Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for November, 2007

Snow Falling On Cedars

posted: November 29th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Snow Falling on Cedars is not only a great title for the classic book by David Guterson, but an apt description of a hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park our group made this past week.

Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars

As my sister, brother-in-law, wife and I hiked several days ago, snow was falling on the cedars, enough so that every now and then we could make out tracks of mice and other tiny creatures brave enough to scurry from beneath the protective covering of a log or cluster of rocks. As well, it was complementing the ice now forming in the gorge flanking the trail along which we hiked.

Avalanche Gorge

Avalanche Gorge

Avalanche Lake is reached first following a short boardwalk through an old stand of cedars that survived fires that raged through the area about 1910. From there the trail climbs two miles to a magnificent cirque where glaciers once performed their magic.


Because of all the downed trees from a recent wind storm, it took about an hour to make this relatively easy hike. Of course, we were also slowed by the dramatic scenery along the way, which we often stopped to photograph. But before long, the trail topped out and we were presented with a view of massive mountains that surround the lake. As well, toward the lake’s upper end, we saw snow starting to bank up that in spring will avalanche onto the lake named for these thunderous occurrences.

When we reached Avalanche Lake, water levels were low, resulting from the scarcity of rainfall this past summer. We ate lunch at the lake, sitting on logs and studied the distant shore. Several other hikers told us they had seen a wolverine on the distant shore, and that indeed is a rare sighting. In my 13 summers as a back-country ranger in Glacier, I’ve seen but one, and nothing changed following our scrutiny of the other day.


As we continued to study the terrain we could see the dense and lush vegetation ringing the lake. The Continental Divide acts here as a rain shadow for the park’s west side, and the closer you get to the barrier, the more precipitation. The precipitation gives rise to all the cedars flanking the trail through which we just walked. It is the only area in the park where the species still exist.

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Normally at this time of year, the area is snowed in and the road to the Avalanche Lake trailhead is not accessible. But when it is, you have a perfect opportunity to hike one of the park’s most popular summer trails, and enjoy the first snows as they fall on the park’s community of cedars.

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Thanksgiving Pardon

posted: November 21st, 2007 | by:Bert

Turkey Smarts

Thanksgiving Pardon

©Bert Gildart: Despite the bad manners of this and other turkeys, which continue to gather at our bird feeder, today we pardoned these turkeys. We have absolved them of their sins.

Our pardon is unlike the annual presidential pardon, which grants some lucky turkey life for a sin whose only crime was to grow fat on an obscure farm. Our pardon forgives real sins. Our pardon forgives the many turkeys that not only gather at our feeder, but also those that knock over the feeder in their effort to expose the seed. Worse yet, our pardon forgives those that poop all over the deck and the railing that supports our feeder. Some might consider all unforgivable sins, particularly the later.

I, however, realize that the turkey is a bird deserving of much respect, and to support my contention quote from columnist Ellen Goodman, who in turn was quoting Greg Butcher of the Audubon Society. “It’s a strange era,” said Butcher, “where every species is either too common or too rare.”


Butcher continued, saying that the “differential” seems to be the creatures’ “willingness to put up with the human lifestyle.” Goodman concludes her column with a thought of her own, saying that “Maybe Ben Franklin was right when he said that the wild turkey–not the bald eagle–should be our national bird.

“After all,” concluded Goodman, “the eagle in all of its restored glory, soars majestically above the fray. But the turkey is down here, gobbling, squabbling and flourishing, while we try to figure our place in the pecking order.”

I like the philosophies that seem to crop up around Thanksgiving and recall that last year at this time, we were traveling in North Carolina, and had just visited an Indian chief at the Cherokee Heritage Center. We learned much from that visit and received several comments from a subsequent Thanksgiving posting based on our visit with Mr. Wolf.

Despite bad manners these turkeys granted reprieve

Despite bad manners, these turkeys were granted a reprieve

Check it out, but in the meantime both Janie & I wish everyone many, many Happy Thanksgivings.


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Observations From Two Of Our Nation’s First Conservationists

posted: November 19th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Last night I read with much concern the blog posting of a friend of mine who travels extensively in his Airstream–just as we do. In his posting he said that in all of his travels he knows of but two areas in the country where one can still camp on a beach unfettered with vast directives. Specifically, he mentioned Padre Islands in Texas, and Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area at Pismo Beach, California. Janie and I have also traveled extensively, and we agree: virtually everything else has been developed, and we find that tragic.


One reason that my friend’s thoughts struck such a chord is that an urban blight is now invading the Flathead Valley, the area I call home. I moved here shortly after graduating from high school because the Flathead was such a relatively pristine area.

Once the Sky Was His Domain

Once the sky (see below) was his domain

That was back in the ‘60s. Now, forty-some years later, the valley’s transformation is not only a tragedy in itself but symptomatic of a national disease. So virulent is this problem here in the Flathead that our local newspaper informs readers that by the year 2020, ever last bit of space that can be developed in the valley will be developed. Obviously, our local paper was not referring to such local areas as the Bob Marshall Wilderness, which is not far from our home.

Much of this clutter could have been avoided. But a group of unregulated developers–many from out of state–descended, and they were flush with the bottom line. One of them is a developer from the mid-west and he is now proceeding with what will in several years be Montana’s largest mall. He doesn’t really live here; he just develops here, and then leaves. Everyone I associate with knows him as “Bucky.”


Though I have joined others of like mind in opposing such developments, we’ve not gained much ground, and there’s not much we can do except take solace in the fact that extremely well known and much respected people who have preceded us have also taken strong stands. One of those individuals was not only an Air Force general, but also a corporation man, and so his thoughts (You know of him, but can you guess his name without looking?) might surprise you. After having flown over every single state in the nation, he wrote:

“I have seen fencing pushing westward, enclosing once open land. I have seen bird and animal life disappear. I have seen towns and cities spring up where there were none before. Forest land converted into agriculture, farm land in turn become suburban subdivisions, mountains slashed through with power lines and superhighways, rivers and lakes fouled by pollution, the skies over even small towns hazed by smog–all evidence of human thoughtlessness about their environment.”

The man who penned these words was Charles Lindbergh, and though I could not find an exact date for these expressions, I believe he wrote them in the ‘60s. He died in 1974.)


Am I disappointed? Yes, but I’ll get over it as bitterness is self defeating–and I haven’t thrown in the towel. There’s still work that can be done… As Bob Marshall, founder of the Wilderness Society once said:

“There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche of the whole Earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness.”

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Fall’s Ripeness Along the Natchez Trace National Parkway

posted: November 17th, 2007 | by:Bert

A most beautiful drive

Small stream along Trace in Tennessee

©Bert Gildart: Along the Natchez Trace National Parkway* few seasons are more spectacular than fall. All up and down the highway the subdued colors of spring and summer change, rushing finally to a magnificent crescendo of reds, yellows, and oranges. At times, these profusions rival the diversity of colors found throughout the seaboard states of the northeast. But regardless of degree, the colors along the Trace offer a variety that satisfies the most jaded of spirits, for the colors can be profuse and varied; at times they can be intense.

Just what purpose this brilliance of color serves, no one really knows, and in the biological world that is peculiar, for color usually accounts for something: to provide protective coloration; to serve as a warning to other members of the animal world to steer clear; to attract insects to insure pollination. But not so with fall foliage, which seems to serve no purpose other than to satisfy the needs of the soul.

Not only is the purpose of the season’s wonderfully diverse variegations not clearly understood, but worldwide, fall color is unique, confined as it is to but a few specific areas of our globe. Why were we so blessed? No ready answer comes to mind.

Fall color is the result of a gradual diminishment in the amount of light, inaugurated June 21sth, the day of the summer solstice, or that period when the sun has reached its northern zenith and is poised to commence its return south. At that time, light is intense, but as the alignment of the sun and earth gradually changes, the chemical reaction of light striking various pigments in the plant slows. The result is that chlorophyll, the dominant pigment so vitally important to the plant — indeed to the very air we and most other forms of vertebrate life breathe in its byproduct form of photosynthetically produced oxygen — is reduced.

Tobacco Farm Along Natchez Trace

Tobacco Farm Along Natchez Trace

Throughout the summer, chlorophyll has masked three other pigments, xananthophyll, carotene and anthocyanin. As the important role of chlorophyll concludes, these other pigments begin to emerge, and does so in a manner that suggests they are making up for lost time, demanding the attention of all by boldly exhibiting a palette of brilliance. Xanthophylls produce yellow; carotines, orange; anthocyanins, red, and by the month of the autumnal equinox, their time is neigh! Literally, it is time for their place in the sun; time for their displays, which are made with a genius acquired through millions of years of dedicated practice. Singularly, they produce pure colors. Together, they produce blends, so that often, leaves assume the color of burgundy, ochre, blood… mahogany.

Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac

Because botanists know the types of pigments that predominate in specific plants, they can, in some cases, predict the hues the leaves of certain species of plants will assume. For example, blackgum, dogwood, sourwood sumac and some of the maples and sassafrasses contain much anthocyanin, so color them reddish on the easel of your mind’s eye. Birches, aspens and tulip poplar contain xanthophylls, so color them yellowish. Other trees such as the red maple, sugar maple and some of the other sassafrasses, contain a combination of all of the pigments, so envision for them a meld.

Sometimes trees along the Trace don’t assume any real brilliance, metamorphosing almost overnight from green to brown, as with some of the oaks. Oaks have one more compound, tannin, and that substance produces the color brown, particularly when fall is dominated by rain and leaden skies, denying the other pigments their chance to assert themselves. And, so, we have another factor influencing color: the weather.

Weather undeniably influences the manifestation of pigments. Clear, cold days seem to intensify brilliance while prolonged rain subdues it, though even then there is a consolation. Often associated with dampness is a profusion of fungi, brilliant in their own right. Look for the coral-colored Indian pipes. Look for them almost anywhere, for they run the slopes flanking the Trace and dot their woods.

Look as well for the ripeness of fall as seen in the branches bent with berries and nuts. Muscadines and persimmons exhibit such ripeness, though not in the ridiculous way of some. Dogwood leaves droop from the clusters of small red berries, while the branches of sumac sag from sheer gaudiness.

One more component of weather influences fall’s proliferations and that is frost. Frost seems to accelerate the disturbance of chlorophyll, thereby hurrying the appearance of color. What’s more, frost, when it rims the edge of a leaf or sparkles over a field of wind-incised leaves, combines to produce a beauty that is a photographer’s delight. It is yet another player on the stage of the seasons’ major opus, so exquisitely acted out along the Natchez Trace.

And so the Trace can, and usually does, provide travelers with one of the nation’s most spectacular fall drives. And like other places in America, this caste serves no purpose other than to proclaim that fall is not the prelude to a great sleep, rather it is a time of great ripeness of which we are the benefactors.

Falls richness northern Alabama

Fall’s richness, northern Alabama

But why were we so blessed?

Still, no answer comes, only the echo that viewing such ripeness is beneficial to the soul.

*The above is in part from my book The Natchez Trace: Two Centuries of Travel–and though I am far removed from the Trace at this moment, an inspiring photo blog created by Kimmy (We seem to share the same concerns) shows me the beauty of fall in Tennessee hasn’t changed–and suggests that you’re not too late to enjoy it.

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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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Photoshop Revisited

posted: November 6th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bald eagle merged with sky image

Bald eagle "layered" with sky image

©Bert Gildart: Following my posting on November 1 about Photoshop techniques, several people wrote and said the sky back–dropping my eagle photo did not look real. They said skies usually have some gradations, and they’re right. Consequently, I decided to take the Photoshop techniques–explained in my earlier posting–one step further.


To try and better my first attempts I photographed the sky from my own backyard and then used that sky (one with clouds and some gradations) to backdrop the Yellowstone National Park eagle. I used some of the same techniques described in my posting to create “layers,” except this time I did not use the “Fill” technique to alter the color in the background layer.

This time I used the “Move tool” and literally lifted the eagle from the original window and placed it into the window containing the sky and clouds taken in my backyard. In this new window, the sky became the background, the eagle the foreground–and that’s the way in which they were stacked using the applicable procedure in Photoshop.

Though I think I’m getting there, something still doesn’t look quite natural in my composite, so I might keep this as an ongoing project, sharing if I think I’ve made improvement. Essentially, I believe the separation between eagle and background too abrupt, despite my use of the “Blur Tool” along the edges.

Hopefully this posting will inform on the possibilities inherent in Photoshop, something I intend to keep chipping away at these next two months–before Janie and I strike out in early January for another extended trip. The trip will be into the Southwest, and we’re making it to complete assigned stories.

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Is Global Warming Real? Consider these Glacier Park Photos Before Answering

posted: November 4th, 2007 | by:Bert

Grinnell Glacier in 1979

Grinnell Glacier in 1979

©Bert Gildart: Publication wise, this has been a good month for me, with four stories and a number of photographs in various publications. All my materials are in good magazines, but my most important story is one appearing in this issue produced by The Wilderness Society.


My story in that magazine is about global warming and it required that I interview a number of well respected scientists. These men and women are the same types of scientists who have helped eradicate polio, map out the human genome, and who have sent astronauts into outer space. I was flattered they shared valuable time with me.

What is indisputable is that global warming is occurring, but what some of us still question is whether global warming is: man caused, part of a natural cycle–or both.


Though the photographs included here were not part of my story for The Wilderness Society, they reflect changes that have occurred in my own back yard, specifically, Glacier National Park. I’ve taken these photos at various times over the past 30 years, the first shown here in 1979.

Grinnell Glacier 2006

Grinnell Glacier, 2006

These three images dramatize the phenomenal change that have recently occurred. Doctor Dan Fagre, a global warming scientist in Glacier, considers Grinnell to be the “poster child of global warming.” He says that all glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2030–”if not sooner.”

The second photo, working from top to bottom, shows Grinnell Glacier in 2001–less than quarter of a century later. Once, as the first photo shows, Grinnell was a massive chunk of ice. In fact, in the early 1900s the glacier extended about a mile down the valley.

Obviously, Grinnell has shrunk in both mass and length, something easy to see by comparing photos. For reference, look at the small pointed peak just a little to the left of center. Then find that same peak in my first photo and examine the similar foregrounds. Compare the ice mass in the first photo with what now remains.


In fact, this once massive ice chunk has receded to such an extent that the name Grinnell Glacier has essentially been replaced by the name Grinnell Lake, or what you now see in the third photograph (and in my summer posting ). This photo was taken in 2005.

Global Warming has replaced a once massive glacier with a lake

A massive glacier has been replaced by ‘Grinnell Lake’

Though this sequence of photos may not settle the question of what is causing global warming, it certainly does show the rapidity with which change is occurring in Glacier.

Read my story in the magazine produced by The Wilderness Society and you will see that similar changes are occurring throughout the nation.

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Photoshop For Quick Easy Changes

posted: November 1st, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Ansel Adams once said that it was the image that was important, implying that the methods to achieve a result were acceptable if the outcome proved more pleasing.

Bald eagle on gray snowy day improved with Photoshop

Bald Eagle on gray snowy day

With that kind of permission, I believe it is fair to manipulate an image to create a more satisfying result. In the case that follows, my techniques are analogous to using filters in black and white photography to darken the sky.

Here, I’m going to use Photoshop techniques to modify the color of the sky and make my image of this bald eagle photographed in Yellowstone National Park several weeks ago appear to have been taken under more inviting weather conditions.


Though I’m certainly no expert when it comes to the capabilities inherent in my CS2 Version of Photoshop, friends and manuals have helped me learn a few techniques. In the course of posting blogs this past year, I have used a few of those techniques several times, as in the graveyard moon walk (see bottom photo), taken in Nova Scotia.

I manipulate photos when it’s easy to do so, and doesn’t require a great deal of my time–but of course, some of that is now a reflection of experience. What once took me hours now requires only minutes. The two images shown here provide a case in point.

The original (above) photo was taken on a cloudy, snowy day, and, as a result, the sky is gray. Changing the background was easy.

First I used the Magic Wand to separate the eagle from its background, creating two layers. Then I used the Pen Tool to sample the color I wanted as a replacement for the gray skies–the background layer. Next, I moved my cursor to the Edit portion of the program, found “Fill,” and then clicked. Voila!


Because the separation between the new background color and the eagle was not perfect, I then used the blur tool located under the Tool bar icon and blended the interface between sky and the eagle’s feathers. And that’s essentially how I got from a gray sky to a blue sky.

Bald Eagle modified with Photoshop

Bald Eagle, modified with Photoshop

Does all this manipulation border on something that is unethical if you’re shooting for publication?

Though not all contemporaries would agree, I don’t think so. Certainly it’s not like saying I photographed a wolf or a bear in the wild when really, the photograph was taken in a zoo or in an enclosure of some kind.

Again, I liken the technique to using color filters in black and white photography to intensify the sky or change tones. Those, of course, are techniques used all the time by Ansel Adams, the undisputed master of black and white photography. They’re also techniques I’ve used in the past, as in my posting of Old Two Medicine Ranger Station .

To complete the images I added the copyright symbol (copied from Symbols in Word and pasted into my Photoshop document) and my name. To match my name with colors found in the eagle’s peak (in the top image) I used the Pen tool to sample the color of the eagle’s beak, and then went to the “Type” tool.

As I began to type, the color defaulted to the color selection stipulated by the Pen tool. Finally, I went to the icon “Windows,” found layers and then from that window clicked the tab that “merged” all the layers together into one final composite image. One other technique that may or may not show in these small images is that I “sharpened” the bottom image.

How long did all that take?

Once it would have required hours, but now, no more than 20 minutes. The techniques are easy, and once you realize all you can do, you’ll be hooked. Just start slowly, realizing if you have other things to do, you’re probably looking at several months down the road before everything becomes second nature.

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