Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for June, 2009

Slow and Easy–That’s the Way To Travel the Alaska Highway!

posted: June 28th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  The Alaska Highway is a 1,597-mile-long two-lane highway that stretches from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks. Much of the area through which it passes remains similar to the wilderness Canadians and the U.S. Army plowed through in 1942, taking 11 months to complete the monumental project of creating a road. Through primitive by today’s standards, the “highway” was deemed necessary after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Military experts were concerned the Japanese might invade Canada, the Aleutians and other parts of Alaska–and they needed a way to move troops. Today, that “wild road” now helps recall a frontier type of life that was at times raw, and sometimes very lonely–as suggested by the legacy of one man, which now attracts visitors from all over the world.

When Janie and I first drove the highway in 1991, the road was twisty and curvy, but to honor the 50-year anniversary of the Alcan (Alaska-Canada Highway) much money was spent shortly after our first adventure to convert the old road into a more modern day one. Today, we believe the surface is good enough for Airstream owners to pull their trailers–and to enjoy one of the greatest adventures still remaining to RV travelers.

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Travel slowly and you'll see more wildlife, such as the Stone Sheep, one of the four species of North American wild sheep.

Yes, you’ll have to travel slowly because of periodic frost heaving, but that will only allow you to see more wildlife–and enjoy the wild beauty the several provinces, and finally the state of Alaska, provides.

MOVABLE FEAST

What you do as you travel this historic route will vary according to your interests. Our itinerary calls for stops in Whitehorse, Denali and finally Skagway–to hike the historic Chilkoot Pass. As well, we also plan to see our many Gwich’in Indian friends in Fairbanks; and while in Fairbanks, I have obligations to magazines and will be covering the World Eskimo Indian Olympics in mid July. But our time is here and now-and it is the many things seen along the way that make this trip worth the while, for there’s a history of wildlife and a legacy of characters. In fact, the entire trip could be called a “movable feast.”

Highlights of our trip have been many and as time goes by we may find enough Internet Cafés and campgrounds with Wireless connectivity to detail more of the exciting features we’ve enjoyed. In the meantime, I believe Janie and I would agree that our stop at Liard Hot Springs ranks high. So, too, do the sightings of all the wildlife (bears) and the Stone sheep-and this latter for a very good reason.

Throughout North America there are four different species of mountain sheep (Dall, Bighorn, Desert Bighorn) and the Stone Sheep is another. (I described the species in my book published by NorthWord on Mountain Monarchs.)

LEGACY OF CHARACTERS

But we’re also interested in the history of the Alcan and in some of the characters who left their marks. At this juncture in our journey the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, fits that bill.

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Sign Forest, growing daily and now containing over 55,000 signs posted from all over the world. Started in 1942 by a lonely G.I. who was working on the AK Highway.

The Signpost Forest dates back to 1942 when Carl Lindley, a homesick G.I. from Illinois was working on damaged signposts. Thinking perhaps of his sweetheart back home, he erected a marker showing the distance to his hometown in Illinois. For some inexplicable reason, the posting caught hold and today, the “forest” includes over 55,000 signs that come from all over the world.

Next stop may be Whitehorse, for the lady at the Visitor Center said it was an “easy” 5 to 6 hour drive.  But we’ll have to see about that, for we’ve discovered most travel much faster than we do, and typically to cover the 280 miles she’s described, will take us a day and a half. We’re slow, and to see all the sights–to meet all the characters from the present-and past!–we believe that’s the way to travel the Alcan.

____________________________________________

THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Knife River is Archaeologist’s Dream

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Is It a Black Bear or a Grizzly Bear?

posted: June 26th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  At first Janie and I both thought we were seeing another black bear, but as we pulled our truck and Airstream onto the side of the Alaskan Highway, we both changed our mind.

“That could be a small grizzly,” Janie said. And I had to agree, despite the fact I thought it unusual for a grizzly to be near the side of a road. And although the Alaska Highway is remote, it still sees a fair number of cars, trucks–and even Airstreams–most every day.

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Is it a a black bear or a grizzly bear?

Not more than an hour ago, we had left Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia to continue our journey to Fairbanks and the surrounding area. For several reasons, bears were very much on our minds–and so were ways to differentiate g-bears from black bears. We’d also been thinking about bears because one of their preferred food items was so abundant–something I well knew.

Years ago I had worked in Glacier National Park hired as an assistant biologist in the ennobling position as a scatologist. For three months I had gathered bear poop and then, later, in the park service lab, worked to identify the fecal material. The material was exactly like what Janie and I had been seeing the past few days at Liard Hot Springs. It was cow parsnip, but this was different.

Tropical Oasis


Because of the hot springs Liard was once referred to as a “tropic-like oasis.” Because of the warmth, cow parsnip is not only profuse in Liard, but it grows exceptionally high; and that may be one of the reasons we have seen so many bears in this area. In spring, it’s one of their favorite items of food.

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Cow parsnip, a favorite food of blacks and grizzly bears alike is profuse and grows exceptionally tall at Liard Hot Springs.

So far, this trip has been as much about bears as anything else. Five years ago when Janie and I drove the Alaska Highway, we saw very little wildlife, but this year we have seen bison, stone sheep, caribou, black bears and now we both believed, we were seeing a grizzly bear.

The reason we were not decided is because of the bear’s youth. This must be a very young bear, perhaps a two-year old; one that may have just recently been booted from the family. Most sows, after all, are again ready to deliver a new crop of young, and young from several years ago must go.

Though it’s hard to say with any certainty, this bear probably weighed just a little over 200 pounds, and that made it difficult to determine at first whether it was a g-bear or a black bear, particularly when it was not turned sideway. Even then, the hump was not very prominent, but because of the dished-in face and what we think is the beginning of a hump, we’re calling it a young grizzly bear.

Anyone have any thoughts?

NEWS NOTES: We’re traveling the Alaskan Highway trying to post blogs when we have access to the Internet. Tonight we do for the first time in almost a week. We’ve seen much and will try and catch up when we’re parked for awhile. Meanwhile, the service we’ve paid good money for (telephone service in Canada) is not working, and we’re wondering why? As a result, we can’t call out on our Verizon phone. We thought we were paying for our service to link with the towers most used in Canada. Maybe when we get to Whitehorse our service will work; right now we’re in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory.

___________________


This Time Three Years Ago


*Top Ten National Parks For RVers

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




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Bear Cubs Now “Battling” In Jasper National Park

posted: June 22nd, 2009 | by:Bert

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Not sure whether to go up--or come down

©Bert Gildart:  “Bears,” Janie said. “Black bears, and just look at those adorable little cubs. Three of ‘em!”

We were in Jasper National Park driving the tiny potholed road to Cavell Glacier (which we drove last fall), when Janie made her discovery. The bears were on a small wooded hill, out in the open, and they were all playing-though that’s not the way it appeared. First one would run over to a tree and assume a position that implied “climb.” Suddenly, another bolted over and attempted to pull it down. Several times it succeeded, then, on the ground they’d nip and snap, but without the force and anger needed to inflict real pain. These little guys were having a ball!

But what got us both was the size, and then we realized they probably had not been out of hibernation too long, and we recalled as well that all bears have a most usual method of fertilization.

DELAYED IMPLANTATION

Mating takes place in late summer, but sows store and delay final implantation of the sperm until their bodies are in a reproductive condition, which occurs in the fall.  Growth of the embryo then occurs, but there’s not much time before they’re born. As a result, when the cubs are born, usually in February, they weigh little more than a pound.

When we saw them just a day or so ago, none appeared to weigh more than 15 to 20 pounds. Little wonder cubs remain with the sow until they are almost two years old.

Unlike grizzly bears, black bears are excellent climbers, and as we watched the sow suddenly let out a grunt and all three scurried up trees, two in one. Seconds later several motorcycles roared up the road, and that’s apparently what had alerted the sow. When the cyclist passed the cubs descended and again we watched them and photographed them.

Though I’ve often seen black bears (and grizzly bears, for that matter), never have I seen a black bear with her cubs for such an extended period. What was particularly interesting is that one of the cubs was brown in color while the other two were black.

TRYING TO OBSCURE OUR INTENTIONS

We continued to watch and photograph them for well over an hour. Each time we’d hear a car approach, we’d turn as though we were removing something from the car. As well, I’d scurry with my tripod mounted lens to the far side of our truck.

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Bear Cubs "battle," but it's all in fun.

From experience we both know that many people start yelling and screaming when they see bears, and that type of behavior certainly doesn’t benefit our cause.

Though Janie and I are not sure why the bears tolerated our presence for so long, we hope it was not because they had been fed. Generally when that happens bears loose all fear of people and begin showing up in campgrounds. Jasper National Park officials are working hard to prevent that occurrence and all of their campgrounds are designated “Bare Proof Campgrounds,” meaning they are barren of food when campers are absent. If not offending items are confiscated, campers may be issued a citation and in some cases, asked to leave.

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Mamma looking on over three cubs

We worked with extremely long Nikon lenses (400 to 800mm) and are delighted for the rare opportunity that presented itself while in Jasper National Park. This park never fails as we learned last fall.

NEWS NOTES: We have no connectivity so our postings are being made from Internet Café’s-when we can find them. At the moment I’m in LouLou’s Pizzeria in Jasper, Alberta.


_____________

 


SEVERAL YEARS AGO AT THIS TIME

*Never A Bad Day At Logan Pass



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 »

Heading For Alaska

posted: June 18th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Departing tomorrow for Alaska, and it seems appropriate to post of few photographs from one of my favorite north-country settings, the Arctic Refuge, a place we’ve visited literally dozens of times. During those times we’ve seen grizzly bears, wolverines, thousands of caribou, and one day, we awoke to a snow storm. But it quickly lifted and left us basking in a wonderland.

ArcticDryad

Arctic flowers, it's all about adaptation to harsh conditions.

Two of my favorite photographs from that ADVENTURE include the ones posted here. Somehow these plants have evolved to survive harsh winds and cold temperatures. Look, for instance at the arctic dryad engulfed with snow.

No telling what features we’ll see this time, but we’re exciting about traveling the Alcan and then getting to Fairbanks and seeing our many Gwich’in Indian friends, with whom we lived for a number of years.

NORTHERN-MOST TRIBE OF INDIANS

The Gwich’in, for those of you who don’t recall from my many previous postings, are the northern-most Indian tribe in America (Eskimos live further north) and they have fought a wonderful and telling battle to preserve the core calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou herd, which is located in the northern part of the Arctic Refuge.

ArcticDryad&Kongakut

Beatuty of the Arctic Refuge, about 15 miles from Arctic Ocean

We’ll be posting as we go–and when we can find Internet Cafes. It’s expensive to purchase Internet access time through Verizon, but we’ll do the best we can to find cafes.

___________________________________________________

THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Keeper of Kintla (This post continues to generate comments)

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Colorful Avocet Has Returned To Montana’s Prairie Wetlands

posted: June 15th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: All across the wetlands of eastern Montana, the American Avocet has returned, has laid its eggs and is ushering its young into the world. These are colorful birds and you will recognize them the moment you see them.

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Colorful Avocet has returned to Montana's prairie wetlands.

Because they are wading birds, they have long, thin gray legs, which give the species its colloquial name, “blue shanks.” Plumage is black and white on the back with white on the underbelly. But setting it off in the summer is the bird’s orange-colored head.

The other conspicuous feature is the long, thin bill which is upturned at the end. This feature helps the avocet locate food, something that is fascinating to watch and which I have seen often. Inserting beaks into the marsh, the avocet will stir the water, creating as they do a mini cyclone effect which draws aquatic insects up from the bottom.

PRECOCIAL YOUNG

Unlike the pelican of several posts ago, young of this species are fully capable of foraging for themselves shortly after hatching. Such birds are referred to as precocial.

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Avocet young are precocial, meaning they are completley mobile shortly after hatching.

Pelican young, on the other hand, are helpless when hatched and require weeks of care before they can fend for themselves. Such birds are referred to as altricial.

Like the pelican, avocet nests on open ground, often in small groups, sometimes with other waders. A pair will rear one brood per season, with both male and female providing parental care for the young.

Because summers on the prairie can be so short, the time to enjoy this species in now, for all too soon, it will head south, taking with it that colorful splash of orange that helps add color to a setting that might otherwise be quite drab.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

These photographs could not have been made without the use of a photographic blind. I made these photos several years ago at the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge over a period of a couple of days.

First I erected the movable blind some distance from the nesting pair, and then gradually inched forward until I was close enough for the birds to fill the viewfinder of my Hasselblad camera and the 500mm lens I was using at the time. Later, the images were used for a book I wrote on Montana Wildlife, used by several professors for their classes in wildlife management at local universities. Images such as these continue to sell through several photo agents who market my work.

NEWS NOTES:

About five more days until departure for Alaska, which will take us along the world-famous Alcan Highway. We’ll be providing extensive coverage. Obviously we’re excited and have made plans to see many of our Native friends. While there I’ll be covering the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. As well, we’ll be hiking the Chilkoot Pass.

_____________

THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Kayaking Can Extend RV Adventures

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John McCain Votes to Preserve Arctic Refuge

posted: June 11th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Several days ago Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Arctic Refuge drilling amendment (the so-called “Directional Drilling” bill) was voted down, 13 to 10.  This bill, according to an Arctic Action news release, “would have cracked open the Arctic Refuge coastal plain to oil leasing and development and undermined the fundamental purposes of the refuge to preserve wilderness and wildlife.”  (For my stories on the refuge see: ANWR1, Mendacity, Role of Sarah James)

Sen. John McCain sustained his long-time support of keeping the Arctic Refuge a true Refuge!

Arctic Refuge

Arctic Refuge provides cotton grass--an essential food for caribou. This photo purchased from me for display at a Denali Visitor Center.

Obviously, there was a debate, at which time Sen. Murkowski insisted that there would be “no impacts” within the Refuge. Although she mentioned there would be winter seismic exploration, she failed to note that it would harm critical and threatened polar bear habitat.

We’re glad the refuge will remain a refuge.

PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR THANKS

Please join us in thanking these Senators who voted to keep the Arctic Refuge wild and free of drill rigs:

Chairman Jeff Bingamen (D-NM), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Time Johnson (D-SD), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Robert Mendendez (D-NJ), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

You can find their web form for e-mails here:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

______________________________________

THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*So You Rolled a Kayak

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A Baby Pelican’s Big Gulp

posted: June 10th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Pelicans in Montana? You betcha, and though not as abundant as the brown pelicans of Florida, still huge colonies of adult white pelicans seek out Montana, migrating from distant places in the South as well as from Mexico. In fact, they’re here right now, and they’re taking care of their young.

Most, but not all young pelicans have hatched, and when they do, they are helpless. An ornithologist would term this type of condition altricial, as opposed to those born perfectly capable of fending (at least somewhat) for themselves–or precocial. They need protection from predators and that’s one of the reasons adult white pelicans seek out specific types of islands, and those islands are found only in the vast prairies of western North America. Some of the best are found in Montana.

FLAT TREELESS ISLANDS

Adult white pelicans seek small isolated islands that are flat, devoid of vegetation and that are surrounded by large bodies of water. What they need is isolation from coyotes, foxes, raccoon and other similar types of predators.

In Montana, there are but few remaining and most are all found on national wildlife refuges, such as Bowdoin. There is also a huge colony on the Molly Islands in a remote region of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

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Deep inside the gular pouch a young pelican takes a big gulp of food brought back by one of its parents.

Conditions such as just describe are mandatory for the survival of pelican young, which are born naked, incapable of foraging for themselves, and certainly not capable of protecting themselves through flight. By contrasts, precocial birds, such as the avocet, are pretty much capable of taking care of themselves. When hatched, they have feathers and are born with their eyes open–or soon to be opened.

BIG GULP

If you could visit one of these islands what you’d see is pretty much depicted in the accompanying photograph, i.e., a huge colony of white pelicans. And scattered here and there you’d see young pelicans trying to suck out food from the adult’s gular pouch. In other words, you’d see these young birds trying to nourish by inserting their heads as far into the parent’s throat as it will allow.

In other words, you’d see them trying to take the big gulp.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

Photo taken on remote island in eastern Montana from inside a blind and over a several day period of time. Much waiting involved as well as the use of a long telephoto lens (600mm). Long lenses necessary to eliminate stress on birds. It’s also necessary to arrive early in the day and depart late, again, so as to reduce stress on birds.

NEWS NOTES:


About 11 more days until departure for the ALCAN (Alaska-Canada Highway) which will take us to Fairbanks in our Airstream. Upon arrival we’ll be covering a number of events to include the World Eskimo Indian Olympics.


__________________________________________

THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*No Table Manners Among Turkey Vultures

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Hitch Weight, Tongue Weight, Trailer Weight and Other Arcane Parameters

posted: June 5th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This past year Janie and I talked to several people who have had bad experiences with tires and hitches. We’re included in that group and about a year ago I posted a blog on the difficulty we had with a cracked receiver. Before heading for Alaska, we want to make sure everything is loaded correctly.

Yet another Airstream user, Tom, related a story about the factory installed hitch on his Chevy, which had actually cracked and then fallen off. And now, just a few weeks ago, I took a tire into my local service man, and he said one of the tires was not wearing proper, and that perhaps we’ve over loaded the trailer. I don’t think so, but soon we’ll know for sure.

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NATURE CORNER: Live in the Northwest and now hearing a drumming in the woods that sounds like a motorboat? It's only the ruffed grouse, standing on a log, pounding out a warning, saying, in essence, "This is my territory; stay out!" High-speed strobes helped to arrest beat of wings.

With those concerns in mind, I’ve talked to a number of service people to determine if we might have any potential problems. Bottom line, it doesn’t appear that way, and here’s how we know.

FEEL SAFE

First, I made a visual examination of the factory hitch that came with our Dodge heavy duty ¾ ton pickup, and found nothing that should concern us. As well I called my Dodge dealer and the service people there said they had never “in their entire history” had a problem with a customer’s hitch. That makes me feel safe, but doesn’t mean I’ll stop making periodic inspections. After all, by inspection, we discovered the cracked stinger (link above), and that should never have happened.


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Captions for above, which you should click on to enlarge and to see techniques: Left, shows easy set up; middle shows scale and downward force of tongue but NOT the hidden support (which is actually the fulcrum); right, shows scale and uncalculated weight, which is obtained by multiplying shown weight of 200 by length of 4×4, which is actually 4 in my case. Diagram shows 3 feet from trailer jack, but that’s OK as instructions say to multiply scale weight by length of board from fulcrum to other end support, which is the scale.

Since that time, we’ve vastly upgraded and now have a Hensley Arrow Hitch and the heaviest duty arrangement they offer. However, because of the problems Tom had, he upgraded the Chevy receiver hitch by replacing number 5 bolts with number 8 bolts and having a welder reinforce factory welds with reinforced welds. He says he’ll now drive with peace of mind.

EASY PROCEDURE

After inspecting the factory hitch for weak areas, I, too, feel I can drive with peace of mind, but that’s because of my evaluation. I also wanted to know tongue weight, vehicle weight and the weight of the trailer, and I’ve just obtained one of those parameters. Using a technique outlined in the Airstream manual, I’ve determined tongue weight, and because I have yet to talk to anyone who has gone through this little exercise, thought I’d include photos, showing just how easy the procedure can be. You’ll need a 4-foot 4×4, two short pieces of heavy duty piping, scales and a piece of board about the thickness of your scales.

In the manual, Airstream says you can use a longer 4×4 then what they show in the above diagram, and that all one must do is multiply the board’s total length by the weight shown on your bathroom scales. They use a three-foot 4×4 while  I used a four-foot-long 4×4; otherwise everything shown in the diagram remained the same, meaning tongue weight for my Safari LS with slideout was 800 pounds, almost exactly, as shown above.

Before we depart for Alaska, and once we’re fully loaded, I plan to drive pickup and trailer to a weight station, and then I’ll know whether or not we are overloaded.

____________________________________________

THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Rolling a Kayak

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Guns Not This Person’s Choice; Might Consider Pepper Spray

posted: June 2nd, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Here’s another lengthy comment from a reader who preferred to remain anonymous. This person’s thoughts add yet another perspective on this subject of dealing with prospective violence in campgrounds. The subject is one I’ve been covering in the four postings prior to the one on Virgil Ware, and which has generated much interest. (Protective Measures, Ranger Patrol Turned Violent, Defensive Measures, More Thoughts on Hostile Behavior)

The individual’s comments read as follows:

I’ve been following your latest blogs with great interest.

After your first blog, I was bracing myself for a host of responses from others suggesting that the best way to “be secure” is to carry a gun or some other lethal weapon. I’m often asked by fellow campers whether we travel with some sort of weapon. These seem to be an ice- breaking statement made by people who have already chosen to pack heat. When I answer “No,” inevitably I’m told about their gun and why they carry it. They usually try to convince me to get a gun, too.

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Because of the importance I've placed on this issue of potential violence the other topics I often cover have been neglected... and I want you new readers to know that wildlife, natural history and adventure travel, generally with our Airstream--as seen through my photographic lens--is often the subject of my posts. To remedy: right now, here in Montana, blue grouse are now displaying for the females and attempting to stake out their territory. One good place to see this annual ritual is the Many Glacier Valley of GNP.

So I was pleasantly surprised at the opinions expressed by your contributors, who both talked about non-lethal ways to de-escalate a potential situation. In our years of travel, we never once encountered a situation in which anything truly threatening occurred.  Those few times that we were concerned, the “threat” was all in our minds. In my experience, campgrounds are generally safe places.

Many people would say we were just lucky, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. But it is also true that we prevented situations from occurring by being diligent in researching places before we went, aware of our surroundings when we arrived, and cautious about situations that popped up during our stay. Our Airstream has wheels, and there is no point in sitting still next to bad neighbors like a housebound person might. If in doubt, move on.

“GUNS NOT OUR CHOICE”

While several friends travel with lethal weapons (mostly handguns), that’s not our choice. As your first contributor points out, there are very few situations in which lethal force is necessary, and many more times where it would be a huge mistake. I don’t want the temptation to make a huge mistake sitting in my trailer. Experts also say that brandishing a weapon you don’t intend to use is a mistake as well.

PREFERS PEPPER SPRAY

On the other hand, I’m a fan of non-lethal defenses like pepper spray. We used to travel with a small can, but it got confiscated at the Canadian border during a trip. We should probably get a replacement.

Bill makes a good point as well. People’s impressions can be formed on scant detail: how you dress, who you’re with, what your trailer looks like. It is just as easy to form a positive impression as a negative one, and we always try to do that. Introducing yourself to neighbors is always a good idea. Being friendly and flying a flag tells people, “I’m not a threat,” and letting people know who you are often means they’ll look out for you.

I often see people who are their own worst enemies. They shun others, scowl into other people’s campsites, never smile, and generally give off the impression that they are unpleasant. Troublemakers looking to harass another camper will generally aim for the target that seems most deserving of abuse. Don’t be the grumpy guy who yells at people for crossing his site. Don’t be the couple that pretends they didn’t see your friendly wave as you walked by. Don’t grab the children and tell them to go back to the trailer just because somebody with a tattoo is in sight. If you act fearful, you may just attract that which you fear most.

Thanks for covering this topic.

NOTE: Continued contributions are welcome on this subject of violence in our campgrounds, but in the meantime we’ll be switching topics, moving on to plans for our upcoming trip to Alaska. There’s much preparation required and I’ll be discussing a bit of that in my next posting. We’ll be departing in about three weeks.

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THREE YEARS AGO AT THIS TIME:

*Training People To Watch Bears

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Artist Elizabeth Scism and the Legacy of Virgil Ware

posted: June 1st, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Experience shapes personality, and for me a particularly profound event occurred in 1967 when two girls were fatally mauled in a single night.  Because of my involvement in one of those tragedies, my thinking about certain aspects of park management was forever changed. It was something I was able to express in a magazine story written for Smithsonian Magazine.

Two other events have also impacted my thinking. One occurred just off the Natchez Trace in Oxford, Mississippi, and that was a trip I made to Ol’ Miss at the time when James Meredith, a black person, was seeking admission. His quest prompted riots and generated a form of hatred I had never experienced before.

ARTIST’S RESPONSE

There’s yet another experience, and that occurred on a lonely road just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. This event was particularly tragic, as it resulted in the death of a young black boy, Virgil Ware. Aside from his brother, I was the last person to see Virgil alive–and was there as he died. He’d been shot by two white boys filled with hate that so permeated the Birmingham area that violent day. Like the other two events, the tragedy became the subject of a blog, but unlike the other two postings, this story elicited response from an artist.

VirgilWare

Virgil Ware and the four little girls surrounding him died a tragic death in a single day in September of 1963. Artist/teacher Elizabeth Scism has preserved their memories in this haunting rendition.

Elizabeth Scism is an up-and-coming artist from Tennessee who teaches creative writing and American Literature. In her spare time she devotes time to the artistic rendition of people from the Civil Rights era. One of those is Virgil Ware.

Just why a relatively young artist has chosen to focus on men and woman from the Civil Rights period is something that may be more thoroughly revealed as time goes by. Regardless, Elizabeth has provided an insightful rendition of this young boy, killed when he was but 14.

GREAT PROMISE

Looking at her rendition, we see a young man with a strong face–one that appears to have been full of promise. Originally, Elizabeth told me that she had considered back-dropping him with a bicycle, for he had been riding on the handlebars as his brother peddled. But she changed her vision to one that included the four young girls killed that very same day. The girls had been in a church when the building was bombed, and to my way of thinking, her choice was a good one, for they all died from the same hostilities that characterized those times.

Elizabeth says that after searching the internet for hours she finally found a high-quality photo-collage of the four girls and that she decided to use that rather than the bike. She says she thought the bike might look bizarre–and that she “was more confident drawing faces anyway.” She goes on to say that one of her students gave her Photoshop and that she used the program to help her figure out what she wanted the final work to look like on the computer before she actually started drawing.

“Your question,” writes Scism, “about why I do this is that I am fascinated by faces… My heart also happens to go out to many of the people I’ve drawn, Virgil among them. He looks so vulnerable, like a little rabbit.”

Elizabeth says she hopes one day to have a showing of those impacted by the Civil Rights movement, and Janie and I wish her well. We think her subjects are poignant and are flattered she’d share one of her images with us. We think she’s onto a subject that matters still. For more on her work, go to Deviantart.

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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Denali National Park

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