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 September, 2008

Columbian Icefield-The Reservoir for a Continent

posted: September 29th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Tonight, we are camped in the most beautiful place in the world. We are pretty much alone, though earlier in the day, this place was packed with visitors from all parts of the world. But now as the sun dips into glacial-induced clouds, our only companions are a night watchman guarding the visitor center that sits in the shadow of the mighty Columbian Ice Fields; a few other campers who have straggled in from the road; and a lone raven, guarding this extensive sheet of ice as he has been doing through the ages. Or so this form of dark feathers and wise eyes appeared as he croaked out his presence.

Our Airstream surrounded by glaciers

Our Airstream surrounded by glaciers

This is glacier country, a land of lateral moraines, terminal moraines, arêtes, cirques, tarns, and polished rock created simply by the presence of ice. Specifically, these features were formed by a number of area glaciers, and together they testify to a timeless landscape that has come to be thought of, in part, as the reservoir of a continent.


But it is also because of its world-class beauty that Jasper National Park has been designated a World Heritage site, and our parking place for the night provides a wonderful place to reflect on all we’ve seen and enjoyed today in the special area of this great preserve.

World heritage park attracts international admirers

World heritage park attracts international admirers

Scientists believe the five glaciers forming the Columbian ice fields have been around in some form for three million years. Certainly, this is cold country, and we’re camped (parked) at well over 6,500 feet. As well, we’re far to the north, almost the same latitude as Edmonton, Alberta. In fact, the shortest distance for the raven perched outside our Airstream to the beginning of the ALCAN Highway at Dawson is but a few hundred miles.

But there’s more to it than latitude and elevation. As clouds move in from the Pacific, they encounter no barriers as there’s a gap in the western Pacific range, making the Rockies the first great obstacle to these moisture-laden clouds. Precipitation here at these lofty 10,000 foot-high peaks is immense, and so is the build up of snow. Snow here is then converted through pressure and winter cold into the ice that has become such a world-wide attraction. When the preponderance of weather in this specific area is cold the ice sheet grows; but when the reverse is true, it shrinks. Here, growth and recession has been ongoing for a very long time.


To celebrate this vast field of ice and snow, Parks Canada has constructed a large Visitor Center which provides perspective. There’s a replica of the Icefield and if you take time to study it as one Japanese group I photographed was doing, you see that several glaciers comprise the Icefields. The largest is the Saskatchewan glacier, but the one so clearly visible from where we’re camped is the Athabascan Glacier.

Exploring Athabascan Glacier

Exploring Athabascan Glacier

These two glaciers–and their three other counterparts–provide great quantities of melt water that flow ultimately to the Atlantic, Pacific and to the Arctic oceans. Together, this consortium of glaciers is huge, exceeding in surface area the size of Rhode Island. It’s thick, too, and in some places measures over a thousand feet deep. Because of this immensity, the icefield creates its own weather pattern–as Janie and I were discovering. Air close to this icefield is colder than air above it and so it weighs more and is constantly “sinking” because of gravity, creating winds that rocked us as we hiked.


Earlier in the day we explored a portion of the Athabascan Glacier, disconnecting the trailer and making the several mile drive the road has cut through endless moraines to a parking area near a lake that has been developing because, as Parks Canada says, of global warming (my post on gw in Glacier NP). In fact, as Parks Canada points out, since 1885 the Athabascan Glacier has lost over 60 percent of its volume. That’s over 350 million cubic meters of ice.

This concerns Parks Canada–and this entity of the Canadian government suggests you take the “one tonne (sic) challenge,” and try to reduce your carbon output by one ton. Up here, they take global warming very seriously, and in more than one place herald their government’s official stance. “Glaciers on earth are receding rapidly,” proclaim their countless signs, “confirming that our climate is changing.” Then, without any equivocating, their signs emphasize that scientists believe this change is mostly due to excessive green house gases in the atmosphere.

In previous years I have hiked and skied these great glaciers, done so, in fact, for over a one-week stretch with good friends. David (my climbing partner from Mount Rainier), Dick and I had skied to the heart of the glaciers, the place where winters’ snows soon undergo the process of compaction and the conversion, then, into ice–and then more ice and yet more ice. Here, as the years unfold and these tiny flakes of snow solidify, aggregations begin to move, as is required by definition of all glaciers. Inexorably, they move toward their terminus, “the toe.” This, however, takes centuries, as movement is imperceptible and excruciatingly slow.


My personal familiarity with ice of this famous area had been gleaned from a winter trip, when the ice was solid. We stayed in a tent and in winter huts. My friends and I were properly roped up, and both were knowledgeable mountaineers.

In the summer, however, conditions are different and as Janie and I hiked, we encountered numerous signs advising us not to go past the barrier ropes and not to tread out onto the toe of the glacier. “People have lost their lives,” proclaim the billboards.

From other readings I knew that one of the casualties was a young boy who had slipped into one of the crevasses. Try as he might, his father was unable to reach him, for he was just beyond reach. Though rangers soon retrieved him using professional gear, hypothermia had set in and the young man died soon after he was pulled free.

Icefield Sentinel, a raven

Icefield Sentinel, a raven

Still, there are safe ways to explore the icefields and we watched as a guide led a group around crevasses and over snow bridges previously tested for strength. Accompanying a guide, then, is one excellent way. You can also take a snow coach, and that is also a good way to safely immerse yourself in these massive expanses of ancient ice.


That night, we returned late to our Airstream. Our friendly raven was still around, settled now on a huge boulder. Every now and then he’d call out to let us know that he was still here, guarding the icefields, just as he’d been doing through the millennia.

In this ancient setting, where centuries are required before snow that has fallen on some parts of these Columbian icefields is ultimately released as melt water near the glacier’s toe, anything seemed possible. Back dropped by the sound of glacial winds and the croak of a raven, we fell asleep, knowing that if we could return in a million years or so, some part of this massive sheet of ice would, most likely, still be around.


*Louisbourg Fortress


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Beware! Tis the Season of the Elk

posted: September 25th, 2008 | by:Bert

© Bert Gildart: Here in Jasper National Park, Alberta, it is the season of the elk, and if you are interested in the story of enraged bulls, yesterday, there was no better place in the world to be than in this park’s Whistler Campground. So much activity was occurring that we decided to simply remain in the campground throughout the day.

"Keep out!" says this bull elk

"Keep out!" says this bull elk

Climax of the activities was toward the end of the day when dozens of people in cars and motorhomes gathered along a meadow, hoping to capture the drama on film. Most had no idea how to go about doing that, and one poor woman walked into the midst of the elk herd and was immediately charged by a huge and completely enraged bull. Just barely the lady made it back toward the tiny road and to our parked vehicle, which we had been using as a barrier. Unbelievably, she jumped into the back seat-but then she was terrified almost beyond belief. These are huge animals and some bulls can weigh more than 800 pounds and average eight feet in length.

The bull was enraged, and when the driver in a pickup camper inched closer for better photos, the bull turned his wrath on it, clubbing the sides several times with the tines of his dagger sharp antlers. The driver had made the mistake of moving, and by this motion, the bull sensed intrusion.


Signs, of course, are posted all over the campground, and the first bit of cautionary advice attendants provide campers is to beware of the rutting elk. “Don’t get too close,” they say. “At this time of year, elk can be dangerous. Very dangerous!”

Elk issues challenging call

Elk issues challenging call

Cause of all this aggression is basic and easy to understand. The amount of light per day is changing and it is growing cooler. These seasonal events stimulate the pituitary which in turn stimulates the release of testosterone into the circulatory system. In bulls it causes their necks to swell and generally creates much unrest. They are in a mating mode and are now looking for their source of affection.

The object of their affection is, of course, the cows, and bulls are looking not for just one cow but for lots of them-and yesterday, all these factors were present. Here were bulls with their harems, and the bulls were determined to maintain supremacy.

Mr. 8X7

Wandering throughout the campground were about 40 cow elk and several bulls. One bull was an 8×7, meaning that it had eight tines on one side and seven on the other. The bull was a monster and it was the one that had gathered in this harem of 11 cows; it was the one that was trying to prevent the intrusion of the other two males-and anything else it perceived as a threat.

Bulls prevent intrusion in several ways, and it was these techniques we saw yesterday. When Mr. 8×7 sensed the presence of another bull, he went crazy. First he reared back his head and voiced his anger using a threatening call known as “the bugle.”

In elk country the sound is unmistakable and it begins on a low note and then concludes with a high sibilant cry, finally punctuated with an “Uhhh; uhhh!” There’s absolutely no mistaking it!

Mr. 8×7 was particularly enraged and it began pawing at the earth; then it bashed a tree with its antlers and tried to murder it.

Bull elk murdering log

Bull elk murdering log

Then he began looking around for an antagonist. It saw me, and it raised its head in anger, but I was at a safe distance with a long telephoto lens, unlike the lady using the small camera who had been attempting to capture all this excitement from a distance of about five feet.


That brings us to late in the afternoon, and Mr. 8×7 is still angry. His challenge has been met several times but he had successfully used his antlers to chase other bulls away from his ladies.

Elk attacking pickup camper

Elk attacking pickup camper

If he had been unsuccessful, the bulls might have fought, but by this date in late September, dominance had apparently been determined, probably by fights that occurred before we arrived.

But Mr. 8×7 remained enraged, and was using his antlers to gouge several more pickup campers and more than once he charged other spectators (not me!) whom he felt were threats to his supremacy. As well, he charged a moving school bus that had apparently brought children out from one of the local schools. Everyone wants to be part of the excitement.

Warden hazes elk

Warden hazes elk

Finally, realizing a real danger, a park warden (The Canadian equivalent of park rangers) moved in and spent the better part of an hour hazing elk from the meadow. Mostly he was intent on moving the cows, knowing that where ever they go, the bulls won’t be far behind.

It is, after all, the season of the elk, something that must be viewed with some circumspect and a little prudence.


*Airstream camping in Yellowstone


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What’s in a Name? Mount Edith Cavell Reminds Us

posted: September 24th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: When Brussels fell to Germany during World War I, a British nurse in charge of a local nursing facility refused to leave her post. Edith Cavell cared for the wounded on both sides and helped over 200 allied soldiers escape. She was arrested on charges of treason and shot before a firing squad on October 15, 1915. Because of her courage Canada gave her name to the highest mountain in the Athabasca Valley, the valley that Janie and I have been exploring this past week. Cavell Mountain is 3363 meters high and is certainly one of Jasper National Park’s most spectacular peaks-and for a number of reasons soon to become clear to Janie and me.

Mount Edith Cavell

Mount Edith Cavell

Yesterday, we made the 12 kilometer drive up a long grinding road to this beautiful mountain to discover that it is also adorned by two of the park’s still lingering glaciers and their associated features.


At the base of Mount Edith Cavell were a number of huge moraines as well as a developing lake, Cavell Lake. The lake is the result of much melt water and it reminded us a little of Glacier’s once massive Grinnell Glacier, now really little more than a lingering snow field with a newly formed lake that now goes by the name of Upper Grinnell.

Moraines and melt water

Moraines and melt water

Here in Jasper, however, many glaciers still linger despite global warming and that is because the park is further north and the mountains are several thousand feet higher. This is still a land of ice, and the lake and glaciers we reached following a two kilometer climb was dramatic.

At our feet were huge chunks of ice resulting from “calving” from Cavell Glacier. And next to it was Angel Glacier. The two made us think we’d been transported back to the age of ice depicted in Jean M. Auel books such as The Mammoth Hunters and Clan Of The Cave Bear.


According to the many interpretive signs, Angel Glacier and Cavell Glacier retain their ice but for slightly different reasons. Much of Angel Glacier is recessed and out of view in a huge cirque which more easily retains its ice. Because it is the nature of glaciers by definition to flow, ice from this glacier moves from the cirque and extends itself like a huge foot and into view.

Though my photograph suggests it is close, I used a telephoto lens to capture its grandeur. In other words, I abided by the warning signs that caution visitors from walking too close or beneath this massive sheet of ice as ice and rocks are constantly being sloughed from its mass.

Toe of Angel Glacier

Toe of Angel Glacier

Cavell Glacier by contrast results from the heavy accumulations it receives by virtue of snow fall. Unable to cling to the mountains sheer face, much of the snow avalanches down where it is transformed into glacier ice in the mountains cold shadows.

As the park’s interpretive sign says, however, “each summer a little more of the toe is nibbled off by the slightly warmer lake, causing icebergs and ice caves.”

Signs also point out that the glaciers of Cavell Mountain once extended down to the parking lot-one mile below us-but that in the past 100 years have regressed to their present position.


Still, these glaciers retain their magic; they are enchanting and it is easy to see why the mountain has been variously named. Native peoples called it White Ghost. Voyagers Montagne de la Grand Traverse (Mountain of the Great Crossing) and yet others called it by other names.

But the name that stuck was Cavell Mountain, and just like we wondered why Mount McKinley was initially named for a president who never spent more than a few passing hours in Alaska, so we wondered why Canadians named this mountain for a lady who apparently never spent any time in Canada.

But in this case, Edith Cavell had given her life so that others might live, and as Canadians point out, she had become known as the “Martyr nurse.”

Because I have great respect for the accomplishments of our military people, (see West Point and Memorial Day), fully realizing, too, that the Canadians could care less what I think, nevertheless would like to say that I am glad the highest mountain in the Athabascan range carries the name Edith Cavell.

Derivatives of Cavell Glacier

Derivatives of Cavell Glacier

Remember our allied martyrs–and this is one way of assuring they will.


*Bannock, Montana


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A Lifetime in the Mountains

posted: September 23rd, 2008 | by:Bert

A Lifetime in the Mountains

A Lifetime in the Mountains

©Bert Gildart: It’s a long arduous climb from Chateau Lake Louise to the overlook provided at the Little Beehive Mountain, particularly if you are a couple in your 80s.

I met Bill and Vera Myers by chance after they had hiked the three-mile-long trail. Others a third their age had turned around long ago–had not even made it to the Lake Agnes Teahouse located at two miles along the precipitous trail.

I met the couple above the fabled teahouse, and our chance meeting occurred as I sat on a bench that looked down over the Plain of Seven Glaciers. They came over and sat down beside me and pointed to a rock structure. “That used to be an old fire lookout,” said Mrs. Myers.

“Have you hiked this country much?” I asked in response.


They said they had and from there it was only natural for me to ask where they were from–and for them to ask me the same. As it turned out, they were both college math professors from the University of Montana, who had hiked virtually all the major trails in Glacier National Park about the time I worked there as a ranger. But they’d done much more; they’d climbed many peaks in Canada and in Europe as well, including the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. They said that for many years they’d ship their Volkswagen Camper to Europe and that they spent summers hiking and camping with their children in the Swiss Alps. Now, they were here to renew acquaintance with Banff.

Lake Agnes Teahouse

Lake Agnes Teahouse

Banff National Park and the area we now hiked and climbed was originally set up to be a mountain climber’s paradise. In fact, the chateau, now a massive hotel, had originally been erected to provide a base for early climbers. So, too, the teahouse, and though these structures have now become Meccas for tourists, they still attract those interested in exploring the mountains.


The history of mountain climbing in the area is rich and the Myers knew much of it. Climbers first arrived in Banff in the late 1890s on the wheels of the newly completed transcontinental railroad. The company built the chalet and in so doing imparted a distinct Swiss ambiance to the area. They furthered the image by hiring Swiss climbing guides and then added several backcountry buildings, such as the teahouse at Lake Agnes.

View from Little Beehive

View from Little Beehive

To maintain a natural look, Parks Canada insisted the buildings be constructed of locally quarried materials, stones that blended with the surroundings. Supporting materials were then rafted across Lake Louise and finally transported to the actual building site by pack horse (a far cry from the intrusive helicopter I’ve complained about the two posts prior to the one on photography!)

The Canadian Pacific also built hiking and horseback riding trails to the two tea houses and to the various overlooks, such as Beehive. Today, visitors such as the Myers can follow these same routes established by these early and very intrepid mountaineers.


Whiskey Jack

Whiskey Jack or Grey jay

As the Myers and I sat overlooking this immense setting we discussed the many wonderful things Canadians have done for hikers and climbers. The day was beautiful and as we visited “Whiskey Jacks” (named for their call that sounds like they’re saying Whisss-key; whissss-key) joined the tiny chipmunks in keeping us company. We shared with one another the hikes and climbs we’d all made and agreed that for us the hut-to-hut ski system was one of this park’s best creations.

I told them about the time David Bristol (*see Mount Rainier), a good friend, and I once backcountry skied for over a week through some of the park’s most extreme wilderness area. One night an avalanche caught us just above Bow Lake (we were lucky!), which is located along the Ice Field Highway mentioned in my last post. Digging a snow platform, we erected the emergency tent we’d included in our packs.


Mr. Myers had also climbed Rainier, in fact, he had done so twice. As well, he, too, had enjoyed the Canadian backcountry hut system-and he lamented the fact that he might not ever be able to enjoy such extreme pursuits again.

“After all,” he said as I rose to begin the three mile hike back down, “I am 83.”

“Tell your wife,” said Mrs. Myers, “that we’re sorry we kept you.”

Looking at my watch, I saw that we’d visited for well over an hour. “She’ll understand,” I said. “I’ll simply tell her I met one of the most inspirational couples I’ve met in years.”

Standing, they retrieved the walking sticks they’d used for support and then as I looked back I could see that they were now beginning their own descent.


*Learning to Talk Wolf


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Pure Photography

posted: September 22nd, 2008 | by:Bert

Increased color saturation

Increased color saturation

©Bert Gildart: For those photographers interested in “Pure Photography,” the type derived without much manipulation from PhotoShop, here’s a suggestion: When the weather is overcast, PARTICULARLY on days when it is rainy, get out your camera.

Certainly that was true yesterday as Janie and I visited Athabasca Falls, a marvelous example of what the power of nature can do in its unbridled form. Here, in a fury of spray the power of water meets mountains formed millions of years ago from the collision of tectonic plates.

Now, these subterranean forces are being tested by the subtle power of freezing and thawing and by the power of a single river trying to insert itself. Water is winning out here, and its legacy is the fluted canyons with the colorfully striated walls–all of which suggests immense passages of time.


But how does the photographer capture such power in an area where the sun creates both dense shadows and extreme scintillations on frothy water that film and digital images can not simultaneously record?

You do so by waiting for a day when shadows and the highlights created by harsh sunlight have been reduced.

Film is incapable of registering detail when the scene has more than three stops difference; digital images are about the same. True, there are techniques in PhotoShop you can use that will help unite these extremes, but then you are going outside the realm of Pure Photography, and that’s where photography on overcast days comes in. What’s more, elements in the image change, too, such as the puddles and reflections in the puddles. Look for, instance, at the man in red, and the way in which the puddle just before him has the same color cast.

And how about the group of Japanese people standing on the rim of the canyon with their red umbrellas? Most of these elements are missing on those horrible, horrible days when the sun shines.

Overcast lighting reveals rock details

Overcast lighting reveals rock details

The only draw back is that you will need to use a slow shutter speed which generally requires a tripod. Of course, that forces you to take more time composing your photograph.


So where is Athabasca Falls? The setting is located along the Ice Field Road about 40 miles north of the Columbia Ice Fields with its Athabasca Glacier. In turn, these masses of ice create a reservoir for the Athabasca River, which eventually runs to the Arctic Ocean.

And now, one more suggestion: For those interested in reading a grand adventure story, check out the book Going Inside, a grand narration by Alan S. Kesselheim about one couples two-year-long paddle that began on the Athasbascan River. The couple is from Bozeman, Montana and from time to time they give slide lectures about their adventures for appropriate groups.

With all that said about my preference for Pure Photography, I must admit I do not always follow my suggestion, as some may recall from a grave yard walk in Nova Scotia. There, I added a moon. (See: Grave Yard Walk.)


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Americans Teaching Canadians; Canadians Teaching Americans

posted: September 20th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: I’m discovering that there are some significant differences between writing blogs and writing magazine stories. With magazine stories, I always put them aside for several days and then return to reread them with a fresh eye. Invariably I discover ways to say things better.

No such grace period, however, with blogs, which are generally produced hurriedly and then posted.

Rereading my post from yesterday I believe it could have been much improved with a fresh read that time could have provided. If done again, I would shorten it and focus more on the real point I was trying to make.

My theme was that helicopter use in an area beautiful beyond belief does not comport with the organic act of national parks. I felt the pounding thump, thump, thumping that carried a mile down Moraine Lake and that was so intense that Janie and I had to shout to hear each other was not compatible with the philosophy of a world-class national park.


We felt the trail under repair could have been improved using manual labor provided by an old fashion trail crew. That’s the way it is always done in Montana’s Glacier National Park where I worked for so many years, and if there a difference in philosophies then that’s one thing Americans can teach the Canadians. That message would have been clearer had my posting from yesterday been shorter and more focused.

Quiet was Shattered

Quiet was Shattered

Though I have had difficulty finding the organic act spelled out for Canadian National Parks using a Goggle search, it was easy to find it for U.S. National Parks–and somewhere I have read that there are some similarities. For the U.S. it reads, in part:

“…to promote and regulate the use of the…national parks…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”


I wonder what Canadian author Farley Mowat might have said had he been present. Mowat wrote Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing, among many other books and stories with a conservation theme.

I hear, however, that Mowat was once banned from visiting the United States because he threatened to shoot down a plane whose aerial “hunters” were attempting to kill wolves. Obviously the man was voicing frustration, but I empathize with his dark sentiments.

Reverence for all forms of life is one thing this Canadian author has instilled in some of us.


Yesterday, we rendezvoused with a delightful couple we met this past spring in Mojave National Preserve. We maintain contact with lots of people we meet along the road and Dick and Linda are two. They are fulltime RVers, just now returning from Alaska. We spent the day with them hanging out at our Lake Louise campground. We prepared and cooked a delicious meal outside using our grill. Dick had several recipes in mind and at the end of the afternoon we concluded that our combined efforts produced a meal fit for an epicure.

They’re returning to serve as host and hostess once again at Mojave and we plan to stay in touch. Their lives in this desert park provided the backbone of a travel story that will run sometime early winter of 2009. When it appears I’ll post specifics.


*Mount Katahdin

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Worst National Park Experience-Ever

posted: September 19th, 2008 | by:Bert

Kayaking Moraine Lake

Kayaking Moraine Lake

©Bert Gildart: Three hours after departing in kayaks from the foot of Moraine Lake, one of the world’s most celebrated of all Rocky Mountain glacial waters, we were back, not because we wanted to be but because the incessant noise of a helicopter had driven us back. And now, as we pulled ashore, hordes of tourists who had just disembarked from one of the dozens of buses now spewing exhaust came scampering toward us.

“Stand here (smiles)! We want to take your picture with your kayaks.” Moving on, yet another person gestured, unable to make themselves heard above the din of noise being created by the helicopter. They wanted us to pose with our kayaks, a way for them, I guess, of living vicariously.

Things had changed since I first visited Moraine Lake almost 30 years ago, but the immensity of change was not something we could instantly grasp. That wouldn’t come until after we reflected yet further and until after we took more drastic measures.


There are no other lakes in the world like Moraine Lake, and to give you a better perspective on the company it keeps, just over the hill from us was Lake Louise. But on this Thursday in September, Moraine is the lake we wanted to kayak and we believed that if we arose early, we’d have relative quiet.

Surrounded by beauty

Surrounded by beauty

So far we were right, and as we toted our gear from the relatively new parking lot, past the relatively new chalet, at 7:45, we were about the only ones up and about. Certainly, no one else was about to launch a canoe or a kayak into these turquoise colored waters at this hour-or when the thermometer in our truck registered just a few degrees above freezing.

Nevertheless, Moraine was inviting and we were prepared in our colorful kayak garb designed to insulate against the cold. As we prepared to launch our kayaks, we marveled at the reflections. We marveled at the several glaciers that still hung in the tall peaks overhead. Appropriately, Moraine Lake formed an area referred to as the Valley of Ten Peaks. So beautiful, in fact, is this lake that the Bank of Canada depicted Moraine Lake on the back on its $20 bill.

We were also struck by the quiet of the setting, believing the Canadians had done well to create a national park of this area. Certainly, this setting served to help its citizens rejuvenate their spirits, presumably one of the missions of Canadian National Parks. At least that’s what they say.


Moraine Lake is not a huge lake, and perhaps not surprising, we had decided to make this a photographic outing, using our kayaks. Allowing the cameras to set the pace we easily reached the head of the mile-long lake in less than an hour. Here, several streams gushed into the lake providing a constant source of water, and above, from this vantage, we could see Fay Glacier. Knowing the beauty of the area, we had prepared for a tiny adventure, bringing along a backpack stove to boil water for a “spot of tea.”

Mission accomplished, we were just starting to sip when the quiet of the morning was shattered with the thunder of a helicopter. “It’ll pass,” shouted Janie above the roar that so completed funneled down the lake you could believe you were adjacent to the helipad. “It’ll pass.”


But half an hour later, the noise had not passed, and we were growing angry. Another half hour and we were ready to pack up and leave, but to do so we had to paddle even closer to the source of our irritation. As we did we could see that the helicopter was transporting materials a distance of several hundred yards from near the parking lot to a site on top of a rockpile that was, in fact, called the Rockpile Interpretative Trail.

Silence was shattered

Silence was shattered

Pulling onto the shore we had departed just hours ago the scene was now much different. Now there were people, standing literally shoulder to shoulder. Pushing ashore several stepped back and then stepped toward us now with a alacrity. “Ah, we want your picture,” they shouted. “Please stand here.”

“Your kayaks?” hollered another.”

Then several offered to help. “Thank you,” we shouted, “but we can do.”

Never could we have imagined… And now began the job of transporting our kayaks back to the parking lot, but with the added challenge of threading through hordes of people-and leaving one of the kayaks unattended. And all this while backdropped by the incessant roar of the helicopter!


To accomplish our tasks, first we removed everything (paddles too!) from both kayaks. Then, I made the hundred-yard-long jaunt, weaving between people who had just been discharged from no fewer than 15 huge buses, carrying our equipment. This as I’ve said was on a Thursday in mid September, so here, the merchants have certainly gotten their way.

Quickly I loaded our gear into the back of the truck. Then, I returned to where Janie was standing with our two kayaks. Leaving one behind, we carted the other back to our truck-coughing very, very loudly hoping those blocking our way would step back. Returning yet again for the second kayak, we had to work our way between a small group visually examining the remaining kayak.

“Current Design,” I shouted. “They make good sea kayaks.”

“Ah, sea kayaks. Current Design.” These were foreign people, friendly, but determined to get answers.

Fay Glacier and Turquoise waters

Fay Glacier and Turquoise waters

Again, we repeated our carry, coughing when the helicopter wasn’t accelerating but shouting out as necessary to please clear the way. It was a madhouse, compounded by the continuous din of noise.


From there we drove straight to the visitor center, where Janie and I asked if there was any official way to register a complaint. The hordes of people hadn’t bothered us so much as we’d been able to kayak away from them, but it was the helicopter, and to the official I explained that I did not believe the four hours of helicopter (and the full day yesterday, I later learned) noise was compatible with park philosophy. Thinking about the way such matters were conducted in Glacier National Park I asked why a trail crew of young men could not have transported the items the several hundred yards.

“Yes,” replied the uniformed park attendant. “You can register a complaint, but you’ll probably get the same response I’m providing. And, yes, a trail crew could have accomplished the task but in a much grater span of time.

“We need to have the trail completed for the thousands, and not for just a few individuals.”

Such flaunting of original park intent seems to be the wave of the future, and, sadly, it does not seem to be confined to just Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. Tragic things are also happening in America’s national parks, and all that in just a few short decades.

Departing, we took an official complaint form and do plan to fill it out, simply because it will make us feel a little better…



*Searching for Whales…



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Lessons from the Eagle Eyre–and a Canadian Pub

posted: September 17th, 2008 | by:Bert

Sulphur Mountain Gondola

Sulphur Mountain Gondola

©Bert Gildart: Other than drinking a glass or two of that delicious dark Canadian beer, the other must-do thing for us was to take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a panoramic view of Banff National Park. The other alternative was to hike the three mile trail to the top of the mountain, but we wanted to get started learning about this first of Canada’s many wonderful national parks–so we rode.

The ride was brief, probably no more than ten minutes but when we stepped foot on the mountain’s pinnacle, the view was spectacular. Features we could not see below now unfolded. Hundreds of mountains engulfed us and included names such as Mt Rundle, Mt Norquay, Mt Edith, Mt Cory, Mt Lewis. Our view included Tunnel Mountain, the name of the mountain where our Airstream was parked, but on the back side.

As well, we could see the Bow Valley, which provided the first route to Lake Louis; we could see the Banff Springs Hotel and we could see the townsite of Banff.


Indeed, because of the instant gratification it provided, the gondola has become exceedingly popular and since its opening in 1959 can boast the following statistics. By the end of its fourth season, over 500,000 people had ridden it to the top. By 1994 over 10M had made it to the top.

Other than the panorama provided from the building that anchors the end of the gondola and that offers food and a shop with a few curios, what we found most interesting was the short boardwalk that takes you to several towers once used for scientific investigation-and the trail to another pinnacle also part of Sulphur Mountain.

The boardwalk was constructed in 1994 to give native vegetation a chance to rehabilitate, which it is now doing. The plants are a hearty bunch as typified by mountain avens, which grows low to the ground in self-protecting mats. Other plants collect solar energy in their upturned cuplike flowers. The warmth attracts insects which ad in pollination. I was familiar with these adaptations because of graduate school work in botany.

Banff townsite

Banff townsite

As we walked the several hundred yard long boardwalk we could also see stretching out below the Bow River and the Bow Valley Parkway which was constructed by WWI prisoners. We were told that the remnants of old interment camps still remain and that if we poked around a bit, we might find them.


Sulphur Mountain tops out at 7,500 feet and we found it strange that with all the other signs that this statistic was not posted, rather we had to ask. What was called to attention, is that fact that in the spring and fall at least 6,000 golden eagles travel through this area migrating north and south. They ride thermals and updrafts at heights of over 10,000 feet, traveling between Alaska and the Yukon and northern Mexico.

Because of the elevation, a tower was erected back in 1902. Called the Eagle Eyre, it once provided a post where Norman Sanson worked for 10 years gathering weather observations.

More recently scientists constructed a Cosmic Ray Station on Sulphur Mountain for the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). Cosmic rays are still studied because their presence can alter cell growth, as interpretive signs inform.

“Although life has evolved in the presence of cosmic rays and presumably acquired a tolerance for their effect, it may be they are responsible for mutations of organisms in the evolutionary process.”


Signs atop Sulphur Mountain go on to say that “…the atmosphere continues to evolve but human activity and the effects of pollution are overtaking nature in determining the changes.” Since this station is part of Banff National Park, it’s apparently a lesson endorsed by the Canadian government.

View from the Eagle Eyre

View from the Eagle Eyre

And so we returned at the end of a long day to relax at a pub in Banff known as “Wild Bills.” Here, I ordered a dark Canadian beer and listed attentively as our server informed us that the huge buses providing public transportation in the townsite were all powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

If that’s true, then it would appear that Canadians have benefited from the lessons that science provide, something from which we, too, might be benefiting, if only one of our very top muckety mucks had started pushing alternative energy eight years ago.

TWO YEARS AGO AT THIS TIME: *The Cabot Drive (Nova Scotia)

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Maintaining Your Internal Balance–When the World Goes Beserk

posted: September 15th, 2008 | by:Bert

In shadow of Mount Indefatigable

In shadow of Mount Indefatigable

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Lower Kananaskis Lake

Lower Kananaskis Lake

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


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

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From Waterton to Kananaskis Country

posted: September 14th, 2008 | by:Bert

View from Bear's Hump

View from Bears Hump

©Bert Gildart: The trail from the visitor center in Waterton Lakes National Park was one of the steepest trails Janie and I have hiked in a long time. It was, however, short, and about an hour later the one-mile-long almost vertical-seeming trail reached its end at a rounded edifice known as the “Bear’s Hump.”

Other than just a great leg stretcher, we hiked the trail as we knew it would provide magnificent views, and we weren’t disappointed. From “the hump,” we could peer down the entire length of the Waterton Lake clear to Goat Haunt, which is in Glacier National Park. Together the two parks form a grand idea.


The idea was conceived by the Rotary Clubs who believed the good will expressed by our two nations should be celebrated, and in 1932, the international acknowledgement of good will was made official when Canada and the United States created the Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park.

From the management point of view, the unification makes sense, as wildlife certainly doesn’t understand boundaries. For instance, biologists from the two countries can mange bears as part of an ecosystem, rather than saying: “Well, these are U.S. bears,” or “These are Canadian bears.”


From Bear’s Hump, you are also reminded just how lofty the Canadian Rockies can be. As you look down this grand sweep the relief is great and from here Glacier’s highest mountain, Mount Cleveland juts up from the lake to reach the height of 10,466 feet.

Kananaskis Country

Kananaskis Country

My one disappointment is that I never climbed the mountain during my 13 years of employment in Glacier and that I haven’t done it since. It’s not a difficult mountain to climb, essentially just a walk-up. And I still plan to climb it. As always, time is the problem-as Janie and I have been doing so many other exciting things.


So far, if anything summarizes this trip it’s our slow progress, based on curiosity and on the pace set by our cameras. After leaving Waterton, we proceeded north toward Banff, but re-discovered along the way a beautiful segment of land known as the Kananaskis.

Dall sheep greeting us

Dall sheep greeting us

I first drove the Kananaskis back in the 60s, when I first moved to the Northwest shortly after graduating from high school. At the time the road was all gravel and the country was extraordinarily wild. Now the road is paved and the provincial government has created from this 100-mile-long stretch of wilderness a number of provincial parks.


The parks help manage wildlife and shortly after we departed the little prairie town of Pincher Creek in Alberta, we encountered a band of sheep in the Don Getty Provincial Parks. At that point we had entered Kananaskis Country.

What an incredible time to drive this two-lane winding road. In fact, the country was so spectacular that when we were mid way along the drive, we began looking for campgrounds and discovered one of the most beautiful in yet another provincial park known as the Peter Lougheed.

This park contains mountains typified by some of the most profound folding and faulting I’ve ever seen. They’re all snow capped now from storm of just the previous night. And now we’re learning that some of this park contains some of Alberta’s best mountain biking and that the lakes offer spectacular kayaking.

If the weather were to hold-and if we didn’t have assignments in Banff and Jasper, we could spend a month. Now, we’ll just have to see how much time we can squeeze out from the Lower Lake campground in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Last night it again snowed, but now the clouds are rising and the mist on the lakes is framing some of the grand peaks on Mount Indefatigable that rise above Kananaskis Lake.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” Janie keeps saying, “to stay here for a day or so, build a fire and watch the weather patterns sweep through this country that remains ever so wild?”

Well, we’ll see; we’ll see.

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Where Does Fall Begin?

posted: September 12th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Excluding Alaska, where does fall begin in the United States? From extensive travels throughout the Lower 48, I believe it begins in the Rockies, and yesterday as Janie and I drove from St. Mary in Glacier National Park to the contiguous Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, it seemed as though fall was beginning to assert herself in earnest.

Where does fall begin

Where does fall begin

That was particularly true along the eastern slopes of the Rockies where the leaves of quaking aspen and cottonwood have already taken on a golden hue. The color, of course, is the result of cold nights causing a deterioration of the green-colored chlorophyll, which had been masking the xanthophylls and the carotenes, pigments producing the yellows, oranges and reds.


These pigments are always present in the leaf, just not able to express themselves as chlorophyll dominates. Its role is to absorb light energy from the sun which then combines to produce the sugars needed by the tree for food. But it requires warm days and much light to maintain its hold, and already days are much diminished from the time of the summer solstice. As well, each morning now we’ve awoken to see that a hard frost has covered the windows of our vehicle.

And, so, the role of chlorophyll is complete for the year and the tree assumes a new role, and that (at least from the egocentric perspective of human beings) is to provide us with great viewing pleasure. Certainly that’s what occurred yesterday as Janie and I crossed the border and drove into Canada, where the mountains were particularly gorgeous with their fresh dusting of snow and leaves now turned gold.

The snow was from two nights ago, and I maintain that fall begins in the Canadian Rockies and that Glacier National Park with its lofty mountains is the first place in America to express this change in personalities.


*Leaves Fall

*Fall Color Along The Natchez Trace

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

posted: September 10th, 2008 | by:Bert

"Into the Wild," take one

"Into the Wild," take one

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

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


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

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

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

Cultural affairs officer Jim Rivera

Cultural affairs officer Jim Rivera

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


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

Rory, an international model

Rory, an international model

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


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

Andrea, fashion photographer

Andrea, fashion photographer

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

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

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

"Into the Wild," take two

"Into the Wild," take two

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

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Italian Film Crew Picks Airstream

posted: September 8th, 2008 | by:Bert

Headin' out

Headin' out

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

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

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

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


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

Week's best photo

Week's best photo

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


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

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


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

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


*Fall Along the Natchez Trace

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Bear Country

posted: September 5th, 2008 | by:Bert

Bear lured by berries

Bear lured by berries

©Bert Gildart: Last week while I was hiking along the bear-rich trail that descends from Piegan Pass into Many Glacier, Janie was hiking the trail from the same valley toward the grizzly-rich country leading to Iceberg Lake. While my hiking companion, Matt, and I saw but one bear, Janie and her hiking companion, Bonnie, saw many more. In fact, one hiker ran up to her and asked, “But didn’t you see the two bears on the ledge right over your head.”

No question about it, this is an incredible time to see bears, but I must add quickly that we try to be circumspect. For instance, even though I want excellent photographs, I maintain my distance using extreme lenses. The head shot of the bear feeding on berries is cropped–and substantially so. All others, however, were as taken as I saw them through the viewfinder of my Nikon D-300 and the 800mm I had attached.


Understanding that there are risks, there is no better time for bear watchers to visit the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park than right now. Service berries are rich and juicy, and naturalist Bob Schuster, says the lush clumps are drawing in bears like so many magnets.

For Schuster, this also means his various programs tend to attract lots of interested visitors, and attendance at such talks is always included in a part of my visit.

Bob Schuster with spotting scope

Bob Schuster with spotting scope

Essentially, those instructional gatherings include his Watchable Wildlife program and his evening naturalist talks. Typically, he’ll caution people about bears, telling them not to hike alone, but telling them that with prudence they are probably safer in the park’s bear country than they were driving to the park.

“Dogs,” says the naturalist, “injure more people than do bears.”


In addition to berries, another reason the Many Glacier area might provide such great viewing opportunities is that the area is so carefully managed. Frequently, rangers might close the park’s best trails for seeing bears, and that’s the one on which Janie and Bonnie were hiking: the Iceberg Lake Trail.

Service Berries

Service Berries

Bear chowing down

Bear chowing down

“Generally,” said Schuster, “we close the trail because there’s an animal’s carcass attracting bears, because we’ve had report of an aggressive bear, or simply because lots of bears are congregating. Right now, we’ve got seven known bears on the side of Mount Altyn. If numbers keep building, we may have to shut down the area.”

To further help bears, this year the park implemented another management procedure. This year biologists created five corridors along the Many Glacier road that restrict people from stopping.


“It’s to give bears a little more privacy,” said Bob. “It gives them the freedom to move from the mountains and out toward the grasslands along Lake Sherburne. Now they don’t have to wade through stacks of stopped cars with people gawking.”

More than likely, if you drive the road, you’ll find that Schuster, or one of the other naturalists or volunteers, has interspersed him- or herself between the bear corridors, and here you’ll find them conducting their Watchable Wildlife program.

In the evening, they give presentations at either the Many Glacier Lodge or at the park’s amphitheater. Right now, food sources are of great interest and form much of their dialog.


Because bears are omnivores, they can feed on both plant and on animal material. As a result, in spring, you’re apt to see them searching the avalanche shoots for goats and other hoofed critters that might have perished during a slide. As the season progresses, bears turn to glacier lilies, which Schuster says taste like green beans. Later, they feed on cow parsnip, then about mid-summer, they move to the talus slopes and start looking for cut-worm moths.

Now, they’ve glommed onto huckleberries and to the service berries that so thoroughly cover the sides of Mount Altyn. Schuster says that in Alaska, studies have shown bears may consume hundreds of thousands of the berries-in the course of a single day.

Satiated bear

Satiated bear

“They know winter is coming,” says Schuster. “And they know they need to build up heavy deposits of fat.

“And that’s the reason it’s such a great time for bear watchers to be here.”


Last year we were watching elk bugling–in Glacier National Park.

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Bear Grass–One Fawn’s Gourmet Meal

posted: September 1st, 2008 | by:Bert

Vanishing spots

Vanishing spots

©Bert Gildart: White-tailed deer are now losing their spots, yet another sign of fall. This fawn was photographed in the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park, and together with the second image posted here, show something else that’s interesting. The second photo proves that although bears may not be wild about bear grass, young deer can sure scarf it down.

Though Janie and I had discovered the deer on our own, a naturalists wandering along the trail near the Swift Current Motor Inn also had his eye on it. The man was part of the park’s new Watchable Wildlife program, intended to help visitors find wildlife and and to then help them understand and appreciate it.


“Guess there’s no question about it,” chuckled Bob Schuster, a park naturalist for over 30 years. “Deer sure do like those bear-grass seeds.”

Bob was a man I’d met previously, for once I had served as a ranger in the park. Bob, however, outstayed me by about 17 years. To make the Glacier position work for him he alternated his summer naturalist job with a career as a winter-time teacher. It’s a path many choose.

The Watchable Wildlife program has been very well received and several days later we joined a group watching bears on the side of Mount Altyn. Though many others are involved in the program, again we bumped into Schuster. He said that rangers and bear managers believe there are about a dozen bears that frequent the slopes of Altyn. Now, with the service berries growing so lush and juicy there may soon be more.

Bear grass seeds are gourmet food

Bear grass seeds are gourmet food

“It’s one of their favorite food items,” said Schuster. “Studies in Alaska suggest they may eat thousands in the course of a single day. We can’t say that happens here as there have been no studies, but service berries sure are thick.”

That’s something Janie and I could confirm from all the bear scat we’d seen while hiking the trails, for in some cases their dropping seemed to consist of the dark-purple service berries and nothing else.


Photographs of the deer were taken with a Nikon’s D-300 Camera and an 80-400mm Nikon lens featuring image stabilization. Both images are full framed and not cropped, generally my practice. Because I shoot in the “Raw” format, that means file sizes are immense, large enough for a magazines to create two-page spread from them, something that occasionally happens. What’s more I shoot in the 16-bit mode, recommended for those who may want to do some manipulation in PhotoShop. After changes, I reduce the file to one that is 8-bits.

At the time I photographed the fawn, skies were overcast creating a soft light that works best in deep forest situations. In bright sun, shadows can be so intense you often need a strobe to soften the dark areas. Conversely, when shooting with the lens zoomed out to 400 as I did in the close-up shot, camera shake can often create blur. For tack-sharp photographs, image-stabilization is vital.


*Quebec City

*Airstream Camper Tips



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