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 August, 2008

Glacier’s Many Glacier Valley Might Also Be Called “Moose Valley”

posted: August 27th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Historically, the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park has always been one of great wildlife concentrations. Today, despite the huge lodge bearing the same name and that attracts large concentrations of visitors, the valley remains home to bears, mountains goats, bighorn sheep–and to the moose.

Glacier is moose habitat

Glacier is moose habitat

While camped this past week in the valley in our Airstream, we saw all four species, but the one that I was able to photograph with some success was the moose. Last year, some of my readers may recall I had similar luck (Holding its breath ) at a tiny lake in Two Medicine (See my entry on place names ) Campground.

Though no one has been able to provide me with any population estimates, park naturalists say moose populations probably are expanding, not only in Many Glacier but in the park as a whole. Certainly the terrain in this valley can accommodate large numbers, something you can determine yourself simply by taking the trail from the Swift Current Motor Inn and hiking about four miles along the trail toward Swift Current Pass. As you hike you’ll pass lakes with names like Fisher Cap, Red Rock and Bullhead. Look and you’ll see all these lakes share similar characteristics.


First, all were made by glacial action and because that happened in the recent geological past, they are all shallow. What’s more they all have an abundance of vegetation that moose can harvest in their own unique way. Look even closer and you’ll see that there are lots of huge tracks in the mud along the shores and lots of tracks in the water. Obviously, they are made by the same creature, Alces alces, the moose. Stick around, and if you are lucky you’ll see one of these huge members of the deer family. Such at any rate was our luck.

For several days we had made the ¾ mile hike to Fisher Cap and though we knew moose were nearby, they remained elusive. Suddenly, however, they were there, and not just one moose but a cow and her yearling calf–and then a large bull moose which materialized from the dense green willows. Though the bull always maintained his distance, not so the cow and calf.


Before long the cow and the calf had moved from the far shore to the near shore. Both sunk their heads into the lush vegetation on which they thrive, but what made the setting for me were some of their actions just prior to departing the lake.

Moose shook like a giant bear

Moose shook like a giant bear

Trying to rid herself of water the cow shook like a huge dog, or perhaps a huge bear. Then because the lake bottom was so rough, she lurched forward, so that progress is best described as a step-lurch, step-lurch.


Though it may appear that my photographs were taken close up, such was not the case. Photo equipment consisted of an 840mm lens attached to a Nikon D-300. Probably I was about 75 yards away, and because the animals were moving toward me and showed no signs (ears reared back, ETC) that my presence disturbed them, I remained where I was.

Moose departs Fisher Cap Lake

Moose departs Fisher Cap Lake

In my 40 years of meeting wildlife biologists as a wildlife photographer and author such a proximity seemed to be acceptable. Several years ago in Denali National Park a ranger watched as a Dall sheep moved toward me until it was within 30 feet. Because it moved toward me and not the reverse, my presence was considered acceptable. The moose at Fisher Cap were much, much further, something I took comfort in, as moose can often be dangerous.


From the wonderful little book on Place Names of Glacier National Park by Jack Holterman Janie and I have learned the following: Fisher Cap is the Indian name for George Bird Grinnell, a man for whom many park features derive their name. He explored what once became the park in the 1870s and later became the editor of Field & Stream. Red Rock Lake and Falls derive their names from the red cliffs nearby. Bullhead Lake is also known as Ladyhead and Jealous Woman’s Lake. I offer that information as even though you may be fanatic about moose photography, knowing more about the surroundings can often make the country seem even more wild and, hence, more exciting. This then is the country of bears and sheep and goats–and of wild populations of Alces alces, the American moose. It’s the country Janie and I seek out whenever we want real wildlife experiences.

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Yo Bear; Yo Bear

posted: August 24th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this winter could be a bitter cold one. Here in Glacier National Park there are many indications to suggest they may be correct. Two nights ago, just a few thousand feet up from our campground in Many Glacier, the rain here had been transformed to snow, and when we awoke, the peaks were all dusted with layers of white. What’s more, the bears we’ve been seeing (more on that later) seem well feed and unusually plump for this time of year.

Fresh snow on Mount Jackson

Fresh snow on Mount Jackson

The snow, however, provided clarity to the air, transforming the smoke laden-air into something that was fresh and inviting. What’s more the storm was lifting, and Matt Rigg and I decided to stick to our plans. We would beseech our wives to drop us at the trailhead for Piegan Pass which would lead us 13 miles later back to my Airstream now parked beneath Grinnell Peak in the campground. Matt and his wife, Bonnie, divide their time between Kalispell, Montana, and Miami, Florida. Matt is a financial consultant and Bonnie an art teacher at the local university. Janie and I have enjoyed their company now for over 15 years. Initially, our friendship began because of our mutual love of Glacier National Park-and over the years, Matt and I have hiked some of the park’s other trails (*Grinnell Overlook ).

The trail Matt and I decided to hike begins at Siyeh Bend along the Going to the Sun Highway, and almost immediately it begins to climb. Bears frequent the entire area coursed by our route and so we both checked to make sure our bear spray was strapped on our belts and that it was easily accessible. (Toward the end of our trip, we were glad we’d checked!)


As we looked back over the trail we’d just ascended, we could see fresh snow now covering Jackson Glacier and even though the warming climate has diminished this once massive chunk of ice, the setting was still gorgeous. Jackson was the grandson of Hugh Monroe, who was perhaps the first white man to explore what is now Glacier. Jackson was a scout for General Custer and served with Captain Reno on the occasion of Custer’s death, along the Little Bighorn.

The dome-like mountain was further dramatized by our immediate surroundings. At our feet carpets of wildflowers flanked the trail and one species in particular attracted our attention-and that was Zigadenus, better known as Death Camas.


The species was the one mentioned in the book, Into The Wild, and if the book’s protagonist did indeed eat the plant, it may have contributed to his death, for all parts of the plant are poisonous. Another species of camas is blue and it is palatable-and it too grows in Glacier. Elsewhere, Native Americans once flocked to areas to dig for the bulbs produced by this species. And so, in Montana, there is an area near the Flathead Indian Reservation known as Camas Prairie.

Death Camas

Mountain Deathcamas

Soon our trail ascended above timber line and then it began to drop. The peaks here were all covered with snow and it seemed the waterfalls carried with them fresh runoff. Descending now toward Josephine Lake, we found what appeared to be new clumps of subalpine fir, and we wondered if this species was migrating into areas formerly occupied by vast fields of flowers. We had heard from several naturalists that this might be one of the changes global warming might bring about.


We had departed from the trailhead at 11 a.m. and now six hours and almost 13 miles later were about to reach trail’s end. The trail was now closed in on either side by Doug fir and spruce and because we were tired, our conversation had dropped off. What’s more trail’s end was no more than a quarter of a mile away. Suddenly Matt who was in the lead stopped. “See it?” he said. “It’s a grizzly!”

Earlier we had both made a pact, that if a bear got one of us down, the other was still obligated to move forward and spray the bear, preferable in the face. Anecdotal accounts have shown that to be extremely effective. And so, we both pulled our bear spray from our belts and undid the safety catch-and then we evaluated the bear.

Matt Rigg and fresh snow in Glacier National Park

Matt Rigg and fresh snow in Glacier National Park

The bear was a beautiful specimen with a much grizzled appearance. It was not a huge bear, however, perhaps the size of a black bear, and so we wondered if it might be a cub in the 1 ½ year bracket, still accompanied by a sow-and perhaps another club. That was the precise family grouping Janie and I had seen through our binoculars just the day before. Because that seemed a possibility, Matt and I decided to make noise, for the bear had elected to stand and simply return our stares.

“Yo, Bear; yo bear!’ we hollered out. Then louder, “YO BEAR; YO BEAR!”


Our shouting worked, and soon the bear, in absolutely no hurry, sauntered across the trail and disappeared into the woods. Pacing it off, we determined that the bear had been no more than 25 yards away. Even more surprising, we soon came to the parking lot, and concluded that it was no more than 100 yards from where we saw the bear.

That night we evaluated the situation again, and came to believe that our bear had also been exceedingly well fleshed out, meaning that the bears might already be preparing for hibernation, which usually doesn’t take place until late November. But maybe this will be an early winter and a harsh one at that, meaning that we should be paying attention to our Farmer’s Almanac. In other words, we should be chopping wood, storing in our nuts – or preparing our Airstream for an early departure to the south.

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Flathead Smoke Greeted Us Weary Airplane Travelers

posted: August 19th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: And so after two full hurried weeks back East, we are back in Montana. To say the weeks were hurried is, for me an understatement, and here is an example. This past Saturday, I drove from New Jersey to Washington D.C. to visit my Godmother. Sunday I returned to New Jersey, and that night Janie and I packed for our return flight. Next morning we arose at 3:30 so Janie’s daughter Katie could drive us to Newark. The drive took slightly over an hour and despite the early hour traffic was bumper to bumper.

Flathead Valley Smoke as seen from our back porch

Flathead Valley Smoke as seen from our back porch

What that means is that in the three- and sometimes four-lane highway, we were engulfed front, rear and on either side by huge semis, trying to make time to increase their revenue. Though you might be traveling the speed limit of 75 (there’s a five mile fudge factor that seems to be universally accepted) trucks will still bear down on you until they are within feet of your bumper. And there they’ll remain until you get the hell out of their way.

At Newark, we waited about half an hour to obtain boarding passes, then almost an hour to be searched and OK-ed to board. Then, once aboard, the captain spoke saying there was engine trouble. Whatever the trouble was mechanics cleared about an hour and a half later enabling us to take off for Salt Lake City. We arrived over an hour late, but our flight to Kalispell, Montana (home), had been held, meaning we touched ground at 1:30 instead of 12:05, as scheduled. By the time we picked up baggage and actually stepped through our door it was 3:30. We were exhausted. Janie soon fell asleep and slept over 12 hours. I wasn’t far behind.


While in flight from Salt Lake City and over Idaho we saw smoke kicking up from several national forests, and apparently that is part of the source of all the smoke the Flathead is once again experiencing. That combined with the extremely high temperatures (slightly over 100), and we wish we could have delayed our return, for the smoke has both Janie and me with our heads stopped up. Certainly freedom to come and go is one of the benefits of traveling by RV, but if we had changed our flights, Delta would have charged us each $100.


Previously, we have always traveled in our Airstream, but Janie had not seen her children and grandchildren for two years. I wanted to see them, too, for in the 17 years Janie and I have been married, they have come to treat me like family. Last year we had some unexpected health issues, but all have been resolved, meaning we can hike, kayak, bike-and travel extensively to our heart’s content. That means we won’t wait another two years to return east.

In the meantime, expect to see more postings on Glacier and in another week or so, some postings from Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada. We have assignments there and as soon as the smoke settles and we recoup, we’ll be heading out.

POPULAR POST FROM THE PAST: Another posting of mine that has received considerable comment is one from last summer entitled Night of the Grizzly . The post describes my involvement as a ranger in Glacier the night when two girls were fatally mauled. Though many of the notes to me were through e-mail, not all were. Several were posted this past week as comments to the blog and are interesting. As I say, that post continues to pop up when people run searches on bears and particularly on bears in Glacier National park. Once I wrote a story for Smithsonian magazine about these, the park’s first fatal maulings. Since that time there have been about a dozen more.

More Bear Posts:

*Benefits of Bear Spray

*Training People To Watch Bears

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Chicken Lessons From Along Shade of Death Road

posted: August 14th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though my posts are generally about Airstream travel, national parks, and the outdoors in general, while back here on the East Coast I’ve been covering a number of things that are of great interest to us. These are subjects that are highly photogenic and have the associated pleasure of being topics enjoyed by members of our extended family.

Firebird, a Rhode Island Red

Firebird, a Rhode Island Red

As those of you know who follow this blog, these subjects are ones we’ve encountered while on what is really a whirl wind visit. Most recently I covered mushrooms while on a walk with family members at Lake George in New York.

One subject that seems to be of almost universal interest for children (and us older children, too!) is the raising of chickens. That’s something that Halle (age 7) back in Montana is learning about and something grandchildren out here in New Jersey along Shades of Death Road have been learning about. They’ve been doing so now for a number of years, and from previous visits, we’ve made a number of posts. (*History of Shades of Death ; *Leaves Fall …; *New Jersey History .)


Chickens, I’ve just learned, come in more varieties than I ever realized–and include such interesting as the Wyandottes and the Speckled Sussex. Species Kelsey (age 12, Kyle (age, 9) and Kory (age 6) have acquired now include the Rhode Island Red, Araucana Americana (the Easter Egg chicken), and the most unusual Polish Bantam, which Kelsey is displaying. All together they have dozens of chickens, and almost all of them have names. The Polish Bantam has eyes alright, but how in the world it makes use of them through all those feathers is question those steeped in evolutionary science might best answer.

But the interesting result of all these varieties is that they make interesting and very instructional components of a person’s upbringing. Though Kelsey can’t say exactly why she likes chickens, she thinks “they’re cool,” and says she likes all the different varieties. Her cousin, Sarah (another grandchild), who lives nearby, agrees, and says she wouldn’t mind having a chicken or two. She say everyone enjoys hearing their crowing–and that’s certainly true of me, as my parents often had chickens.

Though Kelsey, Kory and Kyle live on several acres, they are surrounded by old farms and some are still in production. But not all are generating produce–and not all people feel the transformation from farm land to commercial land has been a good thing.

This morning, Kyle and I took a 7-mile long bicycle ride along Shades of Death Road to Ghost Lake where we met a farmer who once owned acres along this fabled road. He said he was sorry to see all the changes. He said he wished he had not sold out, particularly now that he sees some of the operations that have moved in.

Softball, a Polish Bantam chicken, and Kelsey

Softball, a Polish Bantam chicken, and Kelsey

As Kory and I rode along here and there we could see old junk cars and in one area, there is a huge pile of red sod that spreads over an acre. The red sod is used for professional baseball fields, and as a result, periodically, huge semi-trucks drive along the road. It’s a way of life, sure, and one that people have either gotten use to–or else have moved away from. However, drivers of these huge trucks seemed courteous, something that is not true in many cases where Janie and I live. This morning as Kyle and I rode our bikes, trucks moved way over, and all slowed down. Most drivers waved.

I mention this as it is the same type of thing is happening back home in Montana, and Janie and I are concerned that one day there could be some similar transformations. For instance, because of some things that have recently occurred along what I like to call the “Last Country Road,” (our road in Montana), we fear someone could create a gravel pit, start a pig farm–or put in a huge marina. That what one individual tried to do. He was a new comer, bought up farmland from a nearby neighbor, has now transformed what was once a beautiful farm into what appears will soon be a mess of buildings. To add insult to injury, he has prominently posted “Keep out” signs, “Violator will be Prosecuted”. Recently he stood up at a town meeting and proclaimed himself to be a “good neighbor.”

Sprinkles, an Ameraucana chick, and Sarah

Sprinkles, an Ameraucana chick, and Sarah

Though these transitions are certainly going to create chaos for a period of time along our little farming road back in Montana, out here in New Jersey along Shades of Death, life is more settled, and we’re delighted to say that all these young people still find pleasure from their rural heritage. Right now, it’s chickens–and chickens of all sorts. The hens, such as the “Barred Rocks” provide eggs, and because of all these hens, out here, almost every day is like an Easter egg hunt.

PREVIOUS POSTS: *This post from two years ago has been one of my most popular. It’s about the nation’s oldest serving National Park Ranger, Lyle Ruterbories . He works at Kintla Lake, a remote spot in Glacier National Park.

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East Coast Forests Now Lush With Mushrooms

posted: August 12th, 2008 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Though the forests of the East Coast tend to be more lush than those of the Rocky Mountains, never have I seen them so rich with fungi as I have on this visit. Though August is always a good month in the Northeast, the unusually heavy quantities of rain and cool weather have contributed to the profusions. In my travels of these past ten days, those places include the woods of New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York.

Hundreds of mushrooms on this small rotting log

Hundreds of mushrooms on this small rotting log

The images, however, that I’ve posted are all from the woodlands of New York. More specifically, those woods are immediately adjacent to the huge expanse of freshwater known as Lake George. I saw these fungi several days ago following a short drive from Sturbridge, MA, where I left Janie with children and grandchildren. I wanted to include all family members in this much-too-short trip east, and so drove north to visit my sister and her family. Lake George is set in the mountains of the Adirondacks, which in turn is part of the nation’s largest state park known as Adirondacks State Park.

Several days ago, while at their cabin on this beautiful lake, Forrest, Nancy and I made a short hike along a path that departed virtually from their back-door step. The woods were wet with fresh rain and that, of course, partially accounted for the abundance of fungi. Within a few hundred feet we had counted almost two dozen different species.


A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source. Mushrooms are fungi, and are usually placed in a Kingdom of their own apart from plants and animals. Mushrooms contain no chlorophyll and most are considered saprophytes. That is, they obtain their nutrition from metabolizing non living organic matter.

According to several other people also hiking the trail, a number of the fungi were edible, but everyone says you really must know the species before you eat one, for there are many commonalities. My nephew, who was also hiking with us, said you can make a very preliminary evaluation by using certain techniques.

First rub a small portion of the mushroom on your skin. If it turns red, stop right there, but if not, then place a tiny portion on your tongue. If nothing happens, try eating a very small quantity.

Mushroom colors include various shades of red

Mushroom colors include various shades of red


Though this is the manner in which people of old might determine whether a mushroom is or is not poisonous, a much better way, of course, is to consult an expert. However, even that sometimes doesn’t work, and Walter told me of a case where a man who claimed to be a mycologist ate a mushroom he thought would be all right to eat. Next day he died.

Indian pipes mushrooms

Indian pipes mushrooms

Of interest with respect to the chemical properties of mushrooms is the fact that many species produce substances that render them toxic and mind-altering. Several species are also deadly poisonous.

Toxicity plays a role in protecting the ability of the fungi to efficiently distribute its spores for propagation. One defense against consumption and premature destruction chemicals evolved that render the mushroom inedible, and do so by causing the consumer to vomit the meal.


Perhaps the best thing to remember about mushrooms is derived from an old saying: “There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”

I know very little about mushrooms and am able to provide an I.D. on only one of the species included here, and that is Indian Pipes. The species grows throughout North America and I have seen it along the Natchez Trace National Parkway, in Glacier National Park, and now, in the Adirondacks.

Back home in Montana, I also recognize the morels, essentially because they grow in great profusion a year or so following a forest fire.

What I do know about mushrooms is that they are remarkable photographic subjects, and some of the techniques I’ve described in previous blogs for close-up wildflower photography will also work here.

Certainly they’re another component in a wild America and an interest could open a whole new world-possibly even a career.

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Regroup–Following X-country Flight; Mount Rainier Reflections

posted: August 8th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Guess you’d say we’re regrouping–even though our flight from Montana to Salt Lake City and Boston was uneventful. Biggest event for me was seeing the attire so different from what we used to see in Montana, in this case I’m referring to a man wearing elevated (high-heel) Roman sandals. This, of course, is not a judgment, just an observation.

We made the flight to see family members whom we have not seen in two years–and whenever time permits, to see attractions that each area may offer. We’ll return to Montana mid-August, and then resume life as normal. In the meantime, it is wonderful seeing children and grandchildren. When I return we will have taken side trips to Lake George in New York, to New Jersey and to Washington, D.C. While here we’ll also be enjoying a bit of the extraordinary history that the East Coast retains.


For instance, yesterday we drove to Hartford, Connecticut, and toured the Mark Twain home. Can’t show you much other than an exterior image as photography was not permitted inside. However, we learned much as son-in-law Alun teaches English and part of his curriculum includes Mark Twain. Twain came to occupy the home in the 1870s, using money from his wife’s inheritance to build the massive home that certainly fit into the “Gilded Age.” Here, he wrote Huck Finn, what some (to include Ernest Hemingway) believe may be America’s greatest novel.

Mark Twain House with "Oma" and Piper

Mark Twain House with "Oma" and Piper

The other thing I’m trying to is keep up with e-mail, and particularly e-mail which comes in through my blog. Yesterday, I received a posting from an individual in Scotland who had a bit of bad luck, but has decided the best way for him to start anew is to climb Mount Rainier. In his search for suggestions, he ran across my posting from last year, and my posting almost perfectly coincides with the three-day ascent our group enjoyed August 2007. To see the inspiring motivation behind this fellow’s hope to climb, here’s a link to my post from last year, which now contains this man’s (Ken Paterson ) comments. I think you’ll be inspired by the reasons he hopes to climb. For all my posts on climbing Rainier, click on the following.

*A Place of some Tragedy

*By The Grace of God…

*Faces From Rainier

*Climbing Synopsis

In another day I’ll be driving north about 3 hours to visit my sister and family in Lake George. I’ll be there for several days, and then, depending on available time, may provide a few short posts. Lake George is a beautiful area, set in the heart of the Adirondacks. Several years ago, Janie and I parked in my sister’s drive for about a week. We kayaked various lakes in this largest of our nation’s state parks.

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Benefits of Bear Spray

posted: August 5th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If you’re reading this on Tuesday between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., chances are Janie and I are in the air somewhere between Kalispell, Montana and Boston, Massachusetts. We’re returning to the East Coast for two weeks for a much overdo visit with children and grandchildren. We will be back mid-August and will then be heading to Glacier National Park in our Airstream, gathering information both from the field and from the park library on various species of wildlife for some projects which we have been recently assigned. Those assignments started Janie and me thinking about bears and bear country, which Glacier most certainly is. Janie and I know that personally as we have had a number of encounters, and though they always ended the way 99.9% of all encounters end, we always want to be prepared. The encounters we’ve had have generally occurred when we’ve let down our guard. And so for that rare 0.1% time when a bear might charge (See: Night of the Grizzly ), we always carry bear spray.

Grizzly Bear on Iceberg Lake trail Glacier National Park

Grizzly Bear on Iceberg Lake trail Glacier National Park


Once, Janie and I had followed an ancient trail out of Cut Bank Valley to a spot along Mad Wolf Mountain. It was fall and we had stopped in a vast grassland meadow to eat lunch. For a while we were quiet, peering east toward the Great Plains and toward the Sweet Grass Hills. Suddenly a bit of motion caught our attention and we realized that the motion was the forward progress of not one but two grizzly bears and they were heading right toward us. We called out, but a slight wind was blowing and the bears, not able to determine our location stood, and then began gazing around. The wind shifted and instantly they turned, stared at us, and then, as though we were the most powerful creatures in the world, they bolted.

Bill examines exposed cambium layer

Bill examines exposed cambium layer

That was a very nice bear sighting–but it could have been different, and for that remote eventuality, you need to have a plan and be prepared.


Bear managers advise that you always be aware of your surrounding(see: Training People to Watch Bears ), such as my friend Bill Hutchinson in the associated image. Bears eat the cambium layers of certain trees, and the chompings on this tree were recent. And so Bill and I continued to make noise and we made sure our bear spray was easily accessible. And that may be the best thing you can do. Bear spray has been proven to be more effective than guns in protecting yourself against a mauling. Lots of people ask about guns, but evidence of human-bear encounters suggests that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of an attack. Conversely, when firearms are not used, injuries to people and bear are much less likely to occur. Essentially, what the experts ask is: can the shooter be accurate enough to prevent a dangerous, even fatal, attack? Killing a charging grizzly means your bullet must be precise, and sometimes even a heart shot won’t immediately stop a bear. If your bullet hits the enraged animal in the auricle, the ventricles still have adequate blood to pump blood to the brain, giving it many more lethal seconds of life. Head shots don’t always work either as Kalispell game warden Lou Kis can attest.

Many Glacier Valley grizzly

Many Glacier Valley grizzly

Kis recalls when a bear trap rolled from the back of a pickup, releasing the spring held door. The bear leaped out, turned on Kis and grabbed him by the leg. Kis fired a number of shots into the animal’s huge head, and that slowed it down long enough for another game warden to fire a rifled slug from a shot gun into the bear which was still clinging to the warden’s leg. Later, Lou told me the bear’s massive skull had deflected the penetration of the bullets and they had lodged beneath the animal’s skin near its neck. What that means is that you should use bear spray. In fact, in Glacier that’s your only choice, for it is illegal to carry firearms (a very wise policy considering the number of bozos who shoot at sounds during the fall hunting season).


Why is bear spray so effective? Essentially because it contains capsaicin (the hot stuff in all peppers), one of the most irritating substances around–as a good friend of mine can attest. So as not to embarrass this man, let’s just call him Bruce, and here’s the scenario. While hiking in Montana’s Crazy Mountains near Yellowstone, somehow the protective cap worked itself loose from the can Bruce had strapped to the rear of his belt.

Bear spray works

Bear spray works

When my friend leaned against a tree, capsaicin sprayed out and the vile stuff permeated his pants. Almost instantly it worked its way toward those tender areas of a person’s posterior. Fortunately a creek was nearby, and Bruce quickly stripped off his cloths and then soaked his posterior in the water for over an hour. It was days before he felt whole. That’s the effect capsaicin has on a bear’s eyes and on its respiratory system. The thick stuff blinds the animal and shuts down its lungs and trachea–and then it burns with the intensity of a blow torch. Though the results are not fatal, for a while the bear must wish they were fatal. That’s the reason the Fish & Wildlife Service so strongly recommends bear spray, further stating that a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used. When Janie and I return from our much-anticipated family get-together and then head back to Glacier, you can be sure we will continue our habit of carrying bear spray.

AUGUST 2007 POST: *Faces of Mount Rainier

AUGUST 2006 POST: *Fort Ticonderoga


If you’re interested in exploring the Flathead Valley and Glacier National park, here are two books produced by Falcon Press, one part of their Exploring Series, the other one of a new series of “Pocket Guides.” Janie and I, of course, are the authors and you can obtain both from us, or directly from Falcon. Look for them, too, in bookstores and in Glacier.


Glacier Pocket guide book

Glacier Pocket guide book

Exploring Glacier Nationa Park Guidebook

Exploring Glacier Nationa Park Guidebook

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Pakboats Serve the “Minimalist” Approach of this Airstream Couple

posted: August 1st, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Don and Nancy Dennis are self-described minimalists, part of the reason they drive a Toyota and use it to tow a 20-foot Airstream Safari Travel Trailer. Into this setup they have everything for extended trips, such as one they’re now on.

Assembling Pakboat is Easy

Assembling Pakboat is Easy

But the gear they have in this minimalist setup is astounding. Inside their Toyota are two compact bags containing sea-worthy kayaks, meaning that what they can do with those bags is impressive.

We met Don and Nancy last week in Glacier National Park’s Apgar campground (See: Hiking the Highline ), a waypoint for them on their way to Alaska. In turn, the trip is part of a year-long adventure, which will include stops along the West Coast, and eventually, an excursion into Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Both are recently retired, Don as a research forester and Nancy from a career in outdoor sales and marketing.


But as I write, they’re on the ALCAN , and they plan to visit a whole host of places in Alaska to include Denali National Park . They love kayaking, and when they originally sat down to line out their year, they were determined to include all the gear that so helps to make an adventure.

Because Nancy had worked in the outdoor industry, she was familiar with collapsible kayaks, but which brand to select was the dilemma. Many days of research later and they settled on PAKBOATS , a company that makes collapsible kayaks and canoes.

They selected kayaks, and the wonder of all their vessels is that they can be dismantled and then be folded into a size that can be loaded on a plane as a piece of baggage–or, loaded into the back of a small Toyota pickup. Disassembled, the “pack kayak” stores in a 35″x17″x13″ bag.

And the beauty is that once you assembled and disassembled them a time or two, they go together very quickly.


As I watched the couple assemble the kayaks Nancy and Don explained that the reason for their lightness is that they are make of a heavy-duty synthetic canvas coated with high-abrasion-resistance PVC. Skins for PAKBOATS have reinforcement strips welded on under all longitudinal rods for even better abrasion resistance.

Sea worthy PAKBOATS on Glacier's Lake McDonald

Sea worthy PAKBOATS on Glacier's Lake McDonald

The rods create the frame and they assemble much like you would a multi-roomed tent. Poles are numbed, but you still must assemble them a time or two before you can do so with any speed. Nancy and Don said the first time they assembled their kayaks, it took them about 45 minutes. Now, they’ve got it down to about 20.

But if space is a problem, the time required to learn assembly techniques is more than worth the effort. PAKBOATS have been used in virtually all parts of the world and on virtually all types of waters. Because they have thwarts around the upper edges, they are extraordinarily stable, meaning they’ll work for fishing, and for some fairly wild river floating.

Ready again to stow

Ready again to stow

Looking them up on the web, I learn that adventurers have used PAKBOATS all over the world including such places as Maine’s Penobscot Bay, Belize, and oceans off the coast of Oregon.


Because Don and Nancy’s PAKBOATs have a higher profile than our kayaks, I thought forward progress might be retarded, and though they are not quite as fast as our low-profile kayaks, still, they responded quickly on Glacier’s Lake McDonald.

Bottom line, if you’ve got a space problem, PAKBOATS might provide the solution for you. Certainly, they have for this recently retired couple-and they just might work next year for us. If all works out, Janie and I will be duplicating Don and Nancy’s trip and will be stopping at many of the beautiful lakes along the ALCAN as well as along some of the great rivers and lakes in Alaska.

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