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 October, 2008

Happy Halloween–Hee, hee, hee!

posted: October 31st, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Happy Halloween!

But who you may wonder is inside the trunk? Well, it could be one of my fishing buddies who consistently out fish me–and I concluded, well, enough is enough.

Or it could be one of my misdirected friends (or even family members!) who thinks they should vote for the ticket with Sarah Palin. Shame, shame!

But whoever it is, we just wanted you to know that we are also thinking of YOU.

So make sure you stop by our house tonight. After all the excitement of Trick or Treating, we have just the antidote to assure that you will sleep and sleep and sleep… Hee, hee, hee!

Happy Halloween

HAPPY HALLOWEEN--Include us in your Trick or Treat route. We have just the handout to put you at rest


*Acoma and Halloween in New England

*Graveyard Walk


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

September 1963: Murder of Virgil Ware, as I Saw It–and Now See It

posted: October 29th, 2008 | by:Bert


In my last post I provided an account of my “jail time.” In the following, I provide an account of the tragic death of Virgil Ware. You’ll see mention of Michael Farley, a man who has never admitted Virgil Ware was a complete innocent, hence my letter to Time Magazine.

Though they never published the letter, several weeks later they said a letter writer had opined that certain parties should contribute to a Virgil Ware Memorial Fund. I bring up these past tragedies because both were motivated by hate, and it seems as though some of those same tactics have recently been used. Hopefully, my posts will serve to remind how easily words can trigger violence.

September 23, 2003
Tim Padgett/Frank Sikora
Time Magazine

Dear Sirs:

On September 15, 1963 a friend and I were driving on the “lonely road” described in your September 22 story, “The Legacy of Virgil Ware.” We were approximately 200 feet behind the two young men on the motorcycle, close enough to hear the several shots ring out and to see Virgil Ware fall from the handle bars of the bicycle being peddled by his brother James Ware. I can assure you neither of the two boys had rocks in their hands nor did they do anything that might in the wildest stretch of the imagination be construed as aggressive. Motor scooter driver Michael Farley and shooter Larry Sims (both teenagers) were caught up in the almost unfathomable hate generated by adults on that horrible Sunday, and the Ware brothers paid the price.

The purpose of this letter is to ask if you might forward my thoughts to Larry Sims, but particularly to Michael Farley, who continues to insist forty years later that the Ware brothers had rocks in their hands, suggesting that there might be some justification for shooting 13-year-old Virgil Ware. I would like Mr. Farley to know there were eyewitnesses to the murder. I’d like to ask that Mr. Farley search his conscience further and that he find it within himself to stop trying to find some justification for his acts, for he is as culpable as Sims for the shooting. I’d like to ask that he somehow contact James Ware and let Mr. Ware know that he is right when he vehemently denies carrying rocks.

Sims and Farley both got off Scot-free and, as the remorseful adults they now profess to be, they should do something more to atone for Virgil’s death. Perhaps they could set up a Virgil Ware Scholarship Fund. It sounds as though they have the money to do so.

At any rate, if they respond in a way that at least exonerates the Ware brothers of carrying rocks, I’d like my slight participation in this matter to die here. If, however, Farley refuses to exonerate [he never has] Ware, then I’d like to be given the opportunity to submit some portion of the information here as an editorial.

In summary, my friend and I were first on the scene and watched Virgil Ware die from his shots; there was nothing we could do. We provided our eyewitness accounts and then returned to college at what is now the University of North Alabama. Surprisingly, we were never called to testify, but I can assure you this account is accurate and that it lives on 40 years later in my mind’s eye just as though it happened yesterday.

Thank you for your help–and for any suggestions you might have.




Though Farley never has admitted Ware was not carrying rocks (as though that would be a reason to kill someone), in fairness I’ve read that Michael Farley and shooter Larry Sims eventually came to regret Virgil’s death. In fact, they have spent a portion of their adult lives trying to atone.

The South has come of age, beautiful as ever, and offering profound lessons

The tranquility of the South, offering profound lessons, which some segments of society chose to ignore. Today, this region of the country remains one of my favorites and is where some of my very best friends now reside

At the time of the shooting Farley and Sims were young and impressionable, and their actions were motivated by the deep hatred that so permeated the area in 1963. Only a week before the bombing Governor Wallace had told the New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.” Well, he got them. On that same Sunday, just a short distance away from Virgil Ware’s last bike ride, a member of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite under a church, killing four young girls attending The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.


Violence permeated the area around Birmingham, and that same day, 16-year-old Larry Joe Sims, an Eagle Scout, and his friend Michael Farley had attended a hate rally. Compounding matters, some black children had taken to throwing rocks at white people. And so, emotions swelled, and it is easy to see how such an atmosphere of intolerance can lead to destructive behavior. Sadly, some of these same tactics have been used in this presidential campaign. In fact, isn’t it symptomatic that just this past Monday two members of a Neo Nazis group were foiled in their efforts to initiate an assassinate attempt against Senator Obama?

And now, as we go into our final week before the election, it seems as though we should think about the two good men running for office–and not about some of the horrible rhetoric that has reared its head of recent. Such noise muddies the waters, preventing us from thinking rationally. Contrary to what Rush Limbaugh shouted on his rabble rousing talk show to incite his disciples, it is not “all about race!”

He was referring to the endorsement Colin Powell had just provided Barack Obama–and he (Limbaugh) had decided that to counteract the influence this much respected former Secretary of State might exert, that he should play the race card.


Though memories of Virgil Ware have dimmed, his death should provide a moving example of what can go wrong with society when we focus on the negative. At its very worst, it can have tragic consequences, and that’s something I will never forget…

Standing helplessly on a lonely highway I watched as Virgil Ware inhaled and then expelled all air from his body. And there, too, beside the now lifeless body of his brother, kneeled his teenage brother, James, tears streaming down his face. My regret is that I did not put my arms around the young boy, who appeared on the verge of shock.

Yes, Mr. Schieffer, we have come a long way (see last post), but sadly, it seems there are still elements in our society willing to use tactics from the ‘60s to achieve self aggrandizement, and to carry out their own political objectives without regard for others.


Ironically, we were visiting Harper’s Ferry, where Robert E. Lee squelched the John Brown uprising.


Unfortunately I have not read many books about the Civil Rights movement, but here are some I have read about the South, and events which led to the war to free the slaves. If you have not read these books, I highly recommend them.

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy



Read Comments | 6 Comments »

October 1962: Mississippi Burned and I Saw It

posted: October 27th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Recently, Bob Schieffer of CBS News visited Ole Miss University located in Oxford, Mississippi. He reported that his trip (a pivotal life journey, metaphorically) brought back a flood of memories. His comment reminded me that I shared with him a similar journey, and that it also took place the first week of October, 1962–and in the exact same place. What we experienced those few days combined to create a particularly ugly chapter in American history. Several were killed, many wounded–and I was jailed.

Ole Miss can be accessed from Natchez Trace

Ole Miss can be accessed from Natchez Trace

Mr. Schieffer and I had, however, entirely different experiences while at Oxford. He was a journalist, while I was a floundering college student. Schieffer was there to describe James Meredith’s attempts to break down the barriers prohibiting the enrollment of black people into this Mississippi University. By contrast, I was there because that was a rebellious time of my life, and no football coach back in the little Alabama college I was attending was going to tell me I could not leave campus.

Leave, however, I did, and next day, hundreds of miles away, I found myself arrested and on the inside of a massive detention center in Ole Miss looking out, while Schieffer was on the outside looking in on a city that had gone amok. It’s one two tragic events in which I was personally involved that made national news, and  I want to relate those experiences in this and in next posting.


The following year (1963) I was eyewitness to the murder of an innocent young black boy, shot on a backcountry road near Birmingham. It was the same day when four little black girls where killed in a church bombing. Some perverse-thinking individuals thought the killing would stop the efforts of black people to acquire equal rights.

I’m providing recollections of those times not to try and suggest that we share some kind of collective guilt, for there was lots of blame to go around. Nor am I trying to suggest that because of those horrible events we should now redeem ourselves and vote for Sen. Obama.

What I am trying to suggest, is that with a black man now running for the highest office in the nation that we have indeed come a very long way since the 1960s.

For those interested in the specifics of my jail time and of the tragic death of Virgil Ware, which I witnessed, follow along. Today, I’m posting an account of my “jail time,” and on Wednesday, I’ll be posting about a young boy’s tragic death, hard to forget as I was first on the scene.

*INCIDENT ONE, JAIL TIME: The setting is the Deep South and the year was 1962 and the Civil Rights movement was at its height. White extremists hated blacks and the NAACP was trying to force the integration of public schools. At the time I was drifting aimlessly, always looking for excitement–and college was probably the least productive place I could have been.

Hearing that a black man had enrolled at Ole Miss and that JFK had sent 5,000 federal troops and about 1,500 federal marshals to control mass rioting, four other like-minded fellows and I decided that Oxford, Mississippi, was the perfect place to be; and so we made the four-hour drive from Florence State Teacher’s College (now the U. of N. Alabama), partially along the Natchez Trace. A coach at our college told us not to go, but we went anyway.

Parking our vehicle on the outskirts of town, we walked into Oxford–and were greeted with pandemonium. Several black people were attempting to drive vehicles but didn’t get far. Self-appointed riot leaders stalked the courthouse square with cases of empty Coke bottles, handing them out. The crowd knew what to do. Focusing on an elderly black, rioters took their bottles and before he had driven a single block–inching through people mingling in the street–they knocked out every window in the man’s car. They broke the ends off their Coke bottles by smashing them against the curb, and then they thrust them under the man’s wheels. Throughout, I was taking pictures.

From other parts of town, we could hear the occasional sound of gun shots, and soon learned that one National Guardsman had been seriously wounded. Before it was all over, two were dead, 28 marshals had been shot, and 160 were injured.

About this time, the federal troops began to arrive, and we wisely decided it might be time to leave. A National Guardsman advised us of the best route, but as we were leaving we ran into another squad of guardsmen, and because it appeared as though our moves were surreptitious, they fired at us (blanks we later learned), then told us to line up. They marched us down the main street of town, hands over our heads. One of the fellows in our group weighed well over 200 pounds and his size angered one of the guardsmen, who was small. He prodded my friend in the rear with his bayonet, and finally, exasperated, Hugh spun, dropped his hands and knocked the bayonet away from his rear. He was immediately engulfed by half a dozen soldiers, all pointing their rifles and bayonets at him.

About an hour later, we found ourselves in a huge detention room, with hundreds of others who had also been arrested. Our eyes watered profusely from the tear gas that had just been used. We were separated, then lined up literally belly to backbone with hundreds of others, hands clasped over our hands, to await “processing.” We stood for hours, arms going to sleep. Our “captors” knew that and to alleviate the numbness, every now and then a Federal Marshall would tell us that on command and in unison, we were to unclasp our hands, lower our arms to shoulder height, extend them vertically, rotate them–raise them, lower them, raise them… but not to go below shoulder level.


This was massive crowd control, and the marshals knew well what they were doing. One fellow in line lowered his hands toward his pockets. Immediately, marshals yanked him from line, and quickly discovered he had bullets in his possession. I have no idea what happened to him after that, but the troops and marshals were mad. People were getting hurt!

“Processing” was intended to humiliate us. We were told to strip to our shorts. My camera was taken from me, and then I was told to stand facing a wall and then examined in a most humiliating manner. Later, I was interrogated (as was everyone else), and held in some other center with hundreds of others now deemed safe.

Next day, we were told we could leave. My camera was returned, but without film. Desperately, now, I wanted to leave Oxford, but could not find my four other friends–nor, I later learned, could they find me.

Walking to the outskirts of town, I began hitchhiking back to Alabama. When I finally returned to campus, the Dean of Men placed me on social probation. Because I was already on academic probation, I decided it just might be a good time to take a “vacation.” Several years later I found direction in Montana, and as I like to joke, “Friends, I was on the Dean’s list my entire college career.”


James Meredith was one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963. For a number of years, Meredith continued to work as a civil rights activist, most notably by leading the March Against Fear in 1966, a protest against voter registration intimidation. During the march, which began in Memphis, Tenn., and ended in Jackson, Miss., Meredith was shot and wounded, hospitalized, and then rejoined the march in its last days. In 1967, he enrolled in Columbia University, and in 1968 received a law degree.

That anyone should wag a finger of recrimination at the South would be a mistake, for I have found that prejudice is equally rampant in the north. Here, in Montana, for instance, there’s prejudice against Native Americans–and as we listen to the voices of those on the campaign trail, we’re finding that forms of racism still seem to exist–and that’s it’s not just from the South, my place of birth.


“But he’s an Arab,” said the woman to John McCain, speaking of Obama. “No Ma’am,” said McCain, in what may have been his finest moment in the campaign, “he’s not. He’s a decent family man with whom I happen to have some fundamental differences.”

Unfortunately, no voice of reason was present when the large bald-headed policeman in Florida called upon the gathered crowd, advising them to remember who you’re voting for. “Will it be Barrack Hussein Obama?” shouted the rabble rouser in what may have been one of the most incendiary moments in the campaign. “Or will it be John McCain?”

My fear is that people will forget just how far we have come and that when they enter the voting both, ballots will be cast on some deep seated fear or unfounded hatred, rather than on those “fundamental differences,” which Barack Obama certainly has with John McCain.

In my next post I’ll relate the tragic death of 14-year old Virgil Ware.


*Is Global Warming Real?


(Here are three excellent books, all of which I’ve read–and can recommend. They relate tangentially, at least, to the subject at hand.)

Read Comments | 3 Comments »

Glacier Park Closes Going-to-the-Sun Road, Ending Season on Glorious Note

posted: October 23rd, 2008 | by:Bert

Sun Road

Going-to-Sun Road

©Bert Gildart: Except for the last hundred yards of driving, this past Sunday Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road couldn’t have been more perfect, bringing satisfaction to lots of people who decided to take the last drive possible for this year.

On Monday, at 8 a.m., Glacier closed “Sun Road” from Avalanche Campground to Logan Pass. Realizing closure was imminent, Janie and I joined others in the pilgrimage. Skies were blue almost the entire distance until just before we reached Logan Pass. There, about 100 yards from the summit, a dense cloud bank obscured vision.

Though we continued to the pass, our plans to hike from the visitor center two miles to the Hidden Lake Overlook were abandoned. Instead, we retraced our drive and devoted our day to photography. Included here are a few photographs from our Sunday outing.


Except for the afore mentioned section, views from along the entire drive were incredible. On the west side of Logan Pass, the day was clear and we could recall but few times when the colors from aspen and cottonwood were as vivid.

View from Sun Road

Height of fall's spendor


Because hiking had been our objective we decided we’d hike the trail beginning from the West Side Loop. A logical destination would have been four miles up the trail to Granite Park Chalet (post1) (12 Miles with a Six-Year Old), but we became so engrossed with the stark statement of trees burned in the fire of several years ago that we spent most of our time photographing old snags.

2001 forest fire

Wonderful patterns

Sometimes I like patterns, ideal in this situation for my 12- to 24mm wide angle Nikon lens. In fact, all of the photographs shown here were made with that lens.


Though the road is now closed to vehicular traffic, after the park road crew has prepared the famous road for winter, it will again reopen for bicycle traffic. In spring, bicycling the road has become a ritual for me, and if fall weather holds, I may try and pedal the 15 miles from Avalanche Creek (point from where it’s now blocked) to Logan Pass.

With the closure of the highway, the park service must now give up hope of finding the remains of the young man from whom the park conducted a several month long search. On August 19th, Yi-Jien Hwa, 27, was reported missing by his family, and since that time the park sent teams of hikers and professional alpine searchers into the most forbidding areas of its backcountry to look for him. One of those areas was the terrain surrounding Logan Pass.

Trails accessed from Sun Road

Trail to Granite Park Chalet

Aside from that, it appears as though the park had a very good year, and Janie and I always regret the closure. Still, this year we spend a considerable amount of time camped in the park, living as we always do when we go for extended periods of time out of our Airstream. We have lots of good memories, and certainly, as you can see, the season ended on a glorious note.





Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Duplicating This Grand ANWR Adventure Improbable With Sarah Palin as VP

posted: October 20th, 2008 | by:Bert

Caribou define ANWR

Caribou define ANWR

©Bert Gildart: With Sarah Palin now a vice presidential candidate, once again the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is being eyed, and once again, people are making ridiculous statements about the nature of an area they have never stepped foot in. Typical of this group was Bob Tebeau of Kalispell, who wrote an editorial to our local paper. He was touting Ms. Palin’s achievements and promoting drilling. In his editorial Tebeau said, “And as has been pointed out, ANWR is a minute area with practically nothing there.”

Unfortunately, many others are as equally uninformed. For one thing, the refuge is a huge place and each spring it attracts over 100,000 thousand caribou, seeking the rich forage unique to a small parcel of the refuge adjacent to the ocean. The forage is needed by calves that are born there, and if Mr. Tebeau was referring to this area, then he is right, for this specialized area is “minute.”

Oil companies call it the 1002 Area, leaving it to biologists to provide a more ecologically correct name. Because of its unusually rich assortment of vegetation, they call it “The core calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd.”


Because the refuge is the birthplace of a herd, its influence is immense. Caribou from the refuge feed residents in over a dozen Gwich’in Indian villages, and natives there are concerned that drilling could alter migration patterns, diverting them in such as way that the herd will no longer pass by their respective villages.

I make these statements from first-hand experience, for not only have Janie and I taught in four of the Gwich’in villages, we have traveled widely throughout this vast land both on foot and in our johnboat. We have written dozens of stories about these experiences and Time/Life publications has featured my photographs in one of its books. Because this area may well be one of the world’s last self-regulating natural ecosystems, I have devoted one of the pages in my web site to the Gwich’in.

Wall tent was home

Wall tent was home

From it and from previous posts you might get the impression I’m opposed to any and all oil development, but that’s simply not the case. However, I strongly believe there are a few places in this world that should remain truly wild. And, yes, Mr. Tebeau, there is something there. There’s immense beauty, and it has exerted a powerful influence on us. That’s generally the impact it has on any who travel the area, though, granted, getting there is not easy, as Janie and I well know.


Though we have made many trips to Alaska in more recent years, our most epic adventure took place about 10 years ago when we loaded our boat with wall tent and set out for a four month venture. Prior to our departure we spent months preparing. We purchased a desiccator from Cabella’s, then dried Montana deer meat to facilitate transportation. We pared down our supplies; we took clothing that was lightweight but warm. It all worked out, for that summer we lived well on jerky, re-hydrated vegetables-and on Yukon River salmon and pike.

We started our trip one day in early May, towing our boat for ten days up the ALCAN to Fairbanks. From there, we drove a series of rutted dirt roads to Circle, Alaska, a small village located on the Yukon River. We reorganized everything for travel, discovering that our 20-foot johnboat wasn’t as spacious as we had thought. Still everything fit, to include 35 gallons of gas for powering our 50 hp Yamaha hundreds of miles to another village that provided fuel. Then, without much fanfare, we pushed off.


First on our list of destinations were the Gwich’in villages of Fort Yukon, Beaver, and Rampart, the latter of which was located downriver about 300 miles. We spent almost a month at Rampart, the site the Army Corps of Engineers once eyed as a dam. If the project had been approved it would have impounded the Yukon, backing up waters clear into Canada. It would have been as valuable as Governor Palin’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Today, because the Yukon still flows free, Rampart remains a quiet little fishing village.

Muskrat skinning contest

Muskrat skinning contest

Though several of these villages are some distance from the refuge, still, later in the fall, they depend on caribou. One of the first, however, to see the caribou return is a village in Canada known as Old Crow, and we desperately wanted to experience subsistence hunting before we got frozen in. To reach Old Crow, we returned upriver to Fort Yukon where the Porcupine River enters the Yukon. Here, we traveled 350 miles up the Porcupine, and then another 50 miles to Old Crow, Yukon Territory. Riverboat travel took over a week, and for most of the time we were deep in the Arctic Refuge. We were alone.


Old Crow is a premier subsistence village consisting of about 200 people, and when we arrived that summer, we were made to feel welcome. Residents told us to pitch our tent and that specific village people would watch over it. We were invited to attend village contests then in progress, and though we enjoyed them all, perhaps the one we enjoyed most was the Muskrat Skinning contest.

Trapping has always been a big part of the culture at Old Crow, not surprising when one realizes that here the Porcupine River is near a huge marshland that provides an ideal habitat for muskrats. Though I don’t remember the winning times, I do remember they transformed the feat into art. Residents hunt moose, too, and I bet almost any one in that village can skin one of the huge animals before Governor Palin can figure out which end is which. (She says she’s a moose hunter, and at some level I’m sure she is.)

Old Crow has many special people, but perhaps one of the most revered is Charlie Peter-Charlie, a Gwich’in elder. For many years, Peter-Charlie was Chief of Old Crow. He was one of the village’s best fiddle players, and when young, one of its greatest hunters, said to be one of the few people to actually run down a caribou.


I visited Mr. Peter-Charlie that summer and he reminisced about caribou hunting, saying that when he killed a caribou and was hungry he’d turn it upside down to keep blood in the cavity. “We’d scoop it out and freeze it, a little blood with a little caribou gut. When you’re hungry that was mighty good.”

Charlie Peter-Charlie and caribou hooves

Charlie Peter-Charlie and caribou hooves

Later, during my visit we walked to an old cabin where Peter-Charlie began adding a few more caribou hooves to the outside walls. He said that when there were no caribou they’d take the caribou hooves and boil them, extracting a thin broth.

He remembered times when the caribou did not come and he said that was why the old people would wear a thick belt. “When hungry, they’d tighten the belt every hour or so.”

“Hope,” said Peter Charlie, “we don’t have to do that any more.”

I hope not either, and I hope, too, that Charlie Peter-Charlie is still alive. If not, I hope his thoughts for his people do come true, but I’m not optimistic. In a world peopled by some who want to destroy every single last bit of wildland (sometimes because they’re simply as uninformed as the Kalispell editorial writer), I’ll not take any bets.


*Antietam Battlefield


Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Elk “Battle” Ends With Redwood Tragedy

posted: October 16th, 2008 | by:Bert

Elk bugling

Elk bugling

©Bert Gildart: Life for bull elk in the fall is not always one filled with fun and games. While other species are preparing for winter, bull elk are struggling to keep competing bulls out of their territory. As you might have seen in several of my recent posts (*Elk 1; *Elk 2), they do so with some fighting, some displays, and perhaps most of all, simply by letting others know through their magnificent bugles that this is their territory, stay out!

But in their fury to keep others away, often they attack trees, the ground and even huge logs. Most of the time, these methods of venting anger and frustration ends with the bull simply walking away. But not always, and once an incredible tragedy played out in one of America’s most magnificent national parks.


As shown here, Kim Andrychowicz, a volunteer at Redwoods National Park when we passed through several years ago, showed us the way in which elk frustration can sometimes turn to death.

So vigorously did the bull shove this tree that it soon became entwined. Unable to extricate itself, the animal died.

The “battle” shown here is not confined to the redwoods, and a museum in Glacier National Park has on display the locked antlers of two buck deer. In the fury of their battle, the two animals had pushed and shoved so hard, the tines became interlocked.

Death by ensnarment

Death by ensnarment in a redwood

Events described here don’t happen often, and one might hope that a mountain lion or some other predator ended the animal’s life quickly, else it (the elk in this case) would have died a lingering death from starvation.

Circumstances of the elk’s fate astounded us, but it also showed us the capability of redwoods. Because the species can grow at the rate of one foot per year, the trunk grew up around several portions of the antlers while the tree was still alive, leaving the elk’s tines exposed and protruding–and generating in us yet greater awe for the growth phenomena of all redwood trees.

Of course, the tragedy also highlighted the drama of fall, and the ferocious battles that can sometimes result between bull elk.


*Where “Ragtags” Became First-rate Soldiers


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Elkology 101–Some Basics about Elk During the Rut

posted: October 13th, 2008 | by:Bert

Cows Also Fight

Cows Also Fight

©Bert Gildart: The past few weeks in Jasper National Park have brought Janie and me into close contact with one of our most fascinating species of wildlife–the elk. The time there started me thinking about past experiences, and upon our return home several days ago, I began looking through some old black and white images I made while working for one of our local papers. As well, I renewed my acquaintance with terminology, and to do that all I had to do was go to some of my old columns.

Once, of course, elk occupied a huge range that included not only many of our forested states but our prairie states as well. They were wide spread, and the year before, Janie and I saw them in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountain National Park where they’ve been reintroduced. In these areas elk are exhibiting traits that are part of an age-old ritual, and they are now making headlines, at least here in Montana.


Fall is certainly the most ritualistic time for elk, as it is mating season. What’s particularly interesting to recall is that the only time I have ever seen cow elk fight is in autumn. One October in Yellowstone, I caught these two cows fighting above Mammoth Terrace.

What prompted this conflict, I’m still not sure, but most physical encounters generally result from territorial disputes or fights over food. Perhaps that’s what precipitated this encounter.

With males it’s easy to figure out what’s going on. Bulls fight to protect their harems, as were those in my Jasper posting made about 10 days ago.

Fortunately, bulls don’t always settle their differences by fighting, else they’d have little energy left for anything else. Often they settle grudges by display, and most wonderfully, by giving voice to a mystical cry described as a bugle. That cry has often been called one of nature’s most dramatic and most urgent sounds.

Grudges sometimes end in battle

Grudges sometimes end in battle

Fights, of course, do occur and it may not be surprising that the bull with the most magnificent set of antlers wins. Because magnificence is often equated with the number of tines, a nomenclature has developed.


A bull elk, then, is defined by the number of tines it produces. If a bull has six tines, it is called a Royal; seven, an Imperial; eight, a Monarch. The antler in the sketch represent those from a Monarch.

Diagram of a Monarch

Diagram of a Monarch

On some of the largest specimens, antlers may be up to six feet long, with a spread of 47 inches between terminal ends of the two main branches.

Other terminology used to describe elk antlers soon follows, but let’s make this a little more interesting and see if you can replace the numbers with the correct terminology.

Numbers in parenthesis match up with the correct answer, also numbered below. It’s the same quiz (part of the same much larger contest, that is) Janie and I prepared for our annual Northwest Outdoor Writer’s Association Convention, in this case for the one held this past year.  Don’t worry, many of the contestants didn’t do well-and they’re professionals.

Here’s the quiz, followed by the answers:

Tines projecting out over the brow are called (1) tines. Logical enough. Going up the antler, the second set is referred to as the (2) tine. Together these first two tines are known as (3) tines. The somewhat shorter third tine is called the (4) tine. The fourth, largest, and deadliest tine is known as the (5) tine. And lastly, the two points forming the antler’s divided tip of the Royal bull elk are the (6).

Answers: 1. brow; 2, bay or bez ; 3, war lifters, or dog-killers; 4, tray or trez; 5, royal, or dagger-point; 6, sur-royals.

A Royal Bull Elk

A Royal Bull Elk

Of course, these definitions and attempts to categorize bulls is a yearly approach, for all members of the deer family shed their antlers, and so their ranking may change. Generally, they lose their antlers in late winter or early spring, and shortly thereafter the cycle starts all over. Right now, we’re at the top of that cycle, and if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area inhabited by elk, this is the time to get out and enjoy the season. It won’t last long, perhaps another week or so.


*Reflections on West Point


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Of Border Crossings, Fishing, and Magnificent Canadian Park

posted: October 10th, 2008 | by:Bert

Departing Kootenai NP

Departing Kootenai National Park

©Bert Gildart: It’s rough traveling through some of the most beautiful segments of North America and then having to return to the tedium of everyday life in Montana. So unsettling was the transition that I took the day and joined one of my good fishing friends, Bill Schneider, described previously as a *Fishing Fool.

That, however, didn’t help much as he caught all the fish, so now I’m left reviewing the highlights of the trip as a form of solace. Believing some of my readers might be interested in traveling to southern Alberta, I’ve provided a quick highlight of what we consider “must-see areas.”

This past month, our travels took us from Glacier National Park and then north into Canada. Major stops in Alberta included Waterton National Park, the Kananaskis Recreation Area, Banff, and finally Jasper. Departing Jasper, we passed through Kootenai National Park in British Columbia where we spent the night before crossing the border and returning to Montana through Eureka.


In years past, we have had some difficulty making border crossing. Once in 1991, Canadian customs apparently didn’t like my longish hair and beard. Our old van probably didn’t help either.

This time, however, we were towing an Airstream Travel Trailer pulling it with a Dodge ¾ ton truck.

We also are older now, have Passports and must therefore create a better international profile. Customs officials, however, asked one question I did not understand. Departing the U.S. at the Chief Mountain Customs the officer asked about firearms. We said we didn’t have any.

“No pistols,” he asked.

“No Sir,” realizing, of course, that those who are caught in Canada with pistols face jail time.

Swan Lake pike

Swan Lake pike

He then asked (and this is what I thought strange) whether we normally carried firearms in the United States. I told him “No,” but a more honest answer would have been: “When in the United States we abide by the laws of our country and do likewise when in yours.”


The purpose of virtually all of our trips is to gather photographs and story information, and because we’re often asked about our photography equipment I provide the following breakdown. I carry one Nikon D-200 and one Nikon D-300. I carry four Nikon lenses to include the 12-24, the 35 to 70, the 80 to 400 with image stabilization. As well, I carry two SB-800 strobes which are part of Nikon’s Wireless Lighting System.

In addition I carry a 600mm Nikon ED lens in a large Lowepro pack. When I carry this pack, much from the other pack is loaded into this one. Essentially, pack number one is my travel and nature photography pack, while pack number two is the one I use for wildlife and nature photography in general.

In addition, Janie carries a Nikon D-70 and, generally, I stow a film camera in the large Lowepro pack in which I carry my 600mm telephoto lens.

So now we’re back and as I say there’s always a period of readjustment, as a result, my day off yesterday for fishing. My companions were Bill Schneider and his wife Marne, and interestingly, Bill and I fished these same waters last year–but I didn’t do much better (as posted), though photographic opportunities were exceptional.

Normally Janie would have joined, but the Airstream had to be unloaded, and someone, of course, has to work. Wish I’d had caught a fish to show for my day’s efforts.


*Princess of Acadia


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

The Raven–My Good-luck Bird

posted: October 6th, 2008 | by:Bert


Awareness is in the eye

©Bert Gildart: Few species of birds have interested me as much as the raven, for it has been a source of inspiration in such diverse places as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Death Valley, and Glacier National Park. Most recently, the species inspired me simply by its appearance in Canada’s Jasper National Park, where I took these photographs. Let’s say the raven has become my “Spirit bird.”

The specie’s impact on me results from its manifestations of great intelligence. Start with this bird’s eyes, and it is obvious ravens posses great awareness. Continue your observations, and you quickly learn that ravens are empowered with much body language and precise calls that enable it to communicate specific needs. So acute is this demeanor that groups of people, with whom Janie and I once worked in villages next to the Arctic Refuge, have, historically, revered the bird. Many still do.


Noted anthropologist Richard K. Nelson entitled his much respected book about Athabascan Indians, Make Prayers to the Raven. The title worked for him as tribal medicine men imparted much power to raven, saying that this mythical bird even helped shape the world.

Much of this reverence has to be because of appearances, and Michio Hoshino, a very well known photographer and a friend of ours whom we met long ago at Old Crow, Yukon Territory (but sadly now deceased), once told us that people in some tribes once talked to Raven when they saw it out in the woods, especially when they are alone. “They talk to Raven,” he said, “the same way we talk to God.” In so many words, that’s also what Micho wrote in his book Moose.

Based on some of our own experiences, Michio’s observations were easy to believe. Once, as Janie and I and Burns Ellison backpacked for over a month-unassisted-through the entire length of the Arctic Refuge, we found ourselves floundering for the correct route. Which fork of the river do we take?


That evening a raven moved into our camp, and next morning was still there. He flew ahead of us, choosing one fork in the river over another. It then lighted on a tree branch and we decided to follow, for we had nothing to loose.

For two days, our raven friend continued this pattern, moving ahead until we were abreast, at which time it would fly forward once again. Finally, we were able to find enough major features on our map that we could again orient ourselves, and we learned that Raven had led us correctly. For awhile we wondered what force had lead the raven to us. Eventually, we simply concluded that it made no difference. When you’ve spent weeks in the wilderness, unassisted and have seen no one, you have to put your faith in something. At the time, it had been Raven, something we thought might meet with the animistic nature of some of our Gwich’in Indian friends.

Again, much of our assuredness must surely be because of the bird’s demeanor-in other words, the intelligence that Corvus corax exhibits, and this is obvious no matter where you might see them.


In Death Valley, ravens have learned to access campers by prying open vents. In Glacier, they’ve actually learned how to unbuckle the saddle bags on bicycles left unattended-and dig out food bags.

Though some may say this is a form of learned behaviorism, we take it as a form of intelligence. To support our contentions, I began looking for citations.

Raven smarts

Countenance of the raven

Though I found examples in the books mentioned above, the example I like best comes from Sam Keen’s book, Sightings. The anecdote concerns two ravens, Hugin and Munin, and both had been trained to find cheese in film canisters, but Hugin excelled.

Munin, however, was dominant and as soon as Hugin found the cheese he’d rush in and bole over Hugin. To counteract this aggression, Hugin changed tactics by pretending to locate cheese in a canister. Then, while Munin floundered-pecking away in vain-Hugin would remove and quickly devour cheese from the correct canister. Keen ascribes this art of deception to advance learning, and Janie and I can only agree.

And, so, the species continues to fascinate me, and does so to such an extent that should I ever be reincarnated, I hereby declare my desire to return as a raven, not only my “Spirit Bird,” but also my “Good Luck Bird.”


*Acoma Pueblo


Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Recent Icefield Adventure Evokes Nostalgia–Generates Memories of Icefield Adventure-travel Tour

posted: October 3rd, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: My past few entries have concerned the glaciers of Jasper and Banff National Parks, and for that reason I’m posting a short photo essay on a winter outing two friends and I made about 20 years ago in this same area. I consider this trip to be one of the great adventures still to be found in the Rockies. Here, we explored the “back country” by starting in the “front country” that Janie and I visited this past week in our Airstream. Both modes of travel have their attractions.

Week-long ski trip began on Bow Lake

Week-long ski trip began on Bow Lake

For over a week in late March, David Bristol, Dick Silberman and I skied through a particularly ice-strewn section of Alberta’s Banff National Park. Most of the time we stayed in huts, and that was the plan for our first night out, though it didn’t work out.

On that day, we started skiing across Bow Lake fully intending to stay in Bow Hut. But as we started across an open section of Bow Mountain, we kicked off an avalanche, and decided that we should not tempt fate any further.


We were carrying with us an alpine tent as well as a light-weight shovel. Leveling out a snow platform we erected the tent, cooked supper and then crawled into our sleeping bags. As I remember, the night was a particularly long one.

Stranded by an avalanche

Stranded by an avalanche

The next day we ascended the flanks of Bow Mountain, found our unheated hut that had grown in our anticipation to the point it seemed like a castle. Subsequently, we skied for another five days staying at Balfour Hut and finally at the Peter and Catherine Whyte Hut. During the trip we skied down narrow cols and eventually trod across the toe of the Vulture Glacier.


As a photographer, what I remember most vividly was our wonderful weather. I carried a Nikon F2 mechanical camera and still have it. I use it in extreme conditions and believe it is ideal for sub-zero temperatures. Obviously, I used film and though I’m now pretty much of a digital person I still carry a film camera and film. In certain situations, such as for night photography and long time exposures, film still seems to work best. Batteries don’t hold up for more than a few hours in digital cameras, and long exposures also produce “noise.”

Glory of the mountains

Glory of the mountains

The ski trip was one of my best adventure travel experiences, and now I have to wonder why I haven’t made repeat trips? After hiking across several ice fields these past few weeks–in the same general area–such thoughts are much on my mind.


*Tragic Deportation


Read Comments | Post a Comment »