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 December, 2008

Family Fun in Glacier’s Winter Wonderland

posted: December 29th, 2008 | by:Bert


Child cruelty? Not according to Halle Friedner who said she was having fun. To capture the "fun" I pointed my camera at her from eye level.

©Bert Gildart: “Is this what you mean by being natural?” remonstrated my granddaughter, Halle, who had just taken another fall. “Do you want me to stay this way forever?”

“Just for a moment,” I said; “just for a moment. But remember, don’t look at me. Makes the picture look unnatural.”

“Well, hurry,” she said, “and get your picture. :-x This is not comfortable.”

“Now,” laughed my daughter Angie, “you see what Dad made me do growing up.” :-?

“You had it rough,” said Will, chiming in with a supporting voice for me. “You had it rough.” :lol:


Halle (age 7) was trying her best to be a good sport and she was doing a great job on this her first experience with x-country skies. The terrain wasn’t all that easy either. Some straight stretches, sure, but a number of hills, too.

But the fact of the matter is that x-country skiing is one of the easier outdoor skills to master and that young children can pick up quickly.

And although Halle took a number of falls shortly after first putting on her skis, as the day wore on, she became very proficient, making x-country skiing a wonderful family sport — particularly when Glacier National Park provides the backdrop.

“Just kick and glide,” Will advised daughter Halle. “Just kick and glide.”

“Like this?” said Halle.

“Yup, you’ve got it.”

Our outing began with an eight-mile drive around beautiful McDonald Lake, quickly concluding at the Lake McDonald Lodge parking lot. Beyond that point the famed Going-to-The-Sun Road remains unplowed, and here is where our x-country family adventure began.

After a few more quick lessons about keeping skis together we began swooshing down the road, toward Lake McDonald Ranger Station, about a mile away.

And here, along the road, is where Halle took her first falls. Initially, her skis would cross, and when she’d try and get back up, she tried doing so from awkward positions. But quickly she realized that you’ve got to have your skis beneath your bottom before trying to pole yourself back up.


But those skills were learned within the first mile, after which time we left the unplowed road, crossed a bridge over McDonald Creek, and then picked up a trail that coursed another mile. This time, however, our route passed through a winter wonderland of Douglas fir trees heavily laden following several days of continuous snow.


McDonald Creek at a location just below Sacred Dancing Cascade, all of which serves to backdrop a skier's Glacier Winter Wonderland.

Here, the trail climbed and then it descended sharply, dropping down onto McDonald Creek, which was mostly frozen.

A little farther the trail veered sharply toward Sacred Dancing Cascade, a series of falls which added further to the concept of a “winter wonderland.” Shortly thereafter the trail descended onto a short footbridge, which we crossed. Then it climbed a small hill and rejoined the unplowed Sun Road.



Others had skied the road, and because the road now contained a well-worn track the going was easy, though slick, making it easy to cross skies and take a few more falls.


But this was a first-time experience, and the bottom line remained the question of fun.

“Did you have a good time?”

“Yes I did.”

“Would you do it again?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Halle most emphatically :-) , making us all think that this could be one of those great family sports that is relatively cheap to get in to and that takes advantage of the beauty of the northern woods, something we often tend to take for granted.



*Trailer Trash


(You can, of course, order these books from Amazon or from Globe Pequot, but you can also order them from us — if we’re here.)

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Christmas From Our Side of the Mountain

posted: December 25th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Who ever said it couldn’t snow when the temperatures dipped to into single digit figures? Throughout the week, despite the subzero temperature, snow has been piling up. It has accumulated in fields, around barns, on river ice, lake ice, and along peaks forming the Swan Mountains.


Swan Range, from our side of the mountain.

And there is another phenomena occurring. Steam is now rising off Montana’s Flathead Lake, and we see it any day we make the four-mile drive to the nearest settlement, which in this case is Bigfork.

Steam is due to the fact that this largest of all lakes west of the Mississippi is actually starting to freeze, and that means the lake has to relinquish all that heat it acquired during the summer. So dense now is the steam that we can not see more than a mile across this seven-mile-wide body of water. So thick is the steam that you might actually think you can hear it, but that is not the case.

Of course all that will change once ice covers the lake, and from the looks of it, that could happen soon.

Last year the American Automobile Association commissioned me to take Christmas photos of Bigfork, now featured in the December ‘08 issue. Our local chamber likes to call this small settlement of about 2,000, “Bigfork Village,” and certainly, it is a delightful little town, but now, quite artsy.




Bigfork Annual Parade set in town and all backdropped by Swan Mountains

All of this is by way of letting you know that we’re thinking of so many, and are grateful for all we have. We wish our troops scattered throughout hostile parts of the world God’s speed. We wish only the best for our elected officials and most of all, we want our friends, neighbors and family know that you all much in our thoughts.






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The Legacy of President George W. Bush

posted: December 22nd, 2008 | by:Bert


Right now oil exploration is taking place two miles from Arches National Park and at an accelerated rate of speed, as mandated by the Bush Administration. Scientists caution against such drilling and explorations, saying it could harm the parks.

©Bert Gildart: So how you gonna feel when you arrive at a backcountry campsite in Glacier and see that some mean-eyed dude has your site. It’s late in the day and you’re tired and you want to get set up. What you gonna do?

Probably you’ll mosey over and show him your permit. But wait, our space cadet has pulled out a flask and is lacing his branch water with some very healthy shots (were there others?) of fire water. And now as he turns, you can see he’s packing heat, a six gun strapped to his hip. Now what you gonna do?

Similar things have happen in our national parks and is one of the reasons I said in a recent posting that George Bush has again proven himself to be inept.

Folks, we don’t need guns in our national parks!

At the time of my gun posting, I also provided a link to Joe Kline’s column entitled “The Lamest Duck,” and one response to my column was to say that I was flirting with the “Straw man” approach of arguing. This time I don’t want any dissenters on that account, but I do want readers to understand my frustrations about events that have taken place on Bush’s watch and that are now escalating on, this, the man’s 11th hour. In fact, I am so distraught I believe one more hour of President George W. Bush could almost bring about a collapse of world order.


Those who have followed my posts know I revere our national lands and the wildlife therein. But Bush, with his mushroom clouds and other fear tactics, has transgressed beyond what should be reserved for opinions. Our “Decider-in-Chief, is arrogant! And his hauteur spills into all areas of our lives.

First let me begin by outlining a series of laws Bush has implemented that have and will undermine our natural world — and more. Agreed, much of this is opinion, but not the part that impacts on our nation’s security and our image abroad. When that happens doesn’t it put into question the capabilities of that person to make intelligent decisions in other areas as well?

Wolves: In the past two decades, the wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains have made remarkable progress toward recovery. Certainly this progress deserves celebration, but it is not yet complete. Wolves in the northern Rockies are endangered due to genetic isolation. Delisting, according to biologists, would further endanger wolves because of increased wolf killing, reduced wolf numbers, and less genetic exchange between wolf populations. Still, Bush is marching right ahead.

Polar Bears: The chief threat to the polar bear is the loss of its sea ice habitat due to global warming. However, the polar bear is also stressed by other human activity, particularly oil and gas development activities in its habitat, and just recently Bush delisted this magnificent species to “Threatened,” setting up possible extinction. That means millions of years in the making have all been for naught.

How can this man live with himself?

Oil Drilling, Utah

Just recently, the Bush administration opened the red rock country near two of Utah’s popular national parks to oil and gas drilling, over the objections of some park rangers in the Southwest and of government scientists. Bush wants federal land managers to speed up development, which includes work within a few miles of two national parks. One of those is Canyonlands, the other Arches.

Have you ever seen the beauty contained in these parks?

Arctic Refuge:

Because I’ve posted so much on this subject (Refuge 1; Refuge 2; Refuge3 are examples), I simply want to say that had George Bush accepted the advice of so many eight years ago and encouraged auto makers to create vehicles that obtained greater gas mileage, we might not be experiencing the problems we are today with the automobile industry. Sadly this list of environmental ineptitudes goes on and on…

But tragically for our fighting men, bad decisions have also reared their head in other areas, particularly those of national security. As well, it has affected our image abroad.

Will anyone loan me a shoe?


My dad, a retired army general, disliked Donald Rumsfeld, and that is putting it mildly. Dad agreed with General Shinseki, who was Chief of Staff of the United States Army until a run-in with Rumsfeld, then a member of the Bush cabinet. Shinseki believed several hundred thousand soldiers would probably be required for postwar Iraq. This was an estimate far higher than the figure proposed by Secretary Rumsfeld and in strong language he rejected it.


A Washington D.C. War Memorial. Because of Rumfeld's refusial to listen to professional soldiers, in this case General of the Army Shinseki , our casualites in Iraq have been higher than they should have been -- a commentary, perhaps, more on the Peter Principle than on George Bush himself.

OK! opinion is opinion, but it was the manner in which Rumsfeld disagreed with Shinseki that puts this one over the top. “He [Rumsfeld] didn’t even attend Shinseki’s retirement party,” said Dad. “And after all that man did for his country.”

Over time, it has become almost universally accepted in U.S. political circles that Shinseki was correct. Recently, President-elect Obama made Shinseki his Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and now, being the good son (Hope my sister IS NOT reading this one!), how can I do anything but applaud? (See Reflections: West Point)

My dad also disagreed with water boarding, as did John McCain, believing such torture served no use in obtaining the truth, and would only undermine America’s world-wide image.

Are they wrong? And if so, what will be the legacy of President George W. Bush. And how will foreigners view thee and me when we travel abroad?

I suspect we’ll be ducking lots of shoes.


And now Bush is authorizing guns in our national parks, setting up any number of scenarios. “[Soon,]” commented a scribe in Bill Schneider’s New West Column, “you will be able to take your registered firearm to any national park, find an animal you want to eat and yell, ‘It’s coming right for us!’ Then you let loose a salvo of life-saving lead.”

This man was responding to Bill, a good friend and once the publisher of Falcon guides, who in this case took a stand that goes contrary to mine. Still Bill is a kind, decent man – an excellent fisherman (Fishin’ Fool), too! – and if you want another view, check out his informative column. Bill also worked in Glacier, but never as a ranger.

Given the fact that park visitation sometimes includes some real ding-a-lings, be assured, problems such as just alluded to from Bill’s column are going to happen – and that need not be the case. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it.”

Ronald Reagan, who created the no guns policy in national parks, had a damn good idea.



*Christmas on the Road


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Snowy Owls are a Ghost of the North

posted: December 18th, 2008 | by:Bert


Frequently during harsh winters, such as we're now enjoying, these ghosts of the north drift south, delighting all who see them. Food bases shift from lemmings to rabbits.

©Bert Gildart: Here in Montana it appears as though the Farmer’s Almanac was correct, predicting back in July that the winter of 2008-2009 was going to be a rough one. When that happens birds normally associated with the far north begin moving south, generally in response to a food shortage.

Though this “harsh winter” is only a few weeks in the making, apparently the sub zeros temperatures we’ve been experiencing in the Flathead – and by those living in other northwestern portions of the state – have already been felt in Arctic regions. That could make hunting for lemmings, their preferred food, difficult. Normally, an adult Snowy Owl may eat more than 1,600 lemmings a year, or three to five every day.


Lemming populations are apparently changing right now, driving this evanescent owl south, where it is exchanging a diet of lemming and other mice-like creatures for rabbits.

That’s what happened several years ago when I photographed this ghost of the north, and it is happening again this winter. Bird watchers have reported a number of sightings, and should you see its ghost-like form set against a bank of snow, I think you’ll agree that it is indeed a magnificent owl.

Males are almost completely white-colored while females and young Snowy Owls have dark spots lining their bodies. Younger birds have more gray than white in their feathers, looking like dirty snow. Chests are barred with lines of black or gray and white, while their wings may have flecks of black among the white. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is a male, female or a young Snowy Owl.

Because these ghosts of the north need added protection against harsh weather both sexes have heavily feathered feet.


If you’re out looking for Snoweys they may be difficult to see. A reporter at the Missoulian, one of the state’s larger papers, writes that Snowy owls are bigger than crows and smaller than eagles. “That doesn’t make them easy to spot,” says the reporter. “For much of the day, the owls sit like bumps in the furrowed field. They barely move, except to occasionally turn their heads. When immobile, snowy owls look like blobs of white frosting on an angel food cake.”

That, I think is a pretty apt description, and I’m delighted they’re back in the state.


Another owl that periodically shows up in Montana during harsh winters is the Hawk Owl. I know what they look like as I was able to photograph one four years ago in Jasper, Alberta, about 300 miles north. It was late fall, meaning winter was fast approaching this Canadian national park. If this winter turns out to be everything the Farmer’s Almanac predicts, then you should keep your eyes open for this diminutive little fellow. But you’ll have to look sharply as they are small.


Ever see this guy? Most of us in Northwestern Montana haven't seen any here - but sometimes we get extremely rough winters, then there's an occasional sighting.

We’re heading south just as soon as the weather moderates, so we probably won’t see a Hawk Owl near home. But if you’re turned on by rare birds and live in Montana, this winter could be a big one for you. But who knows, it may also be a first in the state for us, too, as the weather shows no sign of moderating. Right now it’s about 2 above, the wind is blowing, and the snow is coming down hard. Somehow we always find a window of opportunity that is conducive to towing our Airstream, but not always the precise date we have marked on our calendar.

For information specific to Ninepipes, a refuge just south of us here in Northwest Montana, check the Owl Research Institute at http://www.owlinstitute.org Information on Kate Davis and Raptors of the Rockies can be found at: http://www.raptorsoftherockies.org.

By doing a bit of poking you’ll find similar sites in your state.



Mice in our Trailer


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Rangers Do Not Want Guns In Our National Parks

posted: December 15th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: On December 10, the Bush (The Lamest Duck, Time Magazine) administration announced that the 25-year-old Reagan-era regulation that severely restricted loaded guns in national parks will soon be rescinded. The new ruling will take effect in January and will allow visitors who have the proper permits for carrying a concealed weapon to carry a loaded gun into a park or wildlife refuge. As a former seasonal ranger in the national park, authorized at one time to carry a firearm, the issue is one I have tried to follow. Because I’ve been out of the loop, however, for a number of years, I called a good friend who continues to serve as a seasonal ranger. I wanted to know how he felt, and how others he works with in the summer might feel.


OTHER MATTERS:At one time during the Bush administration, it was proposed that Channel Islands National Park be made into a resort for soldiers returning from Iraq. I'm all for vetrans, but this was a horrible idea. See my two previous posts on all this park has done for wildlife. For awhile I was feeling sorry for Bush, but agree with Joe Kline in his editorial, the Lamest Duck.

Certainly Rick has the background. For over 30 years now Millsap has served in national parks as a law enforcement ranger in places such as Glacier, San Juan Islands, Kenai Fjord and in Alaska’s Wrangle St. Elias, the world’s largest national park managed area. He’s been trained how to use firearms on rogue bears and how to protect himself and park visitors from criminals.


“The new ruling is going to make it more difficult,” said Rick, “for rangers to perform their work. Until now, guns have always been prohibited in such places as divorce courts, banks, and schools – and for the past 25 years – in our national parks. Previously, weapons had to be unloaded and stored in a way that they weren’t readily accessible.”

Rick said that a major problem he could see concerned wildlife. “Say someone comes into a park with a .32 caliber pistol, sees a bear in the campground, decides it’s a problem, and shoots it. Now you and I both know a small caliber pistol will do little more than irritate a grizzly. As you know, we use large caliber pistols and prefer to use an .870 shotgun in bear management.”

Rick is not alone in his beliefs, and all it takes is a quick Internet search to learn how other park service officials view Bush’s most recent ineptitude.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Doug Morris, who has 40 years’ experience with the National Park Service, from law-enforcement ranger all the way up to park superintendent. He’s also a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a widely respected group whose 640 members have a combined 19,000 years working in the nation’s parks.


Not surprisingly, the 11,000 member Association of National Park Rangers feels the same, and their attitude is one I’ve been following since I first learned about this most recent attempt by Bush to undermine environmental matters. This past summer I alluded to it while visiting Knife-River National Monument.

The National Rifle Association has hailed the rule change, which will take effect next month before President-elect Barack Obama takes office. NRA officials say the new rule is more consistent with federal law and it eliminates confusion. But that’s not the feeling, either, of seven former National Park Service directors who went on record opposing any changes in the Reagan-era regulation last April. In part they wrote to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne saying: “The current regulations have served the Park Service and the public well for the past 25 years.”

In all likelihood, the Obama administration will attempt to overturn the new ruling, but Federal officials say that could take months or even years.


Apparently there are some shenanigans going on between controversial Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and George Bush, which now prevent Big Bend National Park from acquiring willed land. Not surpringly, it has to do with 2nd ammendment rights, George Bush and the NRA.

Personally, I’m inclined to believe this new ruling is part of a major political maneuver on the part of the NRA. Already we’ve seen masses of people buying guns because the NRA has convinced them Obama is going to take their guns away. Obama says nothing could be further from the truth. But now (if Obama reverses Bush’s rule), the NRA can come back and say, “See what he’s trying to do! Told you.” It was, of course Ronald Regan who helped enact the no guns in national park ruling, believing it was in the best interest of park visitors.

“It’s all very confusing,” says Millsap, “and I’m not optimistic. I’m afraid that in the long run, park wildlife and the park’s visitors are going to be the loser.”

Put in other words, there are many good reasons Rangers Do Not Want Guns In Our National Parks!



Digital Night Photography


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Channel Islands National Park Boasts Many Success Stories

posted: December 11th, 2008 | by:Bert


Elephant seals have highly success breeding strategy that insures virtually every female that departs San Miguel is pregnant, which helped restore the species from the brink of extinction.

©Bert Gildart: Hoping to find some small remnant of the vast populations of elephant seals that once swam the Pacific Ocean until the first part of the 19th Century, Dr. Townsend sailed the Pacific Ocean near the Baja Peninsula, exploring island after island.

At long last the scientist was rewarded, and in 1910 he discovered a tiny population on Guadalupe Island. He notified the Mexican government, and it posted armed guards on the island instructing them to shoot any and all trespassers.

Not surprisingly, the measure worked, and because of the restrictions one of the world’s most spectacular and fascinating mammals has returned from virtual extinction.

Channel Islands National Park also deserves credit, for without a secure place for females to give birth to their young and for males to gather in their harems the species still might have perished.

For awhile, in fact, it was nip and tuck, but today, elephant seals are a fairly common sight along the California coast. In fact, soon these gigantic mammals will be hauling ashore to further their species. In view of the fact that the island fox (see last post) has also made a dramatic recovery here, it seems appropriate to recall yet another Channel Island success story, particularly when I had such a wonderful sideline seat.


About 20 years ago, Smithsonian magazine flew me to a tiny landing strip on San Miguel, the largest and most distant island in the chain from the coast. A biologists accompanied me and together, we spent almost a week.


Males battle one another in various ways for domination of harems and ocean front territory.

During the time I photographed the seals, and learned much about this incredible mammal.

What makes elephant seals so unique is, in part, their size. Males may weigh as much as 6,000 pounds, and it is for this reason the species was almost eliminated. Exploited for their rich source of oil, whalers almost exterminated this largest of all seals, not hard to do as they have no fear of man. As a result, with guidance from the biologist, I was able to approach them and pick out behavior patterns I wanted to photograph.


In early January males begin establishing their territory and gathering in their harems. All males have this goal and maintaining these harems is a difficult task. If an interloper moves in, males will insert their noses into their mouths to amplify their lion-like roar. If that doesn’t work, one male will attempt to force the intruder from the beach.


Battles might begin on the beach and continue into the ocean, usually ceasing only when one male grabs its opponet by the snout. Ripping free the challenger swims off, hoping for a better day.

Often fights break out, and when they do, they can be brutal. Males attempt to grab one another’s snouts, and usually the victim escapes only by ripping itself free. Look at the scars in the photo below and you can see the results.

About the time fights are beginning, females are giving birth to their young, which may weigh as much as 80 pounds. Mother’s milk is rich and within one month pups gain several hundred pounds. During this time, females eat little to nothing, living off stored fat.

Visiting the Channel Island during this intense period of time has been one of my most interesting memories. I camped in my tent on a bank of sand and around the clock could hear the roaring of seals. California sea lions also gather here between December and March, adding yet further interest.


Exhausted from battle and attending to his harem this bull almost seems to relish the fact that it is now season's end.

You can see that my last post was also about the Channel Islands, about the restoration of the island fox. Helping to save elephant seals may be an even bigger success story, illustrating yet again the crucial role national parks play in preserving a more primitive America.







Bay Bayou RV Resort (Tampa Florida)

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

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Another Success Story at Channel Island National Park

posted: December 8th, 2008 | by:Bert


Channel Island fox, now in the news

©Bert Gildart: Twenty five years ago I was camped on San Miguel, a small island just off the coast of Ventura, California, which comprises a portion of the Channel Island National Park. Dusk was settling in over this Pacific Coast setting and, suddenly, amidst the veil of oceanic fog and roar of thousands of elephant seals, a tiny fox poked its head around the edge of my tent. Moments later, another materialized, then yet another.

At the time I was gathering material for Smithsonian Magazine on the return of the elephant seal and the park stipulated that I be accompanied to the island by a biologist. He informed me that these foxes were rare and were unique only to the Channel Islands.

Today (literally), the species is much in the news, and all this past week Janie and I have been reading and hearing news reports that the species has recovered from some exceedingly difficult times.

In fact, the recovery has been so successful that a creature thought near the brink of extinction may genuinely warrant being removed from the Endangered Species List.


The recover of the foxes has many components to its story. In large measure it is due to the successful breeding program scientists have conducted on the islands and to the removal of golden eagles, which had replaced bald eagles following their die-off resulting from the use of DDT.

Park biologists say that, initially, it was the sudden shuffle in the food chain that nearly wiped out the four subspecies of island foxes native to this park–and to this park alone. Though each of the island foxes can inter-breed all have characteristics that differentiate them one from the other. All, however, were adversely affected when golden eagles moved in.

The Santa Barbara Independent, which has covered the story extensively, reports that bald eagles lived on fish and posed no threat. Goldens, however, “… [dined] on the islands’ non-native feral pigs and on the island foxes, which made for pitifully easy prey as they had never before had to think about aerial predators.”


Five different subspecies call the five islands comprising this park home.

All that changed about 10 years ago when park biologists relocated the golden eagles and reintroduced bald eagle. As well, the park initiated a breeding program using captive foxes, which they caged on the islands for protection. Then, over the decade, they released them.


That the recovery has been a success is told in the tally of numbers. Just 10 years ago the number of foxes on San Miguel was tallied at 70, with even lower number on the park’s other five islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Today, because of the breeding program the number on San Miguel, the largest of the islands, now number 410.


Once thought extinct, the elephant seal represents another park sucess story.

Interestingly, the Channel Islands have been the focus of a number of success stories, and one of the biggest was the part they played in the recovery of the elephant seal. Last week, in fact, before I was aware of this most recent success story, I had intended to post a blog about elephant seals, but the story about the fox seemed more timely. Consequently, elephant seals will be the subject of my next post.

In the meantime, I must say I am delighted to know that should I return with Janie to these islands, that the Channel Island fox is one of the mammals we might see. Set against the din of thousands of pinnipeds roaring as banks of fog rise off the Pacific Ocean, the sight of a Channel Island fox still peering around a corner of our tent would complete the magic of this primordial setting.

Other Subjects: One of the reasons I write blogs is because of the interesting feedback I sometimes get, in this case, an extraordinarily touching comment on one man’s personal involvement with another tragedy associate with the Francisco Morazan.

The Morazan was a freighter and in 1960, gigantic waves washed it ashore. The man’s thoughts clear up a mystery that still lingers and in so doing round out a bit of history associated with Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Janie and I are most appreciative that Mr. Kramer would share his experience.

I also write blogs as I can express my opinion on subjects I believe important. In the weeks ahead I’ll be committing on George Bush’s reversal on gun restrictions in national parks. “Mr. Bush,” I’d like to ask, “what possible benefits will be afforded park wildlife and park visitors by allowing some to bring in their firearms? Ronald Reagan didn’t think it a good idea, and you claim to have admired him.”

Park rangers eschew the relaxation on guns in national parks, saying it will make their jobs extremely difficult. Bush’s lifting of the ban is something I wrote (link in previous paragraph) about this summer, and in the weeks ahead I’ll be adding to those initial thoughts. From my years in Glacier as a seasonal park ranger I still have friends working in national parks, and I’m hoping to get their input. Perhaps there are other aspects to this story about which I’m not aware.


*Kayaking Tampa Bay

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Creative use of PhotoShop Can Add Poignancy to People Photos

posted: December 5th, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In recent years, this has become one of my favorite images, recalling for me a wonderful trip to Nova Scotia. Janie and I were gathering material for a story about the Evangeline Trail, something I had become quite passionate about over the years.


Using Photoshop I resized the moon, which had been present, then positioned it where I thought it would work best to complement this Graveyard Walk.

Shortly after I graduated from college I taught English and introduced my students to Longfellow’s poem entitled Evangeline. Famous narrators of the time had recited the poem and it was available in school catalogues. Though I can’t remember the narrator’s name for sure (could it have been Basil Rathbone?), I do remember the kids loved the deep Orson Wells-type voice the speaker projected.

The poem follows an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the time of the “Great Upheaval.”


This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss and in garment green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld with voices sad and prophetic…

The poem details the expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia and that’s where this graveyard walk came in.


Here, in this image, Alan Melanson is conducting a walk that describes the hardships endured by the Acadians and explained how so many died. I used a single strobe and then later added a moon in Photoshop.

The moon was there that night, just not in the right place–and so I manipulated it a bit, then positioned it. I did so by photographing the moon separately. Then I enlarged it slightly, created two layers, changed the moon from a full moon to a quarter moon, then positioned it where I thought it would work best.

I believe the photo worked well because Melanson (an Acadian descendent) so thoroughly projects his ancestry, and because of the moon, which I hope added a sense of the poetic.


Two Years Ago At This Time We Were Cycling:

Cycling Tampa Florida

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How to Improve Your People Photos

posted: December 3rd, 2008 | by:Bert


Moses Sam, a Gwich'in Indian elder from Arctic Village, Alaska, photographed in his remote cabin and illuminated with only window light.

©Bert Gildart: Essentially, I’m an outdoor photographer, specializing in the many wonders of all the various aspects that make our national lands and national parks so spectacular.

But within that assortment the one grouping that sells more for me than any other is my photographs of people.

Now with Janie and me in preparation for another long trip in our Airstream, I’ve been looking at a number of those images and have been recalling some of stories behind the photographs. More significantly, I’ve been thinking about what made the pictures work–and here are some thoughts.


In recent years this image of Moses Sam, a Gwich’in Indian elder, has appeared a number of times in periodicals ranging from Time/Life publications to the Christian Science Monitor.

The picture was made in a small cabin in Arctic Village, Alaska, and my light source was from a single window.

As Moses sat there we talked about his tribe and occasionally he would smile, but the expression that helped make this photo was when he recalled those times when he and other members of his tribe had once confronted starvation.

His face became stern and that’s when I focused on the near eye and depressed the plunger on my cable release.

The image would not have worked if the eye closest to the camera had not been in focus and if he had been smiling. Because the light was so low I remember the setting. It was 1/15 of a second at f-2.8, and obviously the camera and my 105mm lens were mounted on a tripod.


About 15 years I worked frequently for a magazine called Travel/Holiday, and on this assignment editors had sent me to Egypt. I wanted a photo that would suggest a certain mystery and I arose early and took a taxi to the pyramids of Giza.


Early morning sidelight illuminate guide and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

As the sun rose no one else was out there but this lone guide and me. I asked the man to pose so that the sun would illuminate the pyramids and him from the side, resulting in this image which worked for the magazine and later as an image that has sold through a New York stock photo agency that represents my work. He asked for “Baksheesh,” which is a tip, and which I provided. Later I learned that it was not wise to visit the pyramids alone and at such an early hour. Given today’s political climate I’d probably not do so now.


It’s the young Hutterite children exhibiting an unrestrained enthusiasm in an otherwise much controlled environment that I believe makes this image compelling. The photo accompanied a story I wrote for the United States Information Agency, which was syndicated to an overseas audience. During the several days Janie and I spent with this group in the Sunburst Colony located just north of Shelby, Montana, member of this religious group extended every courtesy. They asked us to visit them in their homes and said we might join them for their communal meals.


Flattering light can be difficult to obtain with a single strobe--unless bounced off ceiling walls. In this case the low white ceiling helped, and so did the Metz CT4 with its two light sources in a single unit.

Everyone ate together after the day’s farm work was complete and meals were held in a large communal cafeteria with men on one side and woman on the other. Janie and I weren’t sure how they wanted us to be seated but they quickly resolved the dilemma by seating the two of us smack dab in the middle. However, I had to sit on one side of the lengthy table, Janie on the other. Behind me was the first row of men and behind Janie the first row of women. At day’s end we retired to our camper and each night we found a bottle of dandelion wine on the steps. I believe my photographs were good ones, but they would not have been had we not spent time getting to know this wonderful group of people.


In part, then, it is the joy of the children that made this image work. In those days I was using a Nikon camera with a Metz CT4 strobe. The strobe is unique in that it offers TWO sources of light in one unit. In this case I bounced one of the lights off the low white ceiling and allowed the other to fill in the shadows beneath the hats and bonnets. The Metz unit is a heavy one, but to recreate the same type of lighting I now must use two Nikon SB800 strobes. This wireless lighting system is an easy one to use-but not until after you’ve used it for several months!

In summary, I guess you would say that photographs that work best suggest a strong story accompaniment. It is of course, up to you to find that story and then work hard developing the various techniques that will help you convey that story.


Two Years Ago We Were In Tampa, Florida

Tampa Florida


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Eliciting Cooperation–A Critical Photographic Technique

posted: December 1st, 2008 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Of course my daughter and granddaughter aren’t really interested in anything in the frozen stream; rather they are making the photographer happy by pretending to see something we discovered on Thanksgiving Day.


People add interest to your photographs, but trying to elicit cooperatioin is a skill that must be acquired. Family members can be the most challenging!

What Angie is doing then, is passing on skills learned while a young girl to her daughter Halle, and those are to appease the photographer and try and make the picture better by feigning interest in the subject at hand.


In this case the subject is a small creek located near the Isaac Walton Inn immediately adjacent to Glacier National Park. Interestingly, winter doesn’t seem to be taking hold here, and that goes contrary to the predictions offered by the Farmer’s Almanac. On August 24 I reported that the Almanac said this was going to be a rough winter and, of course, that still could be.

But here in the mountains of Montana that doesn’t quite appear to be the case, despite the frozen stream which Angie and Granddaughter Halle are studying so intently.


Despite the appearances of this stream, winter in Montana's Flathead Valley is long overdue

Actually, obtaining cooperation from subjects is a good skill for photographers to acquire, and in my next two posts (come back on Wednesday and Friday) I’m going to discuss some of the techniques I’ve used on images that have been very well published. One of the images, in fact, has been published over a dozen times. Another of the images was syndicated overseas by the United States Information Agency, an American agency that has bought many stories from me over the years.


Then, next Monday I’ll be posting photographs that accompanied a story I wrote for Smithsonian Magazine. So many stories about nature can be depressing–because the outlook for so many aspects of natural world is now so grim. But not so for the subjects of this story, which will describe the return of the elephant seal, a conservation milestone.

So stay tuned and log in for some materials that I think you find interesting. And by the way, why didn’t Halle and Angie lift their heads a little higher? Well, I tried, but who can ever get family members to cooperate?

That’s a subject I wish one of my photographer friends would address. Post it and I guarantee you’ll have a least one reader.


Pileated Woodpeckers: It it Hector or Hortense?

Tarpon Springs, Florida (Nov 06)


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