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 April, 2009

Black Bears Now Out and About

posted: April 30th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Two nights ago, about 2 a.m., Janie poked me from a deep sleep. “Something is out there,” she whispered.

Rising, I grabbed a flash light, opened the door and shined my light toward a large dark fury object that was munching on the tin cans now spilled from a garbage container.


Hungry black bear

The dark furry object was a black bear and it was only ten feet away (later measured.) The bear ignored me and if I’d been more awake, in retrospect, I should have grabbed my camera; instead, I hollered “scat!” The bear responded by doing just that, a reaction I expected from the summers of working in bear control in Glacier National Park.

But this was not Montana, this was New Jersey, and I later shared the experience with family members where we’re now parked. The conversation then turned to bears in general, providing several more local anecdotes and a general philosophy on bear behavior.


Across the nation, bears are emerging from hibernation, if they have not already done so. In Montana, I once photographed a bear in hibernation as late as March where winters can be exceptionally cold. But here in New Jersey the Connelly’s tell us they’ve seen bears roaming in the woods and sometimes around their rural home in virtually all months except January.


Fighting over food, not dancing

Still, they see them more often as spring progresses, and that jives with bear biology, which suggests that they’re particularly hungry in spring when they shake off the drowsiness of hibernation, whether it is associated with prolonged winter or simply the cold snaps associated with more eastern environs.

Because winters are less severe in New Jersey than in Montana and since this east coast state has the nation’s densest human population–and since bear populations in New Jersey are increasing dramatically, it’s not surprising anecdotes are many.


Kelsey, Cory and Kyle, Janie’s three grandchildren, shared a funny one that occurred at one of their soft ball games. According to Kelsey, who was participating in a school softball game, the evening crowd of parents watched as a large black bear began descending a knoll.


Not all black bears are black, but often brown or even reddish brown.

The response, they said, was funny. “Some people just watched, but others grabbed their kids and ran to their cars, screaming that a wild bear was there to eat them all.”

Most, however, stayed where they were and simply watched as the bear continued its descent and then wandered into another grove of trees, probably searching a new spot for more food. It was spring, after all, and if the bear had recently emerged from a winter sleep, then it was probably hungry.

More than likely that is part of the reason we had a bear just outside our trailer. The other reason is that bears are smart, and this one knows that every Monday morning the county collects garbage.

And, so, just like clockwork bears make their rounds, searching for food.

As it travels, it knocks over anything that even hints of a food odor, just as the can filled with recyclable cans. (Other raw garbage was in the garage, to be pushed to the rural road early in the morning.)


To reduce garbage spills and the possibility that bears may become habituated to people through the association of food, the New Jersey department of Fish and Game has a number of recommendations.

*use a bear-proof garbage can (the Bear Resource Group has a Crittercan program, and some communities will subsidize your purchase)

*if possible, keep garbage indoors until trash day

*don’t put food scraps in your compost pile

*collect fruit from trees once it is ripe

*thoroughly clean barbeques

*don’t feed your pets outdoors

Most of us enjoy watching wildlife, particularly bears, and if we want to continue seeing wildlife that is genuinely wild, these suggestions make sense.



*Alaska Boating Adventure


Read Comments | 3 Comments »

Spring Pilgrimage In Natchez Mississippi

posted: April 27th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Janie and I departed Montana January 10, and we’re now on the last leg of our trip, visiting family and friends on the East Coast. After that we’ll be driving back to Montana, trying with all of our might to miss the Chicago area, which we think rates with Houston, Texas, as being one of the worst cities in America for driving. If all goes well, we should be back home by mid-May.


Longwood, the largest octagonal home in America

In the meantime, I have been meaning to post photographs on one of the areas we’ve recently visited, and that is Natchez Mississippi, with it much heralded Spring Pilgrimage. While in Natchez we had marginal reception, which surprised us as Natchez is a fairly large area. However, it is one of the few areas of the country in which our Verizon card does not work well.


Each year, Natchez opens it beautiful antebellum homes from about the first week in March through the first week of April. During this time, visitors to Natchez, Mississippi’s annual Spring Pilgrimage can step into the mid-nineteenth century. The five week festival of pre-Civil War life offers antebellum home tours, gospel shows, light comedy and carriage rides amidst a town now lavished with azaleas and fragrant smelling wisteria.


Gay Guercio demonstrates function of Punkah

In the 1840’s Natchez claimed more millionaires per capita than any other city in America. The twenty-five late colonial and pre-Civil War townhouses, mansions and plantation homes open for touring during Spring Pilgrimage attest to the fortunes made in nineteenth century Natchez by cotton planters, bankers and other entrepreneurs.

Natchez survived the Civil War far better than did many southern towns and boasts more pre-1860 buildings than any other U.S. city of its size. The town claims thirteen National landmarks and more than 1000 buildings listed on the National Register–all rich, as their press release says, “in history and decorated with finely crafted furnishings and traditions of genuine southern hospitality.” This is not hype, and once again, Janie and I can attest to the fact that Natchez has homes worthy of a special trip.

As a working journalist, Janie and I were treated like royalty. We were provided press passes, but more than that were allowed privileges not available to the casual visitor. That meant access to unusual parts of old homes, and that was great. In several cases, it also meant a demonstration of the way in which early day devices were used. And it meant I could use a tripod and make judicious use of flash.


Though I found natural light worked wonderfully well, still it require the cooperation of the subject, as in the case of Gay Guercio pulling the rope to swing the massive Punkah. In other cases, I used Nikon’s slow syn which fires the strobe at what ever f-stop I’ve set the camera. Duration of the exposure can be anything longer than 1/60th of a second, which would default strobe setting. This means the camera combines natural light with artificial light, which in this case created an interesting blend of colors.

Those were the techniques I used in all the homes we visited over a period of about five days, to include the several park service homes. All of the antebellum mansions were spectacular, but today, I want to tell you just a little more about Longwood, the largest octagonal house in the United States.

Known for its obvious design and Byzantine onion-shaped dome, we were able to see a number of rooms. We particularly enjoyed seeing the Punkah, a huge ornately decorated slab of wood that could weigh up to 1,000 pounds and that hung vertically over the dinning room table. In days of old, a servant would pull a rope to swing the Punkah creating a flow of refreshing air over the diners. The breeze also shooed away the flies, hence the more common name, “shoofly.”

Another room contained the “Fainting sofa,” which was open at one end. The sofa allowed a young lady (seeking the attention of a suitor) to suddenly grow light headed. With a sofa nearby, she could recover by collapsing as also demonstrated for us by Ms. Guercio.


Dr. Haller Nutt built Longwood but work on the home halted in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. Dr Haller died in 1864 of pneumonia leaving the work incomplete. And so it remains today. Still, Longwood was the last burst of southern opulence before war brought the cotton barons’ dominance to an end. Fortunately Longwood survived decades of neglect and near-abandonment to become one of Natchez’s most popular attractions.


Being courted, and feeling faint? The Old South had a sure fix with its "Fainting Sofa," no arms at the other end.

Longwood was, of course, only one of the beautiful mansions we visited, and in my next posting I’ll describe several of them.



*Stroke, Take Time to Learn the Symptoms


Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Poke Salad and Other Epicurean Delights From A Plumb-Southern Cuisine

posted: April 22nd, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Some of you who are hard-core country and western music buffs may remember a song about a plant that grows down South called Poke salad. The plant was made popular by Tony Joe White who created a ballad about the species. White sang the song on the Johnny Cash show, which ran during the early 1970s.


Poke Salad made from this plant, which grows in the hills and swamps of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Recently, a DVD was released popularizing the show and Janie bought me the album for Christmas this past year. One of the episodes featured Tony Joe White, and though we’ve been playing it often while traveling in our Airstream along the Natchez Trace it seemed particularly appropriate to play it when we settled for several nights at the farm owned by my college roommate, Ed Anderson, featured in a blog posted April 17. Ed and family live just off the Trace.


During our stay, we discussed the Johnny Cash show, and then we honed in on some of the songs we could relate to specifically. One of them was Poke Salad Annie.

“It’s true,” said Ed. “Poke weed grows in the woods and in the fields. It grows here on my farm, too.”

From that we decided to make an evening out of Southern foods–and because Ed and his family are always poking fun about the ways some folks view their country ways, we decided to do it up right, gathering as much from the woods and fields as we could.


Poking fun at their thorough enjoyment of Southern foods, in this case, their love of sweet potatoes.

“We’ll make this an evening of real Southern cooking,” laughed Ed, Sarah and his two children, Anna and Roger.

Well, that sure pleased me, as some of my fondest memories are of Ed and me hunting years ago on his father’s old farm–scurrying behind a pack of beagle hounds; then chowing down on some of the foods fresh from the farm. It also pleased Janie, who believes the Andersons are one of the nicest and most genuine families she’s ever met.


We began by looking for poke weed. Ed said it was early for an extensive crop, but still we found enough. “Got to boil it first,” said Ed, “to remove the toxins. But then, it makes a delicious salad. Poke Salad!”

Next we gathered sweet potatoes from his stash, some paw-paws for bread, and black eyed peas. I chopped up the sweet potatoes, and then like the days when we boarded at Pope’s Tavern, I added brown sugar and then cooked them up. About all that was missing was a glass of butter milk and a little corn bread to stir into the milk.


Ed's love of southern menus and country ways may be equalled by mine.

Ed, Roger and I prepared the meal, trying to give the lady’s a break–but we all had a wonderful time, joking about perceptions, concluding with lots of self adulations regarding our abilities. “Makes the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) look second rate, particularly the preparation of our Poke Salad.”

“Ain’t that a fact!”


And, now, if you want to know what you’re missing, here’s the refrain and first part of Tony Joe White’s hit song.

If some of ya’ll never been down South too much…
I’m gonna tell you a little bit about this,
So that you’ll understand what I’m talking about
Down there we have a plant
That grows out in the woods and the fields,
Looks somethin’ like a turnip green.
Everybody calls it Poke salad. Poke salad.
Used to know a girl that lived down there and
she’d go out in the evenings and pick a mess of it…
Carry it home and cook it for supper,
‘Cause that’s about all they had to eat,
But they did all right.

Down in Louisiana
Where the alligators grow so mean
There lived a girl that I swear to the world
Made the alligators look tame…

The song first sung by White and later by Elvis Presley, continues, and you can hear the entire version if you order the Johnny Cash show from Amazon.


Janie (R) joins Anna and Sarah (and me) in touting traditional Southern cuisine.

In the meantime, enjoy our food photos and if you want to try some of these delicious menus, our secret receipts are available. But they ain’t cheap.



*Planet Earth and Earth Day


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Natchez Trace Lures Model-T Owner–Every Year

posted: April 18th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Kirk Hill of Mississippi is into old things. He’s into vintage Airstreams, antique cars and the exploration of historic places.


Each year Kirk Hill of Mississippi loads his immaculate Model T and drives the Natchez Trace.

Kirk owns a 1970 Airstream, a 1913 Model T Ford, and he uses his antique car, which is immaculate, for traveling and exploring the old and very historic Natchez Trace. That’s where we meet him, in Tennessee, just south of the Meriwether Lewis Campsite. Here, as many of you know who have followed my blog through the years might remember, is where the famous captain met his untimely death. (Fall Along Natchez Trace.)


Janie and I took an immediate liking to Kirk. First off, I liked his aged-looking hat. But there was certainly more. Every year Kirk drives the Trace in a vehicle that is almost 100 years old. His accommodations are modest for he carries all he’ll need for camping in his car and then heads north to Nashville. When he returns home, that means he will have traveled about 800 miles. Kirk has also explored other parks, such as Death Valley, and that’s yet another of our favorite parks.


Kirk maps out his day's itinerary

Kirk, now retired from a career teaching school, also mentioned that he was married at an old church along the Trace. Specifically, he was married at Rocky Springs, an historic church that will be featuring a celebration this coming Sunday.


Ironically, I met the custodian of the church about a week ago, and he said enrollment had dropped to four, and that he was one of the attendees. The church, however, makes do by hosting special events, and that’s what happening tomorrow, this Sunday. And that’s what caretaker George Cranfield was doing last week when I photographed him. He was preparing the church for a service that will also include antique cars, and that is where Kirk was heading when Janie and I met him-to the beautiful and historic church at Rocky Spring, almost 400 miles to the south.


Historic old church is lucky to have George Cranfield as a custodian.

Yet another reason Janie and I liked Kirk is that he said he had a copy of our Natchez Trace book. (Now how can you not like a man who has such impeccable tastes?) The book is sold all along the Trace and store managers told us in several places that it was one of their best sellers.

Essentially, the work provides numerous photographs augmented, however, with a substantial text. The book is available not only along the Trace, but from Amazon and, of course, from us.

The book has been on the market now for almost 15 years and is one we hope to keep there another 15 by making modifications in another year or so, one of the reasons we’re now traveling the Parkway. Another reason is that each trip is an adventure, highlighted by the wonderful people we meet, and exemplified by George and Kirk with his old Model-T.


George helps maintain ancient grave yard at Rocky Springs

We exchanged addresses with Kirk and then watched him as he cranked the magneto using the palm of his hand. The engine kicked right off and Kirk stepped onto the running board of what would now be the passenger side, slide over behind the wheel, and, then, with a beep of his horn was on his way.



*Sonora Desert Museum


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Historic Pope’s Tavern Along Natchez Trace Was Once My Home and That of Good Friend

posted: April 17th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Pope’s Tavern, located about 25 miles off the Natchez Trace, is one of the oldest structures in Florence, Alabama. Once it served as a stagecoach stop, a tavern, an inn, and was used as a hospital during the War Between the States. As well, rumor has it that Andrew Jackson stopped here in 1814 on his march to battle the British at New Orleans.


Author, right, and Ed Anderson, former roommate, at Pope's Tavern.

Those were reasons enough for Janie and me to make an 18 mile detour off the Trace, but there was yet another reason. Pope’s Tavern is located about a block from what is now the University of North Alabama, and for one year, Ed Anderson and I rented rooms from Dan and Bernice Lambeth, owners at the time.


Renting the rooms allowed us more freedom than what the college offered, though the elderly Lambeth’s imposed stipulations that were similar to those imposed at the college. “Boys, there will be no drinking,” said the elderly Bernice Lambeth.

“And no wild women either,” added her brother.


Apartment now reverted to 1830s, used historically by travelers for drink.

Several days ago as Ed and I wondered about the old tavern, we tried to recall how well we abided by their wishes. Certainly we had some help from the county as the county was a dry county. But the Tennessee State Line was but 21.084 miles from Pope’s Tavern, and that became a route we knew like the backs of our hands…

Normally, Pope’s Tavern is closed on Mondays, but the museum director, upon hearing that Ed and I had once lived at the tavern–and that I now hailed from Montana and was on a limited time schedule–graciously open the tavern for us. As we wondered around, we agreed that today, the old tavern looks much different from 1962, the year we rented. In fact I had to look twice at some of the features to make sure this was the same place.


In 1965, the state purchased the old home from the Lambeth’s. Then they conducted a major overhaul, and now you are greeted with a sign explaining the significance of the tavern and its importance to Jackson’s old military road. The road was built between 1816 and 1820, and one would have to assume Jackson’s troops stopped to refresh themselves after a long day’s march. With that knowledge, I’m sure that Ed and I occasionally followed the historic precedence created by the legendary Andrew Jackson. In other words, we wanted to absorb history.


Attic of Pope's Tavern now houses Civil War Memorabilia

Pope’s Tavern has also been whitewashed, and the outside no longer has a drab appearance. The interior has been modified, too. In the days we occupied the tavern, there were stains on the ceiling, and we often wondered whether the dark blotches could have been dried blood from the wounded who were tended during the period the tavern was converted into a military hospital, one which cared for both Confederates and for Yankees. Rumor had it the stains were blood, so that’s what we told our occasional visitors.


During our tenure, there was no formal dinning room, but that has all been changed, and today, it has been refurbished so that it might appeal to men riding the old military road, perhaps some that detoured off the Old Natchez Trace. Oyster shells graced the center of the huge table and on one edge there actually sits a small stein, intended to be filled with a stout ale of the times.

Adjacent to the tavern room was a parlor where female guests might sit. The room contains a bust of Carlotta, considered the most beautiful woman or her times. Carlotta and her husband, Maximillian, were appointed rulers of Mexico by Napoleon. The bust, according to the museum write-up, was made in Australia and presented to the couple by Napoleon as a wedding gift.


Bust of Carlotta

After the Mexican overthrow and the execution of Maximillian, one family rescued the bust and fled to America. Later the bust was given to an American family who befriended the refugees. A desendent of the family married a Florence man who in turn sold it to the Susan K. Vaughn Museum, which now oversees Pope’s Tavern. Old Dan and his sister kept a close watch on our comings and goings, and pictures were probably as close as we came to “wild women.”

At the time of our stay, the attic was simply a storage area, but today, stairs lead to a collection of Civil War memorabilia, to include a diorama and a rack of rifles that were probably .50 caliber. Ed noticed some had been bored out and so converted into 20 gauge shotguns, a common practice, he said, after the Civil War.

Though the tavern had been greatly embellished from our one year stay, the old home brought back interesting memories of two young college men, infused with a bit of the devil.


Ed recalled that Bernice Lambeth had but one eye. Ed also recalled that one night her brother Dan joined us in what was our kitchen at the time, doing so just before a football game. He recalled that the elderly man imbibed several drinks, the source being the case of beer we had smuggled back from Tennessee and into what was then a dry county.

In fact, Old Dan had so many drinks that when he returned to the room on his side of the building, his sister, realizing that Dan was having difficulty walking, turned to us and said, “Ooooooh, you boys. Look what you’ve done gone and done. Now (and here her voice started to quiver) he can’t even see as well as me. Ooooooh my, you boys!”

I’m not sure how much longer we lasted after that episode as Bernice increased her surveillance of our comings and goings, and I’m sure we “stumbled” a few more times…

But for a while, we lived in the shadow of history and without exaggeration, I can say that eventually memories of our intimate association with history took me back to the Natchez Trace, a park that has become somewhat of an obsession. And without qualification, it was because of our association with old Pope’s Tavern.




*Marta Becket’s Historic Opera House


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

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

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

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

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Civil War Gravesites Along the Natchez Trace

posted: April 14th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s mid-April and as we continue our travels along the Natchez Trace we are overwhelmed by the splashes of dogwood now blooming. It’s everywhere, and the continuous glow of white makes driving a genuine pleasure rather than a chore. The 50-mile per hour speed zone posted along the entire Trace adds to the relaxed pace of travel, for most seem to obey the mandate.


Dogwoods backdrop Airstream along Natchez Trace

The many pullovers also facilitate driving ease and all are worth a stop. Consider the stop at Mile 268, created to commemorate 13 Confederate soldiers who mysteriously died along the Trace. How did they die? asks a sign posted by the Park Service along a portion of the Old Trace located near the first of the markers commemorating the unknown soldiers. Then, they sign provides thoughts about the mystery that will probably always remain a mystery.

Were they some of the wounded from Shiloh, who retreated here in 1862? Did they serve under the daring Nathan Forest who passed this way in 1864? Or where they guarding the headquarters at Tupelo of J.B. Hoods Army of Tennessee near the end of the Civil War?


We may never know continues the sign, adding that the 13 men might have died from any number of complications. The information panel continues on a note that is almost equally as sad. The original markers may have borne names, but they disappeared long ago. In 1940, Senator Theodore Bilbo arranged for marble headstones, but they were stolen. The National Park Service erected the headstones now in place.


The Natchez Trace harbors many mysteries and one is the demise of the 13 Confederates buried along the Trace

Though the dogwood certainly added poignancy to our drive, it was our stop at the markers that set the tone of our conversation for much of the day’s remainder. Foremost in our mind was the question of why here, so far from Shiloh and Tupelo. These men were wounded and we wondered how all 13 came to lie in this particular spot. Could they have been abandoned?  Could they have been murdered by Union soldiers as a form of retribution?

We had many questions, but were pleased to see that imitation flowers have been placed at each grave marker, a commemoration that has been implemented since we stopped here about 10 years ago. We hope the practice continues.



*Alaska’s Denali National Park

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

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

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

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

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Mount Locust–Two Centuries of Ownership

posted: April 13th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s been over 10 years since Janie and I drove the lower portion of the Natchez Trace, located deep in Mississippi, and we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Mount Locust, one of the earliest of old structures in Mississippi.

Mount Locust was called a “Stand,” and many of its original structural components remain exactly as they were in 1810, when Stands served a vital function along the Trace, providing food and a place to sleep for weary travelers. Of course, we were pleased that the structure had not changed, but what we were even more pleased to see was that Eric Chamberlain was still interpreting not only the Stand’s early history, but his own very personally family association with Mount Locust.


Mount Locust, park's only remaining original "Stand."

Since 1991, as a park ranger, Eric Chamberlain has offered some particularly interesting insights.  Chamberlain’s lineage traces to the first inhabitants of Mount Locust, back almost 200 years; back to his great, great, grandmother.

According to Chamberlain, “Grandma Polly” was like so many other stand operators.  She pitied those suffering from the swarms of insects, the heat, cold, rain, even snow, and often the outlaws.  As a result, Chamberlain’s ancestors entered the business of operating a stand or inn.


Eric Chamberlain’s forbearers played a prominent role in the development of the only stand that still remains along the Natchez Trace with its original materials.  His ancestry is rooted in the nation’s history and family tradition maintains Andrew Jackson slept in the bed in which Chamberlain was born.  Jackson used it once In 1813 while his men camped at nearby Shacklesford Springs, and again in 1812, during the Creek Indian Insurrection. On another occasion Jackson apparently spent Christmas day at the stand.


Eric Chamberlain's gravesite, lacking the date of demise in epitaph.

Some day Chamberlain expects to be buried among his ancestors, and has already selected a grave site.  An epitaph marks the stone and the inscription, only partly complete, reads:

Eric Spence Chamberlain

February 19, 1940

Sometimes the marker elicits comments:  “Here’s the site of a relatively young man,” says one visitor, to which Chamberlain responds, saying, “No Ma’am, that Chamberlain is still very much alive.  And well too!  The date represents the time of arrival — not departure.”


In keeping with the Trace interpretive philosophy, Chamberlain attempts to enliven the period between 1800 and 1820.

Chamberlain’s “Grandma Polly” provided a service that assisted the thousands who once trod the Natchez Trace.  According to Chamberlain, his “grandmother” moved to Mount Locust at the end of the American Revolutionary War as a 16-year-old bride.  She had married William Ferguson in 1783, and that same year she and her husband purchased Mount Locust.  Then with grant money they increased the small farm to 1, 215 acres and over the years produced a family of seven children.  Farming was the family’s business, and they worked hard.  Corn was their major crop, and, if it wasn’t sold, the family used it.

As the years progressed, public duties claimed some of Ferguson’s time.  In 1798, Ferguson was appointed first sheriff of Pickering County (now Jefferson County).  About the same time, he attempted to found the town of Union and successfully attracted a doctor, as well as a number of residents.  Ferguson hoped authorities would choose Union Town as the site of the county seat, but when they didn’t, Union lost much of its chance for survival.  When Ferguson died in 1801, any remaining chance for the town’s survival passed with him.

In 1801, “Grandma Polly” married James Chamberlain, resulting in four more sons.  But Chamberlain was a drifter, and in 1810, he left Polly.  To her fell the responsibility of raising the family and operating the stand.


Travel peaked in 1810 when approximately 10,000 “Kaintucks” rode or hiked the Old Trace.  Grandma Polly had her hands full.  Once a coachman, refreshed from his work after dipping into the whiskey barrel, entered the tavern and announced to all present, “Cholera in Natchez.”  The words devastated one man, who instantly keeled over, possibly from a heart attack.  Little was known about the man, but he nevertheless rests in the Chamberlain family plot, a modest tombstone marking his passage.

After 1825 travel along the Trace slowed, though the tavern continued to attract wealthy clients from Natchez, who sought respite from the bustle of city life.  The house remained with the Chamberlains until 1937, when it was purchased by the National Park Service, though the house remained occupied until 1944.


Eric Chamberlain shows room in which he was born.

Today Mount Locust not only interprets and recalls history along the Trace, but also represents a period of time.  It is one of the state’s oldest surviving structures and predates most ante-bellum homes in Natchez.  The Park Service has restored the house to an 1810 period to coincide with the year of greatest use.  In places, 25% of the original materials remain, such as the sassafras beams on the rear gallery.  The floor in the left front bedroom is also original as are the bricks in the walk around the house.


The home preserves the essence of a number of activities the Chamberlains must have engaged in through the decades.  On hand are period interpreters to embellish this evidence of past, for example, discussing the importance of cotton and the manner in which it was processed.  But historical facts are limited and anecdotes many. Chamberlain enjoys recalling the latter.

Once, according to him, a ranger appeared for work early one morning.  As she bounded up the steps she was horrified to see a moccasin snake hanging from the door.  Picking up an ax, she struck it over and over.  Eventually she killed the snake, and left behind the marks on the door which you can see today.

Janie and I departed Chamberlain with much regret, but he left us with a chuckle. “Don’t worry,” said Eric. “If you can’t find me here, you might look out there [the family grave]. I’ll be around for a long, long time.”



*Bison Range is 18,500 Acre Classroom


(And here, I’m showing our Natchez Trace book, a new booklet concerning Glacier National Park, and the camera we’re now using. Along the Trace our book is sold most everywhere and is very popular according to sales representatives.)

Read Comments | 2 Comments »

The Natchez Trace–And Two Centuries of Travel

posted: April 12th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: The Natchez Trace holds a special place in our hearts, for it’s a National Parkway on which we have spent a considerable amount of time. Almost 15 years ago, we produced a book about this 444 mile long parkway, published by FarCountry Press.


Modern Day Trace, at about Mile 20

Essentially, the book celebrated what has become our first national highway, a road first used by the old riverboat men. These early day travelers would load produce on barges and then float it downriver, to Natchez and New Orleans. Needing a route back home (this was before Robert Fulton developed his steam engine) they’d hike back home.


With time, their tracks beat down a trail, and with yet more time, the effects of immense erosion caused the trail to deepen. With more time, more footsteps and yet more erosion, here in this portion of what is now Mississippi, at about Mile 20 along the Trace, the ancient path sunk particularly deep. Helping in this particular area was an ancient form of wind-blown soil known as Loess, and it erodes easily.

And so, today, we have the Sunken Trace, and it was one of the first stops Janie and I made on this particular journey.


Sunken Trace, the result or erosion and thousands of footfalls.

Lighting conditions were excellent, for it photographs best on overcast days. With its Spanish moss, exposed roots and much weathered appearance it was impossible not to reflect on the thousands of men who once traveled this area. Among the more famous or better known were old Abe Lincoln’s father, Andrew Jackson, numerous post riders and Captain Meriwether Lewis.


Shown here, then, in these two photos are the modern day Trace and the ancient Trace, providing, together, one of the most unique national parks in the country. Probably, we’ll spend about a week gathering more photographs and updated material for an upgrade of our book, Two Centuries of Travel.



*Montana’s National Bison Range


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Natchez Mississippi and its Spring Pilgrimage

posted: April 10th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: (Note: I’m publishing this five days after the fact, as we’ve had no Internet. Others about Natchez and the Natchez Trace will soon follow.) After a horrendous day driving around Houston, Texas, now our candidate for one of the top two cities in the nation to avoid (Chicago, Illinois, used to be our number one nominee, particularly if pulling a travel trailer) we have landed at one of our favorite areas of the country, Natchez, Mississippi, gateway to the Natchez Trace National Parkway.

In days of old, Natchez, Mississippi, provided the old rivermen with a jumping off place to return home. Toward the end of the 1700s, farmers living in regions such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, or some other state having eventual river access to the Mississippi River, would load crops and produce onto rafts then float downriver to Natchez or New Orleans. Robert Fulton had not yet invented his steam engine, so the only way back home was to walk, and this developed what soon became our first national road.


Natchez Under The Hill

Today, their feats are celebrated by the Natchez Trace National Parkway, which stretches from Natchez to Nashville-about 450 miles. Popularly known as the Trace, a modern-day rural roadway now parallels the Old Trace and provides an incredible story about these days of old. Along the Trace, Andrew Jackson fought a duel to protect the good name of his wife to be-and Capt Meriwether Lewis died, most thought from suicide.


We’ll be in Natchez for a few days, recuperating from our drive around Houston. As well, we’ll be touring some of the beautiful old antebellum homes for which Natchez is so well know. We couldn’t have arrived at a better time as the area is now celebrating what it calls its Natchez Spring Pilgrimage. For about a month, the town’s antebellum homes will be open for tours, allowing the curious to see how Southern gentry lived when cotton was king.

Natchez and the Natchez Trace has been good to Janie and me. About 10 years ago, we gathered much material and took many photographs and assembled it all into a book published by FarCountry Press in cooperation with the National Park Service. The book is still for sale in many outlets and has done well for us. While here, and while traveling the Trace, we’ll be looking for new images to upgrade our book in another year or two.

As we linger, we’re camped in our Airstream along the Mississippi River, learning once again that although life has changed drastically since the days of Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler that the South has lost little if any of its charm.



*World’s Eigth Wonder


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Padre Islands National Seashore is Bird Photographer’s Paradise

posted: April 2nd, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: According to George and Mary Eggenberger, Padre Island National Seashore is one of the world’s most significant birding areas. “It’s significant,” say the two VIPs who conduct birding tours for visitors at this park, “because of all the different types of habitat.”


Mary Eggenberger focusing on Crested Caracara

When they say significant, they mean varied, and for starters much of that derives from the nature of the island. To the north, you have the Intracoastal Waterway while to the other side, you have the Gulf Shore. And in between, you have habitat that varies from grassland and small stands of oaks to ponds lavished with reams of cattails. With so much crammed into this 70-mile long island, it is little wonder that Padre attracts over 350 species of birds.


But there is more: The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and its governing Hemispheric Council has designated Padre Island National Seashore (PAIS) as a member of the existing binational Laguna Madre Site of International Importance to shorebirds. WHSRN is a world-wide organization encompassing 66 sites in 9 countries and to become a WHSRN site of International Importance, a site must, according to the Padre Island website, “contain over 100,000 shorebirds annually or at least 10% of a shorebird population. Among the impressive shorebird counts that led to the designation are those of 588 Piping Plovers… and 373,000 Western Sandpiper…” made several years ago.


Croaking is the language of the Great Blue Heron

Certainly, those are some pretty impressive numbers, but those huge, massive, numbers are highly seasonal in nature, and for those of us drop-in visitors we also like knowing we can witness grand moments in nature.


Padre has those, too, which we saw the other day with the Eggenbergers. Together, we saw the big and beautiful Crested Caracara, a species the Eggenbergers see almost every day they conduct their tour, which begins in November and generally runs through May.

“It’s the official bird of Mexico,” said George. “It’s on their flag. Perhaps you’ve seen it; it’s sitting on a cactus, holding a snake in one of its talons.”

Well, no, we’d never seen it before, but with its long white neck and reddish-orange face, the Crested Caracara is a bird we’d not forget. That observation was just for starters.


Caspian Terns, near Big Shell Beach

Joining George and Mary is one of the better things we’ve done while at Padre. In the course of a few hours, we tallied over 30 different species of birds.

Many, of course, were more common than others, but still, we learned a great deal about locating a bird quickly by habitat, information I put to use in assembling a portfolio of birds of Padre Island.


While here, I’ve managed to photograph about ten species and some with excellent results. One such species was the Great Blue Heron, and though I have photographed it in many parts of the country, never with the wind helping the bird flare some of its feathers, as in the accompanying photo. And never with the GBH creating such an animated croak, croak, as the one seen here with its gaping mandibles.


Preening Great Blue Heron, one of my favorites, taken with 600mm Nikon lens. Wind is flaring the feathers.

Another species I have pursued is the Caspian Tern, and I wanted it set against the ocean, with waves about to crash. I made this photo several days ago while driving the beach noted in my posting on pollution. Certainly not all portions of the beach are polluted, and we found this group in one of those areas. It’s also where I found an immature Laughing Gull attempting to steal a morsel held by an adult.


Padre Island offers much to see and do, and we’ve enjoyed other activities as well. But for many, it will always remain memories of birds such as the Crested Caracara, the “squadron” of pelicans… the wind flaring the feathers of the Great Blue Heron-and the sight of thousands of Western Sandpipers darkening the skies over the Laguna Madre (Mother Lagoon) that linger longest in our collective memories.



*Prescott’s Point of Rocks Campground


Read Comments | 1 Comment »