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 March, 2009

Padres Island’s Sad (Pollution) and Happy (Ghost Crab) News

posted: March 31st, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If anyone (THE SAD NEWS) doubts that the oceans of the world are being polluted, all they need do is make a four-wheel drive down the Gulf side of Padre Island National Seashore. The drive is not for the squeamish, for you must be aware of tides that can block return routes. You must be aware of the washboard-y sand and the long nails from an occasional board that could lie buried beneath the ever-changing sands.  To aid us on soft sands we let out about 30 pounds of air pressure, reducing our tire pressure from 80 psi to 50 psi. For beach driving that’s SOP.

Padre Island displays pollution as few other places in the world can do, for about 20 miles down the Gulf shore two major tides converge, unofficially designated as the “north current” and the “south current.”


Much of the debris is from Hurrican Ike, but not all. Some is world-wide in origin. Note our 4-wheel drive truck in right corner.

One of the currents starts in the Caribbean, hooks around the Yucatan, then smacks against Padre Island. The other begins in the Caribbean, but pushes north around the Gulf toward the Mississippi where it then converges with the south current, most significantly near Big Shell Beach on Padre Island. For those driving the beach, it is about 20 miles south of the Maliquite Campground. Not surprisingly, because of the name, shells here are big–and beautiful–but it is here that much trash, garbage and debris from all over the world has collected.

Granted, some of the junk shown in my pictures is the result of a massive cleanup effort on the part of the National Park Service. Because of Hurricane Ike, which occurred last year, pollution is considerable and much is of local origin. But some of the items have come from as far away as the Orient, from Nicaragua, and from Mexico.


According to park officials, island pollution is from world wide sources and always being washed ashore.

Much, as Mike Smith, a VIP here at Padre noted, has also come from shrimp boats. Providing a few numerical figures helps put the situation in perspective. Recently, volunteers collected 800,000 pounds of trash–but there is an estimated 3M (that’s 3,000,000 pounds) more yet to be picked up. And somehow if Padre’s beaches could all be magically cleaned today, tomorrow, efforts would have to be renewed, for our oceans have become massive garbage dumps–as the currents converging on Padre so sadly reveal.


That’s the bad news from travels along the beaches of Padre, but obviously, much beauty and much of interest still remain, and for us, as we traveled this lonesome section of Padre Island, that was some very great GOOD NEWS.  For days, I’ve been trying to find a ghost crab and that has become such an obsession that the other night I walked the beach with a flashlight, hoping to find one of these elusive creatures, which tend to roam at night. Another day I’d hiked the beach with an old collapsible military shovel we always carry for emergency, digging around holes that I thought would serve as a home to–the GHOST CRAB. But no luck, either with the flash light or with the shovel.

But all that changed along the remote beach, when Don and Nancy (RV friends we often travel with) called out, “There goes one. There goes another!”


Rewards of diligent search

Leaping from the truck, I scurried after the object of my fascination, and did so time after time, for we were seeing them frequently. Finally, I cornered a large crab and this one chose to fight rather than to run. But it was oriented in the wrong direction. Not to be dissuaded I tried grabbing the crab from the rear, only to discover his large pinchers could reach most anywhere and pinch me from near its behind (It felt like a brand new mouse trap.) as well as from its front.

Today, though my fingers are black and blue, that’s the good news, for the marks remind me that after much prodding and several more bites, I managed to get the picture I’d been hoping to get. Isn’t that worth a little pain and suffering?




*Why an Armed Escort in Organ Pipe?


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Padre Island’s Pelican Patrol

posted: March 30th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Padre Island National Seashore has been designated as being significant for world bird conservation-”a Globally Important Bird Area”-and the reasons become obvious the longer we remain. This narrow but extensive island spans almost 100 miles and attracts about 400 species, and it does so because of varied habitat that includes ocean, marsh, grasslands, and even a small stand of oak. All the birds are interesting (particularly the Crested Caracara we just saw), but right now, the pelicans seem to hold center stage, and that includes both the white and the brown pelican. They’re conspicuous because they’ve congregated into large numbers, and because of their interesting foraging techniques.


Brown pelicans patrolling the surf for fish

White pelicans are the larger of the two and they congregate on the intracoastal waterway side of the island. With the exception of solid black wing tips, the species is all white. Interestingly, some of the males produce a “keel” toward the tip of their beak and some experts say the structure is associated with the mating season.


White pelicans are great travelers and some populations migrate all the way to the prairies of Montana. Here they find exactly what they need for the security of the helpless young, essentially a flat treeless island, surrounded by a body of water substantial enough to discourage coyotes and foxes from attempting to gain access. In years past I have written about the species for various magazines including the young people’s publication Highlights for Children.


White pelicans congregate along shore of Bird Island. They "herd" fish rather than dive for them.

Yet another difference between the brown and white pelicans is the way in which they forage for food. White pelicans gather together in large numbers and then “herd” fish into large congregations at which time they simply dip their beaks into the water followed by a quick forward swish of their beaks. The action collects fish into their “gular” pouches where they are held until they decide its time for a meal.

Though the technique is effective, it lacks the drama demonstrated by the brown pelican, which we’re now seeing in large numbers along the Gulf side of the park. Though we see large numbers of them moving north, moving perhaps from areas in Mexico to Aranasas National Wildlife Refuge also in Texas, we also see large numbers of them patrolling the interface between water and dune, searching the pounding waves for schools of fish. And sometimes, as we observed several days ago while driving the beach, they find them.


Though we’re not sure the species of fish, pelicans responded with fervor. Typically, they’ll focus on a wave and, then, spotting something beneath them, they’ll fold their wings and dive hard into the water. Other times, they’ll light onto the ocean’s surface and, then, with beats of wings and thrusts of webbed feet they’ll dip and dive, paddle and pound the waves in a flurry and a confusion of bodies, gathering as they do fish into their famous pouches.


Brown pelican feeding frenzy, gulf side of Padre Island

When we saw they action several days ago, the action persisted for well over an hour and whether it was satiation or diminished schools of fish that caused the frenzy to cease, certainly we never knew. All we knew is that the pelicans moved on, resuming once again their patrol of the surf. That was their job and because they performed it so well, the show was forever compelling. Somewhere along the beach we know it’s still going on, and we’re hoping to see the pelican patrol one more time before departing Padre Island.




*Joshua Tree National Park


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Padre Island National Seashore

posted: March 25th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Padre Island, located in south Texas, is a creation of the ice ages, and most likely, created in combination with the deposition of sands left by crashing waves and by the deposition of sediments left by major rivers, such as the Mississippi and the Nueces. The result from this meld of forces has produced North America’s most extensive barrier island, and, in part, it is for this reason that a substantial portion of Padre has been designated a National Seashore.


In places, camping at Padre Island is wide open

Though we have only been here for a few nights already we have tallied dozens of species of birds and kayaked some challenging waters. As well, we have camped in situations that were completely novel to us. In fact, that is one of the attractions for campers.

Padre Island has a developed campground near the Visitor Center, but at this time of year, unless you arrive early, and particularly during spring break, you’ll find it full, as did we. But alternatives are available, and they are attractive.


Padre Island is about 60 about miles long. On one side you have the Gulf of Mexico, the other side, the Intracoastal Waterway, all separated, of course, by Padre Island, which in some places is several miles wide, and it is here, just south of the Visitor Center that you can camp along the beach. In fact, many prefer camping here, and for the first couple of nights that’s what we did, accessing the beach by driving a mile from the Visitor Center to the end of the pavement and then driving onto the hard packed sand until we found a location that suited us.


Squadrons of Pelicans

Finding such an area was easy, as our friends Don and Nancy had arrived several days prior to us and staked out an area flanked by dunes to one side and the Gulf to the other. We positioned our Airstream so the front faced the ocean, finding we had to use 4-wheel drive to prevent spinning the wheels of our truck and so burning up rubber. (Silt in sand can quickly eat up tires if you spin them.)


We camped here for several days, enjoying the “squadron” of pelicans, as Don called them. As well, I enjoyed kayaking the surf, finding that my 17-foot long Current Design sea kayak easily powered through the crashing waves when I paddled vigorously. However, I found it an immense challenge when I attempted to turn around and return to the beach. For a few moments I was broadside (here’s where you practice THE BRACE), and more than once I flipped-caught in waves that suddenly developed and towered over me-but the water was warm, and our composite kayaks tough, so no damage sustained to anything other than to my pride.


Sea kayaking, Padre Island on Gulf of Mexico side

We might have remained camping on South Beach except for the wind, which developed along with a storm. Drifting sand was beginning to cover everything, so we moved to the developed campground early yesterday, finding that during the week many sites had been vacated. We moved out of choice though there are times when rangers warn campers to move, particularly if the surf edges toward the dunes. No such problem from this storm and from these winds, just from the blowing sand, and right now we’re very content at Malaquite Campground, where bird life is still abundant and where we can still hear the pounding of the surf. A boardwalk takes us from our Airstream and down to the edge of the Gulf-back to the sand.

Most likely, this is where we’ll remain, exploring the park from Malaquite-finding Padre offers an abundance of activities that suit our many and varied outdoor interests.




*Kayaking to the Wreck of the Francisco Morazan


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The Alamo–A Photographic Challenge

posted: March 21st, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Once again the artifacts of modern society present a photographic challenge: How to photograph the Alamo and convey the haunting history that its walls should suggest?

During the day, with literally thousands of people streaming past the entrance, with the glitz and glare of lights from the Davy Crockett Hotel and department stores of all shape size and description actually surrounding this iconic American shrine, it seems an impossibility to project drama. But night–and late in the evening at that–provides a wonderful opportunity.


Night photography at the Alamo, perhaps the best way to project drama.

Still, there’s a bit of a challenge, for you have to lower the camera enough to eliminate the gaudy lights from the Crocket Hotel, and you’ve obviously got to secure your camera long enough to illuminate the walls with the low lighting fringing the Alamo.


Securing my camera on a tripod, I exposed this image for one second at f-4, using a 28mm lens. And though it was about 10 p.m., still my biggest challenge was finding the narrow window when no one was present. Seemed many people would walk to the front of this ancient structure built in 1718 and simply stare. I understood their fascination for as most everyone knows, this is where approximately 200 Texans held off a Mexican force of thousands, and did so for several days running. They were brave men and this haunting old mission fills most Americans with pride, part of the lure, I am sure. Unlike the other four missions along the San Antonio River, which are managed by the National Park Service, this mission, once known as Mission San Antonio De Valero, is under the care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and has been since 1905.

Remember the Alamo? Though it’s hard to forget, still, creating an evocative image remains the challenge for today’s photographer. I believe night photography may answer that challenge.



*Organ Pipe, Struggling to Keep The Stories Accessible


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Role of Sarah James in Protecting Arctic Refuge Prompts Another Prestigious Award

posted: March 20th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Earlier this month, Sarah James of Arctic Village, Alaska, was inducted into the Woman’s Hall of Fame for her role in Environmental Activism. Janie and I met Sarah in 1991 and since that time have followed her in various ways. We greatly admire her.

Sarah has visited us in Montana, and I have covered her many achievements for a number of publications, to include the Christian Science Monitor. The story is part of the Gwich’in Indian Page in my website, and just as the Gwich’in Steering Committee provides a link to the write up on my site, so I, too, am providing a link to that story (Power of One). Read it and you’ll learn much about Ms. James. But you’ll also learn that there are two points of view regarding the refuge: One is the view point of oil companies, the other of scientifically trained biologists with advanced degrees.


Our memories with Sarah are many and include several nights around a campfire dozens of miles up the Chandalar River out of Arctic Village. It was September the week of our first of many visits, and Arctic nights were returning. Typically, we may have been roasting caribou heads over a fire, a Gwich’in Indian delicacy. Northern lights blazed, and we visited with her about the Porcupine Caribou herd and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Meat from caribou heads is delicious, as Janie and I can testify.

During the evening Sarah recalled for us the importance of the caribou to her people, telling us about times in the not-so-distant past when caribou detoured around her village. “Those were not good time,” she had said.

Sarah said she hopes oil companies will not subvert the continuous needs of the Gwich’in for the caribou. She said she hopes Congress will one day recognize the beauty of the refuge and establish it as Wilderness. Having actually hiked the entire length of the refuge, which required over a month, Janie and I concur. We believe the beauty of this far flung land in the Arctic is beyond compare.

What follows is a news release about Sarah James provided me by the Gwich’in Steering Committee. Read it and you’ll learn a little about commitment. Link to my story as noted above and you’ll learn a little more about “The Power of One,” and the formative conditions in a hostile land that helped shape her and her beliefs.


Sarah James, as board chair and a spokesperson for the Gwich’in Steering Committee, has educated Alaskans, other Americans, Congress and peoples from around the world about the Gwich’in Nation, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the importance of protecting “the Sacred Place where Life Begins” from oil exploration and drilling.


Sarah James, this month's inductee into Woman's Hall of Fame

The goal of the Gwich’in is to permanently protect the coastal plain caving and nursing grounds of the caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. Raised in Alaska’s far north in a traditional lifestyle, she did not begin speaking English until she was about 13 years old. Living in the small community of Arctic Village, she has traveled widely, from Washington, D.C. to foreign countries, speaking out for the rights of indigenous peoples through grassroots activism.

In recognition of her leadership, she has received many awards. In 993, Sarah received the Alston Bannerman Fellowship award. In 2001, she received a Ford Foundation “Leadership for a Changing World” grant given to “outstanding but little known leaders”. She, along with the late Jonathon Solomon, Sr. and Norma Kassi, received the Goldman Environmental Prize for “grassroots environmentalists” in 2002. She also received the 2002 National Conservation Land Trust award. In 2004, she was the recipient of the 2004 “Ecotrust Award for Indigenous Leadership” and she received the 2006 Alaska Conservation Foundation Celia Hunter Award. Sarah is very thankful for the support of the Gwich’in National, her community, her son and her family. She credits the hard work of the Gwich’in and other people throughout the United States and the world as having contributed greatly to her successful efforts.

She was taught by her mother that there has to be a mutual respect between men and women for a healthy life. The impetus for her activism and the strength of her convictions may be best summarized in her own words, spoken in 2006: “This is my way of life. We are born with this way of life and we will die with it. It never occurred to me that something had to wake me up to do this. Nothing magic happened to me. Our life depends on it. It’s about survival; it’s something that we have to protect in order to survive. It’s our responsibility. It’s the environment we live in. We believe everything is related”.



*Extreme Ice Fishing

*Gwich’in and Arctic Refuge


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New Vision for San Antonio’s Old Missions

posted: March 18th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Here in San Antonio, Texas, the great good news is that a bicycle trail is being developed that will take cyclists all the way from the Alamo, located in the downtown area, to Estrada, the area’s most distant of missions. That’s a distance of about 30 miles, and an optimistic date for completion is two years.


Cycling to missions is now being made easier with developing trail

Currently a trail that parallels the San Antonio River already exists and it allows cyclist to ride from Mission Concepcion to Mission Estrada, a round trip distance of about 15 miles. That’s what Janie and I did yesterday, and there is absolutely no more enjoyable way to to explore the history of early Texas than to cruise along the river, looking at birds and then taking the spur roads that lead to the various missions.


In short, the missions of San Antonio were more than just churches; they were communities. Each was a fortified village with its own church, farm and ranch. Here, Franciscans gathered native peoples and converted them to Catholicism, taught them to live as Spaniards, and with them, maintained control over the Texas frontier.


Beauty of the missions

The Franciscans established six missions along the San Antonio River in the early 1700s, and five of them survived. Together, along with the Villa of San Fernando, they became the foundation of the city of San Antonio. Today, as the many signs at the missions inform, “they serve as elegant reminders of the Indians and Hispanic peoples contributions to the United States.”


The campground at which Janie and I are staying, Travelers World, provides immediate access to the Mission Trail. Because photography is such an important part of my outings our adventures required the entire day. Each mission offered different vignettes of a by-gone era, and at one place we saw an old grist mill in action. In another, a young lady was using Mission San Jose as a backdrop for her soon-to-be wedding, and few settings we both agreed could be more beautiful.


Bells at the Mission of San Juan Capistrano

Though we toured all the missions except the Alamo, which is also an old mission, we plan a return to several, simply because the lighting was wrong for certain features such an old east-facing wall. As mentioned, we’re also here to visit old friends, so between the two we’re staying very busy.




*Mohave National Preserve

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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Heart of the Rocks

posted: March 16th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: One more posting about Chiricahua National Monument, and, as you can see, we’re posting these back to back; reason being that we had no reliable connectivity while in this remote Arizona canyon.

One of the reasons I wanted to provide another post about the area is that I received accolades for my trailer maneuvering–and, of course, have to call attention to that fact. Read it and you’ll understand the challenges that crop up by camping in Bonita Canyon Campground–but you’ll see how you might overcome them.


From Heart of the Rocks trail magnificent views are everywhere.

The other reason for this post is that we hiked a trail known as Heart of the Rocks, and views from along this trail provide yet more testimony to this small area’s incredible beauty.


Chiricahua National Monument provides camping sites for trailers up to 28 feet, precisely the length of our Airstream. To reach the site we had to descend two fords and each time our skid pads scraped the road as we were ascending from the dip. Though there was no damage to our trailer, we left substantial gouges in the concrete. To avoid a reoccurrence we decided that when we left we’d try backing up the narrow 50-yard-long, one-way road.

“OK by me if you do it,” said Dave, the campground host. “But I think you’ll find it a challenge.”

To prepare ourselves, first we hooked up our Hensley Hitch, something Janie was dreading because we were on a slope, but she beamed when we backed the stinger into the receiver just as though we’d been doing it all of our lives, rather than for the few months we’ve owned this state-of-the-art anti-sway device.

“Looks like we’ve got it,” laughed Janie. “Now I hope you can back this up under pressure, ‘cause we’ve got an audience.”


Balanced Rock as seen from Heart of Rocks

To make a long story short, backup went without a glitch, even around a tight corner where we had to crank almost 90 degrees. When the small assembled group cheered, I beamed one of my broadest smiles. Folks laughed and said I was hired.


Heart of the Rocks is precisely what the name suggests, and though a shuttle will take you to the top, so allowing you the opportunity to hike down, Janie and I decided to climb up the trail from the campground leading to these geological wonders, located–appropriately–in the heart of the park.

From the campground, the trail climbs about three miles, then links to a 1.1 mile loop that threads through rocks with names such as Kissing Rock, Balanced Rock, Thor’s Hammer, and Camel’s Head. Here , geological forces have exerted themselves in a most artful way, and so have the subsequent forces of erosion.

We regret departing Chiricahua, but are looking forward to time in San Antonio where we plan to explore the various missions, to include the Alamo. We plan to stroll along the city’s famous River Walk, and visit with several life-long friends. One is David Bristol, the person with whom I climbed Mount Rainer; the other Brian Maughan, another life-long friend who has distinguished himself as a sculpture. Brian lives in Ohio with his wife Marie, but has a studio in New York.  He and Marie will be arriving here Thursday night by plane and David and I with our wives will form a Devilish welcoming committee.

President Carter has collected some of Brian’s work and most recently, Brian was commissioned to sculpt busts for the new baseball stadium in Chicago.

Life is good when one knows when–and how–to back up, and when one has good friends.



*Sunset For Joshua Trees?


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Fort Bowie and the Significance of a Tiny Spring

posted: March 14th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Because of a drenching rain, we remained at Chiricahua National Monument an extra day so that we might make the eight-mile drive into Ft Bowie, all in Arizona. The dirt road over Apache Pass had been rendered almost impassable and if we had driven it the day after the rain, most likely our truck would have been covered with mud and the wheel wells packed with a concrete type mud that is extremely difficult to remove. We’re familiar with Montana gumbo and had been told that Arizona mud reacts similarly.


Fort Bowie existed between 1861 and 1894. It was not a popular post.

But now, having made it to Fort Bowie, Janie and I must say that if we had not stayed, knowing what we now know about fascinating old fort, we’d be forever regretful. This small national park-administered area is packed with history from a time in America that has always fascinated us both. Geronimo and Cochise both made their mark here, and so did the Army in pursuit of them both.


Fort Bowie would never have come to exist were it not for Apache Spring, a tiny spring that appeared almost insignificant on the day of our visit. Because of this trickle of water, however, many lost their lives. At first the Apache were tolerant, but after a series of broken promises, trouble began. We learned about this on a three-mile round trip hike, required if you want to visit the site.


Apache Springs, just a trickle but what drama it created

Historically, the spring had always been used by the Apache, which is hidden deep in the Chiricahua Mountains, all a part of their historic homeland. Mexico, however, claimed the land, but when Mexico lost a war it transferred land to the United States in 1854 by the Gadsden Purchase. Because of this transaction, the Chiricahua Apaches, who had been living in the region since at least the sixteenth century, experienced a vast increase in traffic. Needing water, pioneer and gold seekers would stop at the spring. To insure their safety, the United States built a military road through Apache Pass. Then Mr. Butterfield received a contract for his Butterfield Overland Mail and that, too, ground its way to over Apache Pass and down into Apache Springs.


For years the Apache tolerated (more or less) the increase in traffic, but the peace did not last. In 1861 a band of Apache to the north of the Cochise’s Chiricahua band kidnapped a young boy. And now enter George N. Bascom, a young Lieutenant fresh out of West Point who shared with General Custer the distinction of having graduated near the bottom of his class. Inviting Cochise to negotiate, Bascom then tried to capture Cochise who grabbed his knife and slashed his way from the tent. Never again would peace rein, and the sad affair became known as the Bascom Affair.  [CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGES.]


Soon thereafter (July 1862) Fort Bowie was constructed and in the years that followed it back dropped many clashes, and the graveyard we explored along the trail recalls those times. “Killed by Apache’s” say many of the epitaphs, and one of those marks the grave of O.O. Spence. Spence was one of the earliest recipients of the Medal of Honor.


The fort back dropped the death by natural means of Cochise and then the ascension of Geronimo–and, eventually, his last tragic days as a warrior chief. In 1876 Geronimo surrendered, overwhelmed at last by military technology. He and many other Chiricahua Indians were then shipped by cattle car to Florida. Though promised they’d be allowed to return to their homeland within two years, they were held for over 20 years as enemy combatants. Eventually, they were shipped to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where in 1909 Geronimo died of pneumonia at approximately (records are scant) 84 years of age.

That’s the story that unfolds as you hike the trail and then linger at the old fort, finally abandoned in 1894. With its old adobe walls the fort is photogenic and we explored it until diminishing daylight necessitated our return.



*Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House


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Tombstone, Arizona? Great, But You May Have More Fun Creating Your Own History

posted: March 13th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Tombstone, Arizona, and things have certainly changed since the days of the Gun Fight at the OK Coral. Today, as you walk down Main Street, you see a few folks pushing their poodle dogs in baby carriages while the nearby bars feature Elvis impersonators. Yeah, it’s certainly different alright, but, if you just put on your blinders and focus on some of the vestigial remains, you’ll find some features that will remind you that this is an historic place, and that once something occurred here that was so colorful that it has become one of those iconic events of the Old West. Wander long enough and you may even be able to add a new chapter or two to the chronicles of the Old West…


Mud street and stage coach add authenticiy to Tombstone

The genuine event, of course, was the one that occurred on October 26, 1881 when the Earps met the Clantons and McLaurys. They met to settle what many say was the “West’s most famous feud;” and when it was all over Frank McLaury dropped on Fremont Street. Bill Clanton died where he stood and Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded. Wyatt Earp who has become one of the West’s most celebrated heroes was unscathed.


The story of their clash is told in various ways around today’s Tombstone. It’s told on historic markers, at Boothill, in handout brochures, in the town’s various bars, and in dramas acted out by men who look much like the Earps and like Doc Holiday. The play begins on Main Street and then concludes inside of a playhouse that you must pay to follow the story to its conclusion. [CLICK TO SEE LARGER VERSION OF IMAGES BELOW]


Essentially, the gunfight occurred because of a build up of tension between the Earps with both the Clantons and McLaurys. Stage coaches had been robbed and accusations concerning the perpetrators begin to unfold. Doc’s companion, Big Nose Kate, began a rumor about Doc following a drunken quarrel, which she later recanted when she sobered.


Still, tensions grew and one morning the Earps decided to arrest the Clantons and McLaurys, so precipitating the battle. Today, that battle site is flanked by an RV camping site, and there certainly is no more corral, replaced by a nondescript building. It’s across the street from Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Though the building did exist at the time, the saloon never did. Still, you can evoke another aspect of the Old West by visiting Main Street, a portion of which remains muddy when it rains and unpaved. Climb aboard a horse-drawn old stage coach for a ride through town or visit one of the old saloons. Big Nose Kate’s Saloon offers atmosphere with its Hurdy Gurdy Girls and their friendly conversation.


Boot Hill, still authentic except that metal markers have replaced old wooden markers

Perhaps the only feature of Tombstone that remains somewhat unchanged is the location of the graves at historic Boothill, “the second most visited place in Arizona,” according to a chamber representative. However, the old wooden markers have been replaced by weather-resistant metal markers. Here, several of the Clantons are buried and so are the McLaury’s. So, too, is an innocent man, and attention is called to that fact.

Then there’s Lester More, a man celebrated in a Johnny Cash song: Here lies Lester Moore, four shots from a .44, no less no more.”


Photographing the sights of Tombstone can present a bit of a challenge and for some of the photographs I used two strobes. In another (the interior of Big Nose Kate’s illuminated with soft neon lights) I used Nikon’s “Slow Sync” setting, allowing the neon images of Kate and Doc Holiday to provide their own low-light illumination. Simultaneously the setting allowed me to properly illuminate the mount of the long-horn steer-and all the historic photographs. For the Lester Moore photo I added a strobe to illuminate the epitaph, but set the shutter and aperature so the sun would flare.


To preserve Kate and Doc, illuminated with low neon light, I used Nikon's Slow Shutter setting.

And the photo of one of the Hurdy Gurdy girl? She was a willing and knowing subject (and actually a good source of local history), and I’m going to send that picture to a friend of mine and his wife. My friend is too complacent, bragging about his placid marriage. I’m going to tell him the picture is sent compliments of “Mary,” who has asked to be reminded about his long ago “historic” visit.

Well, maybe I’ve gotten my events wrong as well as the timing, but it makes a good tale, so I think I’ll follow through on my plot.



*Mojave National Preserve


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Chiricahua-Land of Standing Up Rocks

posted: March 12th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Chiricahua… Certainly it’s not one of the first places one thinks of when one thinks of national park administered areas, but let me say right up front that it is one of the most beautiful parks Janie and I have ever visited.


Land of Standing Up Rocks, as seen on Echo Canyon Loop

Apache Indians who roamed the area called the myriad of rocks, the “Land of Standing Up Rocks,” and that is certainly a good name for this national monument, which is located in Arizona. Others might call the park an “Island in the Sky,” and for any who have read John McPhee’s book Basin and Range that might also be a good name, for Chiricahua is part of that type of terrain that was created by buckling from tectonic plates. (hope my memory serves me correctly!). Mountains were formed and the separation tended to create assemblages of flora and fauna with unique features.


At any rate, one reason Chiricahua may not be too well known is that it is located in a relatively remote part of Arizona, and Bonita Canyon Campground cannot easily accommodate RVs. In fact, to reach this site, we had to descend two concrete fords and as we did, the skid plates on the bottom of the Airstream screeched as we begin ascending the ford. Sounded horrible, but no damage done.


There's nothing from the highway to suggest such a maze.

At 28 feet, our Airstream travel trailer is about the largest sized rig that will fit in one of these relatively small camp spaces. In fact, most of the RVs here are much smaller and we’re in our space only after much maneuvering. So confined is the space that we were able to extend one of our stabilizing jacks but a few inches before it hit one of the volcanic rocks that form the beautiful rock formations that dominate the landscape.


So far the highlight of our first day afield was a four-mile hike along a trial comprising the Echo Canyon loop. The loop begins along the Echo Canyon Trail, picks up the Hailstone Trail and then concludes with a short hike along the Ed Riggs Trail. Each of the three components provides experiences that are suggestive of their name.

The first portion, the Echo Canyon trail winds through one of the most amazing assemblages of rocks you will ever see. Some may be reminded of a hike through Bryce Canyon or even portions of the Blackhills, but these rhyolite formations are unique. Holler out and you’ll hear an echo.

Of volcanic origin, rocks in Echo Canyon are tough, and beautiful in the shapes they assume. Huge elongated egg-shaped rocks perch precariously atop other rocks of similar configuration-and we often had to wonder what forces continued to hold them upright. Other shapes that come to mind from the various formations include mushrooms, organ pipes, spires,

The Hailstone component of the loop is named for a small stretch of large hailstones, formed from the tendency of dust to adhere to small particles created by volcanic activity.


A world of fantasy

Finally, but certainly not least, the Ed Riggs component of the trail was named for the first ranger to patrol Organ Pipe National Monument. Riggs was an early homesteader in the area and his place is a National Historic Landmark. Riggs designed many of the trails in the park, and after you hike several in the area, you’ll appreciate the man’s creativity and capabilities.

Despite the fact this park is small (12,000 acres in total), we’re here for several days. Geronimo and Cochise roamed the area, and not far away, Geronimo made his last surrender in 1886. The park is reminiscent of their lives, and those who follow my blog know we have a special interest in Native Americans. In fact, we have an entire page devoted to the Gwich’in, a tribe in Alaska.

Note: When we depart this park, the campground host says they’ll allow us to drive the wrong way down this one-way road, so our skid plates won’t drag again. “Just let us know and I’ll be at the head of the drive so there won’t be a traffic jam.”

They’re joking about the traffic, of course, but those who come here once, tend to come back.



*Organ Pipe Retrospective


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Celestial Directive Is Growing Louder–and Much Much Clearer

posted: March 6th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Wow, does time every fly–particularly as the saying goes, when you’re having fun. In fact a get-together with friends has become so intense that right now we’re hearing a celestial voice, and it seems to be providing a directive. But more on that in a minute; right now I want to describe the growth of our relationship with Tucson friends, and mention one more wonderful experience at Organ Pipe National Monument regarding quail.

For the past three days we’ve been in Tucson, Arizona, visiting friends and catching up on business using the amenities provided by Cactus Country RV Resort. After the wide open spaces and incredible desert beauty offered at Organ Pipe National Monument, we’re finding Tucson with its burgeoning population to be overwhelming. Still, it’s wonderful to see friends whom we see all too little of. For one thing, they’re interesting people.

Among the list are Rich, Eleanor and Emma Luhr. Rich is the editor/publisher of Airstream Life and I’ve mentioned the family before. Certainly Rich and Eleanor are a talented couple, but it is their very feminine and attractive daughter who now deserves a bit of the limelight.

Emma is enrolled in a karate program and though the emphasis is on martial arts, much about the etiquette of the sport is also built into the program. Though only nine, she’s done extraordinarily well and may soon be advancing in her age group to the Black Belt division of the sport.  We expect she’ll continue to do well.


Gambel's quail in early morning light

Also included in our group of friends are Adam and Sue who are camped right across from us. Sue was once a corporate lawyer while Adam worked in Hollywood as a musician with some very big name performers, to include Henry Mancini. Adam was also the music coordinator for the comedy production of Tom and Jerry.


Initially, our friendship with this group was founded on our mutual interest in Airstream trailers and motorhomes. But those interests can only go so far, and then there must be other things, and in our case, that is certainly true. Common to us all is our passion for the outdoors–and currently we are planning some adventures for this coming fall.

For instance, we have all concluded that we are now hearing the voice of  the Great Spirit commanding us to cycle or hike the Camino Del Diablo. If we can pull this off it will require some preparation, as a translation of the name of this 70-mile long route through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge might suggest. Translated, the expression means “Road of the Devil”, suggesting that many have died, that water may be scarce and the terrain is rough. But what makes the voice we’re hearing now ring so loudly is the fact when I checked into the Visitor Center at the refuge, a uniformed lady asked: “Where are you from?” Then, “I know you; I was one of your students in high school English.”

Thirty years later it turns out Margot is now a visitor specialist and that this attractive but athletic lady has actually hiked the Camino Del Diablo. Later in our conversation she confirmed that Edward Abbey is buried in the refuge… “But no one knows where.”


The morning we left Organ Pipe I arose early and was rewarded with images of Gambel’s Quail. During our week-long stay in this beautiful national monument I’d seen them–and heard them–pecking for food in and around these fallen cactus limbs. However, I had been unable to get close to them–until our last day.


Another example of the long waiting game, discussed in my last post.

For the images, I used a 600mm lens and here is another example of why you must sometimes turn off the auto focus, which would not have known to select the eye as the point of focus. I love the early morning light and relied on it to provide the color saturation and the catch light in the eyes. No PhotoShop here, and most likely I’ll be sending some of these off to my photo agent. Another candidate is an image from Death Valley, which remains one of my favorite from this trip so far.

Hopefully there will be yet other candidates, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to listen to voices from on high, now growing ever more clear.



*Sands that Sing


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Nature Photograhy at Organ Pipe–A Waiting Game

posted: March 4th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: There is a sign at the Organ Pipe Visitor Center entitled “Always Waiting.” Though their sign referred to the various flora and fauna that inhabit the desert, the message is also germane to photographers.


Sunrises through column of organ pipes again reminding us of the "Waiting Game."

For the past few days, that’s what Janie and I have been doing, waiting; waiting for a tiny layer of haze to mute the sun so that it won’t wash out cacti. Waiting as well, for a hummingbird to buzz the red chuparosa on which I had focused.

As the sign says, it’s a waiting game, and yesterday everything came together. To render the sunrise through the clump of organ pipe I got down low so the mountains in the distance (actually in Mexico) would not dominate the bottom portion of the photograph. Then, I exposed for the sun, allowing the cacti to be silhouetted.


For the hummingbird photograph, Janie and I set the camera on a tripod and then I hand focused on the eye of the hummingbird. If I used auto focus, it might very well have selected the birds “bib” or some other portion of hummingbird.

We’re almost sure this is a Costa’s hummingbird, but have had several comments saying it could be an Anna’s. If there are any hummingbird experts, please let us know. Because the bird was flitting around so quickly from one flower to the next, we simply had to find a blossom that looked promising and then hope the bird would visit it. Simply more of the waiting game.


At long last the "Waiting Game" paid off.

At long last the bird did, and Janie and I got our photo using two SB-800 Nikon strobes. I set the on-camera strobe as the “Master” and the one Janie was hand holding as the “Remote.” These are cordless strobes and they have proven themselves over and over.

Sadly, we’re leaving Organ Pipe, moving on Tucson where happily, we’ll be rendezvousing with good friends with whom we’ve previously traveled. We’ve had mail forwarded so we’ll be spending several days simply catching up on business.



*Compassionate Water Tanks


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Happy Among the Jumping Cholla, Fishhook Cactus and Creepy Crawlies

posted: March 2nd, 2009 | by:Bert

Spring in Montana

©Bert Gildart: Here’s a photograph taken yesterday by Tim Van Buren, the man back in Montana who does a superb job helping me with my web site.

As well Tim has also done a darn good job with his forwarded photograph convincing me that, right now at least, we are ever so happy down here among the jumping cholla, chain cholla, fishhook cactus, the scorpions, the tarantulas and all the bark scorpions.

“Yesterday it rained,” wrote Tim, “and I mean poured, and now this. I wish I was down there with you.”


Maybe Janie and I have developed a bit of clairvoyance, ‘cause I took this photo yesterday (ABOUT THE SAME TIME TIM TOOK HIS PHOTO), realizing subconsciously that we’d want to let those back in Montana appreciate the extent to which we are suffering.


Winter camping in the desert, toughing out the sunny skies and 80 degree temperatures.

My biggest challenge of the day was running back to the chair before the self timer on my Nikon clicked the shutter. The way I’ve got it set, I have 10 seconds, and it took me almost that much time to dodge the thorns and get seated.

Life is tough among the fishhook cactus, creepy crawlies…



*Night Photography in Organ Pipe


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