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 July, 2008

Lilies In Glacier National Park

posted: July 28th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Hundreds of different species of wildflowers rear their heads in Glacier National Park throughout the brief summer, and though many appear to be drastically different from one another, some seemingly improbable species are in the same family and so share certain taxonomic characteristics.

Bear Grass

Bear Grass

Three flowers now rearing their heads are all members of the lily family, meaning that they have a similar floral formula. For lilies, all must have three sepals, three petals, six pistils, and three stamens–else they’re not lilies. Pistils are the female reproductive portion of the flower and stamens, the male.

Flowers belonging to other family groups have different formulas, and roses are a good example for some of them are also blooming. Members of this family have the formula 5,5,15,5.

Though there are more than three lilies now blooming in the park, three I discovered the other day include purple-eyed mariposa, glacier lily and the bear grass.

BEARS EAT IT–BUT SELECTIVELY

Because of its size bear grass may fool you, but if you take a quick look at one of the hundreds of individual flowers comprising the plant’s head, you’ll see, in fact, that it does conform to the 3,3,6,3 family formula. Though not as dense as I’ve seen it in some years along the park’s Highline Trail, still you’ll see many clusters.

Purple-eyed mariposa

Purple-eyed mariposa

The species is cyclic and once about every eight years bear grass seems to run from one valley edge to the other. And despite its name, bears eat only the tender, juicy base of the grasslike leaves, and generally do so only upon emerging from hibernation. Then they turn to other sources of food, such as the bulbs of glacier lilies.

Purple-eyed mariposa lily can often be confused with the sego lily which also flourishes in the park. The two look almost exactly alike but mariposa can be differentiated from the sego by the small black dot at the base of each one of the petals. Because of the orientation of the petals, in the image here, you can see only two of those dots.

Years ago when I first began working in Glacier as a seasonal ranger, I purchased a book by the well-known Craigheads on wildflowers and use it to this day. In the book it says that the very similar sego lily was once used by Mormons during lean years.

It also says that you can eat the bulbs produced by other members of the genus Calochortus, and that means purple-eyed mariposa.

MOST CONSPICUOUS LILY

The most conspicuous lily now blooming is the glacier lily. It is a conspicuous showy plant as its scientific name suggests. Erythronium is taken from the Greek word “erythro” meaning red, and sometimes its petals do have a reddish tinge. Its specific name, grandiflorum, means large-flowered, easy to appreciate when it is in full bloom.

The flower in the image shown here is just starting to appear, but if you look at my July 24th posting , you’ll see fully developed petals fluttering in all their vivid glory.

Once, glacier lilies were a food source for some Native American tribes. Bulbs were boiled or dried to eat during the winter months. Various species of wildlife also eat them and when they emerge, grizzly bears often seek them out.

Grouping members of plants together in families is a good way to learn more about the uniqueness of plants, and perhaps this will serve as a start. Literally hundreds of species are now blooming, but as with so many things in Glacier, you can’t wait too long, else they’re gone, not to reappear for another year.

Glacier lily

Glacier lily

UPDATES: Many expressed an interest in the huge pike caught by Gene Colling in my Holy S—- posting. Gene’s traveling companion Bill Schneider, who writes for the online magazine, New West, just posted a story about their adventure and included Gene’s Video, just released. If you’re a fisherman, you won’t want to miss it.

PREVIOUS POST, THIS ONE FROM JULY, 2006–a story about our nation’s second national park, which existed but briefly:

*Mackinac Island

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Glacier’s Highline Trail

posted: July 24th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: When the lead billy goat lowered its head with its stiletto-like horns and began charging toward our small group of four, we thought we’d had it, but in reality all the band of goats was trying to do was reposition itself in preferred habitat. That was a mountain slope in Glacier National Park where the grass was lush and the escape terrain ideal, meaning precipitous. We were hiking the park’s Highline Trail with a couple that pulled in next to us in an Airstream Trailer. Don and Nancy Dennis are from Vermont, and were anxious to hike some of the park’s trails. Retired now from a career in forestry, they’re on a year-long exploration of America, and were ideal hiking companions. And so early yesterday morning, we struck out along the Highline-and soon discovered that we’d all lucked out, for our hike through this Arctic environment coincided with one of the best flower displays I’d ever seen. Right now some of the early season wildflowers are in their prime. What’s more, the amount of wildlife we saw along the way was abundant. Throughout the 12-mile-long hike we tallied several dozen species of plants, but the most abundant was the glacier lily. In fact, in all the years I’ve been hiking the park as both a seasonal ranger and now as a private citizen I’ve never seen such a display in which these showy yellow plants were so vivid or so profuse.

Nancy Dennis and tolerant mountain goats

Nancy Dennis and tolerant goats

CARPETS OF WILDFLOWERS

Where banks of snow were receding rigid shoots baring flowers were beginning to brave the elements, but where the banks had completely receded, glacier lilies carpeted the flanks of Mount Gould, Haystack Butte, Grinnell Overlook-and all the other mountains that reached up to touch a sky that in places was blue, other places white from banks of clouds gathering along this portion of the Continental Divide. Indeed, the Highline Trail takes you into some might lofty country.

Great year for glacier lilies

Great year for glacier lilies

Other flowers we saw blooming included sego lily, bear grass, columbine, larkspur, penstemon, delphinium, wild onion, mallow (down in the 2003 burn), mountain heath, camas, thimble berry, cow parsnip, wild strawberry, shooting star, and spring beauty. And that’s just for starters, for there were many we couldn’t identify.

Highline Trail, Heaven's Peak

Highline Trail, Heaven's Peak

We also saw a band of sheep, which we soon confirmed as a “bachelor herd” of bighorn rams. In the summer, the males disperse from the ewes and lambs and group together. And so they’ll remain until the fall, when they’ll exchange their tolerance for an intense interest in the ewes. At that time, they grow hostile toward one another.

KING OF ALL IT SURVEYS

Yet another mammal we saw was the marmot, and because many hike the Highline, these robust members of the squirrel family are quite tolerant of people. We saw about a dozen and some assumed classic poses; poses that seemed to say they were the kings and queens of all they surveyed.

King and queens of all they survey - Marmots

King and queens of all they survey

Over the years I’ve written about marmots for several wildlife magazines, and in one story I took a trait of this mammal as my title. Marmots produce a shrill almost human-like whistle, something early French trappers picked up calling the animal Siffleur. Translated the word means “the whistler,” and that’s the name I used for my story. Hike the Highline Trail and you’ll soon see why the name is appropriate.

WHERE HAVE THE PIKA GONE?

Unfortunately, the one mammal we could not find, even though we searched and searched, was the pika. Scientists say these tiny members of the rabbit family are like the canary in the mine. They’re an indicator species and when global warming produces temperatures they can not tolerate, or terrain in which they can not thrive, these 30,000 year residents of the arctic alpine zone will disappear. Obviously, we hope the Highline Trail has not yet experienced those conditions. Scientists, however, say that because of global warming, all glaciers in Glacier National Park will gone by the year 2020. That’s a shift from several years ago when they predicted all of the park’s glaciers would be gone by the year 2050. Nevertheless, the Highline Trail remains beautiful, and if you want to see Glacier at a particularly spectacular time, camp in Apgar Campground, pick up an early morning shuttle (7 a.m.) to Logan Pass, and then hike the Highline Trail. Just make sure you’ve completed the hike by 7 p.m., as that’s when the last bus departs from the West Side Loop, your day’s-end terminus. PREVIOUS TRIPS ALONG HIGHLINE: *Global Warming and the View from Grinnell Overlook *Hiking the Highline With a Six Year Old *Global Warming

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Bob Frauson Memorial Service-”See You Next Spring”

posted: July 21st, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This past weekend about 150 people gathered from all points of the United States, and from Canada, to pay homage to a former Glacier Park ranger. In itself the group represented a unique gathering that embodied a significant chapter of the park’s history, and in my early years, some of the assembled people influenced me greatly to include the man we had all gathered to honor.

East Glacier, co-workers at memorial service July 19, 2008

East Glacier, co-workers at memorial service July 19, 2008

Bob Frauson was that man and in brief, the ranger had distinguished himself in every facet of his life, for he had been a member of the elite 10th Mountain Division and served in Italy during WWII. After the war Bob returned to college, worked briefly as a teacher, but soon found employment in his chosen field as a National Park Service ranger. As such he worked in parks in Wyoming and in Colorado before moving to Glacier where he subsequently served for 20 years–all on the park’s east side. In 1982, he retired as a district ranger, and remained in the Flathead Valley until his death this past June.

SEARCH AND RESCUE

My first encountered with this legendary man was 1962 and my acquaintance was under adverse conditions. It involved an attempt to find a friend, one with whom I worked and with whom I had climbed several of the park’s mountains.

Still part of Bob's world July 20, 2008

Still part of Bob's world July 20, 2008

At the time David Wilson and I lived in a tent camp near West Glacier with a group of other young men, all working for the park in the woods and on the trails. We were young college students and one weekend David and I decided to climb Heaven’s Peak , which we did successfully. David, however, was somewhat of a loner, and the very next weekend he decided to climb Going-to-the-Sun Mountain all alone, something, of course, we are all advised not to do. When David did not return to the tent camp as scheduled we all became concerned. Next day, Bob initiated a search party and soon learned that David had signed the climbing register, but after that-no word.

Though a professional climbing team searched all conceivable routes Wilson might have followed, it found nothing, and that’s when Bob called in our labor crew. Bob organized us in such a way that we covered virtually every square inch of the forested mountain side that flanked Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. But after a week-long futile search, Bob concluded that David Wilson had either fallen into a crevasse, a bear had gotten him, or–and this was always one of Bob’s theories–that David Wilson had intentionally pulled a disappearing act and had fled the country. Though that possibility had not occurred to me at the time it was a possibility that I’ve come to accept; certainly one I prefer to the alternative. At any rate, 40-some years later not one single trace has ever been found of the missing climber, and now, though I certainly remember my friendship with David Wilson, I also remember the methodical way in which Bob organized our search party. It was my first introduction to techniques used for search and rescue.

HUGE PACK

As the years went by and I completed college I later worked as a seasonal ranger in many parts of Glacier and came to know Bob better. I worked for him out of Cut Bank Ranger Station-and what so many who spoke at the Memorial Service seemed to dwell on was the incredible pack the man carried when on patrol, something I certainly remember. Bob, of course, was a big man, and when you recall that he fought in the mountains of Italy his pack’s size might not seem so surprising. His pack seemed to carry whatever was necessary for rescues or for anything else he might run into.

These are aspects of the man’s life that friends and acquaintances dwelled on Saturday, but what I can add that others did not is that he could be very persuasive about park philosophy, something I learned from the career I chose as an outdoor writer. Bears were always a major item in park management, and I had been commissioned by Smithsonian magazine to write a story about the park’s fatal maulings, a subject on which I had become very well versed because of my own personal involvement in Glacier’s first tragic maulings of 1967.

PERSUASIVE MAN

One afternoon, Bob and I debated for hours about the park’s bear management plan and the extent to which Glacier should be held responsible for deaths that had occurred along Divide Creek in the St. Mary Valley. In the end, I left with a much better understanding of bear biology and the park’s bear management plan–and those were thoughts I worked into my magazine story.

But what I now remember most is that Bob’s council was excellent on a whole range of subjects, both professional–and personal–and that it should never be ignored.

St. Mary Valley, terrific for wildflowers. July 20 2008

St. Mary Valley, terrific for wildflowers. July 20 2008

Though the memorial service closed with a quote from John Muir extolling the mountains that Frauson had so expertly helped manage, others closed in ways that were equally as telling. All the testimonies were excellent, but I focus on those provided by Bob Sellers, because he was another ranger whom I came to know personally and admired greatly.

“SEE YOU NEXT SPRING”

Sellers in his recollections reminisced about his and Bob’s respective roles in the park, and recalled how the two would meet in the fall in patrol cars at Logan Pass, knowing snows would soon render the road impassible on both its east and west sides.

“We also knew,” recalled Sellers, “that because we worked on opposite sides of the park we probably would not see one another until the following spring, and so that’s the way we’d part. ‘See you next spring, we’d say to one another.’ To which the other would likewise reply.”

And that’s how Sellers concluded his memories, a thought that says in effect that Bob Frauson is still overseeing the mountains we all love and that his council will always be around when needed. That’s a most satisfying thought, and one on which I find hard to improve.

“See you next spring,” concluded Sellers. “See you next spring.”

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“HOLY S—!” When No Other Words Will Suffice

posted: July 16th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: One of my good fishing buddies wrote saying that while I had been taking photos of the various features of North Dakota several weeks ago that he had been in Saskatchewan fishing. Then, almost as a tantalizing after thought he said:

“And, oh, by the way, I caught a HUGE northern…

“I knew it was big,” elaborated Gene Colling, “when our guide, Louie, kept saying, ‘Holy S—!’ as I was reeling it in.”

Gene and Louie

Gene and Louie

Gene, however, didn’t leave any doubt as to what his guide had said, choosing instead to spell out the entire word. As you might expect, I was a trifle shocked to hear such language (even though he was quoting) from a man who has distinguished himself in so many ways. For years Gene served with the Forest Service as its chief video photographer and now, after retirement, he writes a column (“I’m Just Saying” ) for magiccitymagazine.com , an online magazine about the Billings area–and he is starting a business in which he will be creating fishing videos. Because of Gene’s pedigree, I had to wonder if there might not be some better way of expressing exultation.

REALLY, WHY THE EXULTATION?

The fish Gene landed was caught on Black Lake and it was a huge northern pike measuring about 47 inches and weighing 30-plus pounds. Checking my guide to the Fishes of North America, I quickly learned the fish is scientifically known as Esox lucius, a phrase that translates literally to “water wolf.” Certainly, the fish is impressive, so much so that Gene’s guide found it difficult to contain himself even though he sees such huge fish every day. And in this obtuse way Louie said as much, over and over and over…

“Holy s—; holy s—!”

Obviously, landing this behemoth was an occasion for much joy–an accomplishment few anglers are fortunate enough to achieve. But still, I had to wonder about propriety. And so I looked again at Gene’s fish–and now I began to sense from the picture a bit of the excitement he had felt and I thought about comments some might make.

“I say there, Gene, but you certainly did land a piscine prize.”

And then I looked again, and I studied the beauty of the fish and my passions began to rise: “Lord-y, Gene; that was a monster fish!”

CLIMACTIC MOMENT

Still, that fell short of the excitement I wanted to project, and so I looked at the picture yet again. I tried to place myself in the scene, drawing on experiences with my wife along Alaska’s Porcupine River–and I remembered several occasions in which I’d landed large fish (never this size, however); and I remembered the ecstasy; easily envisioning the length of time Gene spent struggling to land the fish; the strain on his arms and back–and then, finally, the actual sighting of the huge fish as it first broke the water’s surface. And then that climatic moment when at long, long last Gene (top photo) hefted his prize.

Alaskan catch. Me (R), Duane James (L)

Alaskan catch. Me (R), Duane James (L)

“Holy S*&#!.”

Churning these metaphorical waters, I conversed further with Gene. Then, taking his lead, I subsequently concluded there are phrases that should indeed be incorporated into that great Angler’s Lexicon on Fishing Vernacular. Words for the instant; words whose unmitigated exuberance can not be mistaken because these select expressions are free of those symbols some believe may delude. With such a possible addition to this as yet unpublished tome might then Gene and Louie (and me by virtue of angling passion) be able to make a significant literary contribution?

Flummoxed, I spent many gut-wrenching days of soul searching, concluding at long last that, indeed, with perseverance we could accomplished this educational goal–and that the results could be fine. And, so, with my confidence now soaring I finally united with Gene and Louie to create the only repetitious song of elation that could ever be appropriate for this occasion:

“Holy S—-; holy S—!…

“Holy S—!”

Sorry, folks, but there just ain’t no other way to express it. I just wish I had had the testicular temerity to spell it out sooner–‘cause, Gene, that is one Hell-uv-a fish.

“HOLY SHIT!!!!!!”

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When Prairie Winds Whip Wildflowers Nikon Strobes Save the Day

posted: July 14th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Last week when Janie and I left South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, wildflowers were putting forth a display that is often overlooked by travelers speeding by to other western destinations thought to have more cachet. But from previous experiences, such as the time Janie and I spent creating a Hiking Guide to the Black Hills, we knew the delights such prairie areas could produce.

Cone flower. 2 strobes, 1 off camera

Cone flower. 2 strobes, 1 off camera

As we explored, we found several dozen species rearing their heads. Though beautiful to behold, they pose a real problem for the photographer, for it is seldom that breezes here in these wide-open expanses ever completely subside. Nevertheless, there are ways to probe the most intimate details of these flowers, but you must understand how to use electronic flashes.

Over the past 30 years I have always made use of such lighting for macro photography, once packing around the rather unwieldy and cumbersome Metz Lighting System. I still have that set up, and still use it when extremely high-speed lighting is necessary. But in the past few years, Nikon (and other top manufactures) have produced what they refer to as their Wireless Lighting System. For me, that includes two SB-800 strobes married to the D-300-and this load is sure easier on my aging back. For those who use strobes triggered with wires, most of the techniques that follow apply.

TECHNIQUES NOT MASTERED OVERNIGHT

In conversing with other photographers who also use the wireless system, we all agree that the actual mechanical techniques are not mastered overnight. That said, once understood the results they can produce are magnificent.

Essentially, for several of these images, I went to the camera’s menu and programmed the small on-camera flash to serve in the Commander Mode, which means the light it produces is used only to fire the SB-800s, which are held off the camera. In other words, though the small on-camera strobe will produce a flash, it serves no exposure purpose; it’s only function is to trigger the more powerful strobes one of which is usually held by Janie.

BLOWING IN THE WIND

The beauty of this set up is that the flowers can be literally blowing in the wind, but still, you can make them appear motionless. You do this by setting the camera to manual and then setting the f-stop to the smallest aperture your lens will support, say f-32 (remember, this is a reciprocal). Simultaneously, you set the shutter speed to the fastest speed your camera will accept for strobe photography, and on my D-300 that is 250th of a second.

Primrose, 2 off-camera strobes

Primrose, 2 off-camera strobes

What that means is that your settings are far different from those you would use if you were relying on the daylight readings your camera’s meter might provide. In daylight, that setting might be 125th of a second at f-16, and that differs from the strobe setting by four to five stops. In other words, the strobe setting so overwhelms the daylight setting that the background goes black. That dramatized the flowers which are exposed by the strobes–and only by the strobes.

ONE OR TWO STROBES?

For the photographs of the salsify, Janie held one light behind the plant (backlighting) and so the “parachutes” created a dramatic pattern of repetition. Using the Rule of Thirds, I so positioned the dominate node, allowing the feathery fronds to radiate out from it.

A slightly different technique was used to light the cone flower. Here, I turned off the camera’s built in strobe and mounted instead one of the two SB-800s onto the D-300. I then set that strobe as the commander strobe and set the second SB-800 to “Remote.” Janie held the remote strobe overhead to imitate the sun while the on-camera strobe served as the fill. Shutter speed was set to 250th of a second and my aperture at f-32-for maximum depth of field. In that way the most intimate details of the flower were all in focus and the strobes froze all flower motion that the wind was producing, again, because the flowers were illuminated by the more powerful strobe lighting, and not by daylight.

Salsify, back lighted, 1 strobe

Salsify, back lighted, 1 strobe

When the wind is not blowing, I also use natural light, particularly when the skies are overcast. Such lighting produces a nice shadowless light, but it also means you must use a very slow shutter speed, often as slow as 1/5th of a second. That’s the shutter speed setting you need because depth of field is your objective and the only way you can accomplish that goal is to retain the aperture setting of f-32. Obviously under these circumstances you need a tripod.

When it’s all said and done, what you’ve got are images of some of the prairie’s most beautiful forms of life–plants such as the cone flower, which Indians once used to cure tooth aches; plants such as the salsify, which can actually be eaten, if you know when they’re edible and which parts are edible. In fact, most all these prairie species have stories they can tell, but that is the subject for another posting.

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Big Pig Dig

posted: July 10th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In addition to story of Wounded Knee, which recalls one of the worse chapters in our government’s dealings with Native Americans–and that I’ve been covering in my posts–Badlands National Park also tells a much more upbeat natural history story. That story is multifaceted, and tells about the park’s biology, geology and of particular interest, the story of its vast paleontological discoveries.

Greatest repository of the Oligocene

Greatest repository of the Oligocene

Rugged as they are, the badlands may just contain one of the world’s highest concentrations of fossils in the world, something that is immediately apparent as you move through the Visitor Center. Here you will not only see some of the actual remains uncovered in the park, but as well you will see artists’ renditions of some of the animals that have been uncovered here.

Archaeotherum sparked "Big Pig Dig"

Archaeotherum sparked "Big Pig Dig"

Most publicized has been a large pig-like mammal known scientifically as the Archaeotherium. The animal is shown in the Visitor Center feeding on another ancient animal that resembles the deer. Look closely and you’ll see a chunk of “deer” meat dangling from its substantial jaws. That’s quite a biological interpretation, but in the Badlands that’s just the beginning of the story.

And that is something of which we were completely unaware of as we drove the Conata Basin Road to a site so well known as the “Big Pig Dig.”

BIG PIG DIG

According to Wayne Thompson, a doctoral candidate employed this summer to monitor road work for yet more paleontological finds–and to work on the Big Pig Dig–the site takes its name from the same large Archaeotherium that had so impressed Janie and me back in the Visitor Center. The site was discovered in 1993 when two park visitors stumbled upon a backbone protruding from the ground.

The visitors did as they were supposed to do in a national park and left the bones at the site. Then they notified the park’s staff and directed them to a site that has subsequently proved to be an extraordinarily rich deposit of bones. Shortly after the discover, scientists went to work, but as they soon discovered, the bones they unearthed did not belong to those of our Archaeotherium, rather, they belonged to the Subhyracodon, a hornless rhinoceros. Still, the name “Big Pig Dig” stuck.

Today, the site has become a favorite among park visitors, for it has produced a bountiful find. In addition scientists have dug up bones of early rhinoceroses, three-toed horses, small deer-like mammals, saber-tooth cats. As well the site has also produced bones from the Archaeotherium.

Because of the geological formations of the time, most of the bones will be from the Oligocene, a geological period of time that comes right after the Age of Dinosaurs-or about 45 millions years ago.

Much treasured "Big Pig Dig"

Much treasured "Big Pig Dig"

Because the dig was so far from the park visitor center, we moved to the settlement of Wall, North Dakota, located much closer to the Big Pig Dig. It was also closer to the Sage Creek Road where I photographed the bison of several posts ago.

Mesohippus, ancient horse

Mesohippus, ancient horse

During the time at Wall, we made several excursions to the Big Pig Dig and on each trip learned something new. Wayne said you can wander anywhere in the park and because it is such a repository of bones, he said you may well stumble across creatures from the past. But how do you know whether your finding is a bone or a rock?

BONE TASTE TEST

Wayne says that if you are in question about whether your find is a rock or bone you might try the taste test.

“Place the object on your tongue,” he said, “and if it sticks, it’s a bone. The porous nature of the bone makes it stick, and that the test I always use.”

Apparently, the test offered a tried-and-true technique, because that’s the same technique Ranger Jesse Beauchamp said she used. She divulged the information at a weekly talk she gives from the Fossil Exhibit Trail.

Though we’re now back home in Bigfork, there is yet another post I want to make on our incredible trip through the Badlands of South Dakota before I start posting on an area that we see all too little of: Glacier National Park. We hope to remedy that with a number of camping trips in our Airstream to various places in the park.

As well, I hope to be telling you about some new fishing vernacular, suitable at times, but only those times when something so stupendous has occurred that you find you are at a loss for words.

And now, a view point posting from this time last year:

*Pikas are Key To Global Warming

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Why the Instant Kinship Among Airstreamers?

posted: July 6th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Janie and I missed the International Airstream Rally, held late June of this year in Bozeman, Montana. It’s our home state, but I had obligated myself long ago to attend the OWAA Convention , which I have been covering in my blog postings these past few weeks.

Ricky and Tami Kesel

Ricky and Tami Kesel

But we didn’t miss the Airstream Rally entirely, or, that is to say, we certainly didn’t miss the dispersal. As we drove the 150-mile span of highway today from Billings to Bozeman, Airstreams coming toward us probably numbered close to 60. And what was so amazing is that every single one of them (without exception!) flashed their lights or flung their arms out of the window to greet us, clear from the other side of Interstate 90, a four-lane highway. Apparently these folks had had a darn good time.

I submit that there is no other road organization that feels such a personal kinship. What’s more that kinship seems to be instant–and you have to wonder why? The attraction transcends socio-economic lines and well as political philosophies. Again, you have to wonder why.

That’s how we meet Ricky and Tami Kesel (and their valued pets in window behind them) of New York, an attractive couple that launched a maiden voyage last month with a 1988 34-foot Airstream motorhome. We saw them going our direction in a Rest Area and were instantly drawn to them.

“Hey, looks like we’re the only Airstreamers going toward Bozeman.”

Continuing, they disclosed that they are now full-timers, having recently retired as a husband-wife cross-country truck driving team. Periodically they hope to participate in the work/campers program-and see America!

But what then would the Gildarts and Kesels have in common with all the others who use Airstreams?

A UNIVERSAL CACHET?

Though that is hard to pinpoint, I’m guessing it is the spirit of adventure that the name Airstream seems to invoke. Historically, individuals and groups of Airstream caravaners have traveled to all parts of the world, so the brand has a certain universal cachet. Without any conscious effort owners then live up to the image because adventure is in their blood–and possession is simply an extension of their psyche.

There’s something more, too. Because Airstreams are not cheap, it means people who now own them have thoroughly investigated their wants and needs and then planned and implemented well. In other words, there is great pride in ownership resulting from an attractive brand that is well assembled. Their Airstream is more than utilitarian, it makes a statement that says: “We enjoy traveling; it’s where we are at this stage of our lives–and we want to do it well. “

Please understand that I’m not saying that those who own other brands of RVs don’t share all the above-mentioned qualities. And I’m certainly not an elitist! All I’m doing is trying to offer suggestions that might explain why those driving other excellent brands such as Tiogas, Winnebagos, and Jaycos, what ever have you… don’t share this instant recognition that produces hand waves and flashing lights. Airstreamers do; and that’s a fact! And it’s not just around rally time.

At any rate, you put all this Airstream stuff together: You combine, a spirit of adventure, pride in ownership, and certainly the desire to see new places and meet new people, and maybe that’s a start at unraveling this puzzle of instantaneous kinship.

On a more personal note, Janie and I tow our 28-foot Airstream Safari with slide out because it tows so darn easy. Maybe that’s all there is to it. Certainly one of the 70 or 80 Airstreamers we saw today who have just departed the rally can do a better job of answering the question than can I.

Care to try?

*PREVIOUS AIRSTREAM POST (Picked up last year by the Airstream Forum): Airstream Camper Tips

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Reflections On the Badlands–As We’re Heading Home

posted: July 5th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: From across the campground the man with Minnesota tags who had just pulled into his site called out with a statement, then a question.

"Lonely" Bull Bison

"Lonely" Bull Bison

“Hey,” he said, apparently referring to the pink liquid in our glasses. “They don’t allow this is Minnesota. Watch it now!”

Flabbergasted, we simply remained silent, which apparently didn’t satisfy the white-haired man. Reaching into his cooler, he brought over several pops, apparently to replace what he thought was wine in our glasses with something more in keeping with his own religious dictates.

“Wouldn’t you prefer this instead?”

“No thanks,” we said. “But would you care for some of what we’re drinking?”

In the past couple of years of travel, Janie and I have learned that you meet all types of people on the road, and that in many cases, they have no compunctions about imposing their beliefs. Yesterday, it may have been the heat, for out here on the Great Plains the temperatures have been hovering close to 100.

Or maybe it’s something else. Perhaps it’s because he was lonely and knew of no other way to interact. The RV life is great, but it sure makes it better when you have someone to share both the highs and the lows.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

For the past couple of days, Janie and I have been working hard trying to capture both the spectacle of the Badlands and the beauty of the wildlife that occupies these incredible formations. Certainly one of the most impressive species in the Badlands is the bison, but photographing them against the light-colored Badlands would have been a challenge with film. But the digital age has changed that-but only if you understand PhotoShop, and know what you can do with the different digital formats.

Certainly you can shoot high-res jpgs, for with this format you can bring the highlights and the dark areas together providing they are separated by no more than a stop or two.

But in this exceedingly contrast-y scene there was more than a one-stop separation, so I shot Raw. Then, loading the image with Adobe Browser in Photoshop CS3, I easily added detail to both the dark areas and to the very light-colored Badlands. Film would have washed out one or the other, depending on which you area you exposed for. So, too, would an image shot as a jpg.

I wanted a good photo of a bison in the Badlands to help illustrate some thoughts I’ve been having recently about one of the worst chapters in American history: the forced eviction of the Lakota Sioux from land granted to them by treaty. Part of this eviction was accomplished by the slaughter of the bison in this very area. The government wanted the Sioux to cease their nomadic ways, and thought to bring about that transformation by converting these people into farmers. In that way the nearby Blackhills would be available to white settlers who wanted to mine for gold.

Today, bison once again roam the Badlands, but they are closely managed to prevent them from proliferating and soon overgrazing their allotted land. Here in the Badlands, it’s mating season for these lords of the plains, and this huge and lonely bull was looking for a mate.

FOURTH OF JULY

Last night we watched a Fourth of July Fireworks display out the back window of our Airstream. The good folks in Hardin, Montana, put on quite a show and how lucky are those of us who have someone with whom to share such spectacles. Alone, there might have been the tendency to elevate a person from the sin of drinking wine, which I must admit we were doing when the man attempted to replace our drink of the moment with cans of pop.

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Should A Part of Badlands NP Be Returned to the Lakota? Some Think So.

posted: July 4th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: According to Enos Poor Bear, the South Unit of Badlands National Park has always belonged to the Lakota [Sioux] People.

Enos Poor Bear

Enos Poor Bear

“That land is ours,” said Poor Bear, “because of the Treaty [1868] of Fort Laramie. Congress removed the South Unit from the Reservation so they could use it as a bombing range. That was 1940. They did away with bombing in the 1960s but then the government gave jurisdiction of it to the National Park Service rather than to us, the Lakota People.”

WE HAVE A STORY TO TELL

Though it seemed to both Janie and me when we talked several days ago to Poor Bear that anger would have been justified, such wasn’t the case. In a very dispassionate tone he explained his role as an interpreter for the national park service, working out of the White River Interpretive Center in the park’s South Unit.

He continued, telling about the hopes the Lakota now have of seeing this portion of the Badlands returned to them.

“Not much would change,” said Poor Bear, “except we would manage this portion of the park–and the money would go to us, rather than being split now with the National Park Service. We’d enter a legal agreement with the National Park Service so access would remain the same…

“We have a story to tell here, and we believe we can do it very effectively.”

A CONVINCING CASE

Two day ago we met a variety of people from the reservation, and without exception all were gracious, despite the fact, the people have a history of being at odds with the wider society.

"Indians Allowed"

"Indians Allowed"

We met Joe Whiting, once a tribal policeman. And we met Reginald Hollow Horn, who was a young boy of nine when the second Wounded Knee Occupation occurred in 1973.

Whiting explained how the animosity of the two cultures dates back to the infamous slaughter at Wounded Knee, and it’s certainly a part of the history of the Badlands. Who could ever tell it better than people on the reservation, something Whiting elaborated on where we met him at the mass burial of around 300 Lakota, all killed or fatally wounded on a brutally cold December day in 1890.

Joe Whiting

Joe Whiting

The tragedy traces its origin to a time when Wovoka, a spiritual man, began generating a following soon to be known as the Ghost Dancers. The group believed that by wearing a certain type of shirt, they would make themselves immune to the bullets of cavalry soldiers. They believed that once again the land they had cherished as a bison hunting culture would revert to them.

WOUNDED KNEE MASSACRE

But that wasn’t to be. On the morning of December 29, 1890 soldiers heard the continued chanting of the Lakota. Fears continued to mount, and the soldiers stirred themselves up, believing the dancing represented the beginning of a massive uprising. Then a rifle accidentally discharged and the soldiers began firing into a group of unarmed men, women and children led by Chief Spotted Elk, also known as Big Foot. At the time Big Foot was in his lodge suffering from pneumonia.

Before the “battle” was over soldiers killed over 300, resulting in what has infamously been called the Battle of Wounded Knee. Soldiers were also killed, but nearly all by “friendly fire.”

There was, of course, a second siege at Wounded Knee in 1973 that lasted for months, but we now heard first hand the story from Joe who was a BIA policeman at the time.

“The reservation was torn up in those days,” said Joe. “AIM occupied the church and some of those people were my relatives. And they were shooting guns.

Reginald Hollow Horn

Reginald Hollow Horn

“At night they’d sneak over to my house to sleep. Next morning we’d feed them, then they’d return to the church by day. And, of course, we were supposed to be at odds with them. It made the times very difficult for us; those were our relatives.”

Reginald Hollow Horn also knows the story and he graciously took time to explain the bullet holes that still dent the church walls, many around the cross. He gave us his time despite the fact his grandmother had just passed away and was lying in state in an outbuilding near the church.

BULLET HOLES IN CHURCH

Hollow Horn was the third person we had randomly bumped into and without exception, all were gracious to us despite the fact we would be here but for a few days while gathering story for Rich Luhr and his Airstream Life Magazine.

We hope the Lakota are given the much overdue opportunity to tell their story.

By treaty the land was theirs, and only because of supposed military needs was the land taken away. Now the Lakota people have the opportunity to better manage their own affairs and tell the story of Indian history and of the world-class fossils some of the land contains.

By agreement they would continue working with the national park service who will help tell the story of the area’s great trove of paleontological finds.

But the Lakota believe they can tell the story of the area’s history better than any one else, and if the type of people we randomly met yesterday is any indication of the types of Native American who could soon be telling that story, then it seems both societies would benefit.

Post From This Time last Year on: Training For Mount Rainier

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More From Knife River

posted: July 2nd, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Here are a few more images from the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site with a few explanations.

Earth Lodge

Earth Lodge

Though the park does not contain any more original earth lodges, it does contain an excellent reproduction. Because this was a matriarchal society, lodges were owned by the women. “Skeletal” system of the lodges consisted of stout poles which in turn supported thousands of small twigs and branches.

LODGE CONSTRUCTION

This foundation was then covered with five inches of dirt, which insulated against the cold and the wind. Sometimes ornaments were added and if you look closely at this photograph you will see several bison skulls and a pole with flag-like hide with the symbol of the particular clan occupying the lodge. Access to the lodge was obtained through a bison hide door. Inside, there was a fire circle which provided warmth.

SPIRITUAL ENTITIES

Each lodge was occupied by a family group and may have numbered as many as 10 to 12 people. The lodge we visited contained a bison hide replete with stories. Bison bladders were scattered around and they served the function of canteens. Occupants believed lodges were spiritual entities.

As well, there were several beds, some on the floor though others were elevated off the ground. Hides covered the sides and could be adjusted for warmth-or perhaps to filter the smoke from fires.

Bull boat

Bull boat

At times, a bull boat capped the center vent-and it too was built by the women. Women also tended the gardens while men were hunting or patrolling the area for enemies.

STRANGE BISON REPLICA

One item that peeked our curiosity was a bison with eyes and a mouth depicted by white hides cut in the appropriate manner.

Bison replica

Bison replica

We wished we’d had more time and could have asked the appropriate person for an interpretation of its meaning.

Never enough time; never enough time, particularly when it comes to our national parks… Last year at this time I was gathering material for a story on global warming for the magazine produced by the Wilderness Society. Here’s some information in the form of a blog about pika that relates to that story.

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