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 July, 2006

Mackinac National Park, Our Nation’s Second Such Reserve, Existed But Briefly

posted: July 31st, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: When most people familiar with the history of our national parks think of our nation’s second park, most think of Yosemite, but they are wrong. In fact, our second national park was Mackinac Island National Park, established in 1875, and though it existed as such for but a short period of time, the land it once occupied has evolved to become one of our nation’s most unique islands, and every bit as worthy of visitation as Yosemite, but for different reasons. At least that’s what many northlanders believe, for the island is Michigan’s number one tourist attraction.


Old cannons stand as silent sentinals peering from Old Fort Mackinac over Lake Michigan.

Essentially, Mackinac Island is located between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and what now makes it so unique in America is that it is an island on which cars are banned; and when Janie and I visited the island we were delighted by the COMPLETE absence of vehicular traffic. To get around, we learned that we would have to rely on bicycles—or on one of the many horse-drawn carriages. And though the island floundered as a national park because of the lack of funds in the 1890s, following some of our nation’s economic hardships, today, most portions of the island that were once a national park, are today a state park, and if anything, the appeal is only stronger.

In part the island’s appeal derives because of the opulence, but also because of its history. But as much as anything, it derives because of its lack of modern means of locomotion.

To get to the island, we took advantage of KOA’s free shuttle to the wharf and loaded not only ourselves onto the high-speed catamaran ferry, but our bicycles as well. Cost for the shuttle for the two of us was $55, and that included $14 for our two bicycles. Bicycle rentals on the island are about $15 per day a piece, and there are at least a dozen companies offering a total of over 2400 bicycles for rentals, so there is absolutely no danger of finding yourself without a bike, if you want one—and almost everyone does.

Our 18-speed bikes were better than the average rental, though bikes like ours were also available for a stiffer price. Rental shops also offer an incredible variety. If you want a bike with a basket, they’ve got it. If you want a tandem, or a kid’s bike, they’ve got it.

The first thing we wanted to do when we unloaded from the catamaran was bike to the Grand Hotel. The route is easy to follow, for all you have to do is simply follow one of the horse-drawn carriages. They proceed toward the southern end of town, and from there, drivers direct their Belgian horses uphill. We followed, but on approaching the end of the property controlled by the Grand Hotel, encountered a lady attired in red jacket and black pants and complementary black bow tie, asking for a pass showing we were registered guests. She smiled, but said we could go no further without paying an entrance fee, which would have been $12. I asked what it would cost to spend the night and she said she wasn’t sure, but another cyclists said that he’d learned just yesterday what the price would be. “One of the inexpensive rooms,” he said, “is $220 a night, but if you want to stay on the side that offers a view of Lake Heron, it’s over $400, and that’s for single occupancy. If you all want to stay—and if you want to go all out—you could pay over $800 for a place to sleep.”

Obviously, the price includes more than a bed, and, who knows, after Janie and I produce the definitive travel book, we may return.

In the meantime, we continued our bicycle trip, chugging up Huron Drive to watch a company of Boy Scouts raise the American flag, and then, tour old Fort Mackinac, said to be one of the most important forts during the American Revolution. Here, we watched demonstrations typical of the times, such as firing a cannon, and firing rifles. We also learned that Fort Mackinac posted soldiers here in 1885, to protect what by then had become our nation’s second national park. We also entered the compounds book store and engaged in a conversation with the director of marketing, who explained why Mackinac has no cars.

He said that about 1898, someone drove a sputtering car down Main Street, and the noisy contraption scared horses and enraged carriage drivers. Drivers petitioned the town’s city fathers, who banned automobiles on city streets. Not discouraged in 1900, Earl Anthony, a summer cottage owner, brought a Locomobile to Mackinac with similar results. While driving, he frightened several horses and wrecked a number of carriages. In response, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission outlawed automobiles in the park, and today, the two bans stand. As a result, there are only seven vehicles on the island, and they are all emergency vehicles, such as the fire truck and a car for emergency police use. No other vehicles are permitted, and while sitting in a pub later in the day, we watched as a FedEx man peddled his load through town, all contained in a basket attached to his handlebars.

Not only are the streets of Mackinac ideal for cyclists, but so is the remainder of the island, and we took that in as well. An eight-mile asphalt road circles the island, and for the most part, it passes through what is now Mackinac State Park, Michigan’s first. The road passed by a number of pullouts that interpret the island’s natural features. Because the road essentially circumnavigates the island’s periphery, there is very little up and down, meaning you can peddle, then coast, peddle, then coast. A park brochure says that a top Olympic Marathon runner can cover the distance in about 35 minutes, but most cyclists will want to take 1 ½ hours, or even more, depending on how much they want to stop.

We stopped often, to look at the various birds, which included gulls, a family of mergansers and all sorts of different vegetation, which was similar to vegetation in Montana, our home state. We saw fireweed, white pine, white fir, white birch, and, of course, others with which we were not familiar. Our trip took about two hours, but we stopped lots, several times to gaze in the distance at the huge Mackinac Bridge, said to be the longest (at 4.8 miles) in the western hemisphere.

All in all, we spent almost 10 hours at Mackinac, and somewhat reluctantly returned to the real world of automobile fumes, and drivers honking horns to express irritation. It’s an island that harkens back to much more simple times, and one that certainly has a following, in part, perhaps, because it was once a national park, but more today because it reflects a life style that once existed and that our great grandparents might have known. If gas supplies run short, it’s also a testimony that there is another way of life that can be equally enjoyed.

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Bison & Theodore Roosevelt Ranger John Heiser Are Kindred Spirits

posted: July 25th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in July, in either the park’s north unit or its south unit, bison are the headliners. Certainly that was true for us where we were camped two nights ago at Juniper Campground, located about midway into the north unit.

We had just sat down for dinner, and because it was so hot, we’d been cooking outside, where over the hiss of our outdoor broiler yet another sound dominated. It was the lion-like roar of dozens of bison and the sound was getting louder by the minute.

Suddenly, the sources of all this angry and urgent bluster stepped out of the trees which engulfed our campground. Then these shaggy trumpeters wandered between a number of motorhomes, travel trailers and several alarmed tenters and then out onto the meadow we campers collectively surrounded. Un-intimidated by our presence, they began doing what bison do during the rutting season: they began rolling in the dirt; they began pawing the ground, sending up plumes of dust. Several huge bulls began fighting in earnest, contesting one another for the nearby cows, which were nibbling the grass.

As we watched, their numbers began to increase until there were at least 100 animals surrounding this compound of campers, but more alarmingly, well over a dozen of these two-ton beasts surrounded our neighbors in their motorhome. No longer curious, the occupants took refuge from beneath their awning and scurried into their camper’s interior.

Sounds from the bison persisted long into the night, and next morning, we joined a man who had served as a backcountry ranger in the park for over 30 years. Once a week, John Heiser now offers a several hour backcountry hike, and appropriately, his focus is often on the bison.

Heiser began his talk by answering questions about the bison gathering of the previous night. The bison were gone, but traces of their presence remained in the form of enlarged bison wallows and much bison hair. Heiser said that although property damage sometimes occurred, generally it didn’t happen in the campgrounds where bison seemed to know what to expect. “They’re smart animals,” said this park veteran, “and it’s the unexpected that need concern you. In 2002, a woman walking along a trail ran into a bison, and she didn’t want to move. The bison tossed her into the air and probably in this instance that alone would not have hurt her, but she landed in a huge shrub and limbs there punctured her chest cavity and broke a rib or two. She’s OK now, but initially, there was some concern.”

Heiser is a tall, strapping man and he says he is a kindred spirit with the bison. For awhile, we visited more about this much beleagured animal, talking specifically about the 500 bison in the park’s two units and about the current breeding season. Heiser says bison here in this relatively small confined area know one another personally but that they still communicate in ways of old. When a bull in rut sees another bull in rut, they’ll attempt to assess one another’s strength by pawing the dirt—or bellowing loudly. If that doesn’t turn the antagonist, one or both may roll around in the dust. If that doesn’t work, one or the other might simply sit. Though this may seem to be a passive gesture, in reality, the bull is saying in effect, “This is my turf; come closer and you’re in for a fight.”

Though much of Heiser’s hike is about bison, it’s not all about bison and throughout the course of our several hour walk, we passed by various geological formations and then, came to the stumps of several ancient petrified trees. Yet further along we visited about the various grasses that comprise this prairie expanse, and then, about mid way through our hike, gathered on a ridge that looks down onto a beautiful expanse of table top rocks and other geological oddities formed through the millennium. Here, we paused for a lunch break and the beauty of the area is made even more memorable when John stands and begins the reading of several poems. All have names but one poem is of particular interest, a poem Heiser calls “Kindred Spirits,” which he reads to our group:

We are of a Kindred Spirit, bison and I, Mutual inhabitants of this vast sea of grass which waves from horizon to forever, then back again, under the blazing blue sky of time.

For centuries blurred they roamed endless seasons, no fences, now I do, and they are stuck in small places which their bison spirit fiercely resists–role reversals would seem some small justice, I think.

Frequently I and their kind meet, sometimes in secret places, and we visit about history, and now, and I always end with apology for the devilish deeds my species has inflicted on theirs, who is the beast, I ask?

The poem continues yet for several more stanzas, concluding with one that prognosticates:

I look into wild brown eyes, brimming with prairie fire and apologize yet again and say claim your birthright, bison, and smash stifling fences, but be patient, too, and know that one day my species and the fences will fall and rot, and you and millions of you, will again roam the seasons and centuries, forever and free.

Perhaps it’s not surprisingly to learn that John Heiser is the author of this poem, and I for one have a renewed fascination for this animal that still has the power to unite a number of us in the common belief that man has overstepped his presence. My hat is off to this large raw-boned man, so passionate in his beliefs that he exposes his feelings for a beleaguered species, thereby transforming himself into a Kindred Spirit…

And now, on a completely different note, I’d like to wish my granddaughter, Halle Mae, a very happy birthday. Today, she’s five, and a very mature five at that.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park–A Park That Unifies

posted: July 24th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: “See ‘em,” said the man with the walking stick sitting at the Beef Coral Overlook in Theodore Roosevelt National Historic Park. “Do you see all those wild mustangs on that butte? Quite a sight, isn’t it?”

The man’s name was Jerry Martin, and he was a retired electrician from West Virginia and we liked him immediately. Though we had worked different professions all our lives, we discovered we shared in common a passion for nature, and for a moment Jerry continued helping me locate the wild mustangs that he said he’d been watching for the last half hour. Then our focus turned to a herd of bison that were now walking along the Little Missouri River, also a part of this famous park.

“Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been here when the plains were filled with buffalo,” said Jerry.

I agreed, sharing what I knew about bison. I added that the Lewis & Clark Journals recorded days when the ground shook and the air thundered with the bellowing of bulls.

In part, that’s what this North Dakota park does; it brings together people from all walks of life where they are united through their common interests in nature and in their common interest in American patriotism. Here, it didn’t make any difference whether we were Republican or Democratic; religious or not religious. Here, we were united by the bond of nature, and perhaps too, by a touch of patriotism, else we might not have been lured to this particular park. Here, all of these ingredients are found in abundance. And they unify.

Over the years, this area of America has been one of my favorite, and I have visited it often enough to provide a number magazines with stories about the Medora Musical and about Roosevelt. In fact, this past month, Rich Luhr carried a new story about this park in his wonderful magazine, Airstream Life.

Roosevelt came to the Badlands often, but most notably in 1884 to try and regain his direction after the death of both his wife and mother. To compound this tragedy, both died on the same day. But the Badlands helped him regain his sanity, and in the course of living here, he became an ardent proponent of the “vigorous life,” overcoming through hard work some of his childhood afflictions. All those stories are told not only in the park but at the Medora Musical as well.

The Medora Musical has been around for ages, certainly longer than the 20 years I’ve been venturing to this park. Several nights ago when we saw it, it contained the same award-winning aspects that has made it an internationally famous production. Beginning the program were songs performed by the Burning Hills Singers.

Shortly thereafter, it was followed by one of the most amazing demonstrations of acrobatics and shear strength we have ever seen. Out of Africa, five top Kenya athletes dazzled us all with feats of strength and coordination. Perhaps most amazingly, one man supported four others: two perched on each knee angling out, but with yet two more further creating a vertical tower tiered three humans high.

Appropriately, the grand finale featured “Theodore Roosevelt” explaining against a backdrop of firecrackers, that “If it had not been for my days in the Badlands of North Dakota, I would never have been President of the United States.”

As Jerry, Janie and I sat overlooking the Little Missouri, we decided we were glad a park has been named for the man who helped preserve so much.

And now, we are back in our Airstream, docked at Juniper campground in the park’s north unit. It is mating season for the park’s several hundred bison, and their lion-like roars fill the air.

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Fort Union–Still An Outpost On The Missouri

posted: July 18th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: Count the stars on the flag in the accompanying photograph. Rather than 50 stars there are only 30. What’s happened here is that you’re stepping back in time, back to the year 1851 when traders met with their Indian neighbors and where a fort was built to help soldiers control the Indians–when they attempted to defend their homeland. Here, where 30 stars fly, is where you’ll find Fort Union. It’s located at the Montana and North Dakota border—where the Yellowstone River adds tp the Missouri. Here, you’re stepping back to the time when our young nation numbered but 30 states.

We were touring Fort Union after stopping for the night at a campground in Williston, North Dakota. We needed to stop in a fairly large town to resupply our food and our gas. Back in Fort Peck, we’d been told that gas in North Dakota would be cheaper, essentially because North Dakota doesn’t tax its residents as much as the Big Sky taxes its residents.

Throughout Montana, we’d mostly been paying about $2.99, though in some places prices were posted higher. But as I started gassing up for our trip to Fort Union, I discovered that there are apparently many misconceptions. From our campground, the first station I came to posted $3.22 for deisel, and, so, I started looking around a bit further, quickly finding that on the main highway, there’s a great discrepancy. But in town, I found dsel posted at the Simonson Station Store for $2.99–and on top of that, they offered a 5 cent discount, reducing the total to $2.94, the cheapest we’ve yet purchased gas on our trip. And so I filled up my empty tank, paying about $70. Then, we hooked up our trailer, and were soon off for Fort Union, a placed I’ve wanted to see for years, because of its historic setting—and because of the park’s living history interpretations, which did not disappoint…

“Welcome,” says the man dressed in the straw hat, black vest and white shirt. “Welcome to our trading house. Look around. You’ll see beads, beaver pelts, swift fox pelts, and old stem pipes. Some of the items are for sale. Beaver is now going for $150 a hide.”

You may have heard of Fort Union. Pulitzer Prize Winner A.B. Guthrie wrote about it in several of his books, most notably the Big Sky, his most famous story. Today, the fort still exists, not in its original form, but in a perfectly reconstructed form. The National Park Service acquired the property in 1966, and to a large extent relied on the paintings of various artists to reconstruct the fort. As a result, several of the buildings and structures have been recreated. These include the fort’s walls, stone bastions, Indian trade house, and the Bourgeois House.

According to Mike Casler, a permanent interpreter stationed at Fort Union and the man I first meet when Janie and I began our explorations, the presence of the fort at the union of two rivers is what discouraged the construction of a town. “Think about it,” said Casler. “Where do you find some of your major cities? Where’s St. Louis? At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi, right? On a smaller scale, where’s Three Forks, Montana? Near the confluence of the Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison. Right?”

And so it goes.

Casler continued his narration, turning to the other historic aspect of the area, telling me that Chief Sitting Bull surrendered just two miles downstream at Fort Buford, which is, in fact, the precise site where the Missouri and Yellowstone unit.

“Sitting Bull defeated General Custer in 1876, and then took refuge from reprisals in Canada for four years. Canada offered a refuge, but it would not feed them, and when his people began to suffer from malnutrition, he decided to return—mostly for the sake of his people.”

Fort Buford, then, became another area we decided to investigate.

And so we continue, searching out our national lands, which is, of course, in keeping with one of the pages on our associated website. In the course of our research, we are also finding that gas prices vary, and when I asked the proprietor at Simonson Station just why it varied, he said, and I quote, “Because some people are greedy.”

I believe him, but have also concluded that, relatively speaking, we’re probably still paying what we paid in the ‘70s for gasoline—and that exploring our national lands with camera and pen is–relatively speaking–not all that costly a pursuit.

Next stop? North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the park that made a president.

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The Wolf Point Stampede; More Than A Small Town Rodeo

posted: July 17th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

By Bert Gildart: “Now here’s a group of cowboys,” said the announcer in his long, drawn out Texas twang, “that won’t disappoint. They’re from north of the border, near Calgary, Alberta, and I want you to watch just how these boys can ride.”

Veteran announcer Randy Schmutz was addressing a sophisticated group, a group of ranchers, Native Americans, and other rural folk from Wolf Point, Montana, another town located along Montana’s Highline, though much further east.

We’d been invited last week by Carla Brunsley of Missouri River Country, and she’d guaranteed us that the 40-mile drive from Fort Peck to Wolf Point would be worth the trouble.

When the first of the Thurston Gang, as this family of riders is called, came riding out, we knew we’d made a very worthwhile decision.

None of the riders were old, and first to gallop into the arena was 14-year old Wyatt Thurston. Wyatt was riding two horses, and he was straddling the two and they weren’t sauntering, rather they were going full speed.

Somehow the young man maintained his balance, and made it look extraordinarily easy.

Next, and perhaps most impressive was Sam Thurston, a young man whom the announcer said was 12, and to Janie and me, his skills seemed the most impressive. Somehow, this young man eased to the side of his saddle, using the strength of his leg muscles to prevent him from falling. But he didn’t stop by just angling to the side; rather he continued to slide to the side until he was at a perfect 90 degree angle to the vertical axis of his horse.

Though we discussed the riders techniques, none of us could provide a better explanation other than to say that the rider somehow used his leg muscles to grip the horse, and that perhaps one of his stirrups was rigged to help him maintain his perch. Moments later he somehow pulled himself erect and back into the saddle—accomplishing all this in about a half swing around the arena.

Later, we watched this same young man and an incredible demonstration of trick roping. During this performance, he created a huge loop into which he then jumped, both in and out. But that was just for starters. A few minutes later he came riding back into the arena on a horse, and this time he was standing on the saddle, twirling a rope. As he rode, the loop progressed.

Then he stopped and as the loop grew yet larger, he eventually encircled both himself and the horse into a loop. This really brought the announcer to his feet, who exclaimed, “Well folks, what do you think about our friends from just north of the border.”

Then the announcer went on to tell us that Jeri Duce got the Thurston Gang started exactly two years ago and has coached them in a whirlwind ride into fame. “At home,” said the announcer, “I’m told they’re regular kids who play hockey in the winter and attend to their chores.

“Now let’s hear it for the Thurston Gang.”

But the evening was young, and this was just the prelude to what Wolf Point appropriately calls its wild horse stampede. The “stampede” is part of an evening filled with action, from bull riding and bronc riding to barrel racing. “Something for everyone,” intoned Schmutz. “But don’t go away; next event will be the stampede.”

The stampeded begins with the release of 33 wild horses (appropriately) into the arena. Eleven teams consisting of three wild-eyed cowboys, ran after the horses carrying saddles and swinging their lassos.

The object, of course, was to put a rope around the neck of one of the horses, and control it enough so that one of the other team members could saddle it, and then climb aboard.

The event has its share of humor, for although several teams managed to lasso a horse, horses still had minds of their own. In one case, a frantic horse pulled a determined cowboy the full length of the arena on his stomach. Stubbornly, the cowboy clung to the rope. It was quite a scene, as you can imagine, with 33 cowboys and 33 horses racing in all directions around the arena.

Meanwhile, members of one of the other teams were having a bit more luck, and before the bell sounded an end to the event and signaled a “No score,” one cowboy managed to ride a saddled horse the designated length, and then control it sufficiently so that it would proceed to the judge’s corner.

What more can be said? The cowboys succeeded, and we felt we succeeded, returning home to our Airstream with a series of high-res digital images that tell a story about a way of life and a group of young men, who, we’re sure, will always be commanding a respectable audience. But there’s more yet to this posting.

I’m posting one more photograph specifically for our good friends and neighbors, Rand and Linda, who have just joined the RV community with the purchase of a new travel trailer. They have been farmers much of their lives, and we thought they’d appreciate seeing a portion of the largest John Deere collection in the world, located just north of Wolf Point.

Note: See comment below which I received 2/14/2012. The note provided a link to a great web site explaining  some techniques about trick ridding.

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Montana’s Highline—A Rural Road Through Rural America That Should Remain Rural

posted: July 16th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Today, at 1:45, just as we were descending the small hill that leads into Culbertson, Montana, the temperature gauge in our Dodge hit 103 degrees F. It was the hottest day so far, and is certainly suggestive of the hardships the early explorers, trappers and homesteaders encountered when they ventured into the prairies and plains. The area is still remote, and because of its remoteness, we’ve not been able to find cell phone towers that would enable us to post any of our travels—until today. This evening, we’ve arrived in Williston, North Dakota, and now we’re back on Verizon.


Rudyard, Montana

That’s what we’ve been doing the past week. We’ve been driving across Montana’s Highline, stopping at some of the area’s small towns, and enjoying the life found out here in these remote areas. To us, that’s the charm, and despite the fact that we support our current governor on most things, one thing we would hate to see is the construction of the major four-lane interstate Governor Schweitzer now wants to push through. To us, it’s the small town atmosphere that is the charm of Joplin, Kremlin, Dodson, Chinook, Harlem, Wolf Point, Havre, Rudyard and all the other tiny towns set back from grain bins and railroad tracks that dot this rural Montana area.

All the towns have a certain degree of charm and serve as a stage for other major stories. In Havre, there’s the story of the bison jump where Indians once stampeded thousands of bison to their deaths. Because of the work of archaeologists, the story can still be told at the Piskun Jump.

Nate Murphy

Nat Murphy and Leonardo

The Highline also serves as the northern portion of Montana’s new Dinosaur Trail, making stops not only in Havre but in Malta. Here, Nat Murphy found one of the most perfectly preserved dinosaurs ever found in North America. Because “Leonardo” as he named his find, might provide clues as to whether dinosaurs were cold or warm blooded, he’s hoping for a major grant that will enable him to investigate his finding further. He needs the money in part for CAT scans, as food materials were found not only in the stomach but in the large intestine as well. An evaluation of the foods will tell archaeologists what Leonardo was eating over a long period of time.

Fort Peck Dam

Fort Peck Dam

Perhaps the most significant stop has been Fort Peck, where we’ve spent the last few nights at what we believe may be Montana’s best campsite. The site is called the Downstream Camp, and it is located on the downstream side of the world’s second largest earth filled dam. When completed in the early 40s, it was the world’s largest earth-filled dam, but since construction, Russia built one even larger.

Guide JR

Walleye Guide, Ft Peck

Fort Peck Dam also provided Life Magazine with its first cover, taken by the famous woman photographer, Margaret Bourke White.

On our trip, the campsite served as site where I could rendezvous with J.R. Rasmunson, a premier walleye fishing guide. Despite the terrific heat, our early morning departures succeeded in catches of several large fish, and tonight, one of those fish will be our meal.

When we dine, it will help to remind us that the Highline provides access to many significant adventures in northern Montana. But it will also remind us that some of these adventures will be diminished if Route 2 becomes another major Interstate.

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Twelve Trail Miles in Glacier National Park With Emma, A Six-Year Old

posted: July 10th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer


Bert Gildart: In part this is a story about a six year-old girl named Emma who may be one of the toughest little girls I’ve ever met. Emma is the daughter of Rich and Eleanor Luhr, and Rich is the publisher of Airstream Life Magazine. Currently, the Luhrs are parked in our driveway along with several other Airstream adventurers. They’re all friends that we’ve met in the course of our RV adventures and Janie and I had offered to show them the Flathead Valley.

Emma Running

Emma Running

Obviously one of the areas in the Flathead that everyone wanted to see was Glacier National Park, and because I once worked as a ranger in the park and have also written extensively about the park, they left it up to me to pick a trail that would be workable for everyone. My choice was the Highline Trail, a trail that leaves from Logan Pass, proceeds along a gorgeous segment of an area so lofty biologists describe it as the park’s Arctic Alpine region.

Billy Goat

Mountain Goat

For the first 3 miles the trail is fairly level, and Emma was adventure charged, stopping at small water falls to wet her face, at snow banks to laugh at goats lazing in the sun; and at all the rock outcroppings where marmots and ground squirrels scampered yesterday during our hike. We also looked for pika, a tiny member of the rabbit family that has become an indicator of global warming. We found one near the base of haystack butte, just before we began our ascent.

Ascending haystack was a challenge for us grown people, and here is one place Emma asked how far we’d come—and how far we had to go. And here is where I began to worry that the 8-mile figure I’d quoted earlier might not be correct. In fact, it was here my memory kicked back in, and I now remembered exactly how far we had to go. Rather then 8 miles, the distance to the West Side Loop was 12.1 miles, four miles farther then what I’d originally quoted.

And Emma was but six!

Quietly I mentioned my mistake to Rich, and he said, well, that’s twice the distance she’s ever covered, but maybe all the new things we’re seeing will help her forget.

marmots boxing

Marmots Boxing

Emma chugged up Haystack Butte without further comment, and at the saddle we took a lunch break and a breather. Then we proceed on, stopping for another look at two male marmots engaged in what can only be described as “boxing matches.” In this high arctic environment, marmots hibernate longer than any other mammal, and they must use summer to accomplish all that marmots need to accomplish to perpetuate their kind. “Boxing” is one way of selecting the most genetically fit specimen to mate with the females. But that was one lesson I didn’t provide Emma, leaving sex education to Rich and Eleanor.

Eight miles from Logan Pass we arrived at Granite Park Chalet, which provided a welcome stop on the Highline. The Chalet was built shortly after Glacier was established as a park in 1910. In those days, visitors to Glacier would disembark from the train at East Glacier, mount horses and tour the park, stopping overnight at the many chalets that then existed. Granite Park is one of the two that still remain. Here, we bought bottled water, and rested up for the final four mile leg of our hike.

Sue & Adam

Sue and Adam

By this time, Emma was beginning to tire, but she seemed to forget her tiredness when Adam diverted her attention to stories that seem to come to him so naturally. The tactic worked and that was all this six-year old seemed to need. The trip was all downhill and passed through the massive burn that occurred several years ago. Undergrowth is abundant and we all talked about how the green growth against the blackened trees really was not aesthetically displeasing at all. I stopped to take a number of photographs of Heaven’s peak (a mountain I climbed years ago), now back dropping the blackened forest. Shortly thereafter, we returned to our shuttle car, completing the 12.1-mile hike.

Surprisingly Emma still seemed full of energy, whereas I have to admit, that I for one was beginning to wear down.

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Islands In The Sun

posted: July 6th, 2006 | by:Bert

With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

This month MotorHome Magazine released my story on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Because the islands have been rated as one of the most pristine units in the National Park System, I’m posting a condensation of that story here. Editors there do a wonderful job of layout, and I was delighted to see the creative jusxtaposition of text and photos.

Despite the pristine nature of the 22 islands, all is not right in paradise, and if you are philanthropically inclined, you might want to consider contributing to the restoration of Raspberry Lighthouse, one of the eight preserved on these islands. And, if you are a kayaker, you’ll be hard pressed to find an area offering greater adventure, regardless of your level of expertise.



Pristine Shore

©Bert Gildart: According to a park service ranger at the Visitor Center in Bayfield, Wisconsin, the 21 verdant islands now comprising the Apostle Islands National Seashore were once so rundown from excessive commercialization that managers wouldn’t consider including them as a unit in the system of parks.

Because we’d recently hiked along a trail where oaks reached toward the sky, and then on to a marshland where a black bear reared up and bounded off—the 50-year-old image depicting desolation and erosion seemed improbable. But great recovery is what’s happened in the Apostles. Here, nature has so reasserted herself that in 2005, the National Geographic Society proclaimed this national lakeshore to be one of the two most pristine units in the entire National Park Service System.


Hidden Artifact

“That doesn’t mean,” said a VIP (Volunteer In the Park) on Stockton Island, “that if you walk into the woods and probe deeply you won’t find timbers from abandoned homes now almost dissolved. Or evidence of past logging and mining.

“But these are timeless islands, struggling to preserve something of essence. Sure, you’ll see settlements were attempted. But you’ll also see islands as they were when Indians hauled ashore here in birch bark canoes.”

Though we’d only been in the Apostles a few days, we already suspected what the informative lady on remote Stockton Island was trying to help us appreciate. At park headquarters in Bayfield we’d learned about the islands’ early lighthouse keepers. From a campground on Sand Island, which we’d reached by kayaking, we’d watched from a cliff of red rock while distant ocean-going freighters moved across the horizon of Lake Superior as vague anachronisms.

apostle sea cave

Apostle Island Sea Caves

On another day, we’d attempted to kayak to a series of sea caves, but weather had temporarily turned us back. Now, we were departing the mainland by ferry to Madeline Island—the only island that permits vehicular traffic—to learn more about early day history. Truly these islands located along the southern shore of Hiawatha’s Gitche Gumee (remember Longfellow’s famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha?) embraced so many eras they seemed struggling for definition—like a kaleidoscope of images about to reassemble…

Historic recollection is, of course, a function of the NPS, but in part it is done in conjunction with local concessions, and we took advantage of this arrangement. One day, we purchased tickets for a day-long trip on a cruise boat, and watched as an enchantment of islands paraded by—22 in all. That, of course, goes contrary to the idea that the islands number 13 after the Biblical Apostles, but Lake Superior is often shrouded in fog and so perhaps early settlers initially saw some diminished number.

As the cruise continued, we passed Oak and Sand islands, and then, in the distance, we saw Hermit, made famous by a man with a secret that clouded his life. Some believe the hermit’s name was Wilson and that the man was a lonely fur trader, still longing for a past love. All the islands have stories associated with their names.

As well as just cruising the islands, the excursion boat made two stops, one at Raspberry and another at Stockton. Raspberry Island offered an intimate view of the lighthouses keepers who once operated the Apostles’ six lighthouses. An excerpt from one of the park service logs provides insights, and helped us further appreciate the potential of Lake Superior.

“In the dark” wrote Lighthouse Keeper Francis Jacker, “I missed the point of landing, sailing beyond it [Raspberry]… thus drifting over to Oak Island. The storm did not abate until noon of the third day [and] there would have been no escape for me… were it not for a passing Indian…”

pitcher plants

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants

At Stockton, we disembarked and joined Naturalist Doug Wekley for a walk through a forest of oak to a deck overlooking a marsh. Wekely pointed out carnivorous pitcher plants and the paw print of one of Stockton’s 26 black bears, tallied through the advances of DNA. Wekley said he thought some of the bears were newcomers, having swum several miles from the mainland across these open, frigid waters.

That night we returned by the boat to our vehicle and then drove back to our campground at Little Sand Bay, where we watched the sun set over the Hokenson Brothers fishery—and over a number of islands we’d seen earlier in the day.

Sand Island was one of those islands, and once it was alive with the buzz of cross-cut saws and the voices of village people. It’s a destination for kayakers, and early one morning we checked with the visitor center and learned the weatherman portended smooth sailing. Temperatures were predicted to be in the mid ‘80s with winds slight, meaning waves should crest at no more than two feet. Weathermen, of course, have been known to be wrong.

As we pushed off we watched a group of kayakers going through all the techniques necessary for emergency rescues. Intentionally they dumped, and then righted the boat. Instructors then made sure they could perform a self rescue and an assisted rescue; simple techniques, sure, but useful only if you’ve practiced them a time or two in these cold, clear waters; something we had done.

Kayaking to Sand Island (3-miles away) required about an hour, and as we swept into the park service dock, we saw an ageless forest that extended to the sandy shore. Prying ourselves from our kayaks, we walked a narrow path, and saw deer bounding from near the weathered remains of an old Model T. The path continued and soon led to a small cabin, which served as the home of Mike and Cherie Reverie, now working here as VIPs.

lighthouse keeper

Lighthouse Keepler

Cherie not only provided tours of an abandoned home, but was researching the history of women who once ran lighthouses. Meanwhile, her husband hiked back and forth each day to the Sand Island Lighthouse, where he worked as an interpreter, recounting tales of seas and ships, and sometimes of tragedies.

Lake Superior, of course, is not a body of water to mess around in. Through the years, She has sunk over a thousand ships, and the cold waters have taken the lives of kayakers. Several years ago, a father and son tipped their boats and the young boy died of hypothermia. The tragedy occurred in the sea caves which we had earlier attempted to reach.

apostle sea caves

Apostle Island Sea Caves

Sea caves are a marvel of creation, resulting from the erosive effects of wind and water. You’ll find them on several of the Apostles, but one of the most beautiful series is located along the eight-mile mainland section of beach controlled by the National Park Service. From our time in the Apostles, we’d learned late afternoon was the ideal time to visit this particular set. Typically, the light is great for photographs and the afternoon winds have died. That’s just the way it was for us.

Departing from Meyers Beach (a 5-mile drive from our campground), we paddled two miles to the first of the caves. And then, although park brochures say to enter the caves with caution, they drew us in with all the carefree abandonment endowed in youthful explorers.

airstream camping

Airstream Camping

In one place the cave was hollowed to a depth of 30 or more feet. And what was so lovely is that from this recess, we could then look out at the verdure of several of the other Apostle Islands, islands with names like Gull, Eagle, and Otter; islands with symbolic names projecting this sense of timelessness we had come to feel.

That evening we returned to our trailer and listened as wind blew through the trees, and the sun descended into the Apostles—now remote and distant—lost and obscure in a timeless but meaningful struggle to preserve something of essence.

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