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 'Books & Stories' Category

Glacier Icons – A beautiful book of essays and photography

posted: November 15th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In 1903 writer, editor, and naturalist George Bird Grinnell expressed his thoughts in Century Magazine about this land he had come to love, calling the area the “Crown of the Continent.” From the mountain goats who linger by the visitor’s center on Logan Pass to the crystal-clear glacier-fed lakes, from the magnificent views from the Many Glacier Hotel to the old-growth forest landscape, visitors will find much to ponder and enjoy within the pages of Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent.


Bird Woman Falls Glacier National Park

Bird Woman Falls, Glacier National Park

His image of and descriptive story about the magnificent glacier-carved landscape in the far reaches of Montana brought about the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910.  Grinnell’s description is apt, but it is just one of the collective descriptions that evokes iconic images of Glacier, also called the “Land of Shining Mountains: and known by millions of visitors for their own personal stories and connections to its magnificent vistas and small wonders.

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent contains fifty essays in a book measuring 7×7. It contains 102 pages all filled with thousands of facts and almost 100 color photographs of iconic people, places, events, foods, animals, traditions, and more from all part of this great national park.

SAMPLE ICON:Hard, wind blown snow comes early to the park’s high peaks. It drives the elk down into the low country, it covers the boulder-strewn home of the mouse like pika, and it sends the powerful grizzly bear scurrying to its den for a long winter’s nap. In fact, the rugged alpine country forces just about every type of creature to leave or hide. But there always remains a beautiful little one-pound animal, a bird called the ptarmigan.

ptarmigan photo Avalanche Creek Waterfall Black Bear Cub Grizzly Bear Photo Bull Elk Bugling

I met this strange bird while cross-country skiing with a ranger friend in Glacier National Park. At the time it was five below zero, and the wind was howling through the trees. Both of us were bundled in heavy down coats, warm leather mittens, and thick woolly long johns. Around us, the snowy world through which we plodded seemed a mighty deserted place. But suddenly, not more than a half dozen paces away, sat six balls of puffed-up feathers. They were pure white, as white as the snow over which we traveled, and it seemed strange that they had not taken wing. Confident in their ability to blend with the landscape, apparently fear was not part of their nature…


*We were privileged to get an advance copy of this book (because Emma is in one of the photos), and I have to say it’s really beautiful. Anyone who is a fan of Bert’s photography in Airstream Life will love this book. It certainly has inspired us to start thinking about a trip to Montana, to see the incredible beauty of Glacier again. In the meantime, Bert’s book is a wonderful peek “inside” this great national park. Rich Luhr, Editor, Airstream Life

*What a wonderful addition “Glacier Icons” is to the vast inventory of great books written about that world renowned park.  The way you put it together makes for easy reading.  I like it.  Bob Haraden, Superintendent Glacier National Park 1980 to 1986

*As a book author I’m envious; as a photographer I’m downright jealous… Hundreds of facts not many of us know about Glacier National Park, what really is the best of the Last Best Places in Big Sky Country. Trust me folks…Ol’ Bert knows. And he knows how to show it and tell it big time…If you have any idea of ever visiting or just wanting to tour Glacier seat of pants style…YOU NEED THIS BOOK…over and out…Chuck

You can buy Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent right here, from the authors. We’ll send it to you by USPS, and we’ll even autograph it for you with your choice of inscription. We use PayPal to allow us to take credit card orders. You don’t need to have a PayPal account, you can use any credit card, and the merchant (Bert and Janie) never sees your card number. And PayPal is very secure.

  • 102 pages ~ 100 photographs ~ 50 iconic locations
  • Get an autographed copy of Glacier Icons
  • $16.95 plus $2.50 shipping

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Hiking Shenandoah National Park, 4th ed.

posted: November 15th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: More than 500 miles of trails wander through Shenandoah National Park, and knowing where to start can be difficult.  Our 6×9 inch guide is intended to help you select from 59 trails based on your abilities and interests.  With a new collection of almost 90 color images our 232 page book is also intended to inspire readers to make a trip to this wonderful national park.

To some extent it seems all trails in the park either ascend or descend, but not every trail is steep or rocky, and the park offers something to suit all interests. Some trails lead to the park’s 16-plus waterfalls, while others lead to panoramic and dramatic overlooks.  The famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) is a major route through Shenandoah. Yet another trail ascends to the summit of Old Rag where you’ll find boulders ancient beyond belief.  Scrambling over billion year old boulders is just one of the remarkable adventures you can find in Shenandoah National Park.

Old Rag Old Rag Old Rag

As well, you’ll hike in the shadow the park’s early settlers and see their old cabins. You’ll look down on the site of a Civil War battlefield, see old waterwheels, grinding stones and beautiful stone walls built when space was cleared for farmland.

With the hopes that more visitors will want to enjoy the pleasures of exploring this premier national park we’ve now spent almost 12 months in all seasons observing park life and hiking nearly all the trails in the park.  We often found that the aesthetics of Shenandoah’s incredible natural history, as well as its human history, provide compelling reasons to hike these trails. We share the wonder of all that we have discovered in Hiking Shenandoah National Park.

Hiking Shenandoah contains 59 hikes, each of which is illustrated with a map and an elevation graph, meaning 59 maps and 59 elevation graphs. As well, there is a color photo for nearly every hike. There is a detailed index and it breaks hikes into seven categories, such as: kid friendly hikes, hikes to waterfalls and hikes with great views. Each hike has substantial text and Hiking Shenandoah provides details about the history and natural history of each trail.

Hoover Cabin Fox Hollow Rocks Old Rag

Photographic opportunities abound, and new images suggest creative opportunities.


At 3,268 feet Old Rag is not the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park (Hawksbill Summit, 4,015 feet, has that distinction), but it is without question the park’s most challenging and exciting mountain to climb.

For one thing the rock is ancient almost beyond belief, meaning that although you can say “over a billion year’s old,” such a time frame has little meaning. Naturalists try to add a sense of relativity by reducing such an expanse to human longevity or human history. They say that if the Blue Ridge Mountains represented an event that occurred 12 hours ago then all the time that has elapsed since the birth of Christ would be less than a tenth of a second.

Using various scientific instruments to substantiate theory geologists say rocks atop Old Rag began their formation when the continents of North America, South America, India, Australia and Antarctica collided to form a super continent called Rodinia. These collisions, which occurred over a billion years ago, created immense forces, which acted on the massive plates on which these continents float, forcing them to buckle. The huge “Grenville Mountains” formed and they equaled today’s Rockies in size and in length, spanning a distance equal to traveling from Mexico to Canada. Concurrent with the orogeny, magma formed deep within the crust, but over the eons eventually made its way to the surface, crystallizing as today’s Old Rag Granite.

But the story is not complete… 

TESTIMONIALS: This book sale with Paypal is a new for me, started 11/11/2012. However, testimonials for Shenandoah will soon be coming, or so we’ve been told.  Suffice it to say for the time being that this is the park’s featured hiking guide.

You can buy the guide book right here, from the authors. We’ll send it to you by USPS, and we’ll even autograph it for you with your choice of inscription. We use PayPal to process orders. You don’t need to have a PayPal account, you can use any credit card, and the merchant (Bert and Janie) never sees your card number. And PayPal is very secure.

We truly hope you will visit Shenandoah National Park and that you will let our book be your hiking guide.

  • 2012 Edition
  • 70 Trails ~ 90 Photographs ~ 224 Pages
  • Softcover – Perfect bound
  • Directions to trailheads
  • Difficulty Ratings
  • Trail Finder for best hikes with dogs, children, hikes with great views, etc.
  • GPS Coordinates
  • Mile by mile directions
  • Info about fees, permits, events, attractions, local restaurants, accomodations
  • Get an autographed copy of Hiking Shenandoah, 4th Ed.
  • $18.95 plus $2.50 shipping

Buy Shenandoah Hiking Guide book

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Montana Icons – a Book of Western History and Photography

posted: November 15th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  True to its name, Montana is home to miles upon miles of snow-capped mountain peaks, but the lure of this state often begins beside the meandering blue-ribbon trout streams and in the saloons, (yep, we still have ‘em) ghost towns, and hot spring that appear along countless lazy back roads.

The past is well preserved in the dinosaur digs, Western art museums, and generations-old farms and ranches that dot the landscape; and along the many cool, forested trails and the clear, quiet rivers, it just might seem like time has come to a halt.  Montana Icons: Fifty Classic Symbols of the Treasure State illustrates the quintessential symbols that make Montana so fascinating and unique with 50 stories, and 100 photographs.

Bison In Crow Country Sandhill  Cranes Garnet Ghost Town Missouri River

Profiled here are fifty classic symbols of this extraordinary western state, revealing little-known facts, longtime secrets, and historical legends.  From cowboy poetry and Native American powwows to whitewater rafting and breathtaking hikes, here’s the inside story about the very things that give Montana its character.

Did you know that the first cover photo of Life magazine was taken in Montana?  That the only existing physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is preserved in a sandstone outcropping along the Yellowstone River?  That the Treasure State has the world’s largest collection of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils? Or that one of Montana’s first territorial governors was an Irish revolutionary who fled his home country to escape a death sentence?  For Montanans and newcomers alike, Montana Icons will be a treasured keepsake of Big Sky Country. Book measures 7×7 and includes 102 pages.

MyHerosJerryJacobs ChiefP-C Young Trick Rider Chief Joseph Battlefield Stars



The book is illustrated with 50 full-page images and an equal number of smaller “spot” photographs.  The text is written in essay form and the quality has been shaped through the years that Bert has contributed to many of the country’s major magazines, including Field & Stream, Smithsonian and Travel & Leisure. Airstream Life Magazine also uses his work, and one traveler and state aficionado wrote Bert saying:

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING : *I just finished reading your latest book “MONTANA ICONS” yesterday and you outdid yourself. The photos are great (wish there were more) and the stories about the “icons” were wonderful and made us feel we were right there. Tom and Sandi Palesch (Airstream travelers and magazine contributor)

*What a great gift! When I unwrapped our copy of Montana Icons, I knew we were in for a treat – as is always the case with a Gildart book. Every traveler will appreciate the stories and photographs that capture the awesome and unique character of this state and its’ inhabitants. Every turn of the page takes you to a place where you’d rather be! Adam and Sue Maffei



You can buy Montana Icons: Fifty Classic Symbols of the Treasure State right here, from the authors. We’ll send it to you by USPS, and we’ll even autograph it for you with your choice of inscription. We use PayPal to allow us to take credit card orders. You don’t need to have a PayPal account, you can use any credit card, and the merchant (Bert and Janie) never sees your card number. And PayPal is very secure.

  • 102 pages ~ 100 photographs ~ 50 Montana locations
  • Hardcover
  • Get an autographed copy of Montana Icons
  • $16.95 plus $2.50 shipping

Buy Montana Icons Photo Book

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Memorial Day–On a Personal Note

posted: May 24th, 2009 | by:Bert


Korean War Memorial

©Bert Gildart: Memorial Day Weekend, and Arlington National Cemetery is much on my mind as we honor our war heroes. I think about Washington D.C. and Arlington because it is where several of my relatives are now buried.

Such memories become more significant as I get a little older and history takes on a new meaning; hence three years ago I attempted to locate (again) the grave of a family member buried in Arlington. At the time I was on a business trip, intending to learn more about our nation’s Capital Parks, and Arlington was one of them.


As a group the war memorials in D.C. commemorate the valor of our American soldiers. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served in one of America’s most divisive wars. Inscribed on the Wall are the names of 58,000 men and woman who were killed or remain missing.

The newest of the memorials is the World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., and the 400,000-plus who died in that war. It is the only 20th Century event commemorated on the “central axis” of the National Mall, and President Clinton dedicated the memorial site on Veterans Day 1995.


Night is a particularly good time to visit the WW II Memorial, for night lights and refracting ponds create an aura of eternal vigilance. Take a tripod if you want night photos, but you’ll need more if you want to walk within range of the Capitol building. Because heightened security since 9/11 looks askance at long pointed objects, you’ll need a special permit, but if you ask a park policeman he or she will tell you how and where to obtain one.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

You can, however, tote a tripod to the Lincoln Memorial and this is one that photographs particularly well at night. Lincoln, of course, was President during the Civil War and he is backdropped by the Gettysburg Address. Certain aspects of the Korean War Memorial also photograph well at night-such as the haunted looks in the eyes of the soldiers–above.

Women In War

Women In War

Arlington must be visited during the day and finding my grandfather’s grave amidst the 290,000 servicemen (7,000 new graves each year) could have been a daunting task had it not been for the easily accessible computerized records. To locate a relative, all that’s required is a stop at the desk immediately to your right as you enter the Visitor Center. Then, they’ll want a little information.


They’ll want to know your relative’s legal name and his or her date of death. Such information also entitles you to a special pass with a “numbered” address that will allow you to drive to your relative’s grave.

Though my grandfather’s site was more than a mile away I chose to walk, passing as I did by the grave of John F. Kennedy with its massive memorial and its eternal flame. I passed, too, the grave of Audie Murphy, our most decorated WWII soldier, and a man who later became a movie icon of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

I stopped by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the changing of the guard was in progress. The precision of their moves spoke of strength, coordination and infinite practice.


Two hours later, I arrived at my grandfather’s grave, who died in France shortly after Germany surrendered. He had survived the war only to die in 1919 from the pandemic flu, leaving behind two sons, age four and one. Though they were young, his death so impacted them that both chose military careers. In turn their lives affected me, and though I never followed my dad’s path , I remain in tune with much that is military.

Changing Of the Guard, Arlington Cemetery

Changing Of the Guard, Arlington Cemetery

You and I may or may not agree with the policies of our administration, but that has little to do with the appreciation we should demonstrate for the sacrifices our brave soldiers made in the past and are making today. On a very personal note, my father was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed and he later fought at Guadal Canal. Little wonder, I suppose, Military Parks hold such fascination for me, and little wonder I suppose that I respect all Memorial Day has come to represent. My father and mother are buried at West Point, and so are Janie’s.

Today, if I were in D.C., I’d make another pilgrimage to Arlington Cemetery and lay flowers on my grandfather’s grave. But since I’m not, Janie and I will do as we do most Memorial Days: we’ll post a small flag and allow it to remind us of the 2,757,196 men and woman who have given their lives for America.

Two Years Ago at This Time:

*Bison Range Celebrates 100 Years

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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Dismal Swamp Generates Picture Sales Of My Wife

posted: May 20th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In the past few days Janie has been mentioned or assured of depictions by two publications. The new issue of Airstream Life has a crossword puzzle, and a clue to filling in one of the blanks in the down column is the hint “Mrs. Gildart.” To answer the question, subscribers must have read my story about our nation’s capitol parks.

A photograph of Janie will also be featured in a new book on Virginia soon to be published by Holt and Mifflin, and I’ve included a copy of the image here.

The setting is the Dismal Swamp and it shows Janie and a guide. The guide had offered to help us with a photo shoot knowing I would be mentioning his excellent kayak service in a travel story.


Colorful setting and reflections helped sell this image of the Dismal Swamp

At the book company, editors were looking for something colorful. I also think the reflections of the red kayak and the fall setting in the swamp, helped make the sale.

The Dismal Swamp has long intrigued me, and Janie and I spent enough time in the area to gather material for the above-mentioned travel story. To set the stage for a visit you might want to make, here’s an excerpt from that piece—all, of course, copy righted.


In the early 1720’s explorer William Byrd was traveling in a swampy region of Virginia and North Carolina which he later described as a “horrible desart,” a “vast body of dirt and nastiness” in which “Not so much as a Zealand frog cou’d endure so anguish a situation.” But a century later, perspectives began to change and people actually began to live in this great dismal swamp, and their testimonials began generating notions of such great cheer and felicity that you, dear reader, need not fear a visit to this body of nastiness. Testified one explorer of the time: “Death from disease has never been known in that place, and… persons were found who were so old that they had moss growing on their backs.”


Interestingly, one of the first people to survey this area was a young George Washington, and his legacy simply adds more to those testimonials of cheer and felicity. The setting worked well for us, for images made from the area almost four years ago are still selling.

That’s one of the benefits of having stock photography as one of the components of our business. Fully captioned images from these files now number well over 100,000 and we are constantly adding. Some of my very best images are with agents while others are sold through the assistance of AGPIX. To see some of those images click in the upper right hand corner on “Best Photos,” or simply click.

For a fee AGPIX provides photographers who subscribe to the service with daily want lists gathered from various publications. That’s what has helped land me photo assignments from some exceedingly good publications-and most recently with the sale of my image of Janie. However, I think I’ll keep it a secret from her, else she may start charging modeling fees.



*An Old Farmer’s Advice (Know this is a good one as it’s been copied by others–which doesn’t speak well for the individual as a human being!)


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My Images Currently Illustrating the Natchez Trace and the Arctic Refuge

posted: May 18th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This past week several organizations selected two of my images for various uses. Image one was selected by Natchez National Historical Park, specifically for the Melrose Antebellum home. The image will be placed on an exhibit panel and at the Melrose Visitor Center for as long as the dress is displayed at the mansion.


Dress is artifact from antebellum years, rendered here with natural light and long time exposure

As well the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club is using this image for their Antiques Forum Brochure, hoping to increase attendants. The image was made last month while touring the Natchez Trace. At the time we were photographing everything that pertains to the Natchez Trace Parkway, hoping, in a year or so, to revamp our book about this famous parkway with new photographs.


The other image recently used is one of Sarah James. Sarah is a friend of ours who lives in Arctic Village, a village located immediately adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For the past 25 years Sarah has spread the word about the environment and the Arctic Refuge in particular throughout the world.

This month Sarah will relate some of her experiences to several organizations and one of them, a California based conservation organization, needed an image of her.

Interestingly, Arctic Village is also hosting a gathering May 30 intended to send a world-wide message. This is different from the one required by the California organization. This gathering will be held in Arctic Village, and those attending will gather in the village and create a pattern that will spell out a message of hope for the Arctic Refuge. The pattern will be photographed from the air and then be shown in Bonn, Germany, where global leaders will convene this June.

Janie and I have both received personal invitations to attend the Arctic Village gathering, and if we weren’t already committed to towing our Airstream to Alaska in July, we would fly to this remote setting. But as  the old saying goes, one can only do so much.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been one of my passions, and over the past 18 years Janie and I have boated and hiked the refuge-and have visited most of the dozen-plus Gwich’in Indian villages dotting the tundra in both Canada and Alaska. The Gwich’in live further north than any other Indian group (Eskimos live further north). Images from our various visits have been displayed by the Wilderness Society in the halls of Congress. As well, my stories about the refuge have appeared in about half a dozen different publications. Time/Life used my images to illustrate a chapter in their book, Winds of Renewal.


Long a proponent of the refuge, recently Joe Lieberman introduced legislation that will provide wilderness designation to the Arctic Refuge, which is the ultimate form of protection. Since beginning my blog several years ago I have posted many stories about the refuge and here are links to several. (Sarah James, The Gwich’in and the Arctic Refuge, River Trip)


Sarah James disciple for Arctic Refuge and environment in general.

Obviously, Janie and I love the refuge. Many lambaste the area saying (as did George Bush) that it is a wasteland. If you have never been there you may feel the same, but I’ll wager that if you actually visit the area, you’ll understand why Sarah James (not S. Palin!) has fought so hard to help her people call attention to what many biologists say is the world’s last self-regulating ecosystem.

If you do visit, I’ll further wager that you, too, may become a disciple. The point, of course, is that most calling the refuge a wasteland have never been there…



*They were Honeyed Up

*In Defense of Dandelions


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Natchez Trace Lures Model-T Owner–Every Year

posted: April 18th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Kirk Hill of Mississippi is into old things. He’s into vintage Airstreams, antique cars and the exploration of historic places.


Each year Kirk Hill of Mississippi loads his immaculate Model T and drives the Natchez Trace.

Kirk owns a 1970 Airstream, a 1913 Model T Ford, and he uses his antique car, which is immaculate, for traveling and exploring the old and very historic Natchez Trace. That’s where we meet him, in Tennessee, just south of the Meriwether Lewis Campsite. Here, as many of you know who have followed my blog through the years might remember, is where the famous captain met his untimely death. (Fall Along Natchez Trace.)


Janie and I took an immediate liking to Kirk. First off, I liked his aged-looking hat. But there was certainly more. Every year Kirk drives the Trace in a vehicle that is almost 100 years old. His accommodations are modest for he carries all he’ll need for camping in his car and then heads north to Nashville. When he returns home, that means he will have traveled about 800 miles. Kirk has also explored other parks, such as Death Valley, and that’s yet another of our favorite parks.


Kirk maps out his day's itinerary

Kirk, now retired from a career teaching school, also mentioned that he was married at an old church along the Trace. Specifically, he was married at Rocky Springs, an historic church that will be featuring a celebration this coming Sunday.


Ironically, I met the custodian of the church about a week ago, and he said enrollment had dropped to four, and that he was one of the attendees. The church, however, makes do by hosting special events, and that’s what happening tomorrow, this Sunday. And that’s what caretaker George Cranfield was doing last week when I photographed him. He was preparing the church for a service that will also include antique cars, and that is where Kirk was heading when Janie and I met him-to the beautiful and historic church at Rocky Spring, almost 400 miles to the south.


Historic old church is lucky to have George Cranfield as a custodian.

Yet another reason Janie and I liked Kirk is that he said he had a copy of our Natchez Trace book. (Now how can you not like a man who has such impeccable tastes?) The book is sold all along the Trace and store managers told us in several places that it was one of their best sellers.

Essentially, the work provides numerous photographs augmented, however, with a substantial text. The book is available not only along the Trace, but from Amazon and, of course, from us.

The book has been on the market now for almost 15 years and is one we hope to keep there another 15 by making modifications in another year or so, one of the reasons we’re now traveling the Parkway. Another reason is that each trip is an adventure, highlighted by the wonderful people we meet, and exemplified by George and Kirk with his old Model-T.


George helps maintain ancient grave yard at Rocky Springs

We exchanged addresses with Kirk and then watched him as he cranked the magneto using the palm of his hand. The engine kicked right off and Kirk stepped onto the running board of what would now be the passenger side, slide over behind the wheel, and, then, with a beep of his horn was on his way.



*Sonora Desert Museum


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Mount Locust–Two Centuries of Ownership

posted: April 13th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s been over 10 years since Janie and I drove the lower portion of the Natchez Trace, located deep in Mississippi, and we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Mount Locust, one of the earliest of old structures in Mississippi.

Mount Locust was called a “Stand,” and many of its original structural components remain exactly as they were in 1810, when Stands served a vital function along the Trace, providing food and a place to sleep for weary travelers. Of course, we were pleased that the structure had not changed, but what we were even more pleased to see was that Eric Chamberlain was still interpreting not only the Stand’s early history, but his own very personally family association with Mount Locust.


Mount Locust, park's only remaining original "Stand."

Since 1991, as a park ranger, Eric Chamberlain has offered some particularly interesting insights.  Chamberlain’s lineage traces to the first inhabitants of Mount Locust, back almost 200 years; back to his great, great, grandmother.

According to Chamberlain, “Grandma Polly” was like so many other stand operators.  She pitied those suffering from the swarms of insects, the heat, cold, rain, even snow, and often the outlaws.  As a result, Chamberlain’s ancestors entered the business of operating a stand or inn.


Eric Chamberlain’s forbearers played a prominent role in the development of the only stand that still remains along the Natchez Trace with its original materials.  His ancestry is rooted in the nation’s history and family tradition maintains Andrew Jackson slept in the bed in which Chamberlain was born.  Jackson used it once In 1813 while his men camped at nearby Shacklesford Springs, and again in 1812, during the Creek Indian Insurrection. On another occasion Jackson apparently spent Christmas day at the stand.


Eric Chamberlain's gravesite, lacking the date of demise in epitaph.

Some day Chamberlain expects to be buried among his ancestors, and has already selected a grave site.  An epitaph marks the stone and the inscription, only partly complete, reads:

Eric Spence Chamberlain

February 19, 1940

Sometimes the marker elicits comments:  “Here’s the site of a relatively young man,” says one visitor, to which Chamberlain responds, saying, “No Ma’am, that Chamberlain is still very much alive.  And well too!  The date represents the time of arrival — not departure.”


In keeping with the Trace interpretive philosophy, Chamberlain attempts to enliven the period between 1800 and 1820.

Chamberlain’s “Grandma Polly” provided a service that assisted the thousands who once trod the Natchez Trace.  According to Chamberlain, his “grandmother” moved to Mount Locust at the end of the American Revolutionary War as a 16-year-old bride.  She had married William Ferguson in 1783, and that same year she and her husband purchased Mount Locust.  Then with grant money they increased the small farm to 1, 215 acres and over the years produced a family of seven children.  Farming was the family’s business, and they worked hard.  Corn was their major crop, and, if it wasn’t sold, the family used it.

As the years progressed, public duties claimed some of Ferguson’s time.  In 1798, Ferguson was appointed first sheriff of Pickering County (now Jefferson County).  About the same time, he attempted to found the town of Union and successfully attracted a doctor, as well as a number of residents.  Ferguson hoped authorities would choose Union Town as the site of the county seat, but when they didn’t, Union lost much of its chance for survival.  When Ferguson died in 1801, any remaining chance for the town’s survival passed with him.

In 1801, “Grandma Polly” married James Chamberlain, resulting in four more sons.  But Chamberlain was a drifter, and in 1810, he left Polly.  To her fell the responsibility of raising the family and operating the stand.


Travel peaked in 1810 when approximately 10,000 “Kaintucks” rode or hiked the Old Trace.  Grandma Polly had her hands full.  Once a coachman, refreshed from his work after dipping into the whiskey barrel, entered the tavern and announced to all present, “Cholera in Natchez.”  The words devastated one man, who instantly keeled over, possibly from a heart attack.  Little was known about the man, but he nevertheless rests in the Chamberlain family plot, a modest tombstone marking his passage.

After 1825 travel along the Trace slowed, though the tavern continued to attract wealthy clients from Natchez, who sought respite from the bustle of city life.  The house remained with the Chamberlains until 1937, when it was purchased by the National Park Service, though the house remained occupied until 1944.


Eric Chamberlain shows room in which he was born.

Today Mount Locust not only interprets and recalls history along the Trace, but also represents a period of time.  It is one of the state’s oldest surviving structures and predates most ante-bellum homes in Natchez.  The Park Service has restored the house to an 1810 period to coincide with the year of greatest use.  In places, 25% of the original materials remain, such as the sassafras beams on the rear gallery.  The floor in the left front bedroom is also original as are the bricks in the walk around the house.


The home preserves the essence of a number of activities the Chamberlains must have engaged in through the decades.  On hand are period interpreters to embellish this evidence of past, for example, discussing the importance of cotton and the manner in which it was processed.  But historical facts are limited and anecdotes many. Chamberlain enjoys recalling the latter.

Once, according to him, a ranger appeared for work early one morning.  As she bounded up the steps she was horrified to see a moccasin snake hanging from the door.  Picking up an ax, she struck it over and over.  Eventually she killed the snake, and left behind the marks on the door which you can see today.

Janie and I departed Chamberlain with much regret, but he left us with a chuckle. “Don’t worry,” said Eric. “If you can’t find me here, you might look out there [the family grave]. I’ll be around for a long, long time.”



*Bison Range is 18,500 Acre Classroom


(And here, I’m showing our Natchez Trace book, a new booklet concerning Glacier National Park, and the camera we’re now using. Along the Trace our book is sold most everywhere and is very popular according to sales representatives.)

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Padre Island National Seashore

posted: March 25th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Padre Island, located in south Texas, is a creation of the ice ages, and most likely, created in combination with the deposition of sands left by crashing waves and by the deposition of sediments left by major rivers, such as the Mississippi and the Nueces. The result from this meld of forces has produced North America’s most extensive barrier island, and, in part, it is for this reason that a substantial portion of Padre has been designated a National Seashore.


In places, camping at Padre Island is wide open

Though we have only been here for a few nights already we have tallied dozens of species of birds and kayaked some challenging waters. As well, we have camped in situations that were completely novel to us. In fact, that is one of the attractions for campers.

Padre Island has a developed campground near the Visitor Center, but at this time of year, unless you arrive early, and particularly during spring break, you’ll find it full, as did we. But alternatives are available, and they are attractive.


Padre Island is about 60 about miles long. On one side you have the Gulf of Mexico, the other side, the Intracoastal Waterway, all separated, of course, by Padre Island, which in some places is several miles wide, and it is here, just south of the Visitor Center that you can camp along the beach. In fact, many prefer camping here, and for the first couple of nights that’s what we did, accessing the beach by driving a mile from the Visitor Center to the end of the pavement and then driving onto the hard packed sand until we found a location that suited us.


Squadrons of Pelicans

Finding such an area was easy, as our friends Don and Nancy had arrived several days prior to us and staked out an area flanked by dunes to one side and the Gulf to the other. We positioned our Airstream so the front faced the ocean, finding we had to use 4-wheel drive to prevent spinning the wheels of our truck and so burning up rubber. (Silt in sand can quickly eat up tires if you spin them.)


We camped here for several days, enjoying the “squadron” of pelicans, as Don called them. As well, I enjoyed kayaking the surf, finding that my 17-foot long Current Design sea kayak easily powered through the crashing waves when I paddled vigorously. However, I found it an immense challenge when I attempted to turn around and return to the beach. For a few moments I was broadside (here’s where you practice THE BRACE), and more than once I flipped-caught in waves that suddenly developed and towered over me-but the water was warm, and our composite kayaks tough, so no damage sustained to anything other than to my pride.


Sea kayaking, Padre Island on Gulf of Mexico side

We might have remained camping on South Beach except for the wind, which developed along with a storm. Drifting sand was beginning to cover everything, so we moved to the developed campground early yesterday, finding that during the week many sites had been vacated. We moved out of choice though there are times when rangers warn campers to move, particularly if the surf edges toward the dunes. No such problem from this storm and from these winds, just from the blowing sand, and right now we’re very content at Malaquite Campground, where bird life is still abundant and where we can still hear the pounding of the surf. A boardwalk takes us from our Airstream and down to the edge of the Gulf-back to the sand.

Most likely, this is where we’ll remain, exploring the park from Malaquite-finding Padre offers an abundance of activities that suit our many and varied outdoor interests.




*Kayaking to the Wreck of the Francisco Morazan


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Organ Pipe National Monument Where We’re in Fat City, Mostly

posted: February 24th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Janie and I are back in Arizona’s Organ Pipe National Monument, an incredible national park-administered area that protects a unique component of the Sonora Desert, the organ pipe cactus.

Over the years we’ve visited this park four times, and it has become one of our favorites. I’ve posted several blogs on the area and written stories about the park for several magazines, generally discovering something new each time. That’s true this time, and though some of my discoveries are good ones, one, I discovered this morning, is not.


Gambol Quail: One of the better things we've just enjoyed here

This morning as we visited with a park volunteer, we learned that six people have been killed in the Mexican town of Sonoyta, a Mexican town immediately over the border that almost flanks the park. As the crow flies, it’s about 7 miles away.

The deaths have all occurred since December and two of those deaths occurred yesterday. Last year while here I also posted a blog on a visit sponsored last year to Quitobaquito. Because of drug running, the trip was made with an armed escort. This year, because of all the deaths and other hostilities, the trip has been cancelled and is not even possible with armed rangers and border patrol, all of which accompanied us last year.


On the flip side, in the one day we’ve been here, I’ve managed to photograph two subjects that I was unable to photograph last year. One, is the Gambol Quail; the other the Senita Cactus.


Northern limit for the Senita, where it just barely expresses itself.

Last year, the birds were just too darn elusive, but this morning I found quail shortly after sunrise, and didn’t have to go far. Stepping out of our Airstream, I heard the familiar clucking sound of the Gamble’s and quickly pinpointed about 12 not more than 25 yards from our trailer. Perhaps someone placed out feed, but, still, quail are not usually tolerant, and so I was surprised to approach closely without having to first myself in a photo blind. Nevertheless, I walked to within frame-filling distance of my 600mm lens.

Organ Pipe is generally thought to be the northern limit of the Senita cactus, but this morning our friendly park volunteer told me one was located near the visitor center and then he outlined a route. The species is unique in that it produces ribs that are much more pronounced than those produced by the organ pipe or the saguaro.

I used a strobe for the image shown here, setting the camera to the manual mode and then stopping down to f22. I set the shutter to 250ths of a second to make the background go a little dark. I did not want to blacken out the Saguaro in the background so played around a bit with the exposure, creating a balance I thought was pleasing.


We added another solar panel to the two mounted on the roof of our Airstream, but this one is separated from the trailer. Solar Mike, back in the Slabs, wired so that it ties in with our current arrangement, cutting off when charge was proper. For the technocrats out there, our three 55 watt panels now soak up close to 9 amps per hour. Because we can move the external one so that it is directed toward the sun, it is more efficient than the two roof-mounted panels.

With all this desert sun and our three solar collectors, we can charge computers and telephones; watch movies; run our Magic Air fan (it’s almost 90 degrees); and run our water pump to take showers-either hot ones or cold ones.

We’re in fat city.



*Gator Drama in Shark Valley


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Night Photography in Death Valley National Park

posted: January 25th, 2009 | by:Bert


Stars backdrop old wagon once part of 20 Mule Team train to Mojave

©Bert Gildart: Surely anyone over age 55 can remember seeing the old teams of 20 mules pulling their load of “20-Mule Team Borax” in the highly dramatized TV series Death Valley Days hosted by Ronald Reagan. In real life, the mules were pulling their loads from Harmony Works, located about two miles from where we’re now docked at Sunset Campground. From Harmony, the teams pulled loads 165 miles to the train depot in Mojave. The television series was shown in the 1950’s and 1960’s and romanticized the mineral, the period of time and the people who worked the claims, trying as they did to extract “white gold.”

Borax made some lucky people millionaires almost overnight. In the peak years of the late 1800s, several mines existed in the area. Ultimately, by the end of the borax era in the late 1920’s, some $30,000,000 of the “white gold” had been taken from the Death Valley area, although some borax was taken out until the 1970s. As well known as it is, Harmony Borax Works was only active for five years, from 1883 to 1888.


Today, not much exists but an old wagon, and if you are a photographer, your challenge is to evoke that nostalgic period, and my thought was to backdrop it against a night full of stars. That idea wouldn’t work just anywhere, but in Death Valley it does, as this largest of all parks outside of those in Alaska is one of the few remaining places in the country — perhaps the world — where light pollution remains almost non existent. To make this picture work, you must first have those conditions, but there’s still a challenge, and that is one of photographic technique. (Also see northern lights photography and digital night photography–Organ Pipe.)

Before leaving our Airstream, I made several test exposures of the night sky using different ISOs, different f stops and different lengths of time. Using that test information, ultimately, this image was taken with a very high ISO of 3600, but I also found that an ISO of 600 provided an excellent rendition of the myriad of stars as individual points of light.


By their very nature, wide angle lenses provide incredible depth of field, so that was my lens of choice, in this case a 12mm one. Obviously, I wanted the wagon in focus as well as the night sky.

Other exposure data is as follows: I opened the aperture to f4 and by setting my Nikon D300 to “B” was then able to hold open the shutter for about one full minute, using a cable release. As well, I programmed the camera from “Menu” to include “high noise reduction.” I used two Nikon SB800 strobes setting the on-camera strobe to Commander Mode, the other to the Remote Mode. I programmed the on-camera strobe to underexpose the front of the wagon one full f-stop. We’re camped adjacent to Don and Nancy Dennis (also Airstream enthusiasts), and Don joined me and volunteered to hold the auxiliary strobe. He held it high and positioned himself about half way along the length of the wagon train.

Night descends early in Death Valley at this time of year, so this was not a late night photo; instead, it was made around 7:30 pm. Prior to my evening excursion, I visited the area and evaluated the wagon for composition, something performed much more easily by light of day. At the time, I didn’t realize the Milky Way would be in just the right position or that a shooting star would streak across the night sky, adding just the right touch of the surreal.

Death Valley can challenge photographers in many ways, but for me, this photo of the old wagon backdropped by the night sky will probably be the most rewarding image of this particular trip.



*Borrego Badlands


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Maintaining Your Internal Balance–When the World Goes Beserk

posted: September 15th, 2008 | by:Bert

In shadow of Mount Indefatigable

In shadow of Mount Indefatigable

©Bert Gildart: On this day when it appears as though two of the world’s greatest banking institutions are about to fail (one of which holds some of our stock portfolio), since there is not a darn thing we can do about it, I guess we’ll simply continue to enjoy this magnificent part of the world–precisely as we’ve been doing.

One of those ways is by sea kayak and for the past few days it has been in a vast area known as Kananaskis Country. The region is sandwiched between the Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park and Banff.


To enjoy the magnificent lakes found in the Rockies (and most other places to which we travel), we carry a bin loaded with all sorts of equipment to outfit us as we paddle our two Current Design sea kayaks. We have wet suits to protect us from the frigid waters should we flip. We have floats to assist with self rescues–and I’ve taken classes on rolling.

My camera equipment is packed into a dry bag, and is secure except of course when I remove it for photography. Should disaster befall, it’s insured, and I have a back-up camera.

And so, yesterday, we launched our kayaks on the lower of a series of lakes called Kananaskis Lakes, though ours has the further designation of being known as the Lower Kananaskis Lake. As we pushed off a mist was rising over Mount Indefatigable, and the setting was one found no where else in the world but in the Canadian Rockies.


The area we were in is located just south of Banff and exists because of the forethought of a number of Canadian outdoor planners. Because of their work, Premier Peter Lougheed dedicated the area on September 22nd, 1978. Today, this 4,200 square kilometre recreation area quickly has became a cherished location for Canadians and tourists (such as ourselves, though we prefer the notion that we’re “searchers”) to connect with the environment-and with the rich history it recalls.

According to displays at the Visitor Center Captain John Palliser on his expedition through the area 150 years ago provided the region with the Kananaskis name. The word is derived from the Cree ‘Kin-e-a-kis’ and is said to be the name of a warrior who survived an axe blow to the head.

Lower Kananaskis Lake

Lower Kananaskis Lake

For several hours we kayaked this remarkable recreation area, exploring small coves and marveling at the extraordinary folding and faulting so unique to the region’s mountains. We were delighted that when so much of our world is in a state of chaos we still have pristine areas to help us forget world problems and maintain some sense of internal balance.


*Kayaking the Bay of Fundy (Which has world’s highest tides)

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Into The Wild–and the Fashion Magazine “Io Donna”

posted: September 10th, 2008 | by:Bert

"Into the Wild," take one

"Into the Wild," take one

©Bert Gildart: Translated, the expression “IO Donna” means “I Woman,” and it is the name of a high-end fashion magazine directed mostly to a female audience who can read the Italian language. American magazines that are similar might include Cosmopolitan or Vogue.

As well, its readers include those who might travel widely, and when they do, they might flirt with adventures that take them to the fringe–but probably not quite into–hard-core wilderness areas. What they’d be looking for then is a high-end RV, one that has class and can slice through the winds they’d encounter in a region that would range from the west side of Glacier National Park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on the park’s east side.


Appropriately, they might say they’re going “Into the Wild,” and with the above-mentioned caveats, the most appropriate way to get into the type of wild that they might have in mind would be with an Airstream Travel Trailer. But not everyone in this region has one, and so when the art director began looking around, she asked several photographers if they knew who might have this most classic of all RVs-and that’s how IO Donna got our name.

We have an Airstream, and it is often a base for those times that we do in fact go “into the wild.” Yesterday, however, it served for IO Donna still-model photographs, and we were delighted we could help.

Janie and I rendezvoused with the film group in a vast, isolated swath of prairie land on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The crew consisted of eight men and one woman and further broke down to included three male models, a make up artist, an assistant makeup artist, a photographer, a photographer assistant, a location director, and a support RV with a most talented driver who alternates as a tailor for many famous actors, such as Robert Redford.

Cultural affairs officer Jim Rivera

Cultural affairs officer Jim Rivera

The group also included the presence of Jim Rivera, a representative of the Blackfeet Indian Nation present to insure that the group did not impinge on items of cultural value-such as the many teepee rings in the area. He was also there to make sure we were accepted by other tribal members who might be passing by.


Most interesting to Janie and me were the male models. All were 22 years of age. They were tall and thin, and very athletic in appearance. One wore an ear ring, but nothing unusual for this day and age. All had girl friends but did seem to live “on the edge,” waiting for the next assignment to crop up. In the past few years they have worked all over the world.

Rory, an international model

Rory, an international model

Andrea Gandini was the photographer and all you need to do is look at his online portfolio and you’ll recognize that his work tops the genre. Though his images are decidedly different from the outdoor work that I’ve created these past few decades, I felt fortunate fate had given me the day to follow him around.


Several of the photographs I’ve posted here were based on setups he’d created, but, later, when we looked at his images on the computer, I could tell that there were subtle variations in his prints and that they were all important. His had that Je ne sais quoi, that mysterious nothingness that tends to mesmerize you.

Andrea, fashion photographer

Andrea, fashion photographer

Andrea was creating a 19-page spread for the magazine that would eventually include about 40 images from the hundreds he was taking. Our Airstream would be a part, but the ultimate spread would include much more. In an artful manner–a high-fashion manner–he’d photograph the young men in an assortment of garb. For one shoot, they wore high-derby black hats offset with purple boots. Several wore wrap-around scarves.

The three models were all practiced and could assume a variety of poses on demand. Sometimes that would include a shift of the body to the left–to the right; the tilt of the head, the cocking of a boot.

At times, most photographers try and capture such nuances but I must say that Andrea seemed to draw from the models the precise body language needed for the moment.

"Into the Wild," take two

"Into the Wild," take two

And now, I am looking forward to seeing the issue that will carry “Into the Wild.” Certainly I’ll look forward to seeing our Airstream, but I’ll also look forward to seeing the art of photography taken to an exceeding high form of expression.

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Italian Film Crew Picks Airstream

posted: September 8th, 2008 | by:Bert

Headin' out

Headin' out

©Bert Gildart: Kayaks, bikes, and camping gear are all loaded and we’re off for a two-week trip that will include some very interesting stops.

High on that list is a rendezvous with an eight-member Italian film crew from the magazine Io Donna. The magazine is devoted to high fashion and they concluded before arriving that they needed to photograph an Airstream.

“They’re kind of iconic,” said Rob Story, the film crew’s location scout and the man who contacted me.

Because the magazine seems to be so glamorous and upscale, I thought the models accompanying the crew would be women patterned after Sophia Loren, and so I was particularly enthusiastic. Yesterday, however, Rob told me the models were male, so now Janie’s enthusiastic.


Though we’re not entirely sure how Io Donna got our name, Rob did say they checked out our website and that they had contacted some Montana photographers, who in turn had told them about us. Quite likely the photographers in question are from the Montana Department of Tourism as we work often with them. If that’s the case, we owe them a very, very big “Thank you!”

Week's best photo

Week's best photo

At any rate, if the wind doesn’t blow too hard, we’ll rendezvous tomorrow in Browning, Montana, with the crew for a day-long photo session. Because the theme of their story is “Into the Wild,” they wanted a vast and wide open setting, and the Heart Butte section of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation surrounding Browning certainly fills the bill. Depending on what else they might want we’ll either stick around–or we’ll head out for our own destination–to complete magazine assignments of our own. Those destinations include Banff and Jasper, Alberta.


We’re particularly looking forward to this segment of the trip as fall is a wonderful time to visit the Canadian Rockies. Elk are bugling and there should be many other signs, too, of fall.

As we head out, we’re going to be very aware of the brand new state-of-the-art Hensley Hitch I added this past weekend. The manufacture guarantees that because it can so effectively equalize trailer and truck loads that it will provide for a much smoother ride. More significantly, however, they guarantee that it will completely eliminate trailer sway.


In the past, sway has been a problem in prairie states particularly when semi trucks pass and there’s a significant cross wind. The sudden cessation of wind created by the trucks insertion–followed seconds later by an enhanced blast after the truck has passed–has created great instability that has been alarming. Hensley says that won’t happen any more. Because we will be driving through country with a reputation for wind, I should be able to form my own opinion as we travel along.

And now after one more check (and the posting of my best photo from last week of daughter Angie with friend Libby) to make sure we’ve got our Bruce Springteen and Ray Charles CDs, we’re off…


*Fall Along the Natchez Trace

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New Falcon Book Release: Glacier National Park Pocket Guide

posted: May 9th, 2008 | by:Bert

Bird Woman Falls

Bird Woman Falls

©Bert Gildart: Falcon Guides, produced by Globe Pequot Publishers, has just released the first in a new series called “Pocket Guides,” in this case a Glacier National Park Pocket Guide.

Though the books are small, measuring about 5 ½ by 4 inches, they pack a great deal into the 91 pages-and I am pleased to say that Janie and I are not only the authors but also the photographers, having provided all but three of the book’s forty-plus photographs.

Because of their size, the books are not intended to be comprehensive, rather they are intended to provide a snapshot of the park’s history and natural history. To give you an example, we’re providing here a few paragraphs from the book, beginning with an overview. We’re also providing a few paragraphs about bears and about one of our favorite areas in Glacier National Park, specifically, Kintla Lake. In the Pocket Guide we detail all the fun you and your family can have there by launching a kayak.


One of the crown jewels of America’s national park system, Glacier can be described with many superlatives: Inspiring. Breathtaking. Vast. Some 230 years ago, when the mountain range containing Glacier National Park was first seen by Europeans, adventurers were prompted to call this the “Land of Shining Mountains.”

Yet another applicable catch phrase could be the “Land of Glorious Adversity,” for contemporary scientists tell us that the park was born of fire, quenched by torrential rains, inundated by vast seas, forced upward by internal pressures, and then gouged by great continental ice sheets that came and went on at least four occasions. From this heritage, mountains were molded that reach up to touch the sky and cradle more than 200 lakes…


If you should surprise a grizzly bear, stay quiet and back away slowly, avoiding direct eye contact. Try to get off the bear’s trail. Never run or yell. Stop if your movements are upsetting the animal. Signs of bear agitation include swaying of the head, clacking the teeth, lowering the head, and laying back the ears. Keep your pack on in case of an attack, and then drop to the ground. Protect your stomach by assuming a fetal position, and cover the back of your neck with your hands. Don’t move until you’re sure the bear has left…

Startling a grizzly

Startling a grizzly


Kintla Lake, located in the most extreme northwestern portion of Glacier National Park, is probably the park’s most remote lake that can still be accessed by a vehicle, and its isolation and tranquility make it an ideal place for kayaking. At one time the park permitted power boats on the lake, but that’s not the case anymore, so the setting’s peace and quiet will never be marred by the sounds of motors.

What’s more, on some mornings the reflections of Starvation Ridge, Starvation Peak (in Canada), and Long Knife Peak in Kintla Lake are so perfect, you can almost invert any resulting photo images you might take and not tell the difference…

Of course, each of these sections describes more about the park’s history, bears and activities. At $9.95 (plus a $2.00 handling charge), these glossy booklets would make ideal gifts or serve as an excellent introduction to the person who is passing through and wants a quick introduction to the park’s fascinating features. There are also sections on where to stay both inside and outside the park-and much, much more on Glacier’s natural history.

Kayaking Kintla Lake

Kayaking Kintla Lake

Though this new Falcon Guide book can be ordered from Globe Pequot, you can also order it from us. As well, you can order another Falcon book from us–or from them–about the Flathead Valley, which they published last year about this time.

Glacier is a National Park we know well for I once worked here on a trail crew and as a park ranger. In upcoming blogs I’ll be describing a few of its other natural history and historic aspects, specifically the 75th Anniversary of Going-to-the-Sun Road.


Last Year about this time, I made two postings: One was about Boating in Alaska , the other about the spectacular profusion of Arrowleaf Balsam Root, which promises to be abundant once again.

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Snow Falls over Exhausted Bull Elk

posted: November 15th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Fall is winding down in our part of the country and winter snows are beginning to blanket some of the higher peaks here in the Flathead. Over the years I’ve managed to photograph one of the most impressive of mammals, the bull elk. From this black and white photo–made with a Hasselblad medium-format camera–I created what has been a very popular print into what is now a 5×7 card, and then added to it several paragraphs of text.

Exhausted bull elk settling in for winter

Exhausted bull elk settling in for winter

The card is available from us in various quantities, and if any are interested, you should contact us for price structures. The card, along with 10 others in the series, is sold locally in art galleries around the valley as well as at the airport. Another B&W in the series is shown on a previous posting.

Here’s the text that accompanies this photo.

Bull Elk: Early winter and this royal bull elk (one with six tines) steps forward to test the fury of the winter wind and the bite of the mountain snow, determined to find food on a day that’s none too pleasant. As the snows pile, the once indefatigable energy level of the bull may wane as food becomes scarce. Will the animal endure? Probably, for the elk is wonderfully equipped to thrive in a land where temperatures sometimes dip to 40 below. Undoubtedly he’ll survive to gather his harem again next fall, the latter custom yet another adaptation that enables this magnificent species not only to exist, but to thrive…

A mature bull elk is defined by the number of tines it produces. If a bull has six tines, it is called a Royal; seven, an Imperial; and eight, a Monarch. The antlers below represent those from a Monarch. Of course, young bulls also grow antlers, beginning in their first year. Normally the first antlers are a single spike on each side. Sometimes those first antlers are forked on top, and may even show a single short brow tine.

The next set are known as “raghorns,” and usually consist of four to five points. The third set occurs in a three-year-old elk and it is likely to have less than six points. Mature bulls often‑though not always‑shed between January and February, depending on location. Young males generally shed in March. By April you can see new growth and by May, you can see tines.

A 40-year resident of Montana, Bert Gildart has become a nationally recognized writer and photographer with numerous professional awards. He has written about wildlife extensively. Photo: Bert Gildart

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Fall Along the Natchez Trace National Parkway

posted: September 24th, 2007 | by:Bert

Entering Natchez Trace

Entering NAtchez National Parkway

©Bert Gildart: For a period of time I lived in the South and though I now live in Montana, I am constantly drawn back to renew acquaintances with friends I knew while in high school and then again in college (before transferring to Montana State University). In those years I was drawn more to the country side both for its excellent hunting opportunities, though I was also drawn because of an interest in the history of the Old South.

Stretching 450 Miles: In recent years, Janie and I have returned often to the South, essentially because there is an incredible national parkway that allows me to see friends and renew my fascination with both the area’s natural history and history. It does so because the parkway travels past such places as Florence, Alabama (where I began college), and places me within striking distance of Huntsville, where I graduated from high school.

And because I’ve returned so often, several years ago I convinced interpreters at the Natchez Trace that they needed a book that documented in both text and photographs some of the features this incredible area preserves.

Sunken trace

Sunken Trace, worn down by many footsteps

Because fall is one of the best times to visit the Natchez Trace, it is only natural mental images from this 450-mile long road should crop up again. Fall is beautiful throughout the country , and it’s the season along the Trace that has provided me with my so many recollections. In other words, the reds and yellows here in Glacier evoke memories from other parts of our nation, particularly when they are as splendid as those found in the South.

To beautiful to burn gen grant

General Grant: "Too beautiful to burn." Winsor Ruins

First Major Research Trip: My first major fall trip was made in the late 1980s. Winnebago loaned me a Mini-Winnie Motorhome, which I photographed and it provided a cover for Trailer Life that complemented my story for them. More significantly, that trip was one I made with my parents when I was single and the trip ultimately became one of their favorites. For that dear retired military couple who traveled the world, that’s saying something.

In1990, shortly after I married Janie, we traveled the modern-day road, taking time to hike all sections of the ancient road. During that time, we lived out of our first Airstream where we completed gathering material for my Natchez Trace book.

Because Shes Boss.

Because "She's Boss".

Below is a section from that book, which is available from the Park Service or from us. The book is $17.95 plus $2.00 shipping, and if you’d like to purchase an autographed copy from us, please send a check to me at my posted address . Include, of course, all your pertinent mailing information.

And, now, here’s a short segment from my book of 98 pages, lavishly illustrated with color photographs:

Stretching from historic Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, is a highway that parallels an old trail, a trail which once was a major thoroughfare for an emerging nation. Stepping from a pullout on the modern highway, Janie and I walked down a short path that ended where the much older trail began. Spanish moss on the branches above drooped over this pathway, while along the ground lay dense carpets of darkening leaves. Deeply eroded, the trail appeared ancient.

Here ran the Old Natchez Trace, a trail of sublime beauty that once had seen the passage of Pushmataha, Meriwether Lewis, Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, John James Audubon, General Ulysses Grant, Abe Lincoln’s father-as well as thousands whose faces remain nameless. Fate had smiled kindly on many of these travelers, but not all. One black night Lewis was mortally and mysteriously wounded.

The Old Natchez Trace harbors many secrets, and we took a few more steps, to learn more about the lives of those who had preceded us and to absorb the path’s pristine beauty…

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The Natchez Trace National Parkway

posted: May 13th, 2007 | by:Bert

Natchez Trace Book

Natchez Trace Book

©Bert Gildart: For a period of time I lived in the South and though I now live in Montana, I am constantly drawn back to renew acquaintances with friends I knew while in high school and then again in college (before transferring to Montana State University). In those years I was drawn to the countryside mostly for its excellent hunting opportunities–but also because of a growing interest in the history of the Old South.

In recent years, Janie and I have returned often to the South, because there now exists an incredible national parkway that allows me to see friends and renew my fascination with both the area’s natural history and history. It does so because the parkway travels past such places as Florence, Alabama, and places me within striking distance of Huntsville, where I graduated from high school. And because I’ve returned so often, several years ago I convinced interpreters at the Natchez Trace that I knew this region and that they needed a book that documented in both text and photographs some of the features this incredible area preserves.

Some call the Natchez Trace National Parkway the nation’s longest national park, and though it may be that, it is also an area that explains the foundations of our country. To gather all material we needed Janie and I lived out of our Airstream for several months, traveling this area at all seasons.

We feel fortunate that we have had the opportunity to add to the interpretive material this slice of the South now offers…

A most beautiful drive

A most beautiful drive

Stretching from historic Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, is a highway that parallels an old trail, a trail which once was a major thoroughfare for an emerging nation. Stepping from a pullout on the modern highway, Janie and I walked down a short path that ended where the much older trail began. Spanish moss on the branches above drooped over this pathway, while along the ground lay dense carpets of darkening leaves. Deeply eroded, the trail appeared ancient.Here ran the Old Natchez Trace, a trail of sublime beauty that once had seen the passage of Pushmataha, Meriwether Lewis, Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, John James Audubon, General Ulysses Grant, Abe Lincoln’s father—as well as thousands whose faces remain nameless. Fate had smiled kindly on many of these travelers, but not all. One black night Lewis was mortally and mysteriously wounded.

The Old Natchez Trace harbors many secrets, and we took a few more steps, to learn more about the lives of those who had preceded us and to absorb the path’s pristine beauty.

Park rangers say any time of the year is excellent for touring the Natchez Trace, but spring and fall are ideal. On a number of occasions we’ve meandered the entire 500-mile long parkway, part for pleasure and part for the business of collecting photographs and conducting research for a book ultimately published with the cooperation of the National Park Service. In the course of our travels we simultaneously explored portions of the rural South and walked existing portions of the ancient trail.

Over the years the parkway has become one of our favorite drives, and the uncrowded highway has allowed us to cruise for mile after mile, stopping only because of some point of interest or because one of the Trace’s 200-plus species of wildlife demanded that we diminish our speed.

General Grant: "Too beautiful to burn."

Many years ago the Daughters of the American Revolution began laying the groundwork for a trip such as ours by explaining to Congress that agriculture and the development of new towns were smothering the Old Southwest’s first national highway. Spurred into action, in 1938 Congress designated moneys for the Natchez Trace Parkway. Its purpose would be to commemorate the Old Natchez Trace. Construction began soon after and, by 1995 only a few more miles needed to be completed.

No one knows precisely the age of the Old Trace. Some say bison cut the trail while Indians refined it. But it was the “Kaintucks”—men who began traveling the Trace shortly after the settlement of Fort Nashborough in 1778—who provided it with a touch of immortality. Years later Andrew Jackson described these men. “I never met one,” said Jackson, “who didn’t have a rifle, a pack of cards, and a bottle of whiskey.”

Dogwoods and spring along NT

Dogwoods and Spring

By and large, Kaintucks were entrepreneurs who floated goods downstream along such rivers as the Pennsylvania, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee. They continued their great adventure when the rivers merged with the Mississippi by floating farther downstream—slow and easy—until their trips ended at the major ports of either Natchez or New Orleans. Here, they sold their wares as well as the dismantled wood from their boats. Then, with pockets a-jingling, they returned home, making use of several paths.

But the one that Indians, boatmen, itinerant preachers, soldiers and post riders beat into the archives of history became known as the Natchez Trace.

Though you can easily drive the parkway in several days, you should allow at least a week (we’ve spent months). Not only does the parkway allow you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of the country, but as well, there are opportunities for biking and hiking. In fact, some consider a several week long bike trip along the Trace to be one of America’s great adventures.

Of course we suggest you purchase our book and you can do so by E-mailing us, or you can do so by contacting the park’s bookstore. (If you contact us, we’ll provide an autographed copy of our full-color informative 8 ½ x 11 book). Regardless, now is a perfect time to visit the Trace, for flowers are in bloom and in many places the catfish are just waiting for you make them an offering.

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Arrowleaf Balsam Root, Chapter Two

posted: May 8th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: If I were producing a musical about Montana flowers, it would be appropriate to steal from the classic The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music, staring Julie Andrews.

Arrowleaf Balsam Root & Flathead Lake

Arrowleaf Basalm Root & Flathead Lake

In part that’s due right now to the Arrowleaf balsam root, still making its gaudy appearance on so many dry slope areas of Montana. In part I use the hills surrounding the Conrad Cemetery in Kalispell as an indicator for spring boat trips to Wildhorse Island, for all of the cemetery’s dry north facing slopes are now running wild with yellow. The hills face the highway as you drive into town.

I mentioned some of the specie’s qualities in my last post, but did not mention its scientific name, which is reflective of its food value. That’s part of the reason for this post—Chapter two if you will.

Another reason is that this photo is an instructive photo, and I thought the information might be useful to some. Of course, we also want to post reminders that some of this material on Wildhorse is covered in our new book. The link will take you to Falcon guides and to access our book, click the Book category, then the exploring catetory. The book can also be purchased by E-mailing us.

Indeed, the scientific name Balsamorhiza sagittata, speaks to the specie’s palatable properties. “Balsamon” means balsam and “rhiza” means root. The sap in the tough woody roots smells and feels like balsam fir pitch. “Sagittata” means arrow-leaved. Other information about the way in which local Native Americans used the species is included in my last posting.

This photo was made just as the sun was appearing, imparting the warm cast to the photograph. I made the photo with a 4×5 camera, and used a wide angle lens. Even with the advances in digital photography—and I am an advocate—it is virtually impossible to beat the old view camera for detail and depth of field.

Patience, however, is required, as you must generally wait for the flutter of leaves to cease so you can stop down your camera’s lens. Technical data for this photo includes a 1 sec exposure at f32—rendering everything tack sharp throughout this landscape’s extensive sweep.

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Arrowleaf Balsamroot—Another Of The Flathead’s Spring Spectacles

posted: May 6th, 2007 | by:Bert

Arrowleaf Balsam Sweeps Over Wildhorse

Arrowleaf Basalm Root Sweeps over Wild Horse Island

©Bert Gildart: May 6th, and right now, this week—and not much later—is the time to see fields of Arrowleaf Balsamroot running from hill to hill on Montana’s Wildhorse Island. In turn, this combination is surrounded by Flathead Lake, largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. Reaching the island requires a two-mile boat ride from Dayton, Montana, on the lake’s east side, which we usually accomplish using our Johnboat.

Wildhorse Island is one of the many features we describe in our book Explore! Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley, and it can be purchased by e-mailing us or by contacting Falcon Guides. The link will take you to Falcon guides and to access our book, click the Book category, then the Exploring catetory. In our book we describe the beauty of Wildhorse Island focusing not only on the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, but also on the wild sheep, deer and incredible floral displays, such as the one now occurring.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot is one of the first flowers to rear its head in spring and does so in late April and early May. It blooms for several weeks and then fades, leaving behind only its arrow-shaped leaf.

I first became familiar with the species in graduate school at Montana State University, when I took a course in botany as an elective. As part of the curriculum, I had to submit a collection of plants properly labeled with both scientific and common names. As well I had to provide facts about the species.

That was long ago, but annual forays and a sustained interest have kept the information alive.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot was collected and described by Lewis and Clark as part of a directive from President Jefferson. In this case Captain William Clark collected the plant, and on April 14, 1804, explained in his journal entry how he came across it. As always, he employed his own unique spelling.

“I walked on shore with Shabono on the N. Side through a handsom bottom. Met several parties of women and boys in serch of herbs & roots to subsist on maney of them had parcels of the stems of the sun flower.”

Clark’s description was made in what would one day be Montana, but it concerned Indians to the south. However, local Indians also made use of the plant, but whether or not they paddled out to Wildhorse is not known. More than likely they relied on the profusion also found in other parts of the valley.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf Basalm

Indians collected Arrowleaf Balsmroot and then ate raw the tender inner portion of the young immature flower stems. They also ate the seeds and large roots, which are tough and woody and taste like balsam. To make them more palatable, the Flathead Indians would bake them several days in a fire pit. Indians also used the large coarse Balsamroot leaves for burns. They boiled the roots and applied the solution as a poultice to wounds, cuts and bruises. Indians also drank a tea from the roots for tuberculosis and whooping cough.

That’s the science of the plant, but what must not be overlooked is the plant’s beauty, which can be enjoyed for another week or so. Though we’ve kayaked to the island, generally on photo expeditions we take our Johnboat (if the waves aren’t too choppy) so that I can transport my heavy large-format camera with lenses that produce such incomparable detail and depth of field.

We leave before sunrise and land early enough to catch the sun’s first rays as they first peak over the Swan Mountain Range. Views from the island are panoramic and everywhere wonderful. To the north are the ranges forming Glacier National Park while to the west are the Salish Mountains.

And then, of course, you are surrounded by largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, usually tranquil in the early morning. At your feet sweeps the spectacle of field after field of the gold-colored Arrowleaf Balsamroot; and it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting.

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