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

Duplicating This Grand ANWR Adventure Improbable With Sarah Palin as VP

Caribou define ANWR

Caribou define ANWR

┬ęBert Gildart: With Sarah Palin now a vice presidential candidate, once again the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is being eyed, and once again, people are making ridiculous statements about the nature of an area they have never stepped foot in. Typical of this group was Bob Tebeau of Kalispell, who wrote an editorial to our local paper. He was touting Ms. Palin’s achievements and promoting drilling. In his editorial Tebeau said, “And as has been pointed out, ANWR is a minute area with practically nothing there.”

Unfortunately, many others are as equally uninformed. For one thing, the refuge is a huge place and each spring it attracts over 100,000 thousand caribou, seeking the rich forage unique to a small parcel of the refuge adjacent to the ocean. The forage is needed by calves that are born there, and if Mr. Tebeau was referring to this area, then he is right, for this specialized area is “minute.”

Oil companies call it the 1002 Area, leaving it to biologists to provide a more ecologically correct name. Because of its unusually rich assortment of vegetation, they call it “The core calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd.”


Because the refuge is the birthplace of a herd, its influence is immense. Caribou from the refuge feed residents in over a dozen Gwich’in Indian villages, and natives there are concerned that drilling could alter migration patterns, diverting them in such as way that the herd will no longer pass by their respective villages.

I make these statements from first-hand experience, for not only have Janie and I taught in four of the Gwich’in villages, we have traveled widely throughout this vast land both on foot and in our johnboat. We have written dozens of stories about these experiences and Time/Life publications has featured my photographs in one of its books. Because this area may well be one of the world’s last self-regulating natural ecosystems, I have devoted one of the pages in my web site to the Gwich’in.

Wall tent was home

Wall tent was home

From it and from previous posts you might get the impression I’m opposed to any and all oil development, but that’s simply not the case. However, I strongly believe there are a few places in this world that should remain truly wild. And, yes, Mr. Tebeau, there is something there. There’s immense beauty, and it has exerted a powerful influence on us. That’s generally the impact it has on any who travel the area, though, granted, getting there is not easy, as Janie and I well know.


Though we have made many trips to Alaska in more recent years, our most epic adventure took place about 10 years ago when we loaded our boat with wall tent and set out for a four month venture. Prior to our departure we spent months preparing. We purchased a desiccator from Cabella’s, then dried Montana deer meat to facilitate transportation. We pared down our supplies; we took clothing that was lightweight but warm. It all worked out, for that summer we lived well on jerky, re-hydrated vegetables-and on Yukon River salmon and pike.

We started our trip one day in early May, towing our boat for ten days up the ALCAN to Fairbanks. From there, we drove a series of rutted dirt roads to Circle, Alaska, a small village located on the Yukon River. We reorganized everything for travel, discovering that our 20-foot johnboat wasn’t as spacious as we had thought. Still everything fit, to include 35 gallons of gas for powering our 50 hp Yamaha hundreds of miles to another village that provided fuel. Then, without much fanfare, we pushed off.


First on our list of destinations were the Gwich’in villages of Fort Yukon, Beaver, and Rampart, the latter of which was located downriver about 300 miles. We spent almost a month at Rampart, the site the Army Corps of Engineers once eyed as a dam. If the project had been approved it would have impounded the Yukon, backing up waters clear into Canada. It would have been as valuable as Governor Palin’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Today, because the Yukon still flows free, Rampart remains a quiet little fishing village.

Muskrat skinning contest

Muskrat skinning contest

Though several of these villages are some distance from the refuge, still, later in the fall, they depend on caribou. One of the first, however, to see the caribou return is a village in Canada known as Old Crow, and we desperately wanted to experience subsistence hunting before we got frozen in. To reach Old Crow, we returned upriver to Fort Yukon where the Porcupine River enters the Yukon. Here, we traveled 350 miles up the Porcupine, and then another 50 miles to Old Crow, Yukon Territory. Riverboat travel took over a week, and for most of the time we were deep in the Arctic Refuge. We were alone.


Old Crow is a premier subsistence village consisting of about 200 people, and when we arrived that summer, we were made to feel welcome. Residents told us to pitch our tent and that specific village people would watch over it. We were invited to attend village contests then in progress, and though we enjoyed them all, perhaps the one we enjoyed most was the Muskrat Skinning contest.

Trapping has always been a big part of the culture at Old Crow, not surprising when one realizes that here the Porcupine River is near a huge marshland that provides an ideal habitat for muskrats. Though I don’t remember the winning times, I do remember they transformed the feat into art. Residents hunt moose, too, and I bet almost any one in that village can skin one of the huge animals before Governor Palin can figure out which end is which. (She says she’s a moose hunter, and at some level I’m sure she is.)

Old Crow has many special people, but perhaps one of the most revered is Charlie Peter-Charlie, a Gwich’in elder. For many years, Peter-Charlie was Chief of Old Crow. He was one of the village’s best fiddle players, and when young, one of its greatest hunters, said to be one of the few people to actually run down a caribou.


I visited Mr. Peter-Charlie that summer and he reminisced about caribou hunting, saying that when he killed a caribou and was hungry he’d turn it upside down to keep blood in the cavity. “We’d scoop it out and freeze it, a little blood with a little caribou gut. When you’re hungry that was mighty good.”

Charlie Peter-Charlie and caribou hooves

Charlie Peter-Charlie and caribou hooves

Later, during my visit we walked to an old cabin where Peter-Charlie began adding a few more caribou hooves to the outside walls. He said that when there were no caribou they’d take the caribou hooves and boil them, extracting a thin broth.

He remembered times when the caribou did not come and he said that was why the old people would wear a thick belt. “When hungry, they’d tighten the belt every hour or so.”

“Hope,” said Peter Charlie, “we don’t have to do that any more.”

I hope not either, and I hope, too, that Charlie Peter-Charlie is still alive. If not, I hope his thoughts for his people do come true, but I’m not optimistic. In a world peopled by some who want to destroy every single last bit of wildland (sometimes because they’re simply as uninformed as the Kalispell editorial writer), I’ll not take any bets.


*Antietam Battlefield


2 Responses to “Duplicating This Grand ANWR Adventure Improbable With Sarah Palin as VP”

  1. Webdoc Says:

    Bert, I hope you will submit this to the Interlake as a rebuttal to Tebeau’s letter.

  2. In Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, the Beringia Center Allows us to Relive Personal Adventures Experienced in an Ancient Landscape | Bert Gildart: Writer and Photographer Says:

    [...] Charlie (a man I photographed several years ago) agree that animals were much bigger: “First I’ll tell you,” said Peter Charlie, [...]