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 November, 2010

Lesson From Andersonville’s Civil War Prison

posted: November 29th, 2010 | by:Bert


This haunting figure greets visitors to Andersonville, part of a larger work of art created by Donna Dobberfhul.

©Bert Gildart: “It takes 7  of  its ocupiants (sic)  to make a Shadow,” wrote Sgt. David Kennedy, a former Andersonville POW.

Though conditions in POW camps in the north were also horrendous,  Georgia’s Andersonville is the Civil War  prison that has come down through history as THE internment camp that will tell the most moving story of men and women who have been captured.

My above quote was taken from one of the many interpretive panels the park has so strategically placed throughout. It is located near the Prisoner of War Commemorative Courtyard and is adjacent to Donna Dobberfuhl’s creation, part of which is shown in my first image.

The art work here is magnificent and certainly provides the photographer with the opportunity to tell a most compelling story if he uses lighting appropriate to overcome the shadows inherent in the bright setting. For this image, I used two strobes.

Janie and I visited Andersonville about a week ago and firmly believe that  its lessons should never be forgotten. To some extent  they overlap  with those  from  Gettysburg and Antietam, but as you will see,  they remain unique.


Though conditions were horrible at the prisoner camp, the alternatives for the South were not very good. If the Union prisoners were released they would most likely return to battle against the Confederates.

The only realistic alternative was to create a prison camp, which the Confederates did in February of 1864, maintaining their prisoners, it is presumed, in the best way they could.

Here, men were crowded together and lived in tents called “Shebangs,” guarded from above in watchtowers known as “Pigeon Roosts.” Guards were told to shoot to kill any man who stepped over a waist-high fence known as the “deadline.” Food was scant, water contaminated and, subsequently, disease rampant.

Each day, over 100 died. Sometimes, conditions became so unbearable that a prisoner would simply end it all by stepping over the “Dead Line.”

Stockade-1 Shebangs-1 HistoricB&W-1

L TO R: “Fresh fish,” were the first words most new prisoners heard as they entered the stockade doors; “Shebangs,” was the term used to describe the makeshift structures most prisoners had to live under; historic image was part of an interpretive panel.


Like other camps north and south, prisoners would be granted freedom if they agreed to sign an “Oath of Allegiance” to fight for the “former enemy.” But none did and instead choose the abysmal conditions of a POW at Andersonville rather than to dishonor themselves, their families or their countries.


From a movie we purchased at the historic site and which we watched last night entitled Andersonville, we learned prisoners not only had to contend with harsh conditions, but battle the “Raiders,” a disreputable group that murdered their own to improve their lot. In the movie they were subdued following a prison revolt and later Captain Henry Wirz of the Confederacy, allowed prisoners to hang five of the Raiders. Books I bought at the Andersonville bookstore substantiate the movie’s story line.

Airstream-2 Statue-2

L TO R:  Touring the complex forming Andersonville POW camp; three striking figures stand at the entrance to this national cemetery at Andersonville, now a memorial to all American POWs.


During Andersonville’s 14 months of operation over 12,000 men died and today about that many marked graves fade off into the distance. There are an additional several hundred that are unmarked. The  markers haunted me, and several nights ago woke me from a dead sleep.

These deaths resulted from Americans inflicting cruelty on Americans; but, again!  It was not a condition endemic to  the South!


Some, however,  thought conditions exceeded what was necessary to maintain prison integrity and at war’s end Union officials thought to try a number of Confederate leaders.


Park Ranger Eric Leonard lectures on lessons from Andersonville with group of students from several private schools.


Initially, they blamed General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, but both were found guiltless. Nevertheless, Union officials found a man on whom they could heap guilt, and that blame was placed on Captain Henry Wirz. Our movie painted Wirz as a demon and perhaps he was, though there were most certainly counterparts in the north.

At New York’s Elmira Prison 24 percent of the Confederate prisoners died, nevertheless, during a trial following the war they called Herny Wirz “the demon of Andersonville.”


12,941 union POWs perished at Andersonville, their graves providing mute testimony to their brief time here on Earth.


In different times the captain might have escaped with his life for there was exculpatory evidence. But John Wilkes Booth had just assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, and officials wanted revenge. On November 10, 1865 soldiers surrounded a set of gallows in Washington D.C. and hung Captain Henry Wirz. Not far away men watched from treetops while some chanted “Wirz, remember Andersonville.”

Wirz was the only man to emerge from the Civil War (Union or Confederate) to be found guilty of “War Crimes.” Perhaps words from Lincoln’s inaugural address glimmered through the darkness that followed his death:

With malice toward none, with charity for all


Andersonville National Historic Site preserves all these poignant episodes and it is appropriate that it does so, for the function of history is not only to inform on our past, but to help us benefit from our past. Certainly Andersonville impacted Janie and me, always amazed at the manifestation of man’s inhumanity to man and its inescapable message. Unfortunately, it seems each generation must rethink this lesson, but perhaps if everyone were required to visit Andersonville the meaning would become indelible.




*Lessons from Cades Cove




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Lead On Lucifer

posted: November 26th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Several days ago my good friend Ed Anderson and I took a little time to pour a couple of drinks from a bottle of Yukon Jack that has lingered all too long. I’m to the right, Ed to the left.

As we sat there, we realized that we were on the brink of having to make a very difficult choice. Do we strike out across the fields of his Alabama  farm and try and put in an hour or two of squirrel hunting; or do we listen to Lucifer and bask in the warmth of a brilliant fall day and conduct ourselves in the manner in which older gentlemen should conduct themselves?


First shot of Yukon Jack at Ed Anderson's


I’m proud to say that we allowed Lucifer to direct our activities. But the camaraderie was long overdue, and it has been over a year since Janie and I have visited my old college roommate (gathered poke salad) and his wonderful family.


Though I finished at Montana State University initially I attended the University of North Alabama. At the time Ed and I rented a small home that was once used as a Confederate hospital, and as we sat there several days ago on Ed’s farm we recalled that our old home had blood stains on the ceiling from the wounded.

We recalled, too, that we’d once been “detained” in Ole Miss; that we’d rendezvoused in Cincinnati to then drive to Montana for summer work; and that we’d spent many a great weekend hunting for rabbits on Ed’s dad’s farm behind a pack of baying beagles.


Yukon Jack at Ed Anderson's, second, or maybe it was the third shot???


Would we have recalled such memories had we gone squirrel hunting?

Reading the expressions etched on our faces in these two photographs that Ed’s daughter Anna took, and I’d say we made the right choice. The point, of course, is that every now in then it is perfectly alright to sit down, relax and simply let the world go by. My only concern is that this post might offend several family members, members  who have become particularly sensitive about any habits that might suggest a lack of Christian values.

Lead on Lucifer; lead on.

Note: Tomorrow we continue our efforts to drive home to Montana, but weather is not working in our favor. Certainly we’ll make it to Albuquerque to have a little work done on our Airstream, but if snow continues to accumulate to our north, we may well drive to Death Valley and wait until conditions improve. Several days ago it was -17F in Bigfork, where we live. For those with poor math skills that means that it was almost 50 degrees below the freezing point of water!



*Bosque Del Apache


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Museum of the Cherokee—Plus Thanksgiving Salutes

posted: November 24th, 2010 | by:Bert

NOTE: At the moment we are traveling, waiting near Albuquerque, New Mexico,  for harsh winter conditions to subside in the north.  With little time for creating new material I thought I would re-post a blog I wrote in 2006, essentially because it was one many people seemed to enjoy reading and because it is about Thanksgiving.

Wishing family friends and readers a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Bert Gildart: Several days ago Janie and I departed the Great Smokies and then drove for two days to Tampa, Florida, where we are now camped at Bay Bayou, an RV “Resort.” Just prior to leaving the Smokies, however, we spent most of the morning at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, located in Cherokee, North Carolina, which in turn is located immediately adjacent to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Though entrance to the museum is expensive ($9.00 per person), what they display is worth the price of admission.

The museum is a large center and our tour began with a multi-media presentation of the Cherokee interpretation of creation. The presentation was compelling, and set the stage for the large number of display panels, wax figures, and voice-overs contained in the remainder of the museum.

In one of the first rooms we found a display of an Indian warrior making an offering to the Great Spirit, and as we read the accompanying write up, learned that the model for the figure was Jerry Wolf, a Cherokee elder.

Rangers in the park had told us about Mr. Wolf and suggested we ask for him, and that’s precisely what Janie did as I was elsewhere in the museum. Excited as could be she came bounding up saying “I’ve found him; I’ve found him—and he’s agreed to pose.” Casting around, we agreed the most appropriate setting would be the statue for which he served as a model. In retrospect, the image of supplication was fortuitous, and is an appropriate picture with which to open my blog on this Thanksgiving day.

Lighting could have been a problem, but by using two strobes, we managed to capture a nice image of Jerry and still provide even illumination for the statue behind him.

Though the highlight for us was encountering Jerry Wolf, other portions of the museum presented information that fascinated us. For instance, I did not realize that Indian people had made the journey to England and then returned, but wax figures and a panel told the story.

It all started in Charlestown, when Ostenaco saw picture of King George III and remarked, “Long have I wanted to see the king.”

A short time later, Ostenaco, Stalking Turkey (Cunne Shote) and the Pigeon (Wayi), went to England, accompanied by Lt. Henry Timberlake

Later, a local reporter described the tribe–with some spelling and capitalizations that differ from ones we use today:

“They are all well made men, near six-feet high dressed in their own country Fashion, with only Shirt, Trowsers, and mantle round them; the Faces are painted of Copper Colour and their Heads adorned with Shells, Feathers, Earrings, and other Ornaments.”

Yet other rooms captured our attention. In one, I was reacquainted with a man I’d learned about in Oklahoma, Sequoyah, and the man who developed the Cherokee alphabet.

But the most poignant display presented the story of the Trail of Tears, and the numbers of Eastern Cherokee who perished following their forced eviction from the North Carolina homeland in 1838-1839.

The presentation went on for several rooms and reminded us once again just how quickly man’s inhumanity to others can so easily rear its head.

And so we departed the Great Smokies with mixed feelings, bound for Florida over a two-day drive. Today we’ll have Thanksgiving with Rich Luhr, his family and with two others, all of whom are Airstream owners. We’re grateful for their friendship and for including us on this family day.

Symbolically, Janie and I will join with millions of other Americans, giving thanks, I’m sure, to whatever deity we hold in our respective spiritual centers and by whatever name we call him. Because Janie and I have spent an immense amount of our time together with Indian peoples, we can call that deity the Great Spirit, and it would be just as appropriate as any other term we might apply.

Consider this closing then a way of saying Happy Thanksgiving to all our large family and to our many friends, wherever they might be today. Obviously, we’re thinking of each and every one of you.

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Oyster Shell Construction Still Stands

posted: November 19th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Not far from the almost contiguous South River and the Bigwheel campgrounds near St. Mary, Georgia, stands old Tabby Ruins, a sugar works plantation built by John Houstoun McIntosh about 1825. Though McIntosh’s plantation was of interest, what was of particular interest was the blending of sea shells into a walls that function like the concrete walls of our era. The technique was used throughout Georgia, often in slave housing.


Tabby Ruins, near South River State Park, Georgia


Because I was totally unfamiliar with this type of construction I located a site on the Internet and have extracted information from the New Georgia Encylopedia. Here’s what the dictionary has to say about tabbly construction and about its origins.


“Tabby is a type of building material used in the coastal Southeast from the late 1500s to the 1850s. Historians disagree on whether its use originated along the northwest African coast and was taken to Spain and Portugal, or vice versa. The origin of the word tabby itself is unclear: the Spanish word tapia means a mud wall, and the Arabic word tabbi means a mixture of mortar and lime. Similar words also appear in both Portuguese and Gullah. The Spanish brought the concept of tabby to the New World and used it extensively in Florida. Locals in Georgia adapted the concept or “recipe” for tabby to local materials.


Close up of tabby ruins showing oyster shells.


True tabby is made of equal parts lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash. The ash is a byproduct of preparing the lime, but its presence contributes to the hardening of the end product. Tabby can be poured into molds for foundations, walls, floors, roofs, columns, and other structural elements. It dries to a hard finish, is generally a grayish-white color with variations according to the materials used, and is extremely durable. It is best maintained by applying stucco to the outer surfaces as protection from water damage. Roots and vines can cause the deterioration of tabby, so vegetation must be kept away from structures built of the material.”

So there you have it: tabby construction, and because McIntosh’s basic foundation structure still stands after all these years, enduring hurricanes, possible some freezing and thawing, it has obviously performed well.




*PhotoShop Revisited




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Plum Orchard, A Mother’s Gift

posted: November 17th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  In my last post I talked about a few of the challenges confronting us on our kayak trip to Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore. In this blog I want to talk about one of the most lavish gifts a mother ever provided a child, and that is the castle-like structure that we saw on our kayak trip. The structure was located about 200 yards from our campsite; and unless you are one of the few remaining island residents, you can only reach the area by kayaking, backpacking or by using a rental bike. We hope access never changes — but fear there’s writing on the wind and that it will soon be blowing  Cumberland’s way — despite the wilderness nature of the surrounding area.


Plum Orchard, a mother's gift


Seeing the immense castle-like old home is worth the effort for it dates back to the late 1890s. It exists because Lucy Carnegie decided she would build a mansion for each child who remained on Cumberland Island. For her daughter Retta, she built Greyfield, but she built the most impressive mansion for her son, George Lauder Carnegie. She named it Plum Orchard after an old plantation built along Brickhill River, a river which lured Janie me from our camp in the evening. Here from the banks we’d watch as otters cruised the river and where dozens of white ibis gathered to roost on a huge live oak.

The castle was dedicated October 6, 1898, but one morning as we walked the premises (112 years later!) concluded the secluded old home is still in good shape. The paint looked relatively fresh and horse manure informed us that the park’s “wild” horses’ gravitated to the grasslands surrounding the old home.


Those in the know say that the architecture of the home is Greek Revival, but with its tall columns Janie and I were reminded of Scarlet O’Hara’s home Tara in Gone With the Wind.  On our warm Georgia day, full of sun and the quiet murmur of Brickhill River running nearby it was a delightful to let the imagination run wild.

Mansion-4 Mansion-2

L to R: Elaborate staircase; elaborate tiffany lamp back dropped by huge arched fireplace

No one was nearby on this mid November day so we walked to one of the windows and peered in, wishing we could see the interior. Moments later luck intervened in the form of a group of graduate students from Clemson University completing work on park management who had been quietly meandering around themselves. They had befriended us and were now inviting us to join their private park tour.

Victoria Jumper, an intern, was with the group and she provided background history but asked us to please remember that she had just started the program and that she too was learning – but she could have fooled us. She was enthusiastic and said she drew on materials from Cumberland Island: A History, by Mary R. Bullard, something I later did as well.

Victoria said Plum Orchard consisted of 21,724 square feet after additions were made in 1906.  The additions included a 9-foot deep swimming pool that was always cold as it derived waters from a deep artesian well. When the Carnegies lived there the pool’s depth challenged the children, and they would attempt to “walk” the length of the bottom without emerging.


As well the mansion included a squash court with viewing balcony, prompting James Nampushi, a student from Kenya, to suggest that Carnegie’s may have been “a little ostentatious.” We both laughed but the evidence was there in the form of size; in the form of a spiral staircase, expensive wall paper, and a mammoth fireplace all graced with dark walnut paneling. Later, we discovered we agreed on many other subjects, particularly on the need to save wilderness with its diminishing wildlife.

fruit-4 Squash-Mansion-2

Fruit desert fit for a king, or for a Carnegie; Squash Court –  and my new friend James Nampushi, a master’s degree student form Kenya, in yellow and black sweater


Despite the home’s relatively good care, conspicuously missing were the home’s elaborate furnishings and their absence tells a story that began with the untimely death of George Carnegie in 1921. Shortly thereafter his wife Margaret married a French count who came to Plum Orchard and took almost all the furniture, chandeliers, and gold bath fixtures, as well as George’s guns, trophies and books.  The count shipped all to New York where he placed it on auction.  Finally, the Carnegies informed him that he was no longer welcome at Plum Orchard.


After that the mansion began to fall into a state of disrepair, but in 1973 the Park Service took over Plum Orchard. For awhile the mansion functioned as their Island Headquarters.  Then, headquarters were changed and today upkeep of the mansion depends on Congressional funding, which can, of course, be capricious.

Still, the castle remains impressive and I hope these images might in some small way help to convey the message that this old structure should be preserved. It is part of America’s history and continues to tell a fascinating story. Management will be the key, and its preservation may well fall to the skills of future conservationists such as James, who now hopes to manage some of the last remnants of wild land back home in Africa.

We’re now heading home and expect it will take us about 10 days to complete the 2,100 mile drive to Montana, something I used to make in about three days when I was in my early twenties. Now we dawdle, preferring to smell the roses.



*Athabascan Fiddle Festival


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What’s Necessary to Kayak Cumberland Island National Seashore?

posted: November 15th, 2010 | by:Bert


Kayaking Cumberland Island National Seashore

©Bert Gildart: Unless you do lots of pre-planning, kayaking to new places can be a challenge, especially from water level where so much of the landscape appears featureless. But the rewards can be immense, and during our recent trip we had dolphins circling our kayaks, saw a multitude of birds — and one day had what Janie called a herd  of armadillos (five!) circling our tent. As well, we were thrust back into the gilded age, a period when the ultra rich celebrated their wealth by building castle-like homes, which still remain on Cumberland Island National Seashore. It is something I’ll describe in my next posting.

But in this posting I want to explain a bit about the joys of kayaking and tell how we approach it. I also want to explain a few of the restrictions managers place on visiting this national seashore, and ways in which they have of preserving the wilderness qualities of this incredible barrier island located just off the coast of Georgia.


Our planning begins back home in Montana, where we place all equipment necessary for a journey of several days into a large Wall Mart box. Basics include a home (a tent), sleeping bags, food, and a backpack stove for cooking. It sounds simple but when you start actually preparing for a trip you realize there’s much more that might be needed, particularly in late fall when there is so little daylight – and when you are getting older. The list then must include head lamps, perhaps a book, pills, thin rope to suspend food  and so protect it from raccoons – and perhaps a “pee bottle” so you don’t have to clamber out of the tent at night.

And then, of course, you absolutely must have maps and for me, some type of GPS system – and on this trip having one was a life saver. We purchased a Garmin eTrek (cost from Amazon about $80). Though I would have preferred to have had detailed USGS maps, the park doesn’t carry them so we purchased a map produced by Top Spot map company, and it turned out to be exceptional.

Before leaving we plotted out GPS coordinates, and that’s what later (keep reading) helped us. This type of planning is what has resulted in many successful kayak trips throughout North America to include the Bay of Fundy, South Manitou, and the Apostle Islands, among many others.


The other chore (and it proved a challenge) was finding a safe and secure base from which to launch. We had thought Cooked River State Park would be ideal, and were paying nightly for our site and were assured by several in authority that we’d have no trouble extending for the duration of our trip, which would be unpredictable as it was weather dependent.



(CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGE)   L to R: Though we’ve preplanned at home, still we completely pack our kayaks prior to transporting them to launch site; cart at Plum Orchard for toting gear; Hunt Camp at Plum Orchard and site of college group that befriended us.


But one morning we were informed that our site had been “sold out” from under us and that we would have to leave the park, for no more sites were available. Fortunately, not far away was a commercial site known as Big Wheel RV park, and the manager even offered us transportation back to our kayaks after I returned from our launch point at Crooked River. As a result, Big Wheel  became the base from which we operated.

And so (packs tagged with the proper park camping permit) four days ago we pushed off for a three-day trip, leaving on the crest of high tide – and for awhile, all went well. The outgoing tide helped sweep us in the right direction, but then, although the weather station had predicted light breezes, something happened. Soon, strong winds began to blow, and that is when we were glad we’d mapped out our course, for with the GPS – and our waypoints — essentially all we had to do was follow the eTrek pointer. That helped when waves and wind forced us into some tall marsh grass.

Though we didn’t make Brickhill, our destination, we did make a campsite at Plum Orchard, and were flattered when a college group invited us to camp with them. All were graduate students completing advanced degrees in park management.


Next day I kayaked toward Brickhill (Janie was exhausted) but the tides were wrong and it took me about three hours to reach a point just a mile or so south of Brickhill. But here, immensely good fortune offered me a consolation. Suddenly behind me I heard a powerful exhalation of breath. Five dolphins began circling my kayak, leaping out of the water, looking my direction. This went on for about five minutes.

By now, it was early afternoon, and I realized I’d never reach Brickhill in time to complete my real goal, and that was hiking several miles to the northern part of the island and seeing America’s First African Baptist Church. But the goal remains one of the features I know will lure me back again to this incredible island.


eTrek and good map with Waypoints assisted us in route finding. We started in lower left and concluded in upper right.


With no wind and the tide now in my favor, what had taken me over two hours to kayak was reduced to about 40 minutes. The distance was close to five miles and one time, my eTrek told me I was in fact cruising at over 5 mph.


For Janie and me, our time was up. Though we would have liked to remain and camped at Brickhill Bluff, park managers had opened Cumberland Island for a 3-day hog hunt, which may seem incompatible with a national park, but is really a good thing. The point is that hunters get the campsites, but some day we’ll try again!

Sunset-2 HogHunters-2

L to R: Sunset, Plum Orchard; arrival of hog hunters necessitates our departure, but their presence is a good thing.

Hogs which escaped from plantation owners and from black slaves had proliferated, and had begun destroying the park’s vegetation. Something had to be done, but even a professional hunter found he could not eliminate them. Today, they reproduce at such a rate that although hunters now take hundreds, hundreds still remain secreted.

And so Janie and I again pushed off, this time with no wind and with another powerful and favorable tide. To me, our experience offered exactly what it should have offered. It offered the challenge of coping with a little uncertainty and then the rewards of seeing a multitude of new and different features in an incredible national park administered area.

Again, in my next posting, I want to show images of Plum Orchard, and explain how it came to be.




*Channel Islands


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Cumberland Island National Seahore’s Beauty Challanges Managers

posted: November 12th, 2010 | by:Bert


Virtually blind, the armadillo is easy to approach, but not to photograph.

©Bert Gildart: Despite the mammal’s chunky armor-plated make up and total lack of fear, the animal was proving hard to photograph. Janie and I had found the armadillo on Cumberland Island Georgia and were amazed by its Cavalier mannerisms.

We’d seen the creature rooting near an old historic mansion known as Dungeness and because I wanted good professional quality images, crept over to the armadillo’s general location with a long telephoto lens. Fearing to approach too closely, I simply stood stationary when suddenly my subject came rooting over toward my feet, head buried, apparently chomping on roots. Suddenly the virtually blind creature realized it was not alone and abruptly leaped into the air. Then it scurried about 15 feet away. The distance was OK for photographs, but the darn thing kept its head buried. Changing to a short lens, I sat down and then moved in close, still waiting for the animal to elevate its plated head.

Fifteen minutes later I grew frustrated and shuffled my feet in the leaves. Apparently that was enough for the armadillo, which began searching for the source of the noise. As a photographer from Montana, the experience was my first extended time with the nine-banded armadillo, and I was fascinated.

It was a nice way to begin an extended tour of this barrier island that has seen so much of American history and that has such a wonderful assortment of wildlife and other interesting animals.


We had begun our tour early in the morning, boarding the Cumberland Princess from the mainland for the 45 minute trip to the barrier island. Disembarking at a dock near the Ice House Museum, we joined ranger Ginger Cox for her several hour long interpretive program on the island’s history. She explained that a James Oglethorpe built a hunting lodge on the island and named it Dungeness. As the years passed others came to the island and the list rings like an American history book.

Ms. Cox  talked about Lighthorse Harry Lee, another Revolutionary war hero who took ill off the coast of Cumberland and sought shelter on Cumberland. He stayed until his death and was buried here for a time. We saw his grave, but patriots dug up Lighthorse Lee’s body and reburied him next to his son, Robert E. Lee in Virginia.


L to R: Horses are descendants of the slave operated plantation, and though not indigenous removal attempts generate a shrill public outcry; the Cumberland Princess provides access to the island for backbackers and visitors alike. Or, the wilderness minded  can kayak.


The most influential family to occupy the island was the Carnegie family who built a 28,000 square foot “castle.” In 1925 the Carnegies moved out of Dungeness. In 1959 a massive fire swept through the home, and though the structure remains, today it invites visitors to reflect on a bygone era. In 1972 the Park Service acquired the island and today, they interpret the island’s natural history and its remarkable human history.


Historic Dungeness has appeared in various forms, now as ruins and as the legacy of a grand era dominated by the Carneige family.


Island history also includes a period of plantation ownership, and the horses we saw were descendants of the farming era. Cox told us the island also has hogs that can be destructive, and because they are prolific, the park opens the island for a brief period to hog hunters. “Hunters,” said Cox, “take hundreds, but hundreds are still left.”

The ranger’s talk was fascinating and all too soon she left, suggesting that we continue our hike to the beach and then cross back over the sand dunes to where we’ll wind up at a dock near a canopy of live oak.


Though the southern portion of the island is easy to reach not so the northern. You can backpack to this area, managed as wilderness, or you can kayak, and that is precisely what Janie and I plan to do today. The biggest challenge is coping with the tide, but we’ve talked to rangers who have helped us understand their significance.


Grand Avenue bisects this controversial wilderness park, whose confusing managment plan has resulted in the transfer of park superintendents and the dissolution of long-term friendships.


We plan to kayak from Crooked River State Park across the intra coastal to a wilderness campground known as Brickhill. From there we plan to hike to remnants of an old African settlement and see their church, which is still in good shape and which has the distinction of being the first Baptist Church ever constructed by former slaves. On May 11, 2008, the church was also the setting for the wedding of John Kennedy Jr. To reach it he drove 12 miles down Grand Avenue (above) — through the area designated as wilderness, which raised the hackles of some.

On our three-day kayak trip  along the way we also expect to see lots more armadillos, which I’ve discovered are fairly abundant, but which none the less remain fascinating.



*Natchez Trace

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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Spider Activity Heralds “Fair Weather”

posted: November 10th, 2010 | by:Bert


Spider activity in pine needles

©Bert Gildart: Many years ago I wrote a fishing story for Field & Stream  about Glacier National Park and included in it a natural history observation that I don’t see all that frequently. This morning, however, I saw the phenomena down here in Georgia at  Crooked River State Park.

I knew about the phenomena from something I’ve done all my life and that is: reading materials about natural history.

Every now and then when you step outside, particularly into relatively undisturbed area you see the handiwork of spiders, and that’s what I saw this morning.

Covering the base of palmettos, the pine needles, the grass… were hundreds of spider webs. Following weather changes, particularly when a high pressure system moves in, spiders are particularly active.

For the fisherman, that translates into fair weather. I’m a fisherman, but right now fishing is not my objective rather fair weather for an upcoming kayak trip – and of course, photographic opportunities.

That’s what the foggy morning seemed to provide, and to capture the handiwork of the arachnids, I mounted my camera equipped with macro lens and what you see here are the results.


Spider activity in palmettos and other plants on forest floor

We hope the weather holds for our planned Friday camping trip to Cumberland Island. If so, we may be seeing lots more spider webs.




*Natchez Trace



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Vehicular Madness

posted: November 8th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Driving on the east coast has proven challenging for Janie and me, but little compares with our experience several days ago along Interstate 95  just north of Richmond, Virginia.

We were bound for Cumberland Island National Seashore, when suddenly drivers started jamming on their brakes. We followed suit and within seconds thousands of drivers had slammed to a stop. Slowly, in a way that was almost agonizing, the minutes became a quarter of an hour, then half an hour… then an hour. Then two, and still there was no hint that we would soon be moving on.

By this time, natural needs began mounting and soon became urgent needs. Fortunately, this portion of the interstate is engulfed by dense pine forests  and before long dozens of men began making their way toward these thickets, strolling in a kind of nonchalant manner. After all thousands were watching and discreetness seems — at times — to be nature of Americans.


Interesting the percentage of woman taking to the woods was relatively small and Janie was grateful for the fact we had our Airstream in tow and that it was equipped with a bathroom. As entrepreneurs the thought occurred to us that — by George — we could make a little money here!

“Let’s announce that we’ll provide potty service and that we’ll only charge $5.00 per person.”


Vehicular madness along I-95 just north of Richmond


By this time people were still cordial, greeting one another with smiles, sharing what little news they’d gleaned from the traffic station. Our holdup resulted when the driver of a huge UPS apparently over-corrected, then turned over in such as way that his huge two-trailered cargo truck blocked all three lanes of traffic. The traffic station was advising drivers that traffic was now blocked for about 30 miles and that travelers should avoid I-95.

Quickly I did a little math trying to calculate the number of cars in the one mile stretch I could see. Because the congestion was great my initial estimate was much too high (I was thinking millions), so I tried to be analytical. Figuring that the average car (my truck is 20 feet long) consumed about 30 feet I divided 5,280 by 30, then multiplied by 3 as this was a three lane highway. Finally, I multiplied by 30 – the number of miles of congestion (lots of threes) for a conservative total of 15, 480. That’s the number of vehicles now sitting bumper to bumper. That figure may not seem overwhelming, but it was for me. In context, Montana has less than 1M people and the town in which I live has but 20,000 people; and because of geographical features it is crowded, now suffering drugs, increased crime and even an occasional drive by shooting.

You simply can’t crowd people together without having a breakdown of society.


And so we sat for an hour; then two hours, and soon I could see tempers were starting to flare. And as an avowed environmentalist I could not help but think about oil consumption, global warming, and over population, among other things. And then I began to wonder why we don’t do something about it when it occurred that the world population of humans is doing something. Wars are raging everywhere, and Americans are involved in three of them. That’s just us; look around and you’ll quickly think of manifestations: North Korea, South Korea; China and its mandatory birth control. 9/11 here! It goes on and on.

Three and a half hours later the authorities had cleared the highway and traffic began to move. I have no idea how many more miles of traffic had gotten tied up but it had to be considerable.


Armadillos are abundant on Cumberland Island National Seashore and their biology fascinated


Because waiting can prove frustrating and tiring we didn’t drive much further and quickly found a campground. We turned on the TV and learned more about the accident, but, interestingly, heard nothing about the driver of the UPS truck. Was he injured or did he survive?

Guess as the population in America now approaches 300 million (350 million expected by the year 2040) the life of an individual becomes irrelevant.

CURRENT TRAVEL: At the moment we’re in a KOA in Kingsland, Georgia,  located near Cumberland Island National Seashore, our reason for being here. Yesterday we made an exploratory trip to the island, and now want to herald loudly the virtues of this national park administered area.  I photographed my first armadillo, saw many wild and wonderful things — and concluded we Americans are so lucky to have these remnant pockets of sanity interspersed between these vast ribbons of sheer madness.
More on Cumberland to follow…



*Chaco Culture National Historic Park


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Bull Run Regional Eventually Proved Ideal Location For Photography

posted: November 3rd, 2010 | by:Bert


Squirrel strikes classic pose with acorn in mouth.

©Bert Gildart: For the past week we have been camped at a very delightful campground, one that is not only beautiful but well positioned logistically to accomplish our objectives. As a bonus, it came to acquaint me with a critter I used to hunt with a gun, but was content this past week to hunt it with a camera. That objective, however, was secondary to accomplishing a far more significant objective.

Objective number one was visiting my Godmother who will soon turn 97. For her age she is doing remarkably well, but time is catching up and she was having some problems and we wanted to help. Her presence throughout my life has been significant.

But helping meant that Janie and I had to find a campground as close to Washington D.C. as possible. Previously this summer we had made several long drives from Shenandoah, but that required a trip of almost four hours.

Then we heard from a Virginia native camped adjacent to us in Shenandoah about Bull Run Regional Park, and though we were skeptical about anything near D.C., we’ve since concluded that we actually  lucked out.

At least that was true after we learned about D.C. traffic patterns.


Though it is only 28 miles to the retirement home in which my Godmother lived, when we hit the traffic wrong, our speed dropped to five and 10 mph. One night it dropped even lower and for about 30 minutes we sat along with what must have been over a million other cars averaging zero mph. After that it became stop and go, stop and go meaning that what required 40 minutes of driving time on several occasions required well over two hours.

New acquaintances say that during those times you conjure up words you’d never have said in front of your mother – “but if you hit a bottleneck, you’ll sure say them now!”


Searching for acorns


At those times D.C. registered as one of my worst nightmares. Later we learned that to avoid hordes of humanity we had to depart the campground after 10, then get back on the road before 2 pm or wait until after 7 pm.


Sometimes that left us with a little extra time, and Bull Run Regional Park offers much. While here, we’ve managed to make a number of trips to the immediately adjacent Manassas National Battlefield. We also strolled along  Bull Run, now a small stream but one where thousands once perished in what was our worst national tragedy, the Civil War (see previous post). The “Run” flows through our campground where we’ve also managed to do a little bicycling and a little walking — keeping our eyes open for wildlife.


During these rides and walks, we’ve seen deer, lots of geese, several foxes and lots of squirrels. Though the squirrels were not tame, they were somewhat tolerant of our observations as they went about their work of fattening up for the winter. The more I watched them the more fascinated I became with their antics and decided to make a photographic study of their busy lives .


Fall and squirrels feast on acorns that have fallen and that they've gathered.


The images shown here were taken in spurts over a period of one week, and hopefully show an interesting mammal gathering food. To provide distance I used a 600mm lens for all the images, otherwise the little rodents would scamper off. Or they’d circle to the backside of a tree, stealing peeks to see where I might be. If I appeared interested they’d duck. I knew about that from the days I hunted the little boogers. (My dad used to curse them as they made a mess of his garden.)

And what about objective number one? Happily everything seems on the mend and today we are departing for Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia. We expect it will take about two days — if we can avoid some of this nightmare traffic.




*Pure Photography



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Origins of the Name “Stonewall” Jackson

posted: November 1st, 2010 | by:Bert


Monument suggesting strength of Stonewall Jackson

©Bert Gildart: Just outside the Visitor Center of Manassas National Battlefield stands a prominent monument of Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson.  Cannons backdrop the statue of the well muscled man and his horse while to the front you’ll see an old farm and several grave markers.

These are artifacts of the first major battle of the Civil War, but they are also features that contributed to the legend and lore of one of the Confederate’s most colorful generals, “Stonewall” Jackson.

All the features drew our attention, but before the morning was over, Janie and I both wanted to know how a man who had once taught at the Virginia Military Institute would come to be known as “Stonewall.” Many VMI  students hated the man, and several had threatened to kill him. But how quickly war can change perspectives .

Initially, there was little prospect the battle of 1861 would provide any kind of celebratory status, at least for the South. Most believed the Confederates would turn tail when confronted with Union strength.

So convinced were residents of Washington D.C. that the battle would be a rout of the Southerners, some had gathered for picnics.

It wasn’t long, however, until several discovered how wrong they were, one congressman in particular. And it almost cost him his life.


Growing tired of watching from several miles away near Centreville, Congressman Alfred Ely ventured closer when he was stopped and then threatened by Colonel E.C. Cash of South Carolina. Pointing his pistol at Ely’s head he shouted, “God damn your white livered soul! I’ll blow your brains out on the spot.”

Only the intervention of the colonel’s men saved the congressman, who nevertheless spent six months as a prisoner of war in Richmond.


Cannon and Stonewall Jackson; part of a 13 cannon complement back dropping Stonewall Jackson


The point, of course, is that the gathering of thousands of Confederate and Union soldiers was no picnic; rather it resulted in a brutal battle, one that included some the war’s principle players. Present on the Confederate side were generals Beauregard, Johnson, Jubal Early and, of course, Jackson. On the Union side were generals Daniel Tyler, Ambrose Burnside and William T. Sherman, among others.


As Janie and I walked the grounds we could see the hills from which the fighting had begun, and the interpretive signs along the way detailed the carnage.

“… sharp shooter bullets thumped into the wooden limber chests. On the rear slopes horses were screaming, dying.”

Approaching the old Henry House we could see across to Mathews Hill and envision the shot up Confederate regiments as they stumbled toward woodlands behind the Robinson House, a part of our hike. At this point it appeared as though the Confederates had in fact lost the war — and that initial predictions had been correct.

But suddenly Generals Johnson and Beauregard arrived. The sight of General Joe Johnson, wounded three times in previous wars, gave the Confederates new courage. Confidence was further bolstered a few minutes later when Thomas J. Jackson’s and his fresh Virginia infantry spilled out of the woods. Nearby was General Bernard Bee, trying to rally his men, and the sudden appearance inspired great hope.


“Look,” shouted Bee. “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”


Henry Hill interpretive walk helps explain legacy of Stonewall Jackson and his role in First Battle of Bull Run.


The nickname spread rapidly throughout the Confederate Army and throughout the South. “Stonewall” Jackson was on his way to becoming a legend.


The fighting continued throughout the day, but late that afternoon a Confederate attack crushed the Union’s right flank and began what in fact became a rout of the entire Union army. Both sides suffered losses and the combined total was about  900. One year and one month later, these opposing forces met again — and again, the South emerged victorious in this second battle of Bull Run (Manassas) — though this time the death rate for both sides neared 3,300.

For several more years the South continued to emerge victorious and did so until the industrial might of the Union at last began to take its toll. Interestingly, the downturn began about 1863, the same year Stonewall Jackson was accidentally wounded at Chancellorsville by one of his own men. Though Jackson subsequently died of his wounds, the legend of Stonewall’s bravery and determination lives on.




*Let the Rut Begin


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