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 October, 2009

Happy Halloween — We Have Just the Right Prescription to Make you Sleep and Sleep

posted: October 30th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Happy Halloween!

But who you may wonder is inside the trunk? Well, it could be one of my fishing buddies who consistently out fish me–and I concluded, well, enough is enough.

But whoever it is, we just wanted you to know that we are also thinking of YOU.

So make sure you stop by our house tonight. After all the excitement of Trick or Treating, we have just the PRESCRIPTION to assure that you will sleep and sleep and sleep…


Happy Halloween

HAPPY HALLOWEEN--Include us in your Trick or Treat route. We have just the handout to put you at rest


EAST COAST GOES ALL OUT

Though Halloween stirs the imagination of everyone, no where it seems does it manifest itself as it does in the East, and that includes places such as Nova Scotia, where we took in a very popular GRAVEYARD WALK. Everywhere we’ve traveled throughout the East in autumn, pumpkins, skeletons, and spider webs decorated front porches. Farms, in fact, are devoted to the production of oversize pumpkins, such as the one Griffin Polga is attempting to heft in one of the images shown below.


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CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION AND FOR A COMPLETE CAPTION

In Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Old Strubridge Village produces huge pumpkins as well it decorates the front lawn of civic buildings, while residents follow suit.

But then there’s the Connelly family in New Jersey along Shades of Death Road and they take Halloween to dazzling heights. For many years they’ve been hosting an annual Halloween party, and each year the celebration just gets better and better.

HAND CREEP ACROSS THE FLOOR

Two years ago their entire double garage was walled off in black paper. Suspended from the ceiling were complete skeletons-or structures that appeared to be skeletons. On the floor a battery-operated hand crept across the cement, while in one particularly dark corner hung yet another skeleton, and when you passed, it began to speak.


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CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO SEE A LARGER VERSION AND FOR A COMPLETE CAPTION

 

Over 70 people attended, presumably to help the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year find a living body that they might possess. Originally, that was a big part of the reason for celebrating Halloween in such a bizarre way.

So how will we celebrate it here in Montana? Stop by, we’d be ever so happy to show you. We have just the right PRESCRIPTION to put you at rest.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Learning From the Acadians and Their Tragic Deportation


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Many Glacier’s Magnificent Moose

posted: October 26th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: “They’re coming after me,” hollered Janie, referring to two calf moose now trotting up a game trail adjacent to Fisher Cap Lake in Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Valley.


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Mountains, rivers and ponds of the Many Glacier Valley provide haven for wildlife.


That was last week, so obviously Janie survived, but not without a few moments of consternation.  But at this time of the year you always expect something — the reason why we generally always find ourselves towing our our Airstream travel trailer to the park’s east side in October. There’s a sense of adventure and beauty is everywhere. Typically, snow caps the mountains engulfing the valley and this year was no different. And, as usual we rediscovered what a wildlife haven this area can be.

During our three-day stay we encountered a grizzly bear, saw sheep and goats – and were now seeing a family of moose, albeit much, much too close. That was not something we had hoped for, for mother moose can be very protective of their young. That thought kept Janie on edge, and she later told me she expected the old cow to charge out of the bush. Meanwhile, it looked like these two young calves — probably weighing about 250 each — wanted to adopt her.

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One of the two calf moose that preferred Janie's company more than that of its mother.

Earlier in the day, we’d made the mile hike from the campground to Fisher Cap, and immediately had seen a family of moose on the lake’s far side.

Our companions included three Idaho-based photographers, and we were all anxious to capitalize on the opportunity.

AND THE FAMILY MOVED CLOSER – AND THEN CLOSER

All of us had long lenses, but nevertheless wanted to be a little closer so we hiked a small trail that took us to the upper end of the lake. The family saw us, but continued moving in our direction, so we settled in and waited.

Over the next half hour the family moved closer and then closer, feeding as they approached. Back dropping us was Grinnell Point, a huge monolith covered with a fresh dusting of snow, and the incredibly sky, which was a dark blue but blocked up here and there by threatening clouds of snow.

Oblivious to our presence, the three moose continued feeding (Also see Moose feeding techniques), inserting their heads through a layer of mush ice and into the water, where they’d feed off the bottom of the lake. When they lifted their heads, often they’d hold huge chunks of vegetation in their mouths. Heads were wet, and streams of water cascaded down their long noses in parallel rivulets. Sometimes slivers of ice clung to their ears.

PERHAPS WE SHOULD MOVE

We continued with our photography of the family’s feeding routine, until the cow, quite inexplicably, decided she wanted to move further along the lake’s shore toward us — but wanted to use our trail. Prudently, we elected to move, and soon joined Janie who was waiting along the shoreline, but further down the lake.

Though there were now five of us, the cow moose continued to advance. We moved up the hill and quickly the cow trotted by, but not so the two young calves, who for some reason proceeded directly toward Janie… their new mother?

None of us could figure out why the calves felt such an attraction for Janie, but Todd, who was closest, jumped in front of the pair and waved his arms. That sent them back toward the lake shore and as they went, we could hear them calling for their biological mother.


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For the most part, this family of moose at Fisher Cap Lake grazed on, oblivious to our presence.



Fifteen minutes later we returned to the shore of Fisher Cap and saw that the group had reunited. Though the family was still close, we put our cameras up and sat there and simply watched, concluding that simply watching can sometimes be quite rewarding, particularly in a place as beautiful as Glacier’s Many Glacier Valley — and where affections seem misdirected.


________________


THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Reflections –  West Point

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Glacier’s Grizzly Bears Now Ready to Hibernate

posted: October 19th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: The trail to Iceberg Lake accessed from the Many Glacier Valley in Glacier National Park is steep and winding and in places is flanked by timber that is dense. When the wind is blowing (as it was two days ago), voices are muted and apparently difficult to detect, even by an animal with a fairly good sense of hearing.

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Fat as stuffed pigs, bears in Glacier's Many Glacier Valley appear ready to hibernate.

For those reasons, and because the wind was blowing hard toward us, it should not have been a huge surprise to see, just 30 yards away, a gigantic grizzly bear coming toward us. Todd Campbell of Boise, Idaho, was leading our small group, and when he saw the bear he backed around the corner, turned, and said so all could hear: “There’s a grizzly bear just ahead.”

Art, another person in our group, responded, saying he’d dig out the binoculars. “No, no,” said Todd, raising his voice. “It’s right here. Use them and all you’ll be seeing is fur!”

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Actually, we were searching for sheep and goats, but found a beautiful bear.

By then, Art, Jack and I had all gotten the message, and we scurried to a knoll that was adjacent to the trail. Quickly we unholstered our bear spray, which all in our group of four were carrying, and stood ready for whatever fate might have in store. Simultaneously, Todd and I also set up our camera gear and it was then the grizzly bear appeared from the trees, still at about a distance of about 30 yard. We know that as we later paced off the distance.

ROLLS OF FAT

The bear was not in the least concerned about our presence, though it appeared as though he (we assumed because of its size) was simply looking for some last tidbits of food before entering hibernation. Perhaps some roots, as the berries were all gone.

Certainly he was well fed, something you could see as you looked at the fat engulfing its neck. When it moved, you could literally see the rolls of fat that rippled in wave-like fashion down its entire body.

And then there was his distended stomach, which almost touched the snow.

The bear studied us for a few minutes, and then turned broadside. Slowly it began moving up the side of the steep hill. Where it was bound, we had no idea, but later in the day, we learned exactly where it was going.

The bear was obviously about ready to hibernate, and from the various materials I’ve published on bears over the years know a little something about the incredible physiological process that is involved.

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Curiosity satisfied, the grizzly bear soon turned.

In this part of the country bears begin to hibernate about the first of November. And the type of terrain they seek is precisely the area in which we were walking. Here in the Many Glacier area, where Janie and I were now camped in our Airstream and our photographer friends in their motorhome, it is the same area that sheep and goats occupy; and as we hiked, we counted dozens of each high above us in cliff faces. Here’s the terrain bears often seek when they are about ready to den up for their long winter sleep.

NOT TRUE HIBERNATORS

Actually, bears are not true hibernators, for their body temperatures remain near normal, unlike that of the marmot, a true hibernator, whose body temperature almost drops to freezing. Breathing and heart rate, however, do slow and for about three months bears will exist without any food or water. Nor will bears defecate or urinate, and normally, this would mean a build up of nitrogenous wastes, which would poison the urinary system.

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It's fall, and eveything seems bent on gorging itself, as did this Bohemian Waxwing.

Bears solve that problem by diverting nitrogen from pathways that synthesize urea and toward those that generate amino acids and new proteins. And so life continues for three to four months, something we all marveled about throughout the day.

After our bear departed into the unknown we continued hiking for about another hour, discussing at times the amazing ways in which animals have adapted to their environments.

But the snows of several days ago became too deep, and we soon turned and began retracing our route, stopping at times to photograph other subjects.

We found a Bohemian waxwing chowing down on snow berries. Periodically we also scoped the hills hoping to find sheep and goats close enough to the trail so that we could approach following a climb.

IT’S COMING TOWARD YOU

We found such a group and Todd and I decided to try our luck, and began a steep quarter of a mile climb, spreading out a bit. About half an hour later we approached a band of goats and that’s when Todd alerted me. “Bert! Bert! Watch out,” he hollered above the wind. “There’s that grizzly and it’s coming toward you.”

Indeed the bear was moving our direction, but only because it was trying to put distance between us and needed to circle around a cliff, which he quickly did.

And then we began studying the terrain, and we concluded that the area might be the precise area in which our bear would soon be settling in for a long winter sleep, for the mountain side had all the desirable features.

Here was an area located up high and where snow accumulations would be deep. We glassed the area with binoculars and it seemed as though we could see an opening to what might have been a small cave. If so, this might be the bear’s denning chamber – its winter bedroom.

But we’d never know about these specific, and decided it would be prudent to return to the trail and then head back to our campers. The goats had gone, spooked most likely by the bear which had headed in their direction. But what a day it had been for, and we all felt humbled to see this mightiest of all creatures that walks these majestic mountains. As an omnivore the animal is at the top of the biological pyramid. It’s huge, and In Glacier a large bear might weigh in at over 500 pounds. Because of its size and temperament, it fears nothing. Nevertheless, it has for the most part — perhaps at times with a little help from the Park Service — learned  to respect man.  That’s not always the case, but it is often enough so that people who elect to hike this beautiful valley can do so knowing their odds for peaceful co-existence are pretty darn good.

If that’s your desire, this is a good time to camp in the Many Glacier Valley, where the bears are so fat it seems they can hardly walk, much less run.  That, of course, is a fallacy!

 

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Stomach distended, this immense grizzly bear appears ready for little more than a long winter's nap.

NOTE: Janie and I camped for four days with our photographer friends, returning just last night. We also saw moose, and our experiences with them was just as interesting as were those with this  bear. Our next post will concern those experiences.

 

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TWO YEARS AGO AT THIS TIME:

*Bannack, Montana

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Glacier National Park’s Kintla Lake

posted: October 14th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Four years ago I posted a blog about Lyle Ruterbories, a man who has served since 1994 as a ranger at Glacier National Park’s Kintla Ranger Station. Because there are few amenities, that’s no mean feat even for a young man.

Kintla Ranger Station has no running water, no telephone and no electricity. Located just a few miles from Canada, it is the most northern of any border ranger station in the U.S. — and it is remote! You reach it only after driving a series of dirt and gravel roads to Polebridge, Montana, and then by driving yet another 15 miles along a rutted road to the ranger station. But because of its beauty, many do make the drive.

ANOTHER MILESTONE

For all those reasons, the story of a ranger at Kintla might interest many, but what has made my post of several years ago particularly popular is that Lyle is an octogenarian, though not for long. This coming February Lyle will turn 90, the same year Glacier turns 100. As a result, I wanted to catch Lyle before he signed off for the season, which I did just this past Monday.

BRUTAL WEATHER

Though it was the man’s last day – and despite the fact that temperatures that morning had registered -8°F – still Lyle agreed to give me a little time. I wish he and I could have spent the day, but I was happy for the chance to visit again with the man so many have come to admire.


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Early morning October 12, 2009 at Glacier National Park's remote Kintla Lake, where nearby weather station reported low of -7 degrees F.


I’ll be providing an update about Lyle in a week or so. In the meantime, here’s a look at the way Kintla Lake appeared about 10 a.m. October 12th. The ranger station is just out of the photo to the right and is one at which I also worked, though that was back in the 1960s, when I was in college.

Many chances have occurred since my days there, but not the beauty (see kayaking Kintla) so well protected by Lyle. As we departed, Lyle said he would be back next May, and as I watched him scurry around I had no doubt.

NOTE: For the next five to six days we’ll be in Glacier and presume access to the Internet will be limited.


__________________________________________________


THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Mississippi Burned and I Saw It


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Airstream, And Our 100,000 Miles On the Road

posted: October 11th, 2009 | by:Bert

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LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN. The Italian fashion magazine IO Donna paid Janie and me a very substantial day rate for posing models with our Airstream.

©Bert Gildart: With the odometer on our 2004 Dodge Diesel engine about to push past the 100,000 mile mark, and our second Airstream logging in half that number of miles, it seems like a retrospection of our travels as Airstream enthusiasts might be in order. Pictures you see here are from all corners of North America and if you want a precise location, click on each image and that will link you to a larger version and to an extended photo caption.

For the past seven years Janie and I have been on the road, searching for stories, many of which have appeared in RV magazines, such as Airstream Life and those produced by the Affinity Group.

Others have appeared in publications that produce conservation stories such as The Wilderness Association, Christian Science Monitor, Native Peoples Magazine, National Wildlife. As well, we’ve written a number of books for Falcon Press and other publishers. To say that we cherish the lifestyle is an understatement. WE LOVE LIFE ON THE ROAD.

ARMY BRATS

Both Janie and I are army brats so it is safe to say we came by our nomadic makeup honestly. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had traveled in most of the European countries and many of the states in the U.S. and have never grown tired of the lifestyle.

When Charles Kuralt was alive I tuned into his “On The Road” each Sunday morning, always lusting for his way of life. And, of course, we read works by some of our favorite authors and took much of what they had to say to heart. For instance, Robert Louis Stevenson once observed:

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

That’s a fairly accurate summation of our penchants, but I would add that we also like to get something out of our travels, and that comes from reflecting at night about what we’ve seen – and also from the many people we’ve met. And that’s something easy to do with an Airstream: No matter where we are, people want to know how we like our trailer, and many ask if they can take a peak inside.


PEOPLE WE’VE MET — A FEW BUMPY ROADS

We’ve met wonderful people in the course of our travels. In Quebec we met a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman in Old Quebec City who before retiring and purchasing a 34-foot Classic had ventured to Old Crow and some of the other remote areas Janie and I traveled to in the Yukon Territory by boat. Amazing to us how people who own Airstreams always seem to have been afflicted by the adventure bug.


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L to R: National Parks around the country: Mojave National Preserve, Shenandoah, Apostle Islands National Lake Shore, Cabot Drive.


We met a couple from Maine whose doctor told him his outlook for the future was not good, so he purchased an Airstream and is now touring the country. Thankfully, the doctor has backed off on his first assessment.

Some of our excursions have taken us to places we never intended to go. Once, while trying to find the retirement home in which my dad lived we were skirting Washington D.C. and took a wrong turn.  Our mistake took us along River Side Road, and eventually down Massachusetts Road and around several traffic circles — all during rush hour. Try pulling an Airstream there!

Eventually, we arrived at Knollwood, a military retirement home near Rock Creek Park in the Capitol City, and because we were there to help my dad, managers allowed us to set up in their rather exclusive parking lot. But then, why not?


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L to R: Pumpkins, Aerial of Airstream Convention, Natchez Trace, Oregon Pipe National Monument

On the other side of the continent, in Kenniwick, Washington, once Janie had to be hospitalized, and doctors there said they had a special place all picked out for people in our situation. Janie said that being able to look out the hospital window and see the Airstream was very reassuring.


BLOGS AN OUTGROWTH OF TRAVEL

Since 2006 we’ve been posting blogs about our Airstream travels and those blogs have covered Alaska, Canada — to include the Maritimesall four corners of the United States and dozens of destinations in between. Making short forays from our trailer we’ve watched as the sun’s first rays touched Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park; met Secretary of Interior Gayle Norton just after she dedicated the new Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield; visited the Dry Tortugas south of Key West, Florida; watched whales in Nova Scotia; traveled the Alaska Highway. Last year the Italian fashion magazine, IO Donna, paid us a day rate of over $500 so that they could pose models in front of our trailer. Andrea, the photographer, said “Airstreams have cachet.”


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Out-of-the-way-places. L to R: Natchez Trace National Parkway, Padre Island, Dawson City, Jasper National Park.

Since owning our Airstream we’ve traveled to every state except Hawaii, meaning we may at times have lived more by Robert Louis Stevenson’s observation then we should have. And that brings to mind another travel quote, which I found in James Michener’s book, The Drifter. Wrote Michener:

“The fool wanders, the wise man travels.” Now that’s something I want to think about.

We bought our first Airstream in 2002, a 25-foot Safari which we kept for two years. We sold it because we soon realized we needed something a little larger to facilitate work, so we traded up to a 28-foot Safari with slideout. For us, it has proven ideal and were sorry to learn that the model was discontinued as it seems so perfect. In one corner, there’s a fold-up table and I use it as an office. To make it work a little better, I added an inverter into the electrical system above my head so that I can work with or without hookups, the later of which we try and avoid.

EQUIPMENT

Because the outdoor is our beat, we carry kayaks, bicycles, backpacks and day packs. And because we travel so much and want to do so under the safest of conditions, we added a Hensley Hitch, which has absolutely eliminated all sway. In fact, once as we were approaching Glacier National Park from the east, we found ourselves in a brutal windstorm. Gusts, we later learned, had been blasting us at 70 mph. Still, there was no sway, but that’s not to say we weren’t looking for shelter, which we found behind the barn of a most gracious member of the Blackfeet Indian tribe in Browning, Montana. The man even offered to hook us up. “Like your trailer,” said the man.


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Travels can all season and extreme places. L to R: Minnesota produce big fish, winter in Yellowstone, New Brunswick covered bridge, Out Banks of North Carolina.

Airstreams have been our homes for about 9/12th of each year (we’re not quite full-timers) and we have had only a few minor complaints, and not all of them derived from our Airstream. For instance, we bought a Dodge ¾ ton and with the Cummings Diesel engine it is wonderfully powered for our needs. Pulling an Airstream we get about 15 miles per gallon, driving about 60, meaning that the combination might be good for those who think Green.

Beware, however, if you buy a Dodge, and note that the wheels stick out beyond the vehicle’s body. If you don’t want dings on your trailer, purchase the aftermarket wheel flares, your first line of defense against flying rocks. As a second line, add a solid mud flap that stretches down from the rear bumper the width of the rear tires and almost touches the ground.

AIRSTREAM COMPLAINTS? MAYBE ONE

But all Airstreams have a small but easily remedied construction problem. When driving on gravel roads (unavoidable as much as we travel) rocks kick up and will invariably break the petcock controlling water in your fresh-water storage tank. Initially, we had that problem but an RV dealer corrected the situation by building a small shroud that hinged around the petcock. When we bought our second, we had the dealer duplicate the shroud installed on the first. I mention the condition as we’ve met so many others in the course of our travels who were not so protected and found themselves without water. They were grateful to learn about our remedy.


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Family camping and Waiting out a Storm: L to R: Flathead Valley, January at Montana’s Monida Pass.

 

Recently we’ve attended to a number of normal maintenance concerns. We purchased new tires for the Airstream, had brakes repaired and replaced, had our truck thoroughly checked out and believe we’re ready for our next 100,000 miles. Though we’ve covered so much, there is so much more to see. America is a big place. Thoreau never ventured far from his Walden Pond because he felt he had not learned all his area had to offer. That’s a good philosophy, particularly in these new times, and we may take some of his advice and apply it to our travels.

In so doing, we may also listen to Charles Kuralt.

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System,” said the veteran traveler, “it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.”

Because we so thoroughly enjoy visiting national parks, we’ll apply his advice and spend less time driving and more time at each of the many areas that have so inspired us. That should work, for with our Airstream we have a mini apartment, and find that we can be comfortable in the snows of Yellowstone in the winter and heat of Death Valley in the spring.

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"And here's to the next 100,000 miles."


And now, in about a month, we’ll be striking out, gathering, among other things, images for our next 100,000 mile retrospective on Airstream travel, which you should expect to see several years down the road.

___________________

 

TWO YEARS AGO AT THIS TIME:

*The Raven, My Good Luck Bird

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Chicken Gold Camp and Mike Busby’s Historic Pedro Dredge

posted: October 5th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Over the years of exploring Alaska Janie and I have met a number of people who have managed to forge a life in some of the state’s most unlikely areas. One such settlement is Chicken, and not just anyone could have succeeded here; but forty years ago Mike Busby began generating experiences that would enable him to establish his “Chicken Gold Camp.”

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Chicken Gold Camp and Mike Busby's historic Pedro Dredge

Located about 70 miles along the remote Taylor Highway from Tok, Alaska, Janie and I parked our Airstream at his RV park and can now say that we could have spent the summer and not done it all. As it was, we camped a week — panning for gold and enjoying several tours of his Pedro Dredge, which is now on the National Historic Register. We photographed moose, biked and hiked, and we ate Lou’s (Mike’s wife) delicious homemade meals at their “Outpost.”

We listened to stories of how this improbable business came to be – and a little about how Mike Busby “came into the country.”

BACKGROUND OF ADVENTURE

Mike has always loved the outdoors as is apparent from his early background in Colorado. In 1972, after spending a couple years enrolled at CSU, he signed up with National Outdoor Leadership School for a 35 day kayaking trip of Prince William Sound in Alaska.

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Probably more moose are "shot" now with a camera than with a gun, but once moose meat was a much needed part of a miner's diet.

In September, he hitched back to Colorado to return to CSU but after one semester left for a NOLS winter mountaineering course in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. He stayed on and became an instructor. The following winter, tragedy struck on an attempted ascent of the Grand Teton and a massive snow slide killed three people, one a good friend. Saddened by the deaths, several months later Mike escaped to Alaska, traveling up what was then a rutted, twisty, snow-packed Alcan Highway arriving in Fairbanks at Thanksgiving amidst the Alaska pipeline boom.

Having no interest in living in construction camps, he enrolled at the University of Alaska (we toured it this summer) to continue his studies in anthropology which provided an opportunity to participate in a bowhead whale study in the Eskimo village of Point Hope.

Upon completion of the study, Mike joined two fellow researchers to float the Fortymile and Yukon Rivers from Chicken to Eagle. Upon returning to Fairbanks and the university, he ran into a close friend, Professor Ernie Wolfe, who convinced Mike to accompany him to a placer mine in the Circle District for which he was consulting. The lust for gold and lure of outdoor adventures grabbed hold and he worked in several gold camps from the Brooks Range to the Yukon Territory.

During the winter he would drive back to Colorado to visit family and friends always to return before spring. One cold trip north in December was made in a ragtop Jeep with his sidekick “Kutchin,” a Great Pyranees who provided more windshield frosting than the defroster could keep up with, so most of the trip was made with an ice scraper in gloved hand. In 1978, Mike returned to Colorado, and in December of that year he married Lou.

One month later the couple loaded their possessions in the back of a 1975 Ford truck and trailer and, again, struck out for Alaska along the winter Alcan. This man you might say is either stubborn or he’s determined!

GOING INTO THE COUNTRY

In those days, travel along the Alcan was slow and their timing as he recalled, wasn’t the best. “We hit Tok, Alaska, in February,” recalls Mike, “and that’s often the season’s coldest month. Temperatures dropped to 50 and 60 below but the endless winds made it seem 120 below.”


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CLICK TO SEE ENLARGED VERSION AND MORE INFORMATION. L to R: Gary and grandson Josh mined enough gold on Meyers Fork to pay for a year of college; example of month’s take; Gene Gildart shows his yield.

Destination was Homer, Alaska, where he had built a cabin. After settling in for a week, the two newlyweds were off chasing gold stories from one prospector’s cabin to another across the state in search of a possible prospect of their own. “At the time,” said Mike, “we lived in back of a topper – and that was really an experience. Cold, that’s what I remember most, the cold.”

Later that winter, at the instigation of Professor Wolfe (his mining mentor), Mike began work on Willow Creek, which is 30 miles west of Chicken. At times, he hunted, and moose and caribou formed a portion of their diet.

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CLICK TO SEE ENLARGED VERSION AND MORE INFORMATION: L to R: From control room, Mike explains how levers function to control buckets and the gross movements of the dredge; old tools of the trade symbolize 75 years of toil; evanescent fire weed contrasts with historic structure that continues to endure the seasons.

Fast forward now a few more years, and with a background of mining and outdoor recreation and the addition of two children, we find that Mike has made several mineral purchases and, then, a little later, launched full scale into his Chicken Creek Gold Camp mining business, which contains several components. For those who want something quick, we found you can pan at stand-up troughs with pay dirt provided from his operation adjoining the RV park.

If you want something more promising, but which requires more effort, visit Myers Fork. That’s what we did and as reported previously, we found a little gold and learned how the area has treated Gene Gildart, a distant relative. As well Mike offers shuttle services for river adventures and if kayaking and canoeing are of interest, this is the man you’ve gotta’ visit.

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As Mike says, "The Pedro Dredge is the most complete bucket line dredge in Alaska, and maybe North America." It's on the National Historic Register.

In fact, we’ll be staying in touch with Mike as his adventures on the Forty Mile sound outstanding. Want to catch fish; or watch moose along the banks? Chicken and the surrounding wilderness sound like the perfect place to stake a claim. But just wait ‘till winter when the summer population of hundreds drops to about seven. That’s when you’ll really learn about yourself – and what it takes to come into the country.

PEDRO DREDGE

Most conspicuous of Mike’s investments is his Pedro Dredge, which now helps to recount a significant aspect of Alaska’s gold mining heritage. As Mike says, “It’s the most complete bucket line gold dredge in Alaska and perhaps North America.”

We joined one of Mike’s tours and soon learned the huge old structure was originally owned by the Fairbanks Exploration Company, and shipped to Pedro Creek north of Fairbanks in 1938, where it operated until 1958. The following year it was disassembled, trucked to Chicken over an old dirt road, and then reassembled. Here, two to three men operated the huge 500-ton dredge until October 1967, at which time “it produced its final cleanup.”

For 31 years this “tired old workhorse” sat idle, but in 1998 Mike and his partner bought the Pedro Dredge and moved it to its present location at the Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost, where the dredge was quickly recognized as one of the state’s more significant artifacts from the mining era.  In 2006 Mike held a Grand Opening of the Pedro Dredge and the same year the dredge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, rounding out some of his major business objectives.

You can access the Chicken Creek Gold Camp from the Taylor Highway from Tok, Alaska, or by departing Dawson City in the Yukon Territory and then driving over the Top of the World Highway. That’s another adventure, one we’ve reported on, and which serves to reinforce the notion that this is a remote part of the world requiring a special type of person to succeed.

Certainly Mike and Lou and their Chicken Gold Camp fill the bill, for they’ve not only come into the country, but they’ve stayed in the country.

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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Natchez Trace National Parkway

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