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 the 'Alaska' Category

Honorary Doctorate Awarded Resident of Remote Alaskan Village:

posted: May 10th, 2016 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This past Sunday (May 3, 2016), Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village, Alaska, was presented an honorary Doctor Degree in Law for helping to advance the people of his village and for his efforts in helping to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As well Trimble has served in his village as an Episcopal minister and a traditional chief. Not so incidentally he is one of the very best fiddle players in the entire Arctic region. Janie and I both feel privileged to know this man, and were once honored by Reverend Gilbert when he led his congregation in prayer intended to ensure our safe travels during a month-long hike through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Trimble-1 Trimble-2 TrimbleMary-1


L to R:  Trimble Gilbert has worn many hat during his life in Arctic Village, to include Episcopal minister and traditional chief; David Salmon presents
Trimble Gilbert with eagle feather and a Gwich’in Indian name to replace Anglo Saxon one; Trimble and Mary Gilbert in Arctic Village cabin.


Monday, April 9, the Fairbanks News Miner published an article which Gilbert had written, and I am excerpting portions of it here. Trimble is a most articulate man, and his views on education and on protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are meaningful.

———–

WROTE DR. GILBERT IN the MAY 9 EDITION OF THE FAIRBANKS NEWSPAPER : As a boy growing up in Arctic Village, I learned by listening to my elders and taught myself to write by copying words from bags of sugar and flour. I never dreamed that one day I would receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from a university. But I never quit learning, and have spent my life encouraging young people to earn their degrees and make Alaska and the world a better place.

Education is the key to protecting Gwich’in culture, our way of life and the place where we live. For thousands of years, my people have called the Arctic home, subsisting on species such as fish from the Yukon River and caribou from what is now called the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Clean water and the wild landscape are essential to our survival.

For decades, I have fought to protect the Arctic refuge from oil and gas development because, to the Gwich’in Nation, wilderness is necessary for the survival of our people and our culture, and much of our food comes from the refuge. Preserving the refuge is a matter of human rights.


Trimble-7 Arcticflora Trimble-5


L to R:  Tiny segment of Porcupine caribou herd stampede across Kongakut River; 
the Arctic is not a BARREN wasteland as some politicians have proclaimed;
Johnathan Solomon, Trimble Gilbert share thoughts on refuge with Senator Max Baucus.


President Obama’s administration has recommended that Congress designate the coastal plain and other areas of the refuge as wilderness to ensure that the land will remain wild forever. We support this recommendation, because if drilling hurts the Porcupine caribou herd, the Gwich’in would likely disappear…

“Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” is what we call the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. This means “The sacred place where life begins.” The caribou come here every summer to birth their calves and nurse them until they are ready to migrate…

If drilling happened and affected the Porcupine herd — about 180,000 animals — its future would be threatened. And so would the Gwich’in people and our villages. If the caribou lose land, we will lose caribou. Without them, we cannot feed our families or teach our young people the traditional subsistence way of life. Our children will move to cities, and our community — and our culture — will cease to exist…

20237 CaribouCottonGrass Trimble-3


L to R:  Hiking through Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with friend Burns Ellison; caribou
stand amidst field of Arctic Cotton; winter view from small plane of Arctic Village
.


We are grateful to President Obama for recommending that 12.28 million acres of the Arctic refuge be declared wilderness and protected forever. This way we know all of the important land for the Porcupine caribou will be protected and the herd will not go the way of the great bison herds.


Trimble-4


Trimble Gilbert with sons Gregory and Bobby, all excellent musicians.


The 19.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are a treasure for all Americans…

—————

Janie and I have spent a number of years in the Arctic and believe that everything Trimble wrote in the paper is completely accurate. We’ll go one step further and say that the Arctic Refuge may well be the last self-regulating ecosystem in the world. The Gwich’in are the northern-most tribe of Indians in North America, living as they do at the base of the Arctic Refuge, located almost 200 miles north of Fairbanks.


————————–

 

 

 

HERE ARE A FEW OTHER POSTS ABOUT THE GWICH’IN INDIANS

 

Gwich’in Page

Alaska Boating Adventure

 

Extreme Ice Fishing

 

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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Fiddle Festival Starts Today

posted: November 6th, 2015 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  Fixed forever in my mind is the image of Trimble Gilbert, a Gwich’in Indian, sitting proud, feet beating up and down in a rhythmic manner, drawing his bow across the strings of his fiddle, creating a sweet, sweet sound that only a handful of skilled musicians can yet produce…


12151

At Christmas, Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village has written this author asking,
“Bert, have you learned yet to jig?”   The answer is:  “I’m still trying.”


FESTIVAL STARTS TODAY:

For me, these memories remain as exhilarating as helping my friend Kenneth Frank of Arctic Village, extract dozens of arctic grayling, cod and lake trout from a fishnet in –33°F.  The difference is that fiddle playing is intended to offset—perhaps even celebrate—the rigors of life in the “bush.” (My opening paragraphs as appeared in Native Peoples Magazine.)

Today, I am reminded of these experiences because 10 years ago Janie and I covered the Athabascan Fiddle Festival in Fairbanks – and the annual four-day event BEGINS TODAY.

Images here are mostly from the Fiddle Festival as used in Native People Magazine.  One, however (three young ladies) is from National Wildlife magazine and was used to illustrate my story “Hunting For Their Future.”  The purpose of that story was to call attention to the dependency of the Gwich’in Indians on the Porcupine Caribou herd – and to the herds dependency on the Arctic Refuge.


10349 90965 12348


L to R Image of three chldren has appeared widely;  Trimble Gilbert and sons widely admired for musical skills; Kenneth Frank ice fishing at
Old John Lake, about 20 miles by snowmobile from Arctic in brutal -30 temperatures.

 

Initially, we meet this wonderful group of people through four years of summer school teaching.  We’ve remained in contact with many through Facebook and occasional telephone calls.  Gwich’in villages number about a dozen and most are small number but several hundred inhabitants.  They flank the Yukon and tributaries of the Yukon.

The pictures also remind us that we are overdue for another visit to the Arctic.  We’re hoping that everyone there is still hale and hearty.


————


OTHER GWICH’IN POSTS:

Alaskan Boating Adventure

Gwich’in and the Arctic Refuge

Power of One


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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Is Death Valley Beautiful or Beastly? It’s All Point of View

posted: November 13th, 2014 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: We’re still in Death Valley, camped at Texas Spring, and obsessed with the hardships endured by a group of emigrants collectively referred to as the 49ers. There is no other year that contributed so much to the names and legends that were eventually to become part of this park’s story as the year 1849.

The year also contributed much to a significant chapter in American history, the journey to find riches in the California gold fields at a time when the American economy was floundering.


SaltFlats-1

Mountain Ranges through which the 49ers had to pass in order to reach Travertine Springs, site today of the Death Valley Hotel

 


Perhaps the story of the ‘49ers and its significance to us today can be highlighted by the working title of Beauty or the Beast, for the features that we marvel at today, they looked at with abject horror.

Though the 49ers had endured hardships on their travels from states in the Midwest, nowhere were the hardships as intense as when they reached Death Valley and its immediate surrounds. Entries from the writing of Mrs. Brier, one of the 49ers, summarize some of the hardship.

“Poor little Kirk, my eldest boy… would stumble on over the salty marsh for a time and then again sink down crying. ‘I cannot go any further…’ “


SaltFlats-3 Airstream-1 SaltFlats-9


Images here are taken from along the route Mrs. Brier and her family travels in December of 1849. Though she viewed the landscape as one replete with challenges, we look at it as a place of absolute beauty, stark though it may be. But the endless mountain ranges were heights they had to conquer. And the streams were as rich in salt as the oceans. Sunsets, however, meant an end to the day’s heat, so perhaps we are united in appreciation of a Death Valley desert sunset.

WEATHER IN DEATH VALLEY:

And now today’s DV weather, which will include an afternoon high of 81 and more light breezes. No wonder we’re viewing the area as a place that is one of beauty rather than one that is beastly.


———————


THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

Aftermath of Gettysburg Address

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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Recalling Maggie Roberts, a Much Revered Gwich’in Indian Elder

posted: December 29th, 2013 | by:Bert


Hooves-B&W1

Caribou hooves

©Bert Gildart:  Yesterday’s news from Gwich’in Indian friends in  Alaska informed on the passing of Maggie Roberts, December 26.  She was much revered and once served as a “traditional” village chief. She lived most of her life in Venetie, Alaska, one of the several villages in the Yukon Flats School district where Janie and I once taught school.

We met her in 1991 and over a period of years Maggie became one of our favorite people. Janie got to know her well, and visited  her on many occasions, accompanied at times by one of her “grandchildren,” Kenneth Frank, who has remained one of our very best friends.

Maggie’s stories and words were poignant, and were particularly moving because they dated back to a time when groups were still nomadic.

Those were tough times, but she survived them all, and at times even made light of them.


MAGGIE RECALLS


“…Mostly those were really good times, “said Maggie.  “But they weren’t always that way.  Sometimes our dad would only come back with one squirrel.  Sarah Frank would divide the meat and we’d drink the juice from the squirrel.

“And we’d look to the caribou hooves [provide sustenance when boiled.]…”

Our purpose in recording the stories and making the pictures was to draw attention to their rugged way of life, and to the importance to them of preserving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We did so by later returning to the area as journalists and working on magazine and newspaper assignments.  We count the decade as one of our most intellectually rewarding, for we learned about the mettle of a people.


MaggieRaw 12349 13241

L to R:  Maggie Roberts prepares hide for tanning, in the old way; Kenneth Frank, a relative, continues the family’s subsistence way
of life at Old John Lake; Maggie Roberts hanging fish to be dried for later consumption.

 

Maggie was always willing to help.  Her stories could take up much of an afternoon or evening, so for us, her narrations live on.

We’re saddened by the passing of this wise elderly lady, and wish her family and friends the very best during this very difficult time.


———————


RECALLING THE LIVES AND ACTIVITIES OF OTHER MEMBERS OF THE GWICH’IN INDIAN COMMUNITY :

*Hamel Frank

*Trimble Gilbert

*Athabascan Fiddle Festival

*World Eskimo Indian Olympics

*Lincoln Tritt

*More about Maggie Roberts


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

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

$18.95 + Autographed Copy


Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


What makes Glacier, Glacier?

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

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy






Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Memorable Adventures

posted: September 10th, 2013 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  I’ve had extra time on my hands these past two months and have been using it to sort through old transparencies, deciding which ones to toss and which ones to save and scan.  Organizational efforts have helped recall many interesting events, and I’d like to share several images associated with two particularly memorable adventures.

One story results from a time in 1991 when Janie and I worked in Arctic Village, Alaska, as summer school teachers.  It was an adventure in part because of all the national attention focused on possible oil explorations; and it was dramatized one July day that summer when Max Baucus, our state senator, bush-planed in – wanting to learn more about the subsistence life style of the Gwich’in Indians who inhabited Arctic Village. At the time Baucus served on a committee that had questions about drilling in the Arctic Refuge.  The village was contiguous – immediately so – with the refuge and Baucus wanted to learn how drilling in the refuge would affect this most northern of all Indian tribes. (Eskimos live further north.)


MaxBaccus

Montana Senator Max Baucus with Johnathan Solomon and Chief Trimble Gilbert (center) in 1991.

 

I knew Baucus from a climb he and I had made in 1981 to the top of Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park.  The mountain was famous because waters from the top flow in three directions: to the Atlantic, Pacific and Hudson Bay.  In those years I had worked the valley for several summers as a park ranger and because I had mapped out the route I was the logical guide.

Likewise as teachers in Arctic Village I knew village leaders and Janie and I were honored to make introductions (we still stay in touch with Trimble Gilbert).  Baucus departed enchanted with this remote way of life and has forever remained supportive of efforts to preserve the refuge (ANWR). Baucus is currently in the news as he has decided to retire.

The other event, which might make you wonder just how qualified I was to lead Baucus up Triple Divide  Peak occurred in 1988, 26 years ago now to the month.  The mishap resulted when four of us, to include my good friend David Bristol, with whom I later climbed Mount Rainer, and I got stranded on Chief Mountain, also in Glacier Park.


ChiefMountain

Chief Mountain

 

David and I had checked out several weather sources prior to departing, and as we reached the top, blue skies engulfed the peak.  Halleluiah, and  so we lingered, but as we started back down, a freak weather system began to emerge.  Harsh winds blew in accompanied by dark clouds.  Before long we were shrouded by so much fog that visibility was reduced to zero – certainly a dangerous situation.  Prudently we stopped and huddled that night around a small fire, trying to keep dry and warm as rain and snow beat down.

Next morning skies miraculously cleared and we descended.  When we were about 100 yards from our car we were surprised to encounter a rescue team.  Later, a park official reported to our local newspaper that the team had discovered us in a near hypothermic state – and that it had saved us.


Chief-Mt-Climb

Ascending Chief Mountain 27 years ago. Note storm moving in. It was unexpected.


Our pride was damaged and we wrote to several newspapers saying that we were not “disoriented,” and that the team had not “led us back to our car.” I concluded my remarks saying that we were grateful to the park for their efforts but that we modern day men of the mountains have our pride – then emphasized (as did my friends) that “We had not been saved.”

In addition to stumbling across old memories I’ve used the past two months to prepare for a bicycle riding event, called the Huckleberry 100.  The event offers riders three courses, a 25-mile route, a 50-mile route and a 100-mile route.  I’ve chosen the 50 mile route, and I must emphasize that this event is not a race.  For me it will be a victory simply to complete the course.  The event is this Saturday and Janie will be taking pictures.


THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

Bryce and the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine

BOOKS TO ENHANCE YOUR ADVENTURES IN GLACIER, MONTANA AND SHENANDOAH NP.

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

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

$18.95 + Autographed Copy


Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


What makes Glacier, Glacier?

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

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy




Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Arctic Village – Where the June Sun Never Sets

posted: June 23rd, 2013 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  On a June night 22 years ago, Janie and I hiked to the top of a small knoll just outside of Arctic Village, Alaska, and watched as the sun dipped toward the top of the Brooks Range. It was the longest day of the year, and was here dramatized by the fact that we were about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, that imaginary line that circles the earth and represents the point of longitude where the sun does not set in June or rise in December. That one point of longitude occurs on just one day and is called the summer — or the winter — solstice.

But this far north above that point the sun remained well above the lofty peaks of this magnificent mountain range, meaning, of course, that it never dropped below the horizon.  It fact, it never even came close to touching even the highest of the peaks in the Brooks Range.


LongestDay (1 of 1)

Arctic Village -- where the June sun never sets. Multiple exposure, and note that sun on the far right is actually beginning to rise.

 


From the day we first stepped foot in Arctic Village we were overwhelmed by the work of the people who have managed to carve out a living and by the beauty of the area.  In fact we were so enchanted that we returned year after year – most recently a few years ago to cover the World Eskimo Indian Olympics.

Alaska, and the Arctic, continues to hold a fascination for us and we are right now trying to work out our plans so we can soon return.  Who knows, but this could even become a family wide adventure.  We want to again climb to the top of that small knoll, build a small fire as we did 22 years ago and watch as the midnight sun dips toward the Brooks Range, but never quite touches them.

It was – and is – a sight to behold.

 

———————-

 

AIRSTREAM TRAVELS TWO SUMMERS AGO:

*Entertainment at Bannack, the state’s first capitol

 

MUST HAVE BOOKS FOR EXPLORING GLACIER AND MONTANA

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

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

$18.95 + Autographed Copy


Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


What makes Glacier, Glacier?

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

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

$16.95 + Autographed Copy




Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Lincoln, It Was A Privledge

posted: June 17th, 2013 | by:Bert

Lincoln (1 of 6)©Bert Gildart:  It’s been 22 years since Janie and I first taught in a remote Gwich’in Indian village located in Alaska on the south side of the Brooks Range.  Known as Arctic Village, locals, who number about 100, could sometimes be difficult to meet, as Janie learned when she first picked up the mail.  Back in Fairbanks (about 250 miles south), we’d been told before boarding the bush plane, that the postmaster’s name was “Peter,” so that is what she called the stern-appearing man working behind the counter.

“Hello, Peter,” she called out the first couple mornings.  “Came to collect my mail.”

“Peter” would hand Janie the mail, but said nothing.  And so she stepped back to the dirt roads, wondering if the man spoke only Gwich’in.  She was frustrated but determined and, so, devised a plan. Janie made some cookies, inserted them into a clear plastic sandwich bag, and then next morning started out the door of the small teacherage, saying, “I’m going to get Peter to say something!  Anything!”

Fifteen minutes later she entered the compact log structure, asked “Peter” for the mail and handed him a sack of oatmeal/raisin cookies.  This time the man’s reaction was different.

“Thank you,” he responded with a grin.  “But my name is not Peter.  I’m Lincoln; Lincoln Tritt. Peter is my brother, and he is on vacation.”

From that time forward a relationship began to develop, which Janie helped foster.  Janie offered to take Lincoln in the old school truck (second was the only forward gear that worked!) to the dirt runway that served as the village’s tiny airport, and slowly her “mail-collection service” began generating trust.  It was genuine, for we loved village life and returned often, and as the years passed and we became fixtures in the Gwich’in Indian community at large, we developed close friendships with Lincoln and, of course, with others.

Once, following an extensive riverboat trip, we met Lincoln in Old Crow, Yukon Territory.  And when Janie and I completed a one-moth hike through the Arctic Refuge, Lincoln called the Fairbanks radio station saying they should dedicate the hour to us, which they did.

More time, and Lincoln paid us a visit in Montana, living with us for over a month (he forgot his hat and left it on our sofa) – and I believe we came to know Lincoln Tritt well.  He was a talented musician, a gifted speaker (he spoke at colleges such as Tulane!) and, despite his lack of academic education, he was a cross-cultural philosopher with extraordinary insights.  He was also a writer, and he often shared his work with us…

From Lincoln’s writing: My cousin Mary’s cabin is out in front of trail that leads into the village. She has a dog that barks at people from the moment they come into view… The bear is a powerful animal and this power is not limited to physical strength.  As soon as the dog becomes aware of the bear’s presence, it becomes silent.  Once such energy made us aware of things that happen around us, but not much anymore.  Today, we live in a physical world where constant noise and activities prevent us from noticing anything.


Tragically Lincoln died of a heart attack this past October, and sadly we are just now learning about his passing.  When he passed we were on the road, out of touch, as we often are, with much of the world.  As well, Lincoln lived in northeastern Alaska, some 2,500 miles away, and communication with that part of the world is often nonexistent.


Lincoln (6 of 6) Lincoln (3 of 6) Gwich'in Gathering (1 of 1)

 

L to R:  Lincoln inside his small cabin in Arctic Village; Lincoln, in Fairbanks, Alaska; Lincoln is in this picture, present as are all the other Gwich’in in this image at
Old Crow, Yukon Territory, to show
his support for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 


And so we are a bit late in mourning his loss, but for the past few nights we have been obsessed with our recollections of this remarkable man.  And though there is much to recall, let me summarize a bit about what we know, asking that our thoughts be considered as the much needed catharsis for two Lincoln admirers still in shock.  Others, of course, know him in different ways and those ways may be much more profound.  I assemble these thoughts from some of his writings and from our visits with him, both in his cabin in Arctic Village and with him here in Bigfork, Montana.

More from Lincoln’s writings: When a person gets the idea that I am better than others or that I know more than others, then that person no longer listens… and can become “hopelessly lost.”


Lincoln was born in Salmon River (Sheenjik Village), Alaska, and said that according to his mother’s memory he was born October 18, 1946.

“I traveled with my family of four,” he told us, “with dog team from Salmon River Village to Fort Yukon during the record cold winter of 1946-47.” Lincoln said that over the next 13 years he lived with his family in Arctic Village and in Fort Yukon.  Lincoln continued, saying that Ft. Yukon was also his introduction to segregation (at the time Fort Yukon was a remote Army outpost) and to the start of his guarded faith with his fellow human begins.

Lincoln’s writings: When I was growing up there were very few distractions in the village.  This quiet and contentment helped our senses to develop slowly and without fear. This way we are more focused on what we see and hear.  From the sense of awareness came our ability to listen.  Today people listen to words without concentrating on the ideas or meaning that the words are supposed to convey.

As Lincoln grew his parents sent him to boarding school, and he believes they did so to help him develop a sense of all that was going on around him.  When he graduated he joined the Navy because he thought it would keep him out of Vietnam, “but that,” said Lincoln, “is exactly where they sent me.”


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Lincoln enjoyed playing Country and Western, but he loved gospel, and once joined the local church choir in playing Amazing Grace.

 


Lincoln told Janie and me that it was those experiences that prompted him to consult the Gwich’in elders, and to study his grandfather’s journal. In an attempt to synthesize what he was learning he began taking college courses. As well, he worked on his music, and to help, Janie purchased a sophisticated tape player and recorded some of his work.  He had a grand voice (U-TUBE VIDEO) and he loved the country western music to which he was exposed as a youngster.  But he was at his best when he sang gospel music, and we’ll never forget the time when the tiny Episcopal congregation in Arctic Village allowed us to record Amazing Grace, sung in Gwich’in.  Lincoln, of course, was a part of the ensemble.

Lincoln wrote: While learning about things I began to notice two words: want and need.  Then I applied these words to my material possessions.  When I was done with my inventory I realized how little I needed and everything else became junk…  Now I can work on turning myself into a Gwich’in.  I try to live the way my ancestors lived because it gives me peace and freedom.


Lincoln’s life was considerably more complex than what the blog format facilitates, though generalities exist.  Certainly, he was a dreamer (as am I), but he was also a man of superior intelligence who, had he chosen to do so, could have made his mark at any level in the wider society.  Nevertheless, his contributions, though sometimes subtle, were always profound, and will invariably manifest themselves…


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Arctic Village, where Lincoln now rests, beside the Chandalar River

 


We plan to visit Arctic Village one day soon – and when we do, Janie is going to return Lincoln’s hat.  She says she intends to place it carefully on the final resting spot of this wonderful man…

Lincoln, it was a privilege to have known you.


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THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

The Flight of Chief Joseph


A LINK TO BOOKS YOU MUST HAVE IF VISITING MONTANA OR GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

Both, of course, by Bert Gildart.  Click the links below and I believe you’ll agree the photographs all tell stories.  


*GLACIER ICONS


*MONTANA ICONS


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Mitt Romney and The Economics of Global Warming

posted: September 4th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  At the Republican Convention this past week, Mitt Romney closed his acceptance speech by saying he intended to correct our sluggish economy by reversing a promise Obama made four years ago.  “Obama promised to lower the rising of the oceans,” said Mr. Romney, who then concluded by saying that his promise was to put money in the pockets of the struggling middle class.  Elaborating, he said he would do so by “developing our oil, gas and coal resources.”


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L TO R:  Dr. Dan Fagre pointing out the almost complete recession of Grinnell Glacier in GNP; “Caribou is our Life,” say these three young ladies from Arctic Village; ravages of oil development as revealed at Prudhoe Bay, a place where caribou “have benefited,” or at least so say the developers. 

 

Helping correct our sluggish economy in a responsible way is certainly laudable, but I guess I need help understanding economics.  Virtually all scientists now say aspects of global warming are man caused, and that continued warming could have devastating results.

CURRENT DEVASTATION

We’re already starting to suffer from some of these effects.  Right now forest fires are raging in the West, the Southeast is drought stricken with corn crops suffering, pine beetle infestation is killing off our forests, several foreign countries suffered from severe floods, and people are dying from the hottest temperatures on record.

Aesthetically, the appearance of America is changing. Massive ice fields in places such as Mount Rainier and Glacier National Park have been substantially reduced, and though it is true some have melted before, never in recorded history have they done so at such an accelerated rate.  Glaciers, of course, store water, and many of these storage units are almost gone.

DEVELOPMENT IS ALTERING LIFE STYLES

Oil development will also alter life styles and perhaps none more drastically then the lives of the Gwich’in, who live adjacent to the Arctic Refuge.  And unlike many nay sayers, Janie and I have actually hiked the refuge – from top to bottom.  And look at Prudhoe Bay, a spider web of pipes, which has suffered repeatedly from oil spills.  In the past I’ve reported on all these concerns in many of our leading conservation magazines, such as National Wildlife and Christian Science Monitor.


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L to R:  Unlike most detractors who have never seen the Arctic Refuge, Janie and I have hiked the entire length;  camp site during climb of Mount Rainier where ice fields have been drastically reduced; Dr. David Bristol, my  Rainier climbing partner and life-long friend.

 

Romney’s developmental mind set was discussed this past Sunday on Meet the Press, and David Gregory’s Round Table discussion included both Democrats and Republicans (Newt Gingrich).  Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist and a Pulitzer Prize winning author, said that if  oil, gas and coal resources were tapped that it would “burn up the planet” in ways never anticipated by even Al Gore.

None of the other participants disagreed, and now I’m wondering just how we’re going to resolve the economic woes created by rising temperatures.  In the long run it seems the Romney plan will actually exacerbate our economic woes.


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AIRSTREAM TRAVELS LAST YEAR:

*Montana’s Bear Paw Battlefiield

 

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(You can order our new books (shown below ) from Amazon — or you can order them directly from the Gildarts. Bert will knock a dollar off the list price of $16.95, but he must add the cost of book-rate mailing and the mailer, which are $2.25. The grand total then is $18.20. Please send checks to Bert Gildart at 1676 Riverside Road, Bigfork, MT 59911.)

 

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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge now 50 Years Old, But Challenges lie Ahead

posted: February 28th, 2011 | by:Bert

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Our camp near Caribou Pass, which is not a wasteland as some would have you believe.

©Bert Gildart: Fifty years ago this past December President Eisenhower created the Arctic National Wildlife Range “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.” It was the first time in American history that an entire ecosystem was granted federal protection.

Nineteen million acres were set aside ranging from Kaktovik in the Beaufort Sea and then south, crossing over the Brooks Range then dropping down onto Arctic Village, Alaska.

But although the land is de facto wilderness, ever since Eisenhower’s designation oil companies have eyed the area as a potential for exploitation. I am proud to say that Janie and I have fought along with the Gwich’in Indians, hoping that we – along with the millions of others who love the refuge – might succeed in protecting this sacred land. To insure the integrity of these lands is maintained,  President Obama should elevate the refuge to a National Monument.

We continue to work toward greater protection and our  weapons have been photographs and stories, and they have appeared in dozens of different publications. Our intention has been to chronicle misconception – and sometimes to point out downright lies.

At times, we’ve been funded by major organizations and several years ago The Wilderness Society flew us over the refuge. Later, some members of Congress used my images to illustrate the beauties of the refuge. Some of my other work on the refuge has appeared in Time Life, National Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, Highlights for Children, the New York Times, and many, many others.

NOT A WASTELAND!

Unfortunately, some Senators and Congressmen never get off their fat duffs but feel, nevertheless, that they can make sweeping statements. “It’s a wasteland,” said Trent Lott several years ago, a man who has never stepped foot there.

Unlike Mr. Lott, Janie and I have intimate acquaintance with the refuge. We’ve hiked the entire length of the refuge, traveled the major rivers in our johnboat, and we’ve served as summer school teachers in five different Gwich’in Indian villages. We know the refuge for what it is; and that is one of the world’s last self-regulating ecosystems. As well, we know it as a place whose beauty can not be matched, something I hope images posted here will dramatize.

MISREPRESENTATION?

One of the major misconceptions concerns caribou, and people such as Sarah Palin have a way of distorting the facts. Palin and Lott and others of their persuasion say the Central Caribou herd has not been affected, implying that oil development will be good for the Porcupine Caribou herd, the herd dependent on the Arctic Refuge. But there are immense differences as Gwich’in spokeswoman Sarah James of Arctic Village has been pointing out for years.


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CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE: Our camp, deep in Arctic Refuge; fox returning with ground squirrel to feed young; caribou migrate by our camp near Caribou Pass, not far from Beaufort Sea; camped on Porcupine River, a tributary of Yukon and reached only following week of boat travel.


James says the Porcupine Caribou herd needs the Arctic Refuge for calving, a life cycle forged more than 100,000 years ago. According to the Gwich’in, the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the core and sacred birthplace of the herd, the vadzaih googii vi dehk’it gwanlii – or “sacred place where life begins” – and this wild nursery must remain intact. To deflect attention from the true biological purpose of this place oil companies have designated the nursery as “The 1002 Area.” What bull crap!

TELL THE WHOLE STORY

As well, oil companies say the Central Caribou herd, which calves near Prudhoe Bay, has expanded its numbers despite drilling. That, James admits, is true. But she insists such expansion is “only part of the story.”


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Gwich’in communities and effects of refuge spill over into McKenzie River Delta; Rock John with huge pike caught near Arctic Village on Chandalar River; roasting caribou heads over fire.

James says the untold story concerns geography. In the area where the Porcupine herd calves, the Brooks Range is separated from the Arctic Ocean by about 15 miles. Not so just to the west, where the Central Caribou herd calves. There, as you proceed from east to west, the Brooks Range sweeps to the south, so much so that the mountains are separated from the Arctic Ocean by almost 100 miles. Caribou in the Central herd have room to roam, but not those in the Porcupine herd.

REFUGE SHOULD BE NATIONAL MONUMENT

Because the refuge is a land of such beauty one might think this would be a year to celebrate, and thankfully, there have been accomplishments. But oil companies and Alaska developers such as Sarah Palin are “reloading,” and I hope that Ms. Palin finds that her language – and her inflammatory graphics – do nothing more than ricochet back.


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Like a spider web, the threads of Prudhoe spread over the coastal plains and most certainly effect caribou and a beauty that is unique in the world.

 


Encourage President Obama to safeguard the Arctic Refuge by making its coastal plain a national monument.


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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Gator Drama In Shark Valley


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Happy Winter Solstice

posted: December 21st, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Happy Winter Solstice, and this year as so many probably know, it was an especially eventful one. For the first time in about 2,000 years winter solstice coincided with a total lunar eclipse.

Most living in my neck of the woods, meaning Montana’s Flathead Valley, probably didn’t get too excited about the phenomena  as the skies here are so often overcast. Last night, December 20th, was no exception. The next time such events will be in sync will about 80 years down the line, meaning my grandchildren might well experience the two events simultaneously.


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Northern lights, Arctic Village Alaska

 


The fact that I couldn’t see it, however, doesn’t mean I don’t get excited about solar events, as this image of northern lights takes several years ago in the Arctic might suggest. In Arctic Village, Alaska, located about 270 miles north of Fairbanks I made this image about 6 in the evening. By that time there is almost 24 hours of complete darkness, which isn’t surprising when you realize that this tiny village is about 150 miles above the Arctic Circle.

But I’m straying far afield. Actually all I set out to do was to wish everyone a Happy Winter Solstice. From this point on, the days will start getting longer, the main reason people originally began celebrating this day.

PHOTO NOTES:

For the photographer the image was made on a Nikon D-300, which withstood -30 temperatures. Exposure was about 30 seconds with an aperture of  f-8. ISO was 200.


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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Digital Night Photography

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World Eskimo Indian Olympics — Story

posted: July 8th, 2010 | by:Bert

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Image of Manny Curtis shot with extreme ISO setting

©Bert Gildart: This month’s issue of Native Peoples Magazine features a story of mine about the World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO). The magazine is on the newsstand and is now reminding me of what an adventure Janie and I had last July in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the event is held annually.

The story was illustrated with my images and because I worked so hard obtaining the pictures thought I’d share some in this posting. With the exception of several of the pictures that focused on the arts from remote villages, all were action images and several were taken with natural light but at incredibly high ISOs.

ISO is the digital equivalent of ASA in film, and for those of you who can remember way back to the year 2000 when film was still in vogue, you’ll recall that when you used Ektachrome 400, grain started to appear and could be a real problem. Not so with digital images, which you can further enhance using Lightroom and PhotoShop.

The image of Manny Curtis was taken at an ISO of 2000 while the one of Clyde Brown was taken at an ISO of 800. In the magazine, there is no grain and the colors are intense.

UPCOMING TRAVELS

Janie and I are departing in several days for the East Coast for a number of reasons. We’ll be visiting family in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Along the way we’ll be gathering material for a number of stories. After Labor Day, we’ll pull our Airstream to Shenandoah National Park and spend about a month updating a book published by Globe Pequot about hiking and exploring this beautiful park. The book is going into its fourth printing and we have sold over 24,000 copies, which is pretty good for an outdoor book.

Rich Luhr and family may join us in their Airstream in Shenandoah in September and if so, we plan to climb Old Rag, the park’s highest peak. Though not particularly difficult (at least, Rich, for a man 20-plus years your senior!), what makes the ascent so meaningful is the ancient rock. The rock reposes near the summit and dates back to the Precambrian.

As we make our journey back east we may stop for a night in Wisconsin and revisit a lovely couple whom we’ve gotten to know from the Airstream crowd. Ken and Petie Faber are also an extremely talented couple, and they’ve been here in Bigfork the past few days.

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Clyde Brown dancing at openng ceremonies of World Eskimo Indian Olympics, Fairbanks, AK.

Ken is a retired insurance man and now devotes his time to refurbishing old Airstreams, creating what the industry calls “Vintage Airstreams.” Petey is a retired teacher and now an artist extraordinaire. Though they are a few years older than Janie and I, they are active cyclists, and think little of striking off on a 50-mile day-long trip.

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

There are some other good people we’d like to visit along our way, several of whom we rendezvoused with this past winter in Anza Borrego. And then, too, we have family in Minnesota, but we’ll just have to see how our serendipitous travels unfold. Several story assignments are pending and if they work out then our route may change, meaning that we’ll have to try and make stops on the way back.

Life, however, is about the present, but because it benefits from the past, I’m hoping my WEIO images stir some atavistic recollections, which is what the four-day event is intended, at least in part, to evoke.

The event has become one of our favorite memories not only because of the superb athletes, but also because we were able to revisit so many wonderful native peoples, whom we count as very good friends.

See you from along the road.


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THIS TIME LAST YEAR:

*World Eskimo Indian Olympics


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Merry Christmas From the Road

posted: December 24th, 2009 | by:Bert


MERRY CHRISTMAS


Many of our friends have experienced great difficulties this past year, suggesting that we must make each new day count for something, and enjoy it to the fullest. Those to whom I’m referring know who they are, and Janie and I wish them only the very best.


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Christmas as seen from the Courthouse in Prescott, Arizona

 

Fortunately, all the children in our extended family seem to be doing well, and are toughing out these difficult economic times. Finding or sustaining jobs has at times been challenging, and one of our children spent months in a remote Alaskan settlement making excellent wages as a lead carpenter. Another has taken on a job as bus drivers while the others have continued on in such fields as teaching, counseling, Real Estate sales or in the various trades. Janie and I are equally proud of them all and hope their luck continues and then flourishes.

Much of our year has been spent on the road and it began with a departure on a snowy winter day from our home near Bigfork, Montana, then a series of prolonged stops, the first of which was Death Valley. Other prolonged camps included ones in Padre Island, and Chiricahua.

Christmas Tree

A harmony of colors and implied suggestion of Peace and Good Will

From the Southwest we towed our Airstream to the Natchez Trace and spent time with my good friend Ed Anderson and his delightful family — where we cooked up a Plumb Southern cuisine. From the Natchez Trace we made a long drive to the Northeast and visited Janie’s children and grandchildren. Certainly, that was a most powerful highlight for us both. We visited with my sister, Nancy, and my brother-in-law, Forrest. They’ve just been blessed with a grandchildren. Good job Joel and Becca!

We then scurried back home in May and spent several months preparing for our trip to Alaska, where I had a number of assignments, one to cover the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. While there we also  managed to see old friends, mostly those who live in far flung Native villages. We particularly enjoyed seeing Trimble Gilbert and Kenneth and Caroline Frank, all of Arctic Village. We enjoyed seeing Ernie Peter of Old Crow and remember the many kindnesses all showed us when we worked in their various villages.

Whie in Fairbanks, we enjoyed a boat trip with Karen of the Fairbanks Department of Tourism and her husband Willie, and then a trip over the Top of the World Highway with a memorable stop  in Chicken, Alaska. Top of the World concludes in the historic mining town of Dawson City, where we learned more about one of my heros, Robert Service, who wrote Cremation of Sam Sam McGee. From Dawson we drove to Skagway, learned about powers of Yukon Jack with Adam and Sue. We met Buckwheat and enjoyed his professional renditions of Robert Service poetry.

And now we’re back at Peg Leg, having  just recently spent time with photographer friend Rich Charpentier  in Prescott, Arizona, which is where I photographed the Court House building, all decorated with brilliantly colored lights. What was particularly moving about this historic old town is that a lavishly Christmas Tree stood all decked out in garlands of color — and the combination of the decorated tree and the Courthouse  reminded us we are all part of the family of man and that most in this family prefer to interact with cheer and feelings of well being toward one another.

We hope this year has been a good one for you and would like to take this small space to wish all a very Merry Christmas.

Bert and Janie Gildart


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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Merry Christmas From Tampa, Florida

 

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Emmonak, Alaska Is A Long Way From Home

posted: November 5th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s a long way from my son’s home in Kalispell, Montana, to Emmonak, Alaska, but that’s where David worked this past summer. Though he initially took the job because there was so very little employment locally for those in the construction field, as it turned out, not only was the summer profitable, but as well, it was a great adventure, one he may try to repeat. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned about rolling with the times.

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Emmonak, Alaska, five miles from the Bering Sea

Emmonak is located near the mouth of the Yukon River near the Bering Sea, and that’s a long way from anywhere. The Yukon is several thousand miles long, and Janie and I know a little something about it. Several years ago, we loaded up our john boat, shoved off from Circle, Alaska, and boated about 2,100 miles in the course of four months.

Our journey took us about 300 miles down the Yukon to Rampart, then back up river to Fort Yukon where the Porcupine River converges with the Yukon. We then boated 350 miles to Old Crow, Yukon Territory, a Gwich’in Indian village, where I was gathering materials for various stories about the lives of subsistence hunters… This is big country, and though we covered many miles on the Yukon, we were still about 500 miles from  Emmonak. Because there are no roads to Emmonak, boat travel or bush plane are the only ways to get there.

Originally, Emmonak was settled by the Yup’ik Eskimo, a group that would hunt the winter ice for seals. But white people moved in, and when they did, roads were needed, meaning gravel to shore up the mud plastering grounds of this delta village. But the only gravel is located about 100 miles upstream around Mountain House, another Yukon River village. Each season that’s where barges go, returning with loads to be dumped along the roads of Emmonak. Maintaining Emmonak is a constant struggle.

VILLAGE STRUGGLES

Several years ago, the village had a particular series of problems. In the winter of 2008-2009, a combination of a cold winter and increased fuel prices led to economic hardship. Due to a collapse in local king salmon fisheries in 2008 residents were unable to generate enough economic capital to buy increased amounts of heating oil at higher prices. On January 10, 2009 Nicholas C. Tucker, Sr., a town elder, circulated a letter asking for aid. The letter was circulated by Alaska bloggers, where it was picked up by national media.


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CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGE AND COMPLETE CAPTION. L to R: George, the chef; David with Coho salmon; main street of Emmonak; David and George, the chef; home for the summer.


Emmonak is small, about 800 people, and the village is considered “dry.” Kwik’Pak Fishery operates a business there, netting and processing salmon. That requires out buildings, and the talents of a skilled carpenter, which after many years in the business my son certainly is. The business also requires the talents of welders, mechanics and of a professional cook, and Kwik’Pak, at least according to David, was very lucky in that they were able to hire “George,” a Romanian cook who has worked in some of the world’s best restaurants. Once he worked on a boat which ran into some bad luck. The ship sank and “George,” said David, relating the story to me,  “had to tread water for twenty-four hours.”

David also says that his crew of about 12 was lucky, for they dined like kings — all on meals prepared by George.

MOOSE AND SEAL HUNTING

David worked seven days a week, but still had a little time off to join natives as they hunted for moose and seals. He said he wished he’d had a camera with him when the Eskimos tried to spear seals in the traditional way. Nevertheless, he still came back with some excellent story-telling images.

Though no one has a crystal ball, David said he’d very much like to return, for not only did he benefit from the hard work, but he says he also had quite an adventure.

“You bet, I’d like to go back,” said David. “It’s a different world, and I enjoyed learning about another culture and the business of catching fish.”

Seems like in this season of rough economic times, you do what you must do, and sometimes it really works well.


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Photo Shop

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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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Satisfying Life’s Basic Needs Is Often A Challenge – Even in National Parks

posted: September 14th, 2009 | by:Bert

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Shelter, plus food and water are required to sustain life.

©Bert Gildart: Long ago in a wildlife management course, I learned that all life has three basic needs. It must have food, water and shelter.

In Canada’s Jasper National Park, for some species, these needs are met, but not without some difficulty.

To acquire the much-needed water bighorn sheep must wade through a maze of traffic, and it is to the credit of the majority of drivers that most of the animals survive.

As we watched, virtually all motorist slowed down, even the huge truckers. In fact, one stopped and moved clear off the road while the herd crossed. That’s probably something you don’t often see.

TRIP’S END

Our fabulous trip to Alaska has ended and though we’re off the Alcan, the drive from Jasper and Banff back to Montana is often one of the most rewarding.

Last year, about three weeks later, we were here when the elk were deep into the rut. Right now, Canadian campgrounds are still filling, but with children back in school, that will soon taper off, leaving only the more dedicated nature lovers.

However, we’re anxious now that we are back home to sort everything out. I have a number of stories I must soon complete for various magazines, and the front end of our Dodge is making a ticking sound, which could well be the U-joints.

Our Airstream seems to have weathered the drive, but we’re anxious to give it a major cleaning. As well, the left hand side of our sofa, which I use in combination with the swing-up table as an office, has lost its elasticity. The local furniture shop says they can replace the springs.

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Threading traffic after satisfying need for water, sheep hope to safely return and find cover, one of the other two basic needs needed to sustain life.

In several weeks we’ll also be checking out fall colors in Glacier National Park, pulling our Airstream to the park’s east side. From all reports, this could be a banner year.


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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Bay of Fundy — World’s Most Extreme  Tides

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Back Home — But Alaska Is Still On Our Minds

posted: September 7th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Because access in Canada to the Internet was prohibitively expensive (about $800 each month) our blogs have been made a day or two after the fact. Postings of our travels could only be made from campgrounds offering WiFi, and they weren’t always available.

That worked fairly well, but, generally, connectivity was more like dial up. To compound matters, when we did gain Internet access, often it turned out that it was only temporary. For example, I’d move to a spot, find that access was satisfactory, but, then, a huge rig would move in next to us — dwarfing our Airstream. And that was the end of my reception. The only remedy was to move my computer into the washroom or to some other out building that was close to the campground’s antennae. Sometimes that worked, but there were several times when I was forced to a picnic bench, and then the glare on my screen was such that work was difficult.

Those, at any rate, are my excuses for delayed postings, and simply stated: it’s been a challenge — even in Alaska, where my Verizon card worked most of the time.

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CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO SEE LARGER VERSION: L to R: Baby Contest which was popular adjunct to World Eskimo Indian Olympics; juvenile bald eagle, which probably slipped from nest; Thien, certainly one of the most enduring of long-haul bikers.

What I want to do with this posting is bring my work closer to real time, report that we are now home — and publish a few images I was unable to publish because of time constraints. Then I’d like to add a few comments about the photographs. There are also a few blogs I want to post these next few weeks that require the assembling of notes and materials that I simply did not have time to consider while scurrying from place to place.

ALASKA GENERATES HIGH ENERGY LEVEL

Those who travel the Alcan know what I’m referring to when I say that the state generates a high energy level, often derived from the fact that everyone seems to be making grand discoveries. Sometimes those discoveries derive from the overwhelming surroundings and, good Lord,  even from the gold you’ve discovered! Other times it’s because of the people you meet.

Case in point was a young man from Toronto who had bicycled over 2,000 miles from home when we meet him. His name was Thien, and we encountered him over and over. He said he generally covered 100 miles a day on his bike, and sometimes that’s all we covered. About the fourth time we met him, we told him to camp by us that we were having a cookout with some native friends from Arctic Village. Next thing we knew he was taking a bush plane to Arctic Village at the request of Kenneth and Caroline, who also took a liking to Thien.  Later, he biked the entire length of the Haul Road to Prudhoe Bay.

OUTDOOR WRITER’S ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

We also enjoyed immensely our visits with Karen and Willi Lundquist. Janie and I have known Karen for a number of years through the Outdoor Writer’s Association and have become good friends. One weekend Karen and Willi invited Janie and me to join them on an overnight  boat trip to their cabin — way up the Salcha River. At times the river seemed only inches deep, and Willi demonstrated boating skills that rank him in a class all by himself. Sometimes, the water was only inches deep, but we skimmed right over the surface.


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FOR LARGER VERSION, CLICK ON EACH IMAGE: L to R: Totems greet travelers at new native visitor center located at Teslin, British Columbia; Willi Lundquist holds up dorsal fin of arctic grayling — it’s key characteristic; fishing for grayling on the Salcha River, 18 miles from launch point.

During our stay, we fished — catching a number of Arctic Grayling — and one morning found a young bald eagle (top three verticals) that had apparently fallen from its nest in tree along the bank. It couldn’t fly, and sadly we could not envision a happy ending for this young flightless bird. I photographed it using a two strobe set up, and Karen (wearing shorts) bravely suffered the many sticky plants and mosquitoes to assist by holding one of the flash units.

BACK TO CHICKEN

Certainly one of our favorite stops was made in Chicken, Alaska, and when I mention the name, most chuckle until I tell them that gold mining and a teacher named Tisha made the area famous. I’ve covered Tisha in previous postings but plan to explain in the next week or so how the area contributed to the discover of gold and how that legacy still lives on through a man who would have been a candidate for John McPhee’s book, Coming Into the Country, had it been written at a different time.


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Mike Busby has helped to perpetuate the "golden" legacy of Chicken, Alaska, through interpretations of his Pedro Dredge and by offering opportunities to actually mine for gold at his Chicken Gold Camp.


Other photographs shown here are from the various native functions or interpretive centers we visited. At Teslin, British Columbia, we stopped to tour the relatively new visitor center, set off by a series of totems poles. I particularly liked one of the photographs Janie took (above verticles) while I was covering the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. She took the photograph during the baby contest, one of many additional events that took place when the athletes were taking a break from the intense contests.

Alaska never fails to excite us, and it is with much sadness that we see our trip now at a close. However, it lives on for us in our magazine stories (past and yet to come), in our photographs, and in our blogs, which is one of the many reasons we write them.

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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Fall Foliage Along the Natchez Trace Parkway

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Season of the Elk – Night of the Grizzly

posted: September 2nd, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s mating season for elk throughout the Rockies, and bull elk are now making their presence known. Several nights ago, while camped at Whistler Campground just outside of the townsite of Jasper, Alberta, Janie looked out the window of our Airstream and saw four cow elk being herded by a royal bull elk (that’s one with six tines).

There were about 10 feet separating our truck from our Airstream and the bull laid back his head and walked between the two. Then he tried to corral the four members of his small harem. Grabbing my camera I opened the door and moved to a positions where I could jump behind a huge tree should the bull come my way. Janie also stepped from the trailer and tried to take several photographs. My best image was one of Janie beneath the awning of the trailer jockeying for position.

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Janie attempting to position herself for a photo of bull elk in Jasper National Park.

This is the same campground at which we stayed last year for almost 10 days, gathering many images of elk. The trip was highlighted with a number of experiences which illustrate the fact that many believe seeing elk in Jasper is like seeing elk in a zoo. That, as my images show, is certainly not the case.

NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY

Several years ago I provided a posting about my involvement in the first two fatal mauling experienced in Glacier National Park (Night of the Grizzly). The posting continues to attract a number of comments, and for some reason, several have chosen this time to add their thoughts. All are interesting and I invite others to leave their thoughts as well. I’ve also posted on other grizzly bear situations, and here’s a link to one that could have resulted in serious consequences( *Training People to Watch Bears).

Last year reporters from Public TV interviewed me (and many others as well) about my involvement in the dual tragedy. I understand production is about to wrap up and that a program about the tragedy will air sometime this spring. Though the maulings occurred in 1967, this year marks the 100 year anniversary of Glacier, so the timing to report on bears in Glacier remains appropriate.

Note: After writing the above, I just figured out why so many are choosing to post comments about my involvement. Bill Schneider, a writer with New West, interviewed producers of an upcoming Montana PBS documentary about the maulings, and provided a link to my site. Here’s a link to his site, and his story about the interview.

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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Moose & Their Bizarre Feeding Techniques

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(Note: Several have requested links to the book Night of the Grizzly, which I’m now providing as well as links to books on the natural history of bears. These are all excellent works, and I personally know ALL the authors. If you follow my links to Amazon, and then purchase from that link — that really AUGMENTS our travels.)

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Is the Section From Liard Hot Springs to Stone MountainThe Most Beautiful Segment of the Alaska Highway? Some Say It Is

posted: August 30th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though we’ve found the entire length of the Alcan Highway to be fascinating, certain segments have their proponents. Several travelers have said they particularly enjoy the segment from Liard Hot Springs, south (or north, if you’re traveling that way) to Stone Mountain Provincial Park, a distance of about 200 miles.

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To See Larger Version Click On Each Image. L To R: Steam Rises In The Cool Morning Air From Liard Hot Spring; Fall Was In The Air And The Geese Were Flying Overhead And The Bunch Berry Dogwood Was Already Producing Its Ripe Red Berries; Departing From Liard Along The Boardwalk.

Two-hundred miles is about all we drive in the course of a single day, as photography is such an important component of each day, and that takes time. But when we reached the end of the day, Janie and I both believed we’d seen an incredible number of interesting features, and with that in mind, I’m going to here provide a photo summary with extended captions. Read along, for during our travels of several days ago  we saw where the Rockies end in the north, herds of woodland caribou, stone sheep, and an incredible number of beautiful lakes. These photographs were all made during the course of that  drive and are essentially shown as taken at the time, meaning there are few if any PhotoShop modifications.

ABOUT MIDWAY along in our drive yesterday, we came to a section of the road that had been under construction on our way up. But now, on our way down, the 30 miles dust section had been paved. We’ve also been discovering that the frost heaving of spring had relaxed and so all the road buckling of several months had leveled out.


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To See Larger Version Click On Each Image. L to R: Close up of Fireweed gone to seed, another sign that fall is fast descending; woodland caribou slow traffic, and in Stone Mountain Provincial Park-part of the Alcan-all drivers seem alert to wildlife; young bull caribou; Muncho Lake and Terminal Range of Rockies meeting Sentinel Range of British Columbia.


That made the drive around Muncho Lake a delight, and we stopped to photograph the point where the Sentinel Range ends and the Rockies begin. All this takes place at Muncho Lake, meaning “Big Lake” in Tagish, the aboriginal language of the area. Wildlife also was abundant beginning here, particularly as we approached Stone Mountain Provincial Park.

AS WELL AS ABUNDANT WILDLIFE in Stone Mountain, the mountains and lakes were beautiful, and toward the summit of one of the passes in Stone Mountain, we came to a small lake appropriately called Summit Lake.

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As one of the highest places along the Alaska Highway, Summit Lake was an appropriate place to park our Airstream.

 

Liking the solitude, we decided we’d make camp, doing so along a small creek. Before the evening was over, we saw beaver. Several trails ascend and I climbed one, stopping to gaze back over our Airstream and all that surrounded it. Though I would be hard pressed to isolate this area and proclaim it the most beautiful section of the Alcan, I’d certainly concur that it is an incredible section.


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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*The Citadel, Preserving Quebec’s Peace

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Along the Alcan, It’s the Season of the Bison

posted: August 27th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If you want to see bison engaged in the all the ritualistic traits associated with the power of the species, mark on your calendar the middle of August. Here, at this time, along the Alaskan Highway, it’s the season of the bison.

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Rolling in dirt rids bison of bugs, but also telegraphs a high degree of anxiety.

Yesterday, Janie and I were driving about 20 miles north of Liard Hot Springs, in British Columbia, when we came across a herd of bison roaring like lions, kicking dust in the air, rolling in dirt, sniffing one another… pawing the earth, and butting horns. None of this was done in play; rather it was conducted in earnest and is associated with the hormonal rush these huge beasts are now experiencing. These activities are timeless ones, and are important as they will determine the evolution of the species. Their activities will determine which bulls mate with the females, and when all the formality is over, only the strongest will pass on their genes.

Bison have always inhabited the mountains and forest of the far north; in fact the Canadians have established a vast preserve known as Wood Buffalo National Park, located well east of here. But bison have also inhabited the forest of British Columbia, and if you are lucky enough to see them, you are in for a real treat.

TWO MALES GOING WILD

We saw these magnificent creatures as we ascended from a swale along the road. From the crest, we could see a small herd of bison and even from a distance of half a mile, we could see two males were going wild. Driving closer we watched as they pushed and shoved, churning up forest grasslands over a distanced that covered several acres. Driving yet closer, we could see muscles strain, horns probe.


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CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO SEE LARGE VERSION: L to R: Other cars pull off leaving this Airstream out in the open; bellowing bull means “Watch out;” but that’s something this Neanderthal must not have realized, though he was lucky  — fortune not everyone is accorded.

The action went on for about 10 minutes, and when it ended, neither bull seemed satisfied, meaning the war had not yet been concluded, though a battle had been fought. We settled in to wait, pulling our Airstream off the road, but well away from the herd. I then mounted on a tripod an 840mm lens attached to my Nikon D300 and hoped the action would resume. In the meantime, the few other drivers along the Alcan had also noted the action and they, too, were pulling over. What people do as they watch wildlife, always awes — and sometimes frightens me.

ABSOLUTELY NO COMMON SENSE

Last year, Janie and I were in Jasper when bull elk were battling, and we watched as people violated every common sense rule known to mankind. That day a bull elk charged a motorhome that had entered his space, and badly gouged it. Now, it appeared as though the same thing might happen again, but this time rather than a 1,200 pound elk hitting a vehicle, it appeared as though a 2,000 mass of fury might attack, for the perpetrators were assembling.

A young man stepped out of his vehicle and watched as a bison ambled by, passing within feet of his rented motorhome. Moments later a couple driving a sports car stopped in the middle of the road, leaped out, ran toward the bison, and began clicking with their tiny instamatic cameras. They ran back and speed off, leaving a couple in an Airstream travel trailer (not us) out in the open. The couple had just pulled in, and wisely they sat in their tow vehicle as a bull sauntered in front of them and then crossed the road.

MAN TOSSED INTO TREE

Luckily, nothing happened to any of the wildlife watches here along the Alcan, but I will always recall the anecdote of a Yellowstone National Park visitor approaching a bull bison during the mating season and being rewarded for his Neanderthal curiosity by being charged and then tossed into a tree. This troglodyte got by with just a couple of broken ribs.


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CLICK TO SEE IMAGE AS LARGER VERSION. L To R: Bison now battling along Alcan near Muncho Lake; Rolling in dirt rids bison of bugs and adds to drama of mating season; fighting was persistent.


Meanwhile, action in the herd was picking back up, and from a distance I photographed a cow rolling in the dirt, then a bull rolling in the dirt. But not too far away, one of the two bull combatants began roaring again, and minutes later, the two gladiators were at it again.

My 840mm telephoto enables me to capture the action from a safe distance and for over an hour, I worked hard, trying to record this incredible moment. The two bison pounded each other, and I recorded it, but nothing, it appeared would be resolved today – so the war was not yet over. More battles would be fought.

Finally, with about 200 images of a herd of bison, I realized I could do little more. Still, the bison and the din of noise they were creating from all these ritualistic activities, continued. Janie and I remained awed, and for awhile we simply watched. The moment was a timeless one, and we felt privileged on this August day to be part of this rare drama, this season of the bison.

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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*Quebec City

 

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Hop Aboard A Narrow Gage Railroad to Relive Stampeder’s Rush to the Klondike

posted: August 25th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Just as the outbreak of World War II ended the Great Depression of the 1930s, so the Klondike Gold Rush ended the depression of the late 1890s.

In 1896 George Washington Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie discovered gold on Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike, located not far from where the Yukon and Klondike rivers converge near Dawson, Yukon Territory. Word went out, and the rush was on. The problem, however, was getting to the Klondike, and that’s when enterprising businessmen began creating routes.

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Eventually a narrow gage railroad became the preferred route to the Klondike.

Of the half dozen or so different routes to emerge, the two most popular were the Chilkoot and the White Pass, both located near Skagway, Alaska.

DEVELOPMENT OF ROUTES

The Chilkoot developed from a town known as Dyea, located about six miles from Skagway, and for awhile it was considered the preferred route. White Pass was accessed from Skagway, and though it was 600 feet lower, it was 10 miles longer. For that reason, the Chilkoot was the preferred route, and beginning in 1898 and for several years thereafter, over 30,000 gold seekers toiled up this route’s “Golden Stairs,” a hellish quarter-mile climb gaining almost 1,000 vertical feet.

But there was yet another route, and today, you can sit back in comfort aboard the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, and experience much of what yet another group of gold seekers experienced. Rails reached White Pass Summit in February of 1899, and from then on, the Chilkoot’s days as the route to the Klondike were numbered. The four-hour round trip excursion courses through history and through some of the Yukon’s most spectacular country.

TRAIN TO WHITE PASS

Janie and I boarded the train about 8 in the morning, and several powerful diesel engines began pulling about 20 cars along the narrow gage tracks. Soon we passed our campground, and could see our Airstream. The rails continued, soon passing the train yard where the historic steam engine Number 73 sat waiting until the weekend during which time it runs faithfully.

Moments later, we passed the Gold Rush Cemetery and a narrator explained over the loud speaker that by 1898 Skagway had become a lawless town. In fact, the town became so lawless that Skagway began to lose traffic to Dyea, the nearby town competing for business. The outlaw faction was led by “Soapy” Smith and for several years, he controlled Skagway. In 1898, Frank Reid, a surveyor, killed Smith in a shootout. Unfortunately, Reid was also shot and he died 10 days from a painful wound in the groin.

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Click on each image to see a larger version. L to R: White Pass shack, where the RCMP once waited; trail passes many falls and river, such as the Skagway River; another train along the route to White Pass; our train returns, amidst some sunshine.

As a photographer, the best place to position myself while on the train was on the front and rear platforms. Here, I could photograph the sweep of the trail as it rounded corners, and crossed bridges. From one place, we could look back and see the ocean and we could see Skagway. As well, we could see several huge cruise ships anchored in the harbor. In fact, most aboard the train were from the several ships.

FOG ADDS DRAMA

Typically, the mountain region was foggy, but I thought images of the engine entering the fog added drama, and it helped to better convey the message that this land crossed by the miners was wet and damp. Undoubtedly, the wetness contributed to the variety of illnesses so many miners contracted. Interestingly, scurvy was a leading cause of disease, resulting in general lassitude, loose teeth and bruise-like marks on their bodies. Indians knew a remedy and so did some of the old timers, and that was simply to drink an occasional cup of spruce-needle.

About 10 in the morning, the train neared White Horse Gulch, where over 3,000 horses died, most from abuse. Here, the narrator pointed out that we could also see the old trail, once used by Stampeders.

RCMP MONITORED ACTION OF STAMPEDERS

A few minutes later, the trail entered a second tunnel and then, approached the Summit, which is also the point where the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) were stationed to check each of the gold seekers loads. Men were required to have one ton of gear, and much of that was food. The Canadian government knew about the mass starvation experience between 1897 and 1898, “Starvation Winter,” and were determined to prevent a reoccurrence. The RCMP was also posted on the Chilkoot, explaining why it often required months of leap-frog backing to make it to the head of the Yukon, for packs and progress were monitored.

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For additional funds, the train will also take you to the historic town of Carmack.

From the headwaters of the Yukon, as mentioned in previous posts, Stampeders would build boats, and then travel about 500 miles down river to the site of the gold discover at Dawson, Yukon Territory.

All too soon, we reached the 2,888 foot high White Pass. Here, passengers are asked to flip their seats so that they are then facing in the direction the train proceeds on its return. Though the return duplicates the country we’d just seen, on the return I knew some of the features I’d missed on the way up and was prepared. I photographed clouds lifting over the hills and the many tributaries of the Skagway River.

We count the trip as one of the most historic and informative in Skagway and highly recommend it.

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THIS TIME THREE YEARS AGO:

*The Citadel, Preserving Quebec’s Peace

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