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, 2010

Retrospective on Glacier’s First Fatal Maulings To Air Soon

posted: April 29th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: OK, it’s official! On May 17th Montana Public TV will air a “Night of the Grizzlies” retrospective.

As many may recall, 43 years ago on August 13, 1967, two young women were fatally mauled, one at Granite Park Chalet, the other, at Trout Lake. A huge mountain range separated the two incidents as did about eight linear miles, making it impossible for the same grizzly bears to have been involved in both tragedies. However, conditions at both sites were similar in that the bears had been habituated to people by the presence of garbage.

GARBAGE THE CULPRIT

At Granite Park Chalet, managers were intentionally disposing of garbage immediately behind the rustic stone building, doing so to attract grizzly bears. Unfortunately, the route the bears followed to the chalet passed directly through the Granite Park Chalet campground, and on that horrible night, the route led directly to where a young woman was camped.


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By virtue of backcountry neglect, once Glacier's grizzlies dined sumptuously on garbage. Generally, it was unintentional, but not always.

 


At Trout Lake campers had been disposing of excess food or food they couldn’t eat, creating odors that also attracted bears. Much the same had happened at other park campgrounds, but the conditions were particular serious at this beautiful site because it also happened to be some of the park’s best bear habitat.

As a young ranger in the park, I was involved with the two incidents, tangentially at Granite Park Chalet, and personally at Trout Lake. At Granite Park Chalet, I heard the call for help over the radio as I was shuttling a huge CAT over Logan Pass. It was about midnight and I was on road patrol, and the radio pack set at the chalet was apparently too small for effective transmission. From my patrol car (I was working that summer as a road patrol ranger) I relayed the message to headquarters.

ANOTHER MAULING?

The next morning I was astounded when Norman Hagen, another ranger, pounded on my door and said that I must hightail it to Trout Lake, for there had apparently been another bear mauling.

In previous posts I’ve reported on my involvement, and much of this will be replayed May 17th.   But Montana Public TV interviewed everyone involved, and there were many others; and some played particularly significant roles. There was a doctor, a helicopter pilot, and a ranger stationed at Granite Park. There were hikers who had accompanied the victims, and tried — after the mauling — to do what they could. There was Leonard Landa, a ranger and my partner in tracking down and disposing of the bear. There was a minister at Granite Park, who provided comfort…

I believe the TV company found most all these people, so the reporting promises to be thorough. Gus Chambers, one of the program’s film makers, tells me that they have also recreated many of the scenes using actors, so I will be anxious to see how this comes off. (Did they choose Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp to portray me?)

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Today, upon encountering people, MOST bears in Glacier prefer to go another way.


Gus says he will soon known the URL for an Internet “streamed” version and that he will share it when it is final. That means people all over the world can watch the program on their home computers. I’m excited as I believe the program will dispel many myths.

100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Presumably, because the program is airing on the 100 year anniversary of Glacier National Park there will also be some retrospective on what conditions were like in 1967, and what they are like now. At the time, after finding the body of one of the young women, I had to wonder why we needed bears in Glacier, but my thoughts have changed. They’ve changed because these magnificent beasts are no longer habituated to garbage, and that means your chances of encountering a grizzly bear are really very, very small.

Put another way, you are probably safer hiking the trails of Glacier than you are driving through the Flathead Valley to the park’s various entrance stations. In other words, you are forewarned about inherent problems, and you can certainly elect to remain off the trails; but then you’d be missing a lot. Though there are problems sometimes, park rangers and managers have learned much over the past four decades and are doing a good job today of “Keeping Glacier’s Grizzly Bears Wild.”


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THIS TIME LAST YEAR

Poke Salad


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In Montana’s Flathead Valley, Osprey Now Nesting

posted: April 26th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Montana’s Flathead Valley has a huge population of osprey, and right now they are in the process of building nests. Mostly we see them on the top of telephone poles, but every now and then friends tell me of a nest they’ve found. Generally, they’ve discovered a pair nesting in a tree somewhere along Flathead Lake, which was the case with this one.

To photograph the bird, you must have a long lens, as ospreys are not very tolerant, and here I used a 600mm lens mounted on a D300 Nikon Camera.

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Osprey now nesting in Montana's Flathead Valley, just south of Glacier National Park.

 


Osprey are unique in that they are one of the two raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing it to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. Owls also have this characteristic.

Osprey are fairly common throughout the United States, and I’ve also photographed them in Florida’s Everglades National Park, which is a paradise for those with an interest in natural history.

At the moment Janie and I are preparing to attend an outdoor conference to be held about 70 miles south of our home at a place called Seely Lake. The conference brings outdoor communicators together from all over the Northwest. Each year we look forward to the gathering as we’ve made many good friends and now try to see many throughout the year on a social basis. However, we don’t see them often enough, so this provides a chance to catch up.

SOCIAL YES, BUT ALSO MUCH BUSINESS

While at the conference, we’ll all be attending seminars on writing and photography. We’ll meet editors and be will be introduced to outdoor men and women who would like to see some aspect of their business promoted. Some, for instance, want to see their outfitting business promoted, others their rafting business. Some would like to attract more tourists to their lodge, dining facility and what have you. The conference also provides a grand way to network and obviously to gather story ideas.

Though most will be staying in the posh lodge, Janie and I will be pulling our Airstream to a campground in the immediate vicinity. Not only does it save us money, but we’ve simply come to prefer the comforts of all that our trailer has to offer. Most likely we’ll be joined by others similarly motivated.


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THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

*Natchez Trace

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Skunk Cabbage Is A Stinky Spring Harbinger

posted: April 23rd, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Along the country road where we sometimes live when not traveling in our Airstream (we’re not full timers, only 9/12-ers),  in places there’s the persistent but faint odor of skunk. But the source is not animal, rather it is vegetable.

We see the plant every year in late April and in this part of the country we see it in wooded areas where water tends to collect. Such areas may be small, but they are always swampy, not it might seem, particularly inviting for the creation of colorful plants. But look again.

SkunkCabbage

Now rearing its head from swampy wooded areas along Montana's Flathead River, Skunk Cabbage is a stinky spring harbinger.

 

Rearing from the pools of dark water are foot-high rows of a plant having light green leaves and now producing a brilliant yellow blossom.

Appropriately, the species is known as skunk cabbage, and it truly is one of nature’s more interesting plants. Its presence (along with balsam root and grouse) also means that spring has arrived. For reasons that should be apparent by looking at the images posted here, the plant is also known as “Swamp Lantern.”

INDIGENOUS USES

In days of old the plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and for food in times of famine, when almost all parts were eaten.

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For reasons that should be obvious, Skunk Cabbage is also known as "Swamp Lantern."

The leaves, according to one writer who apparently was in the know, have a somewhat spicy or peppery taste.

Some of the taste might result from the presence of the calcium oxalate crystals contained in the leaves, a substance that produces “a gruesome prickling sensation on the tongue and throat.”

In various forms the plant is found throughout the north and if you stumble across it you will note its large, waxy leaves, which were also important to Native Americans in the preparation of food and in its storage.

Leaves were used to line berry baskets and several writers say they were used to wrap around whole salmon and other foods before placing them under a fire for baking.

The plant is also eaten by bears, who eat it after hibernating. Apparently it works for them as a laxative.

PHOTO TECHNIQUES

Yesterday, when I photographed the plant, I accessed the swampy area after a two mile ride north on my bike. In addition to appropriate camera equipment, I also carried a tarp for lying on the wet spongy ground.

The day was overcast and provided the ideal condition for preserving detail in areas often blocked up on sunny days. For depth of field, I used a long time exposure and a small aperture, probably f-22.

In this part of the country skunk cabbage is always one of the first plants to bloom, meaning that it is also one of the harbingers of spring, albeit a stinky one!


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Earth Mother



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Frustrations And Some Sadness Accompany Our Return Home

posted: April 19th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: We’ve been home for almost a week, but have been so swamped with problems and sad news that we’ve had no time for postings.

For starters, just after backing our Airstream into its protective shed, we opened the slider to facilitate unpacking. No problem – not until I attempted to close it. Half way in I got diverted by a telephone call. When I returned I hit the wrong switch, the one activating the paddle latches, the latches that, when engaged, prevent the slider from bouncing free as one is traveling. Though I’ve made that mistake before, this time it caused the slider to freeze, and no amount of cajoling would close it. That night I closed the slideout by going outside, removing the 10 screws that allow the hinged cover to swing down. Then, I used a wrench to crank (as Airstream directs) the shaft that manually moves the slide in our out.  It’s an emergency procedure, and took about 10 minutes.


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On my last posting web designer Tim Van Buren asked if I'd post a low-light image taken during my morning on the lek. Because of the very slow shutter speed, it's a bit fuzzy and is not one I would have shown but for Tim's request. 800 mm lenses amplify the slightest camera motion and that's what happened here. Still, the lighting, as Tim had suspected, was beautiful.

 

Next day (Monday) I called Airstream and they planted some ideas, but it wasn’t until I shared those ideas with my neighbor (far more sophisticated with electronics than am I) that the problem was resolved. Hutch discovered that in the recess created when the paddle latches are extended that there’s a tiny pin. The pin needs to make contact with another device (which it does when the paddle latches are closed) to complete the circuit. Though the mistake I made is a common one, one I’ve made before as have others, this time my mistake apparently caused a very slight bend in the pen, thus preventing it from making the connection. Once Hutch discovered the problem, the remedy was achieved by bending the pine just slightly, allowing, then,  the circuit to be completed.

TRANSMISSION WOES

The other frustrating news concerns our transmission, which also decided to go out on our return. Dodge makes an excellent diesel engine and is famous for its Cummings brand, but they paired it with a transmission that others have also had trouble with. I was aware of the potential but still, it’s a shock when Dodge repair people say you have three options as follows: One, repair the old transmission for $2,200; two, replace the transmission with a brand new one for $3,000-plus; three, replace the old transmission with a beefed up new transmission for $4,000-plus. We opted for the second option, but only after learning we might have to wait for several months for a beefed-up transmission.

Repair people say that in the future, they’re going to recommend we change transmission oil every 20,000 miles rather than the recommended 30,000. That’s because we use our vehicle for so much towing. They assure us we should get well over 300,000 on our Cummings engine, and hopefully a lot more out of this, our second transmission. Too bad, I told them they had not paired the Cummings with GMC’s Allison transmission, which has reputation as being of the same quality as the Cummings.

SADNESS

Finally, we returned home to discover that one of my older friends, Loren Kreck, had passed away. (Here’s a report from the Missoulian.) He was an icon in the valley. In World War II, he had been a young fighter pilot. Later, he had returned to dental school and then moved to the Flathead were he worked as an orthodontist. He was a member of The Wilderness Society and was active as skier. He was an avid canoeist and spent months traveling wilderness rivers in Canada. He was a senior hockey player as was Charles Schultz (author of Peanuts), whom he once played against.

Yesterday, we attended his memorial service and though sad, we saw many good friends — as Loren would have wanted. Many shared stories, and Doug Chadwick told a story about a month-long camping trip he made to a remote island off the coast of Baja, California. During the trip, Loren was bitten on the thumb by a bark scorpion. Absolutely no help was available so Loren did the only thing he could do. He got into his kayak and paddled with one arm for most of the day, dangling his arm in the salt water, which seem to cleanse.

Like everyone else, we’ll miss Loren, a man with whom Janie and I have cross-country skied and shared many a dinner, enjoying his  stories of adventure and his sense of humor –  good up to the last breath.  (Loren’s last meal was popcorn and a beer. )

On the flip side, the celebration brought together in one setting several hundred people, many of whom we seldom see.  As life-long friend Lou Bruno said, “Seems the only time we see all our friends is at funerals and at weddings. “


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

V-Bar-V Heritage Site

 

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Sage Grouse Lek Provides one Of Nation’s Greatest Birding Experiences

posted: April 12th, 2010 | by:Bert

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Dismantling blind after extremely successful day on Sage Grouse Lek.

©Bert Gildart: It’s pitch black and though we’re quiet, a herd of antelope senses our presence and tests the air with a whishhhh-ing sound. But when our response doesn’t satisfy the group it  gallops off into the pre-dawn light. Again, the vast  prairie  is quiet and we walk on, but soon hear the soft clucking of another species.

Chuck and I are hiking this expanse  not too far from Bannack State Park near Dillon, Montana. We’re here to find sage grouse. Spring is the mating season for this largest of all members of the grouse family and we want to photograph their celebrated mating rituals at one of the state’s historic leks.

Even in this somewhat featureless land of three-lobed sage and big sage, Chuck knows exactly where to go. Quickly he finds what he’s looking for and begins setting up his photo blind.

We settle in to see what morning will bring. It’s cold, well below freezing, and we hunker into our down-filled parkas.

Suddenly Chuck is alert. “Here comes one,” whispers Chuck. “We may have frightened them off initially, but they’re back now!”

WORKING INTO A FRENZY

He’s right and within a few minutes the ground before us is covered with 15 to 20 males and females. Immediately several of the males begin their dance. It is an amazing thing to see.

First they thrust out their white chest feathers. Then, they begin working themselves into a frenzy, inflating their yellowish colored air sacks. Sometimes, they inflate them but partially, other times to the point where they look like huge mammary glands.

But they’re not; they are specialized sacs extending from the esophagus, apparently evolved for the sole purpose of attracting females. At the moment, however, the objects of their affections seem oblivious.


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Males begin display by flaring tail feathers and puffing out chest. Sometimes it will “pace” back and forth. Next it begins to inflate its air sacs and tucks its head down all the while creating a whooomping-like sound.


But even if the females aren’t excited, I am, and though I doubt pictures will turn out in this low-light condition, both Chuck and I snap off a few images. Sunrise is still minutes away and though the birds appear as dark blobs, I hope for the best and continue with my reassurance shots. Who knows, perhaps a coyote will come along and spook the group. Or maybe a bald eagle will soar overhead. If that happens, I want some recollection of my experience, for these are amazing birds, not only because of their mating rituals, but because of their general appearance.

“COCK OF THE PLAINS”

Indeed, this “Cock of the Plains,” as Lewis and Clark called them, is a handsome bird. Adults have a long, pointed tail and leg feathers which extend  down to their toes. Over the eyes there’s a yellow brow patch which contrasts with its gray head. When not inflated breasts are white, while the throat and belly range between dark brown and black.


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Male grouse with inflated air sacs, wings dropped and tail feathers made erect.

 

Bodies are huge and large males may weight seven or eight pounds, making the species a prize for hunters. Ornithologists also adore the bird, but probably more for its ritualistic behavior. For these reasons the two groups often work together hoping to insure survival of this magnificent species. Unfortunately, habitat has been eliminated and with it the sage grouse has been reduced to the point where it now occupies little more than 50 percent of its former range. Leks, too, are smaller, and in some places once spread over half a mile and were hundreds of yards wide. Here, hundreds of mating birds once gathered. Sadly, that is no longer the case.

But this morning all seems right with their world, smaller though it might be. Half an hour later the sun poked its brilliant head above the horizon, and it was then that two males began competing with one another. Though the displays are conducted for the benefit of the females, males also compete physically, and this was to be one of those mornings.

Suddenly two males begin a struggle that carried them through the sage brush and off over a small knoll. Five minutes later, one returned and resumed its solo display for the nearby females.

THE ALPHA MALE

Only a few males do the breeding, and this huge fellow appeared to be the alpha male; and he was working himself into a frenzy of color and puff. Next to me Chuck’s camera whirled as he depresses the shutter and then held it down. The action was fast, and capturing some of the excitement required the assurance that only a camera with motor drive can provide.

Chuck and I continue with our fast-action photography and by mid morning realized that we’d begun to fill up the cards of our digital cameras. “Haven’t shot so many pictures in a long time,” said Chuck. Then, looking at the image counter: “I’ve taken over 300 pictures.”


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Males attempt to woo hens by creating a presence that is more attractive than competing suitors.


Looking at my frame counter I’m astounded to see that I’d recorded a similar number. Smiling, we both agreed there wasn’t much more to do other than wait for the grouse to disperse, which they generally do, about 9. Though there’s no written rule, protocol says you should disturb the birds as little as possible.

True to form by mid morning the grounds were bare of life and we packed our equipment. We knew we’d seen something very special. In fact, some say that watching grouse on their leks is one of the nation’s top birding experiences. (Another can be seen at Bosque.)

I know two photographers who would certainly agree.


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THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

*Natchez Trace


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Despite Snow, Spring Travels Offer Unexpected Pleasures

posted: April 8th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Two morning ago Janie and were camped in a KOA in Brigham City, Utah, and woke to a type of near silence that we generally associate with the falling of soft snow. As we lay in bed deciding whether to look out the window, every now and then we’d hear a soft blop, meaning  that a layer of white stuff was probably sliding down the side of our aluminum trailer.

Curiosity aroused, we peered outside confirming our suspicions. During the night about eight inches of snow had fallen and it completely covered our trailer, our campground – the surrounding mountains — and presumably the roads separating us from Montana.


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Two mornings ago snow covered our Airstream in Brigham City.

 

Two hours later, we called Chuck and Gail, two friends in Dillon, Montana, who informed us that the snow in their part of southwestern Montana was melting fast . That was good news, and now, off in the distance we could see a normal flow of traffic, and to the north it did appear as though the skies were clearing. Our biggest worry was the highly temperamental weather condition of roads on Monida Pass, but we decided to chance it, knowing that, if needed, campgrounds along the way were many.

MONIDA PASS ALWAYS A CONCERN

But now, we had a real incentive to move on, for Chuck and Gail had offered us the use of their driveway to park, and if we could make it we’d have a chance to catch up with the activities of friends we’d gotten to know from our mutual affiliations with two professional writing and photography associations. Chuck (also a professional fishing guide on several well known rivers) and I had both been asked to serve on the board of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association and this would give us a bit of a chance to think about what we’d gotten ourselves into. “What have we gone and done,” we laughed on the phone.

GROUSE ON LEK

As well, Chuck informed me that sage grouse were performing on a historic lek, and he said that if the weather cooperated we could erect a photo blind and see what transpired. Because I’m writing this after the fact, I know what transpired and can assure you (promise you, in fact!) that Chuck and I were able to photograph a rarely seen phenomena, the results of which I’ll probably be posting tomorrow. But first, we have to get ourselves home.

Back then to Brigham, Utah and to the falling of snow… In short, cars on the highway had whipped the roads free and the temperature was climbing fast. Not only did we have an uneventful drive out of Utah, but also over Monida Pass, (Mon = Montana; Ida=Idaho) where I took time to stop and photograph an old barn, something I do ever time we drive over this historic pass.


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Well known old barn on Monida Pass.

 

And so we powered on, arriving about 5 at the home of Chuck and Gail, and bless them, they had dinner waiting and had even broken out a bottle of wine.

We visited until almost 11 when Chuck, smiled and said that we best be hitting the hay. “You and I, Bert, got to leave here at 5:30 to get the blind up, and we want to be somewhat alert.

“Not too many places left where you can see sage grouse on their breeding grounds, and this is one spectacle you don’t want to miss.”


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Jerome, Arizona

 

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Inclement Weather Simply Serves to Dramatize Zion National Park

posted: April 6th, 2010 | by:Bert

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Janie says we're toughing it out in Zion National Park. (Note solar panels and Watchman Mountain on right rear.) Though conditions are obviously austere, still, she wonders if you'd: "Care to join?"

©Bert Gildart: When weather conditions deteriorate there’s not a whole lot an RVer can do but roll with the punches.

Right now — as I write — Monida Pass, the 6,824 foot-high pass that separates Montana from Idaho, is experiencing blizzard conditions, and we must cross it in order to return home. No big deal, we’ll just stay another day in Zion, which has also experienced inclement conditions.

Unlike Mondia, which is getting lots of snow, Zion has gotten only a little bit of snow; still its presence creates even more glorious conditions. Colors are more saturated and geological lines created by the ages seem more pronounced.

Campgrounds also seem to clear a bit, and that could be a good thing as the Watchman Campground has been booked through to November, and so we have not been able to get in. However, South Campground is immediately adjacent to the Watchman and though it offers no electricity (Watchman does) that has not been a problem, even with cloudy days.

Our four solar panels (two on top and two portable ones) are adequately collecting sufficient  energy for us to do anything we want. With them we have power to operate my energy-consuming computer and the equally as energy-depleting fan that blows out heat from our Airstream’s furnace. Even on cloudy days.


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Click for larger image. L to R: Checker Board Mesa, ancient snag; Altar of Sacrifice, so named for streaks of red created by ancient depositions of iron oxide.

 

And so we are warm and productive and have been enjoying other aspects of this park, which turned 100 just last year. We’ve again toured Zion Canyon (by shuttle bus now, as starting April 1 cars are no longer permitted ) and photographed several more magnificent edifices, specifically Abraham Peak and Isaac Peak – whose names are symbolic to the Mormons.

BOOK OF MORMON

Abraham and Isaac combine with Mount Moroni to form the Court of the Patriarchs. Moroni was named for the angel that Joseph Smith said visited him on numerous occasions, beginning on September 21, 1823. The angel was the guardian of the golden plates, which Smith said were buried near his home in western New York, and which he said were the source material for the Book of Mormon. Though the tableau has never been found still, its presumed existence inspired the Mormon religion, which has endured.

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Abraham and Isaac peaks photograph well in early morning light.

 


Other features were named by Mormons and one is the Temples of the Virgin embracing the  Altar of Sacrifice, so named for the red streaks that course downward. The streaks, which look like blood, actually derive from depositions of iron oxide. Clouds and snow of the past few days have dramatized the temples and framed (see above three photos and then focus on image to the right) the Altar of Sacrifice.

CHECKER BOARD MESA AND JURASSIC WINDS

Later in the day, Janie and I drove the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway. Snow had splashed an ancient snag with patches of white and melt water helped dramatize latent colors in the wood.

We drove to the East Entrance and photographed the banding in Checker Board Mesa. Horizontal banding was created by Jurassic winds, which deposited vast bands of sand in what is now Zion Park. Though the bands tend to be horizontal, when these ancient winds shifted, so, too, did the inclination of the layers. Vertically oriented bands are the result of freezing and thawing, all combining (again, see above) to create a checker board appearance, hence the name.


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Sunset adds wonderful red glow to the Watchman -- heralding not only the end of the day, but also the end of our stay in Zion National Park.

 


Our campground “home” in South Campground is back dropped by a huge monolith called the Watchman, and the other night, the setting sun imparted a wonderful red color to the huge mountain, creating a colorful ending to our day as well as to what is most likely the end of our time in Zion.

The experiences now add to those I’ve been enjoying in this park for over 30 years and which Janie and I have been enjoying for almost 20 years. Zion has always been one of my favorite national parks, and the rain and snow have done nothing to alter those feelings.


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THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

*Natchez Trace National Parkway

 

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Ascending Angel’s Landing In Zion Is A National Park “Premier Experience”

posted: April 4th, 2010 | by:Bert

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Daniela Weiss dramatizes the 1400 feet of vertical relief "enjoyed" between Angel's Landing and the Virgin River, far below

©Bert Gildart: Yesterday I was joined by three friends from Montana, but what we really share in common is that Chris, Hutch (see bear spray) and I have all worked in and generally explored many of our national parks. Yesterday, all of us (including Daniela, Chris’ wife) agreed: The hike from the Grotto in Zion National Park to Angel’s Landing is one of our nation’s premier experiences.

From the Landing you get a bird’s eye view of features that inspired such names as The Pulpit, Temples of the Virgin, The West Throne, The Temple of Sinawava, and the Court of the Patriarchs, just to mention a few.

Though you don’t have to make the climb to appreciate the park’s incredible red rocks, ascending such edifices makes you think about beauty and our place in the Cosmos. Some of these rocks were the result of winds that blew during the Jurassic Period, some 140 million years ago.

NOT FOR EVERYONE

But the climb is not for people with recovering knee injuries (such as my wife, Janie) or for anyone with a fear of heights. Nor is the climb for anyone in poor shape, for the hike ascends 1400 feet in a distance of 2.5 miles and in the course of the climb traverses about 30 switchbacks, 18 of which have inspired names such as “Walter’s Wiggles.”

From the Grotto you climb two miles to Scout’s Landing, and though the hike is steep, this is not the section that might send those squeamish about heights into overdrive. It’s the next section, the half-mile section that requires you cling to the park-installed chains, least you slip and descend into the abyss. But it is also this section that generates so much awe and that often compels people to overcome fears.



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Click to see larger image. L to R: Hike to Angel’s Landing begins abruptly, and never changes; Chris and wife Daniela peer through hole created by drops of water; descending through Walter’s Wiggles and entering Refrigerator Canyon; descending from Angel’s Landing using security of chain.


“Everyone else,” you say to yourself, “is doing it, so why shouldn’t we?”

PHOTOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE

Yesterday, as we hiked, we saw entire family groups. We saw couples toting babies in packs and this we thought was dangerous, for balance is required. Fortunately, we think the couple must have gotten this message as we never saw them after the first stretch.

For the photographer, the challenge is to figure out some way of dramatizing the 1400 feet of vertical relief that certainly had an impact on me. But there’s also the challenge of showing the beauty of Angel’s Landing and all that surrounds it. Daniela (a psychologist) helped as she inched toward the edge on her stomach, trying to absorb all that lay below. And later, Chris and Hutch (our next door neighbor) and Daniela again helped by descending a staircase cut into the stone that tumbles off into space. The chain is your anchor of life.


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Descending from Angel's Landing, secured from the abyss by a stout chain.

 



Still, it’s hard to convey the feeling just with pictures as the scene is comprised of so many sensory elements. There’s the sun beating on your shoulders, the smell of cedar, the sound of tiny chipmunks scurrying in and out of the rocks, and the freshness of wind gusts that can only be described as whimsical.

And then there’s the beauty derived from the Virgin River cutting down into the red Navajo Sandstone — sculpting as it goes — creating spires, and monuments and temples of sand and stone.

“This really is special,” said Chris, now an international teacher in Berlin, home for a few weeks. “It’s got to rank with floating the Grand Canyon, or hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier.” That’s part of the reason we’re spending our time in Zion; to see all this once again. Climbing up to Angel’s Landing really is a premier experience.”


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

Padre Island is Mecca For Bird Watchers


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“Adopt” One of Zion’s Bighorn Sheep

posted: April 1st, 2010 | by:Bert

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Petroglyphs provide mute testimony that sheep have been in Zion through the ages

©Bert Gildart: The evidence is there: bighorns have occupied Zion National Park for at least 1,000 years. Sheep petroglyphs etch the patina of canyon walls and by using various means of dating, scientists know they are ancient.

As one who has been wandering Zion for almost 30 years, I’ve known about the glyphs for decades. But I won’t tell where they are; thoughtless individuals have vandalized many of these archaeological treasure, a reason the Antiquities Act was enacted in the early 1900s.

At any rate, because I have known of their existence, it should not have been a surprise when I rounded a corner to suddenly discover a band of bighorns that were almost as surprised as was I. Quickly they scurried up the face of the Navajo sandstone, but then suddenly stopped. Though startled, the band wasn’t too startled, and moments later, regrouped where they then turned to study my presence.

No longer alarmed, they settled in further, dropping down into a comfortable position, relaxing on their stomachs.

EXTINCT FOR DECADES

Though sheep are in fact an integral part of the Zion landscape, that hasn’t always been the case. Park brochures and knowledge I acquired while writing chapters in a Sierra Club Guide to National Parks reminded me that human activity led to their extinction in this park in the 1950s –almost 40 years after Zion was established as a national park.


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Sheep now number over 150 and apparently are quite healthy

 


And so it remained for almost 30 years, until the park began a reintroduction program. In the early 1970s, scientists brought in 12 bighorns, but from that tiny nucleus herd, their numbers climbed and now, bighorn sheep in Zion number over 150.

The band I had startled and now watched was essentially a ewe lamb group. Following the fall breeding season, rams wander off by themselves, but begin to regroup and in another month, so might be seen with other rams forming what is known as a bachelor herd. I know that from work I did on a book on Mountain Monarchs, Bighorn Sheep.

ADOPT A BIGHORN

Zion National Park continues with its efforts to protect its mountain sheep and has started a program called “Adopt a Bighorn.” By making a contribution you “adopt” a bighorn and in this manner help to insure Zion will always have a healthy population of wild sheep. Managers say that such a herd symbolizes a healthy ecosystem, in this case, a wilderness ecosystem.


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A small band of sheep back dropped by Navajo sandstone

 

Judging from the magnetism Zion exerts on so many visitors, it is a more desirable feature to perpetuate – and is apparently a condition in which we as visitors can assist. You can adopt a bighorn by contacting a sales clerk at the Zion bookstore or by logging onto their website at Zionpark.org.


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Amaragosa Opera House


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