drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge than in the Grand Canyon. (I also like McCain because Rush Limbaugh dislikes him.)

My hope, then, is that enough other people will be willing to wait and see what changes a new administration might implement. If the current administration had pushed alternative energy and encouraged the production of more fuel efficient vehicles eight years ago, think of where we’d be now.

CONCLUDING PROMISE

And now Janie and I are off, bound for North Dakota where we will also be taking in presentations on global warming and on our energy crisis. Our itinerary while on route will include lots of photo stops to include the Custer Battlefield, Theodore Roosevelt and Badlands National Park. I’ll also be judging two OWAA Photo contests, so once again, not only do we expect our travels to return many educational opportunities, but to provide much fun as well.

And one more thing: I promise not to post blogs on politics for the next month.

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Tim Russert–How Did He Remain Above the Fray?

posted: June 14th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It is no exaggeration to say that we here in the Gildart home are in mourning.

Tim Russert, our most favorite of all newscasters, passed away yesterday, June 13, 2008; and I would like to add our humble voices from here in Bigfork, Montana, and say that his passing will profoundly affect us. That may sound pretentious, but despite Russert’s tremendous success, he always seemed approachable, and we felt if we’d ever had the luck to bump into him, he’d look you in the eye and then share a bit of his time.

We relied on Russert’s Sunday morning “Meet the Press” to help us arrive at our own political decisions. What we appreciated most about him is that if he had a political agenda (other than the truth) it certainly didn’t come across as such. At the conclusion of each program Janie always used to say, “Now why doesn’t a man like that run for president?”

We also dreamed in our dream of dreams, that if there was any one celebrity that we’d like to have for dinner, it would be Mr. Russert, for he appeared like the type of man who would never make you feel second class; that he’d find a subject we could all discuss. He had a passion for music, and at our dinner the conversation may well have been confined to the lives of Roy Orbison and Bruce Springsteen. They were some of his favorites.

Perhaps that ability to communicate with people from all walks of life distills down to his own humble beginnings, for after all, his father (Big Russ) was a garbage collector in Buffalo, New York. And now, because of Russert’s seeming approachability and obvious lack of pomposity, I feel comfortable writing this blog. If it had been some other political giant, I’d most likely remain quiet. But today, because of his weekly influence on us, I wanted a catharsis. Sunday mornings won’t be the same.

Now, we’re left wanting to know more about Mr. Russert, and this seems a good time to purchase Big Russ and Me: Father & Son Lessons of Life, though it may be hard to find, for we understand the title has suddenly moved up to number six on the Amazon charts. We’ll be adding our name to that list, hoping the book will help us learn more about the upbringing of a man whose most enduring quality seems to be his integrity. Apparently he was a man who couldn’t be bought and we wonder how, in this day and age, he remained so far above the fray?

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Averting Disaster–On Mount Rainier and in the Out-of-doors

posted: June 12th, 2008 | by:Bert

Approaching Camp Muir

Approaching Camp Muir

©Bert Gildart: Because of the tragic death this week on Mount Rainier my climb last year of this 14,410-foot high volcanic peak has been much in my thoughts. I’m reminded of just how much preparation was necessary for our climb , and why it is so important–no matter the duration of your outing.

According to the newspaper account, three hikers were caught while en route to Camp Muir, generally considered to be the midway point for those intending to scale the 14,410 foot-high mountain.

June, however, is always a fickle month and unfortunately a blizzard caught the climbers unaware. The hikers were simply out for a day hike, but they were caught in one of those fickle storms for which Rainier is so famous.

The three hikers who got stranded were caught just below Camp Muir–not far from Muir Snowfield seen in the above photo. At this point you’ve climbed about 5,000 feet from Paradise, elevation about 5,000 feet.

TRAGIC RESCUE

When the two men and one woman realized they were in danger, they built a snow shelter at about 9,500 feet and made a call on their cell phone for help. But the weather prevented an immediate rescue.

One of the hikers left the married couple and battled through heavy snow to reach Camp Muir, which he did at 7:15 a.m. He was then able to direct rescuers to the other hikers near Anvil Rock, a large outcropping at the edge of the Muir snowfield.

Just past Camp Muir

Just past Camp Muir

Later an Army Chinook helicopter transported the man and woman from Camp Muir, but sadly the woman’s husband died. All apparently were experienced outdoors people and two had previously climbed Mount Rainer.

MISHAPS AND THEIR CAUSES

Historically, climbing accidents on Rainier have now numbered near 100. Most have resulted from avalanches, icefall, rockfall, and falls of individuals down glaciers into crevasses (both individuals and whole rope teams).

Well Prepared camp

Well Prepared camp

Other sources of disaster include hypothermia, and mountain sickness. Bodies of at least a dozen fallen climbers remain sealed in glacial ice. The highest death toll in a climbing incident in the U.S. occurred in 1981 when an ice avalanche on Ingraham Glacier killed 11 of a 29-member Mount Rainier climbing party.

Despite the tragedies, each summer about 10,000 people attempt to climb Rainier, but only about half make it. Often they’re turned back by weather, and that’s certainly something David Bristol, my frequent hiking companion, and I can understand, for years ago, much the same happened to us, though it happened after we’d completed our goal of climbing Glacier National Park’s Chief Mountain.

THE CHIEF

Shortly after summiting this edifice, a completely unpredicted rain and fog storm rolled in, stranding us for the night on “The Chief.” Fortunately, we were able to descend to a level where we could find fire wood, and so we stayed relatively warm. We also had emergency clothing, something Dr. Bristol always insists on including.

But there was no firewood on Rainier, and these three people were caught in a blizzard, not just a white out. And perhaps they were under prepared. That, at any rate, is one of the reasons our Rainier guides checked our gear so carefully, to make sure that in the event of deteriorating weather we could stay warm.

After our group of last summer reached Camp Muir we continued on for about another mile where we dug platforms for our tents. Without such a level surface, the terrain was such that we would have slid back down the mountain’s flanks.

Glacier's Chief Mountain

Glacier's Chief Mountain

Two days after departing Camp Muir, we reached the summit (Climbing summary ). To avoid avalanches we’d departed at about midnight and then completed our climb about 10 a.m. We then turned around and descended the entire 10,000-foot distance, returning to Paradise about 6 that evening, so completing a very satisfying adventure. Certainly, however, it was not the first. In fact, I enjoyed one of my most satisfying adventures with Janie into a land that is much in the limelight right now.

NOT A WASTE LAND

In other parts of our natural world, with the emergence of all the gorgeous flowers in Glacier, I’m also reminded that six years ago, Janie and I camped for a month at Caribou Pass, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where we witnessed one of the most glorious wildflower spectacles we’ve ever seen.

According to my notes that spectacle took place in mid June and included the emergence of lupine, bloodwart, pasque flower, and dozens of other species. All were putting on a grand spectacle, and their march reinforced the notion that this land is anything but “a wasteland,” words the current administration has used to describe this area.

Our camp was just 15 miles south of the Arctic Ocean, and during our stay we were assaulted with wind, rain and snow, but we remained comfortable the entire month of our stay, suggesting it’s all about preparation.

To Some, ANWR is a "Waste Land"

To Some, ANWR is a "Waste Land"

Preparation that addresses all the fickle aspects of nature.

AND NOW, THE COMMERCIAL

If you’re interested in exploring the Flathead Valley and Glacier National park, here are two books produced by Falcon Press, one part of their Exploring Series, the other one of a new series of “Pocket Guides.” Janie and I, of course, are the authors and you can obtain both from us, or directly from Falcon. Look for them, too, in bookstores and in Glacier.

Exploring Guide

Exploring Guide


Glacier Pocket book

Glacier Pocket book

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Snow, Global Warming–and Montana’s Dinosaurs

posted: June 10th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though the weather man has been consistently predicting inclement weather for the past few days, even saying that Glacier National Park would receive between two to three feet of snow today, just 30 miles away, the view this morning from our back porch was anything but threatening. Fog was spiraling upward, the sun appeared to be breaking over the horizon, and the combination conspired to create a spectacular sunrise over the Swan Front.

Sunrise this morning over Swan Mountains

Sunrise this morning over Swan Mountains

Landmark mountain in the middle (the upside down strawberry) is known as Strawberry Mountain. Then just over the crest is Jewel Basin, one of our favorite hiking areas. However, the area is still clogged with snow so it will be weeks before we can visit that area. And who knows what this morning’s surging clouds really portend. Here we just take things day by day and sometimes even hour by hour.

MONTANA’S DINOSAUR TRAIL

Fort Peck Dinosaur

Fort Peck Dinosaur

As an outdoor journalist, I receive a lot of press notifications. Right now I’m receiving e-mails almost daily reminding me of all the spectacles to be provided by driving or visiting some aspect of Montana’s Dinosaur Trail. That’s something that always seems to surprise friends and family members when we tell them that paleontologists have unearthed from “The Treasure State” some of the world’s most spectacular fossils.

Montana has a wealth of dinosaurs because of its many geological formations associated with ancient seas and rivers. One area not too far from Bigfork, where we live, is known as The Two Medicine Formation, and it was created about 74 million years ago by rivers and streams.

Today, the formation is confined to the state’s southwestern quadrant where it is particularly accessible near Choteau, and is not too far from Bozeman where I graduated from college. In 1978, the formation yielded North America’s first egg-laying dinosaur fossils from what is now known as “Egg Mountain.”

Janie and I have driven the 1000-mile long trail several times, and it’s perfect for RVers. In fact, next week we’ll be driving a portion of it as we pull our Airstream to Bismarck and to another convention for Outdoor Writers, but this time the national one.

One museum you’ll enjoy if you make the drive is the one at Fort Peck, a tiny settlement made famous by Margaret Bourke White who photographed construction of the Fort Peck Dam, and in doing so created Life Magazine’s first cover.

Today, that history is shared at the museum in Fort Peck but so are some of the fossils unearthed from the area, such as the one shown here-taken from my files on Fort Peck.

FLOWER POWER

In other parts of the state, arrow leaf balsam route is now rearing its head along the east slopes of Glacier National Park.

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

The species is one I’ve written about in several previous posts (post one , post two ), essentially because it was once used by Indians in the making of flour used for cooking.

WEATHER CHANGE

One hour later, the gorgeous sunrise of this morning has been replaced by thick clouds, hard rains-and a temperature drop of almost 10 degrees. It’s now 37 degrees and WHOOPS, AS I LOOK OUTSIDE–IT IS SNOWING!!!!

Shortly now, I expect a phone call from one of my critics saying, “And you call this global warming?”

Once again, I’ll have to inform this flat-earth, Cro-Magnon, troglodyte that Al Gore (my hero) predicted such erratic weather behavior as one of the associated manifestations. In using such terms I just hope my daughter and granddaughter don’t hear me, for they love this man.

AND NOW, THE COMMERCIAL

If you’re interested in exploring the Flathead Valley and Glacier National park, here are two books produced by Falcon Press, one part of their Exploring Series, the other one of a new series of “Pocket Guides.” Janie and I, of course, are the authors and you can obtain both from us, or directly from Falcon. Look for them, too, in bookstores and in Glacier.

Exploring Guide

Exploring Guide


Glacier Pocket book

Glacier Pocket book

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Of Politics and Flowers

posted: June 6th, 2008 | by:Bert

Choke Cherry

Choke Cherry

©Bert Gildart: Small town politics invariably make for interesting gatherings, but sometimes they’re not always so pleasant. Last night was a case in point. Subject of the meeting concerned our Lower Riverside community, which is essentially a farming community, and whether or not it should be zoned.

Janie and I missed the meeting that prompted the assemblage. Apparently, this winter one man wanted to convert the farm land he owned into what he called a boat storage area, but which most interpreted as being a marina. Many were afraid the introduction of a business into our part of the valley would forever alter the area’s complexion. So many opposed the concept that the developer withdrew his proposal; instead, he is now turning the land into a housing development.

Most know that Janie and I abhor any kind of growth, but we are also realistic and realize that with our country growing from unchecked illegal immigration and from procreation that, sadly, we are seeing the end of the rural style of life.

To protect what’s left, many believe there should be zoning, but that flies in the face of local farmers, most who have managed their land for generations in a fashion that is exemplary. They feel they should be able to determine the ultimate disposition of their land, and we sympathize. On the other hand, we also understand the concerns of those who want to safeguard their own investment. They want assurance that when large chunks of land are sold, that they won’t have a pig pen, a gravel pit, a race track… cropping up next to them.

By evening’s end, however, it was concluded zoning would not work for this group, and whether or not that is a good or bad thing, only perception can really say.

SPRING FLOWERS

In the meantime, other more uplifting things are happening. Right now Flathead Valley and areas, too, along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier Park, are dense with clusters of small white flowers known as the choke cherry. In late summer once Indians would collect the resulting berries to help produce pemmican. To make it Indians (and fur trappers as well) would mix dried buffalo meat and fat with berries from the choke cherry plant. Some tribes such as the Metis even sold the product to the fur trading companies.

As such, pemmican is a highly nutritious food that did not spoil and was compact and easy to carry on long trips. It was the first instant food in Canada, and one pound of pemmican was said to be equal in food value to four pounds of fresh meat. In part, it was because of the choke cherry.

Lady Slipper

Lady Slipper

Yet another flower now blooming in the valley is the lady slipper orchid, and this one is growing in a place pointed out to me by a park botanist. I promised not to disclose the specific location, but will say you can find this beautiful flower in boggy areas.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

Both images were made in low light situations, and to “stop down” the aperture to improve depth of field–and not introduce camera shake–I had to use strobes. I used two strobes, one on the camera the other held high overhead. To create the dark background, I set the camera to “manual” and then the shutter speed to a value that would so completely overpower existing daylight that the background would go black and so make the flowers pop out.

ARCTIC REFUGE

Once again people are looking to the Arctic Refuge as a source of oil. And, once again some are using erroneous information that they’ve picked up to promote their notion. They say, “Well, look at the Central Caribou herd. It’s doing OK!”

This herd is the one seen around Prudhoe, but there is a vast difference in geography between that area and the calving grounds sought out by the Porcupine Caribou herd in the Arctic Refuge.

Because the Brooks Range makes a huge sweep to the south, the Central Caribou herd has well over 100 miles in which to roam and give birth, but not so the Porcupine herd. Here, the Brooks Range is separated from the Arctic Ocean by a distance of only 15 miles. Most biologists not employed by oil companies say that drilling in the refuge in such a confined area would devastate the Porcupine herd. So what we have to decide is how badly we need oil. Do we take the chance that we might destroy what is in reality the world’s last self-regulating natural ecosystem? Does this current surge in oil prices represent but a bubble that will break once a the current administration is replaced with one that is more ecologically sensitive?

And that will happen regardless of whether our next president is a Republican or a Democrat!

Whatever we do should be based on facts that are real and not those manufactured by certain CEOs or by a man from Texas who attempts to push opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge every time he presides over a national press conference.

Hiking the Arctic Refuge

Hiking the Arctic Refuge

How do Janie and I have such facts on the tips of our tongues? We do because we once hiked the entire length of the Refuge and because the Wilderness Society flew me over the refuge and over Prudhoe as a photographer. We taught school in the early 1990s in a number of Gwich’in Indian villages located immediately adjacent to the refuge.

You can see more of these images if you log onto our Gwich’in Page. You can also read one of my stories (Christian Science Monitor ) about the determination of the Gwich’in Indian People to prevent what they believe would be a real travesty.

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Flowers and Falls

posted: June 3rd, 2008 | by:Bert

Pasque flower

Pasque flower

Bert Gildart: Few places are more lovely in spring than Montana’s Glacier National Park. At this time, I’m particularly drawn to the park’s east side and this is the area to which Janie and I gravitated about 10 days ago. Several of my favorite flowers were beginning to bloom and the park’s water falls were thundering through the gorges which they continue to endow with rugged personalities.

Three flowers in particular were abundant, and all representative of early spring. They were spring beauty, the buttercup and the pasque flower.

The pasque flower has always been one of my favorites. It grows in areas that one might call a “dry site,” and it puts forth bold purple flowers. The Craigheads in their Guide to Rocky Mountain Flowers, and a book that has been on my shelf for decades, says the flower has no petals, only sepals, which are colored purple, violet, or occasionally white.

Anemone patens, as known scientifically, has white pistils, and yellow stamens that number in the dozens. When the flower has matured it produces a cluster of fruits resembling a lion’s beard. Consequently, some call it just that, “Lion’s beard.”

TOXIC SUBSTANCE

In late June you’ll also find the flower at Logan Pass (6,646 feet) and at nearby Hidden Lake, and then, towards summer’s end, you’ll see it as a silky head. South Dakota claims the pasque flower as its state flower and it is the official flower of Manitoba and the Yukon Territories. The plant contains a toxic alkaloid called anemonine, and if over eaten by domestic animals, particularly sheep, it can be fatal.

Pasque flower

Pasque flower

Because the flowers were growing in the shadow of the horrendous St. Mary Fire of 2006, they added a delightful counterpoint to the blackened hills that surrounded us as we hiked above the old St. Mary Ranger Station.

The station is historic and is where Chance Beebe was stationed as a ranger shortly after the park was created in 1910. It’s also where Eva Beebe paced nervously with her child as a mountain lion prowled the attic. Chance was on patrol, but later saw the prints in the dust of the floor. The lion had gained access by leaping from a tree and through an attic window.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

Not to be ignored were the water falls, which seemed to be cascading from many sources on the park’s east side. However, none that we saw last week could equal the gush and roar of Grinnell Falls, backdropped by Grinnell Point, all in the Many Glacier Valley.

It’s a lovely time to visit the park, though few of the trails are yet open. Logan Pass remains inaccessible as the lower portions of the Going to the Sun Road are closed, posted as being prone to avalanches. You’ll be hearing more about this famous road as the park will be celebrating its 75th Anniversary throughout the summer.

This Time Last Year I posted materials about dandelions . I also posted a story entitled “An Old Farmers Advice ,” which I thought contained much sage advice.

AND NOW, THE COMMERCIAL:

If you’re interested in exploring the Flathead Valley and Glacier National park, here are two books produced by Falcon Press, one part of their Exploring Series, the other one of a new series of “Pocket Guides.”

Janie and I, of course, are the authors and you can obtain both from us, or directly from Falcon. Look for them, too, in bookstores and in Glacier.

Exploring Guide

Exploring Guide


Glacier Pocket book

Glacier Pocket book

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