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 May, 2009

More Thoughts On Dealing With Hostile Behavior

posted: May 30th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  What follows is advice provided by Bill D, a fellow Airstream owner and a gentleman I met this winter in Anza Borrego. Bill and his partner Larry are well educated, and have enjoyed successful medical careers. Bill worked as a charge RN for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. (To understand why he has contributed his thoughts, scroll down and read my three previous posts.)


Janie and I have sought out America's most remote areas, and 99.9 percent of the time have ALMOST always felt secure. We'd like to think it has something to do with prepardness.

Now retired, both have developed an interest in history, much being devoted to the highly unusual life style of Marshall South, a man who took his family into the wilderness for 17 years. Bill, who shares my enthusiasm for South, has helped me with research, and  I count him among my friends.

From his home at Yaquitepec, South wrote hundreds of magazine stories and penned several novels, and Janie and I have written about the family in several blogs (Post1…Forerunners of the Hippies?, Post 2, Lessons from Yaquitepec). Magazine stories will soon follow.

I have also reported on the life of Bill and Larry, and did so this past February (”Ghost Mountain or Brokeback Mountain? Maybe There Is No Choice” ). Because of their lifestyle they are in a particularly good situation to offer advice about violence, for they’ve experienced their share of hostility and have given much thought to defending themselves and to defusing hostile situations. Provided here are Bill’s suggestions on dealing with aggressive behavior, and the important thing is that his techniques seemed to have worked, as follows:

By Bill D: Your recent article, “When To Consider Protective Measures Against Hostility“, struck a chord with us (I think we touched on that topic briefly when you visited us at our campsite at Vallecito County Park).  During the past two years of camping, we have experienced that just having an Airstream trailer is an attention getter, and the image of two men living in it kicks it up a notch.  So our “antennas” are always on alert to detect any attitudes of prejudice and/or hate, which could also lead to violence, as was the case of Satendar Singh in a California state park.

We take preemptive measures such as saying “Hi” to our neighbors as we walk our dogs and take time to talk to those who appear approachable.  We have found that flying the United States Flag seems to have a pacifying effect on any nearby “rednecks” or potential troublemakers. Below are two incidents that we experienced that could have resulted in violence:


As a former service man, Bill is patriotic, but also knows the American flag generates good will among some campers.

We were camping in the middle of the week in an almost empty, quiet wooded park near Julian, CA.  Late in the afternoon, several vehicles with men arrived across the park road from us and started to set up a tent while music was blaring out from their opened car door.  They started drinking and whooping it up with very loud talking, swearing and ugly laughing. Our Airstream was somewhat screened by thick bushes and we were flying the Earth Flag.  We contemplated the possibility of moving or returning home.

The next morning we raised the United States Flag on our high flagpole.  We were pleasantly surprised when one of the offending men walked over and thanked us for flying the flag. He said he was a Vietnam War veteran and appreciated it, and went on to apologize for their noisy behavior the night before.

On another trip, we were camping at the beach, which often attracts partying campers.  At first we thought we were lucky to have quiet neighbors, but when the neighbors of the site just on the other side of the bushes returned to their RV late in the evening after eating dinner in town, they proceeded to turn on very loud music that pulsated through our closed Airstream.

We contacted the Camp Host who talked to them.  They turned down the volume at 10 p.m. but I heard them laughing and talking loudly.  The music then returned and park rangers drove by and agreed that the music was too loud and they talked to the offending party. The music stopped and after the rangers left I heard them talk loudly about “those fags”.

I feared for our safety and the safety of our trailer.  So Larry stayed inside the trailer with the dogs while I stayed out in the dark near our Airstream and kept an eye on the trailer and any suspicious activity (I had an iron fire poker and ax nearby).  Around midnight I heard our neighbor’s footsteps approach and stop on the roadside of our truck. He shined a flashlight into our site, saw me, and he then returned to his RV. By 2 a.m. all was quiet and I retired.

The next morning I raised the American Flag high on our flagpole and we had no further problems with our neighbors, except for an occasional scowl from them as they walked by.  What I learned from this incident is that it is better to not complain or draw negative attention to a neighbor’s offending behavior (I’m sure it spoiled both of our evenings.)

As a preventive measure I try to find something neutral to say, an “icebreaker”, such as “Hi!” or “sorry for the diesel truck noise as I was getting the trailer in the right place”.  I am often pleasantly surprised when they say, “no problem” or “I didn’t even hear it”. That initial face-to-face neutral verbal exchange almost always seems to go a long way in reducing the apprehension that both parties undoubtedly experience when first moving in.  And, as mentioned above, flying the American Flag seems to help.  But if I felt we were in danger of violence, I would hitch up the trailer and put the outside gear back into the truck incase we needed to move early and quickly. Larry reports that people are not as receptive to him once they see that he is an Asian-American.

I agree with your assessment in your article, “Routine Ranger Patrol Turned Violent”, that economic hard times increase the likelihood of violence. I prefer to use the phrase, “potential perpetrators of violence”, rather than “Fringe Dwellers” (Marshal South was probably thought of as a “Fringe Dweller” by the community of Julian).  This morning I found an excellent book on this subject: Violence: The Enduring Problem, by Alex Alvarez and Ronet Bachman, Sage Publications, Inc., November 2, 2007.  The authors state that all violence, at some level, is the result of an “us” versus “them” mentality, and xenophobia, the tendency to have contempt for foreigners and other strangers, is particularly likely in times of economic hardship, increasing the likelihood that hate crimes and other forms of violence will occur.

The new law allowing guns in our national parks and wildlife refuges could increase the level of violence and could result in a war zone.

Bert, after my articles in my History Safari Express column about our trip to Julian and photographing the Marshal South frieze and unraveling the Marshal South story, I have posted subsequent articles that contain references to Marshal South and quotes from his writings (now that I have blanket permission from Diana Lindsay (Sunbelt Publishers), editor of Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles):

Ghost Mountain spring hikes“, April 5, 2009, ”Yaquitepec Spring“, April 29, 2009, ”Desert heat“, May 7, 2009, ”Ocean breeze“, May 16, 2009. (My annual trailer wash, wax & treat article will be posted this Saturday.)

As you might have heard in the news, we are happy that our marriage status, along with 18,000 other same-sex marriages, has been upheld by the California Supreme Court, and we look forward to the day that all people have equal rights.


Dont' let that rare incident spook you from exploring--and enjoying!--America's hinterlands. Just take a little caution, and be prepared! And now, SALUD to all out there on the road; your're welcome to join us. Just BYO.

Bill closes his article by expressing his thanks for my postings on violence, offering his permission to quote him.  And now I would like to offer others who might have thoughts on the subject of violence to provide their comments.



*By Their Beaks Shall Ye Know Them


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Defensive Measures While Traveling

posted: May 29th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Prior to posting my last two blogs, I wrote several friends who travel widely and asked for their thoughts. I think they are exceptional and have combined them. Individuals here have asked to remain anonymous, and I’ve certainly followed their wishes, appreciative they’d take time to  contribute to this dialogue, much of which is about the use of firearms.  Before reading this posting you should read my last two posts, revealing how we’ve gotten to this point.

Their Advice:

I believe that situations that are threatening when we travel in our RV must be handled in a defensive mode. Aggression against yourself or loved ones is what we are trying to avoid. When we find ourselves in a situation that is starting to or has the potential to turn ugly, how do we deal with it? Unless you are a cop or a person of authority for the park or campground, your reactions must be defensive not aggressive.


If you carry Counter Assault (Bear Spray), make sure you know how to use it. It's a nonlethal means of defense proven to be capable of turning a charging grizzly.

I am not an attorney nor have I had police training or come from a work history that dealt with community problems and wrong doers. My work experience comes from the world of dealing in industrial settings with people of purpose who do not seek out physical confrontation.

But, now retired my wife and I travel extensively to many parts of our country; into diverse cultures that make up the US and quite often camp in remote and private areas at places that are open to the public. Like all of you, there are times we become vulnerable to harassment that could become a threat to our personal being. This hasn’t happened often, but enough so that we have given personal protection some thought.

I am no longer a young buck that can intimidate a person bent on causing us trouble. Like the old bear in the forest, an aggressor knows I am more bluff than substance. MAYBE! With age should come a degree of guile and cunning. AND, maybe have smarts enough to carry a big stick.

First, I want to say that we should be aware of surroundings into which we venture. The ‘inner-woman’ in us, or at the very least, the woman beside us should be heard and her advice respected. Women seem to have a better intuitive sense about potentially dangerous situations. We should listen to that intuition and let it be a warning to us. Don’t knowingly put yourself into a corner and above all, if it doesn’t feel right to you, remove yourself from the area.

Let the CG owner and or the local police deal with the troublemakers.

There could come a time where you must face the danger because the police are too far away or the danger is sudden and imminent. Now what? Should you carry a club, knife, bear spray or mace or a gun for personal protection? Have you thought about what it would be like to kill or seriously injure another person? What would that person have to be doing to you or a loved one for you to take that drastic action? When you carry a lethal weapon you take on a heavy burden of responsibility for your actions…. and the consequences.

I have talked with firearm instructors about defensive weapons and their use. One was an attorney who centered his teaching upon the fact that carrying a weapon should only be used for personal defense when you were IN FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE OR THAT OF OTHERS OR IN DANGER OF GREAT BODILY HARM. Only if your life or that of someone else’s was in mortal danger could you use your weapon. That is the only legal justification for using a firearm for defense and the burden of proof that you used the weapon legally falls upon your shoulder and those of your attorney.

He made it perfectly clear that if you pulled your weapon for any reason, the cash register would start working against you. Threatening with a weapon for right or wrong reasons would likely bring in the police and the first thing they would do is arrest the gun to neutralize the situation and then sort out the facts later. Here, you would need a lawyer. Ka-ching, ka-ching!

If you end up shooting somebody whether justified or not and that person died, you could look at an attorney bill that probably would clean out your net worth. Attorney bills tend to be based upon ability to pay. A shooting is very costly in many ways. Is shooting a hot head that turns out to have a history of punching out people worth the financial burden you would undertake?

You won’t have much time to decide if the threat is real and you are fearful of death or great bodily harm. Is trash talk and site encroachment worth your financial net worth? You are better off walking away from the situation if you can.

How about that late night banging and crashing on your trailer and vehicle? You are awakened from a sound sleep in this remote canyon and you and wife are frightened out of your skin. Again, retreat the best you can. Hit your panic button on your keychain to activate your car horn and lights and keep your doors locked and interior lights off. Have your car or truck positioned so the headlights will illuminate your trailer. Don’t engage the aggressors by talking or answering their taunts. Use your cell phone to call for help LOUDLY. Prepare to defend your family if they gain entrance to your unit. Have defensive weapons at the ready and know how to use them. You will notice in photos of COPS dealing with situations like this, they do not have their finger on the trigger. If you decide to carry a weapon, take lessons from a professional FIRST.

If they begin to gain entrance, shout loudly DROP YOUR WEAPON, I AM ARMED AND HAVE CALLED THE POLICE. You want anybody around to know you are under attack and threatened with a weapon and that you have warned them you are armed. If they keep coming the use of lethal defensive force might be legally justified if you fear for you life and your castle is invaded.

But, do your best never to put yourself in an environment where you could be faced with having to make this kind of decision. Think defensively and anticipate, Follow your intuition and move on. If all this fails, know how to use a weapon if you choose to carry one. Have your lawyer’s card handy should you have to use a weapon. You will need him. You have taken on a great new responsibility and you should train yourself to exercise it responsibly.


Unfortunately, I believe with our society now in a state of flux we will be encountering more people at loose ends, much like the people from my Cut Bank incident. Though I still don’t believe there should be carte blanch on guns in national parks, I believe everyone should have a plan of action. Whatever your plan, rehearse it from time to time, and then don’t hesitant to implement it if the situation calls for it.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a story from Bill and Larry who have confronted more than their share of violence. Their lifestyle and their advice is well thought out, all derived from experience.



*Return of the Cranes


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Routine Ranger Patrol Turned Violent

posted: May 27th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Our society is now in flux and when people find themselves scraping the bottom, violence often results. That might have happened to Janie and me the other day–and that did happen to me 25 years ago when I encountered an element of society I like to call “Fringe Dwellers”. (Helpful if you read Monday’s post before proceeding.)


Often I rode along the flanks of Mad Wolf as part of my patrol work. Finally, in 2006, I climbed to the summit. Mostly the ascent evoked wonderful memories and provided views spanning almost 100 miles.

In 1981 (and for 13 other summers) I worked in Glacier National Park as a  ranger, often in the backcountry. Sometimes my work required that I investigate cattle trespass, which usually required a friendly visit to one of the local ranches. But on one visit, a loose element showed up–a group living on the edge. The men reminded me of the drunks Janie and I encountered and that I reported on in my last posting. My encounter with the Glacier  group turned sour and the result was that I later had to file a “Case Incident Report.” What follows is from my notes and for the sake of brevity and readability, I’ve condensed the report.

Routine Ranger Patrol Turned Violent

On July 19, 1981 at approximately 1200 hours, I rode into Racine Basin in uniform to check on seismic exploration and cattle trespass… At approximately 1630 hrs, I encountered Mr. Salois who was fishing with his daughter. They said they’d just come from a gathering at the Racine’s place and that if I stopped by they might give me a piece of elk steak as well as some information.  As mentioned above, it was my intention to stop.  DR (name abbreviated) has cattle he runs adjacent to the park and occasionally they do stray over into GNP.

Opening the gate, which was necessary to do in order to get to both DR’s cabin, I walked the horse up the road to the cabin which was about 100 yards from the fence.  A number of people waved and invited me to join them.  I inquired about DR.  FW (I’m using initials so as not to call too much attention to the individuals, hoping time has modified their behavior, which actually was never a problem with FW–just her son.), an older Indian lady who works for the  tribe (contiguous with GNP), said that I should join them for potatoes and meat.  Another fellow who worked for the seismic crew said it was his birthday and that he too wanted me to join them and his party of about 30 people, that he’d tell me about his work while I had a quick bite to eat.

Approximately fifteen minutes later (about 1700 hrs) I heard a commotion and turned to see about five or six men harassing my NPS-issued horse “John”.  DW was riding and John was bucking as they’d tied a rope around his tail–a trick used to make a horse buck.  They were also raking the animal’s flanks with their boots.  Running over I grabbed at DW and shouted  to get off my horse.  When I said that, the men involved gathered around me and DW said, “What are you going to do if I don’t stay off?”  I felt threatened and thought they might start shoving me around so my inclination was not to shy away. I stepped to him and in so many words told him that I was a Federal Officer and that he could go to jail.

One of the men to my right said something and when I turned, DW hit me.  [Sucker punch is another term.] He started to hit me again so I stepped back, tripping over some rough ground.  DW started to kick me but I grabbed for his ankle and regained my own footing.

The fight was stopped immediately by several of the 25 to 30 friendly people.  I said to let him go, that the fight wasn’t over.  FW said, “Don’t do that, he’s my son.  Leave him alone and we’ll be friends for life.  Come back and finish your steak.  Everyone wants you to stay.  I promise you there will be no more trouble from my son.”

Shortly after the altercation DW came over and apologized for his actions.  What happened to make him forget the sincerity of his apology awhile later will have to be left to the imagination.

Fifteen minutes later I finished my dinner and turned to see DW again–on John.  Now everyone, including FW, ran over to the five or six “bad” guys.  FW then told her son he was a dumb, ignorant, disobedient —-.”  He told her she as a “–, –, —-.” [These were not polite words like damn and hell.]

I left immediately, walking the horse to the first of two fences.  After opening it I rode a very excited, agitated and still bucking horse toward the next fence.  One mile later I came to a second fence.  Dismounting, I opened the gate which John ran through, jerking me.  I held onto the halter rope, but John kicked me a grazing blow on my leg.  I leaped back, releasing the halter rope.  John bolted.  I tried to catch up to him, but all to no avail.  I walked the eight to 10 miles to Cut Bank Ranger Station, with an eye that was starting to close…

My report continues explaining how another ranger and I retrieved John and then details a follow-up investigation:

On July 23, FBI agent “Gunner” R.W. McCann stopped by my ranger station to investigate possible assault charges on behalf of the NPS and on a uniformed NPS employee.

Whether there exists an “air tight” case is speculative at this point, though he believes that, under the circumstances, he would have acted in precisely the same manner as did I.

NOTE:  Four months after my altercation, one of the young men walked into the Babb Bar, and blew someone’s head off and then emptied the rest of the gun into the lifeless body.  Because it was a “crime of passion,” the man was freed on his own recognizance.

How does all this relate to our RV travels? Because economic times are now hard, society is in a state of flux and there most certainly will be an increase in “Fringe Dwellers,” just like the ones from Glacier and from my last post. What this means is that you want to have some plan of action for those very few times in a person’s life when you are suddenly swept up by the unexpected. On Friday, I’ll post such thoughts supplied from several other RVers.



*They Were Honeyed Up”–A Visit to Cutbank Ranger Station


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All season peanut butter suet recipe

posted: May 25th, 2009 | by:webdoc

For those who have asked, here’s a recipe Cherie says she copied from Wildbird magazine. Cherie says she has been using the recipe for years. Hope it helps, and we may start using it too.

According to the article, the original recipe came from Martha Sargent, as follows:

This recipe is easily doubled. We usually get about 4 cakes out of a doubled recipe.

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups “quick cook” oats
2 cups corn meal
1 cup of lard (NO SUBSTITUTIONS)
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar

Melt the lard and peanut butter on medium heat, then stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into square freezer containers (a size about the size of your suet cage) about 1 1/2 inches thick. Allow the suet to cool, put lids on the containers and put in them in the freezer. When you are ready to use, just pop them out of the containers.

In the winter, we have also added raisins, cranberries and other nuts as supplements. It takes very little time to mix up and put in containers and it saves a lot of money.

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When To Consider Protective Measures Against Hostility

posted: May 25th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If you travel much, more then likely you have encountered situations in which you wondered about your safety. That happened to Janie and me while traveling near Duluth, Minnesota, several weeks ago. The ugliness of the situation prompted us to think about the circumstances that would force us to take measures to protect ourselves. At our disposal is Bear Spray and sometimes a firearm, but when would we have been justified using one or the other–or perhaps even both?

Because so many people we meet in RVs do carry some means of protecting themselves, it’s something you may want to really think about, playing out various scenarios. I think the subject is important and  contacted several RV owners and asked for their opinion, which will be the focus of an upcoming post. As well, I will be posting a Case Incident Report from my notes in my files used to generate the report while working in Glacier as a seasonal park ranger in the 1980s. The report recalls an episode that turned violent.

All this will be included in a three-part series, and the other two will follow on Wednesday and Friday. This is the first.

It is worth mentioning that in all my years, I’ve been concerned about life and limb very few times. Still, I believe everyone who travels should have a plan for those times when potential disaster rears its head.


Violence in national, state and city parks is highly unusual, but does occur, as Janie and I know. For us, it seems to rear its head in off seasons, and in isolated places

Here’s our situation: Several weeks ago, we were in a campground and about noon several fellows walked in and set up a tent and soon started drinking hard liquor. One of the fellows seemed friendly, so I wandered over and told him that if they were planning a party, we’d move, no problem but we just wanted to know. Certainly, we didn’t want to move as we were ideally located for launching our kayaks for a photo shoot. So when the fellow said they planned a quiet evening so they could start work the next day, I was relieved. However, that’s not the way the afternoon unfolded.


By the time we returned from our outing, two of the fellows were falling-down drunk, literally. In fact, one fellow walked over to the edge of the bushes collapsed, then had to be dragged back to the tent. To compound matters, several other young men had joined the first three and as Janie said, “They look like jail bait.” Looking at the men with their long unkempt hair, tattoos, ear rings, I had to agree. In fact, they looked like drug pushers.

To make matters worse, one of the new fellows stomped over and said, “I understand you don’t like us and might want to move. Well you don’t have to! I’m just back from Afghanistan and I’ll protect you.”

The fellow looked fit and was wearing a jacket emblazoned on the front with the word Marine, so perhaps the situation was as he said. Still, among the group he appeared to be the most aggressive; the rest seemed on the verge of passing out, and several, in fact, had.

Moving, of course, might have been the best thing, but the campground was small and in reality, we would not have been much further away. And who knew what demons possessed the fellow and might then have prompted him to follow us.


What I did do was tell one of the fellows we were leaving in the morning and then loaded up, ready to leave if things deteriorated. We retired to the interior of our camper and took measure to protect ourselves. Simultaneously we thought of the various scenarios that would prompt some type of response. And we thought, too, of the types of responses we could make.

Once I might have considered a physical response. Years ago I was Alabama State Runner up in the middle weight boxing division of the Golden Gloves, and have kept myself in good shape. That means I could probably emerge victorious in a fight with someone about my size who is 68, has a bad back, a bad rotator cuff, and can no longer close his hands to make a fist because of arthritis. Give me that kind of enemy combatant and, by George, I’d consider forcing the bastard’s hand.

But now I’m older and hopefully wiser; wise enough at any rate to consider other plans of action. Here’s what we came up with.

First, if someone came over and banged on the door, we concluded we’d remain inside and tell him to go away. If the banging persisted, we’d call 911. If the intruder damaged our trailer (and only we Airstreamers know how protective we can get) I believe I would have confronted the fellow with Bear Spray, a formula that has been used effectively against enraged grizzly bears.

Of course nothing ever turns out the way you plan, and there were, of course, many other scenarios, not all concluding satisfactorily.

Fortunately, all turned out well. The men passed out early, and then next morning, one staggered over and said he wanted to apologize if they’d kept us awake. The Marine smiled and told us he was a Crow Indian and that he’d be heading back to service in several weeks. Though the sun had just barely risen, all had already started drinking, and now it was straight booze. Quietly, we pulled out.


This is not the first time we’ve had to think about various scenarios. Once in Glacier National Park, late in the fall, someone broke into our old Jayco travel trailer and stole enough so our insurance company reimbursed us to the tune of $1,700. What might we have done if we’d returned and caught them?  What should we have done? (Tune in Friday.) You can’t be paranoid, and we don’t deliberately place ourselves in marginal situations. We enjoy our privacy and think the best plan is one of preparation.

What I’m really getting at, I suppose, is under what circumstances is action justified? Diplomacy is best, but there may be times when it simply won’t work.

I believe everyone needs to spend a little time thinking about a plan of action and then rehearse it so that you will in fact know what you will do. Because my plan of action might not be the best, I contacted several others and will post some of their thoughts this Friday. This Wednesday I’ll post a case incident report from my experiences as a ranger in Glacier. It was an ugly situation and resulted because the men from the fist fight that resulted were living on the fringe–much like the fellows from Monday’s post were doing.



*Springtime in Glacier National Park

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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Memorial Day–On a Personal Note

posted: May 24th, 2009 | by:Bert


Korean War Memorial

©Bert Gildart: Memorial Day Weekend, and Arlington National Cemetery is much on my mind as we honor our war heroes. I think about Washington D.C. and Arlington because it is where several of my relatives are now buried.

Such memories become more significant as I get a little older and history takes on a new meaning; hence three years ago I attempted to locate (again) the grave of a family member buried in Arlington. At the time I was on a business trip, intending to learn more about our nation’s Capital Parks, and Arlington was one of them.


As a group the war memorials in D.C. commemorate the valor of our American soldiers. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served in one of America’s most divisive wars. Inscribed on the Wall are the names of 58,000 men and woman who were killed or remain missing.

The newest of the memorials is the World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., and the 400,000-plus who died in that war. It is the only 20th Century event commemorated on the “central axis” of the National Mall, and President Clinton dedicated the memorial site on Veterans Day 1995.


Night is a particularly good time to visit the WW II Memorial, for night lights and refracting ponds create an aura of eternal vigilance. Take a tripod if you want night photos, but you’ll need more if you want to walk within range of the Capitol building. Because heightened security since 9/11 looks askance at long pointed objects, you’ll need a special permit, but if you ask a park policeman he or she will tell you how and where to obtain one.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

You can, however, tote a tripod to the Lincoln Memorial and this is one that photographs particularly well at night. Lincoln, of course, was President during the Civil War and he is backdropped by the Gettysburg Address. Certain aspects of the Korean War Memorial also photograph well at night-such as the haunted looks in the eyes of the soldiers–above.

Women In War

Women In War

Arlington must be visited during the day and finding my grandfather’s grave amidst the 290,000 servicemen (7,000 new graves each year) could have been a daunting task had it not been for the easily accessible computerized records. To locate a relative, all that’s required is a stop at the desk immediately to your right as you enter the Visitor Center. Then, they’ll want a little information.


They’ll want to know your relative’s legal name and his or her date of death. Such information also entitles you to a special pass with a “numbered” address that will allow you to drive to your relative’s grave.

Though my grandfather’s site was more than a mile away I chose to walk, passing as I did by the grave of John F. Kennedy with its massive memorial and its eternal flame. I passed, too, the grave of Audie Murphy, our most decorated WWII soldier, and a man who later became a movie icon of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

I stopped by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the changing of the guard was in progress. The precision of their moves spoke of strength, coordination and infinite practice.


Two hours later, I arrived at my grandfather’s grave, who died in France shortly after Germany surrendered. He had survived the war only to die in 1919 from the pandemic flu, leaving behind two sons, age four and one. Though they were young, his death so impacted them that both chose military careers. In turn their lives affected me, and though I never followed my dad’s path , I remain in tune with much that is military.

Changing Of the Guard, Arlington Cemetery

Changing Of the Guard, Arlington Cemetery

You and I may or may not agree with the policies of our administration, but that has little to do with the appreciation we should demonstrate for the sacrifices our brave soldiers made in the past and are making today. On a very personal note, my father was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed and he later fought at Guadal Canal. Little wonder, I suppose, Military Parks hold such fascination for me, and little wonder I suppose that I respect all Memorial Day has come to represent. My father and mother are buried at West Point, and so are Janie’s.

Today, if I were in D.C., I’d make another pilgrimage to Arlington Cemetery and lay flowers on my grandfather’s grave. But since I’m not, Janie and I will do as we do most Memorial Days: we’ll post a small flag and allow it to remind us of the 2,757,196 men and woman who have given their lives for America.

Two Years Ago at This Time:

*Bison Range Celebrates 100 Years

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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Dismal Swamp Generates Picture Sales Of My Wife

posted: May 20th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In the past few days Janie has been mentioned or assured of depictions by two publications. The new issue of Airstream Life has a crossword puzzle, and a clue to filling in one of the blanks in the down column is the hint “Mrs. Gildart.” To answer the question, subscribers must have read my story about our nation’s capitol parks.

A photograph of Janie will also be featured in a new book on Virginia soon to be published by Holt and Mifflin, and I’ve included a copy of the image here.

The setting is the Dismal Swamp and it shows Janie and a guide. The guide had offered to help us with a photo shoot knowing I would be mentioning his excellent kayak service in a travel story.


Colorful setting and reflections helped sell this image of the Dismal Swamp

At the book company, editors were looking for something colorful. I also think the reflections of the red kayak and the fall setting in the swamp, helped make the sale.

The Dismal Swamp has long intrigued me, and Janie and I spent enough time in the area to gather material for the above-mentioned travel story. To set the stage for a visit you might want to make, here’s an excerpt from that piece—all, of course, copy righted.


In the early 1720’s explorer William Byrd was traveling in a swampy region of Virginia and North Carolina which he later described as a “horrible desart,” a “vast body of dirt and nastiness” in which “Not so much as a Zealand frog cou’d endure so anguish a situation.” But a century later, perspectives began to change and people actually began to live in this great dismal swamp, and their testimonials began generating notions of such great cheer and felicity that you, dear reader, need not fear a visit to this body of nastiness. Testified one explorer of the time: “Death from disease has never been known in that place, and… persons were found who were so old that they had moss growing on their backs.”


Interestingly, one of the first people to survey this area was a young George Washington, and his legacy simply adds more to those testimonials of cheer and felicity. The setting worked well for us, for images made from the area almost four years ago are still selling.

That’s one of the benefits of having stock photography as one of the components of our business. Fully captioned images from these files now number well over 100,000 and we are constantly adding. Some of my very best images are with agents while others are sold through the assistance of AGPIX. To see some of those images click in the upper right hand corner on “Best Photos,” or simply click.

For a fee AGPIX provides photographers who subscribe to the service with daily want lists gathered from various publications. That’s what has helped land me photo assignments from some exceedingly good publications-and most recently with the sale of my image of Janie. However, I think I’ll keep it a secret from her, else she may start charging modeling fees.



*An Old Farmer’s Advice (Know this is a good one as it’s been copied by others–which doesn’t speak well for the individual as a human being!)


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My Images Currently Illustrating the Natchez Trace and the Arctic Refuge

posted: May 18th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This past week several organizations selected two of my images for various uses. Image one was selected by Natchez National Historical Park, specifically for the Melrose Antebellum home. The image will be placed on an exhibit panel and at the Melrose Visitor Center for as long as the dress is displayed at the mansion.


Dress is artifact from antebellum years, rendered here with natural light and long time exposure

As well the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club is using this image for their Antiques Forum Brochure, hoping to increase attendants. The image was made last month while touring the Natchez Trace. At the time we were photographing everything that pertains to the Natchez Trace Parkway, hoping, in a year or so, to revamp our book about this famous parkway with new photographs.


The other image recently used is one of Sarah James. Sarah is a friend of ours who lives in Arctic Village, a village located immediately adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For the past 25 years Sarah has spread the word about the environment and the Arctic Refuge in particular throughout the world.

This month Sarah will relate some of her experiences to several organizations and one of them, a California based conservation organization, needed an image of her.

Interestingly, Arctic Village is also hosting a gathering May 30 intended to send a world-wide message. This is different from the one required by the California organization. This gathering will be held in Arctic Village, and those attending will gather in the village and create a pattern that will spell out a message of hope for the Arctic Refuge. The pattern will be photographed from the air and then be shown in Bonn, Germany, where global leaders will convene this June.

Janie and I have both received personal invitations to attend the Arctic Village gathering, and if we weren’t already committed to towing our Airstream to Alaska in July, we would fly to this remote setting. But as  the old saying goes, one can only do so much.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been one of my passions, and over the past 18 years Janie and I have boated and hiked the refuge-and have visited most of the dozen-plus Gwich’in Indian villages dotting the tundra in both Canada and Alaska. The Gwich’in live further north than any other Indian group (Eskimos live further north). Images from our various visits have been displayed by the Wilderness Society in the halls of Congress. As well, my stories about the refuge have appeared in about half a dozen different publications. Time/Life used my images to illustrate a chapter in their book, Winds of Renewal.


Long a proponent of the refuge, recently Joe Lieberman introduced legislation that will provide wilderness designation to the Arctic Refuge, which is the ultimate form of protection. Since beginning my blog several years ago I have posted many stories about the refuge and here are links to several. (Sarah James, The Gwich’in and the Arctic Refuge, River Trip)


Sarah James disciple for Arctic Refuge and environment in general.

Obviously, Janie and I love the refuge. Many lambaste the area saying (as did George Bush) that it is a wasteland. If you have never been there you may feel the same, but I’ll wager that if you actually visit the area, you’ll understand why Sarah James (not S. Palin!) has fought so hard to help her people call attention to what many biologists say is the world’s last self-regulating ecosystem.

If you do visit, I’ll further wager that you, too, may become a disciple. The point, of course, is that most calling the refuge a wasteland have never been there…



*They were Honeyed Up

*In Defense of Dandelions


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Winter Releases Its Hold on Glacier National Park–Reluctantly

posted: May 13th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Montana is home and how wonderful it was to see the Rocky Mountains after being on the road for four months. In fact, Highway 2 from the Bear Paw Mountains just south of Havre 100 miles to Glacier National Park brought back a flood of memories, particularly when we approached old haunts.


Approaching Glacier National Park from the east can be particularly dramatic, but in the spring, snow may be falling and winds blowing.

Though the park generates its own memories, for me the view that is particularly compelling is this one just west of Browning where the road dips and then quickly ascends. To dramatize the power of the mountains, I photographed the scene with a telephoto lens, which tends to compress the scene and make the mountains appear slightly larger. As I took the photograph, the wind was blowing, rocking me at times, but then that’s spring in the Rockies. Two weeks ago storms dumped over 60 inches of snow in this very same region. After that, this road was closed for several days.


Yesterday, as we neared Marias Pass, elevation about 5,000 feet, it was snowing, though not sticking, reminding us that we had indeed escaped a hard winter. But conditions changed that evening. Back home, when we turned on the news, the weatherman reported the area was now covered with snow depths ranging from 2-4 inches.

Shown here are Divide Peak and the road just east of East Glacier Park, Montana. These mountains are home to grizzly bears and they cradle an infinite number of lakes, many of which are still frozen. But spring winds and warming temperatures will change all that and in just a few weeks snows will recede, flowers will emerge, bears will start searching the avalanche slopes for the carcasses of goats and sheep that didn’t fare too well–and campgrounds in the park will open.

Perhaps we’ll see you at one of them. And if you do go, we believe you’ll find one of our books (see below) on the park to be helpful.



*Training People to Watch Bears


(Books Can Also be Purchased Directly from Us.)

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Mainlining Coffee? Then Early Season Camping in the UP May Not be Your Cup of Tea

posted: May 9th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though the most direct return route from New Jersey and back to our home in Bigfork, Montana would have been I-80/90, bitter experience has taught us that if we want to emerge with the synapses of our nerves still connecting, we’re better off trying to avoid anything that passes near or through Chicago. A better route we concluded, with some advice from other Airstream owners, might be to head north out of Toledo and then pick up Highway 2 where it begins (or ends) at Mackinaw City. (Also see our post on Mackinac Island.)


Camping upper Michigan's Milakoka Lake State Forest Campground early in the season has advangates--and disadvantages

Highway 2 is indeed a wonderful route and it eventually ends in Washington State. Traveling west, the highway’s inception has much appeal, in part because of the now-famous Mackinac Bridge. Prior to access by bridge, access to Upper Michigan was by ferry. But the massive $99,800,000 bridge changed that, and between 1957 and 1998 the five-mile-long corridor was the world’s longest suspension bridge.

Today, the bridge is easily crossed; still it seemed to us that it formed some sort of buffer between the more populated portions of our nation and a much more rural segment of America. For us, that’s a glorious benefit, but if you’re not somewhat prepared, it can also have its drawbacks.

On the positive side was the fact that when we pulled into Milakoka Lake State Forest Campground, about 100 miles along Highway 2 from our Mackinac Bridge crossing, we had absolutely no other campers with whom to contend. The lake was beautiful, and there were no voices to break the wilderness sound of loons. Adding to the pristine setting was the moon, which glistened off the lake.


The downside, however, is that campgrounds in upper Michigan’s offer no early-season amenities. We’re self contained, limited only by our water usage, but after several days of showering, washing dishes, drinking 10 gallons of coffee… the 30-gallon water tank in our Airstream was nearing depletion.

“Do we need to stop at a commercial campground?” queried Janie as we departed a relatively large settlement.

“Let’s drive on,” I suggested. “Surely we’ll find something.”


Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse is backdropped by Mackinac Bridge, which forms somewhat of a buffer between the nation's more populated urban areas.

But an hour later all other commercial campgrounds were closed. Nevertheless, we remained optimistic certain that with Lake Superior visible just to the north and with us constantly crossing many bogs (most likely filled with goose poop) we’d find something in one of the many forest service campgrounds, which we continued to see.

But my predictions were wrong, and so we began trying other possibilities. First, we tried a forest service visitor center, but they had no outdoor outlets. Filling station attendants said we’d be well advised not to use their water. In desperation I asked owners of a small café but they flatly refused us (wish I could remember their name, so I could suggest you NOT eat there!).

We traveled on-finally stopping at yet another forest service visitor center. I must have appeared anxious, for a most gracious lady just departing after a long day’s work took pity and invited us to fill up at her home. “Sure, I have an outdoor spigot, and you can fill your gallon jug there.”

Lesson? If you don’t mind placing yourself at the mercy of others, there really are no downsides to traveling “the UP” (as it is fondly referred to) in early, early May. Certainly, it’s better than the alternative of returning to Montana via Chicago. In fact, rather than face that alternative, I do believe I’d try and break my habit that requires massive infusions of coffee before I’m ready to greet the day.




*Arrowleaf Balsam Root, one of Montana’s Spring Sentinels


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We Honeymoon at the World Trade Center And Now It’s 18 Years Later. What’s Happened?

posted: May 6th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Janie and I were married 18 years ago and today, we’re reminiscing, recalling as we drive across country once again that some of the things we did shortly after our marriage on May 4th can not be done today.

At the time of our wedding, we were surrounded by family and friends and were married in New York by Methodist minister Tom Vancus, who had hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail the previous year. Upon tying the knot, Janie and I drove to New York City and spent our first night of marriage in the World Trade Center. That evening we dinned in a revolving restaurant that once topped the WTC and that looked out over the city.


A genuine highlight from our past 18 years was living in Alaska in this 20x24 foot cabin, learning how to photograph northern lights

Two days after our marriage, we departed New York driving a Ford Ranger, towing with us a utility trailer that had been converted from an old tent trailer. Today, we’re duplicating that drive across country and doing so at precisely the same time of year. However, rather than driving an old Ford Ranger, we’re driving a Dodge ¾ ton pickup and now towing an Airstream Travel Trailer. Certainly, our lives as Airstreamers has been one of the highlights of our marriage. But there are other high points,  and they share much in common with our travels of May 1991–and those slated to unfold over the course of the next few months.


Our upcoming destinations are virtually the same as they were 18 years ago. We’re heading to Montana where we’ll regroup for almost two months. Then, and just like the year we were first married, we’re heading to Alaska.

Back then I had a contract to teach in a summer school program at a remote Gwich’in Indian village known as Arctic Village. The superintendent, an old friend, was trying to bring in people with different backgrounds. She wanted people from these varying occupations to acquaint students isolated by hundreds of miles of wilderness with those backgrounds. She wanted them to know that their were other career alternatives to the subsistence one of hunting and fishing.

My expertise was in photojournalism, and for three more summers, Janie and I worked in several different Gwich’in Indian villages, to include Fort Yukon, Beaver, Rampart, Venetie and Arctic Village. At the end of our first summer we created a multimedia slide presentation, later made into a video and used by the Alaska Department of Education to acquaint prospective teachers with life in remote villages.

Originally, we’d planned to stay but one summer, but we became so enamored with their subsistence culture of caribou and fish, we continued to return, even doing so one winter. As well, we took up their cause to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “birth place of the Porcupine Caribou herd,” writing stories for many major publications.


Now, in the year 2009, we’re returning to fulfill assignments with various travel magazines about Alaska. One of those stories will concern the World Eskimo/Indian Olympics.  First, of course, we have to get back to Montana, and that’s what we’ll be doing these next few days.

Tomorrow, we should be in Toledo, Ohio, and from there we’re heading north to Mackinaw City, where we’ll pick up Highway 2, which will almost take us to our doorstep.  And as we travel, we’ll continue to reflect, sad that the immense tragedy of 9/11 has impacted so many. Yes, we say, the devastation affected us in a retrospective sort of way, but the real tragedy, of course, is that it changed our nation.

On the flip side, we celebrate what we can, believing our marriage has been proper and has been blessed. We hope during that time we’ve been able to help family and friends, and that by using the tools of our trade have in some small way enlightened others.



*Kayaking to the wreck of the Franciso Morazan

*Dry Tortugas

*All Along Its Been Raccoons

*Gator Drama…

*Alaska Boating Adventure


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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Nikon’s Slow Sync Helps Blend Natural and Articifial Light

posted: May 2nd, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: One of the photo techniques I have used on this trip more than on any other is Nikon’s Slow Sync camera setting. One example from this four-month-long excursion with our Airstream is of the food setting taken at Frogmore, an interpretive center in Louisiana located not far from Natchez, Mississippi. We’ve spent time here trying to gather new images, which we’ll use to one day to update our book on the incomparable Natchez Trace National Parkway.

Nikon’s default setting is for shutter speeds between 1/60th of a second and 1/250th of a second. That’s fine in many situations, but not when light levels are low as in this small cabin set up to interpret quarters used by slaves in the antebellum years of the Old South.


Nikon's Slow Sync helps to blend natural light with artificial light, Frogmore Interpretive Center, Louisiana

Conditions were rough then and replicas of the food and the cabin’s interior project that. Everything about this setting suggested austerity, and I wanted to preserve that feeling, but believe the photo would have lost much if detail in the shadows had been muted.

Light from the windows illuminated one side of the elements in the photo while my single strobe lifted details in the shadow. I could have used Nikon’s high-sync default strobe setting, but that would have overpowered the natural light and created a more contrast-y picture. That could have been remedied by using more strobes, but how much more simple to combine natural light and a single strobe light.

I like this rendition, shot with a wide angle lens at 1/8th of a second and an aperture of f-8 using, of course, Nikon’s Slow Sync setting. It probably goes without saying, but, of course, I used a tripod.



*Arrowleaf Balsam Root


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