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 November, 2009

On The Road Again

posted: November 30th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Once again, we’re on the road, heading at the moment for Taos, New Mexico. I have a series of stories for which I’m gathering materials. The first is on Taos pueblo, elevation of almost 7,000 feet. Last year we tried to access Taos, but snow set in so we decided we’d tried at a later time. That time is now.

Heading south from our home near Bigfork, Montana, the first place we always stay is Dillion, Montana, which we did last night. Invariably, the next point of interest is Monida (Mon, for Montana and Ida for Idaho). Previously, I’ve written about Monida and what follows regarding the area’s history is extracted from some of the material from last year’s posting, made in January ‘09. However, the photographs are different and they show a different environment.


As always, when heading south, we always enjoy stopping at Monida.


Monida Pass is always a spot that has captured our interest. Located at the junction between Montana and Idaho it is a lofty pass located on the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,820 feet. The setting is gorgeous, but this is one of the first times we’ve passed through this part of southwestern Montana that we have not had to contend with brutal storms. This year, in fact, there was little snow and the skies were clear.

One time we camped in this small, almost deserted settlement and awoke next morning to a foot of fresh snow and howling wind. The conditions caught the weather man by surprise–and, consequently, us too. We had to stay until conditions moderated


Years ago I wrote a story about the mailman who worked out of this tiny settlement. The man’s name escapes me but he claimed that his route, which in winter was all covered on snowmobile, was the most remote route in the Lower 48.


Airstream and Pioneer Mountains, adjacent to Monida.

In the late 1800s stagecoaches ferried tourists from the railroad at Monida Pass to Yellowstone Park until Union Pacific built a branch line to the park. Little seems to have changed.

Last year — and this year too — when we detoured off Interstate 15 for a stop at this empty settlement, again the weather pleasant. Though not warm or snow free, at least the wind wasn’t howling. But the houses all seemed deserted and if anyone was living in them, residents certainly didn’t broadcast their presence.

Songwriter Jimmy Buffet wrote a song about one such Montana town, and rather than “Ringling, Ringling, it’s a dying little town…” he could also have written about Monida, for it, too, is pretty darn bleak.

Windswept barn, Mondia Pass

An old barn, back dropped by the Pioneer Mountains, captivated my interest. Unused and unattended the barn has been shaped by wind and snow. (From previous posts, some will recall I enjoy photographing old structures). We parked for a few minutes on the single road that passes thorough the settlement and, then, on to several of the ranch families that live in the area.

We spent about an hour here then moved on, for we want to take advantage of the good weather while it lasts.


Also adjacent to Monida is this old barn, which continues to stand despite hostile environment.


Next big stop will probably be Chaco Canyon, a national historic park. We intend to rendezvous with Sue and Eric Hansen. We’ve known them for years and first met them through OWAA, the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. They’re always good company and we look forward to seeing them.




Pileated Woodpeckers, Is It Hector or Hortense?





p align=”center”> 

Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Exploring Dinosaur National Monument

posted: November 23rd, 2009 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: About five years ago, Janie and I completed a Falcon Guide book for Dinosaur National Park. At first, the book sold well, but then the park had to close the Quarry Center because of a bad foundation. Recently Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a $13.1 million investment to demolish and replace condemned portions of the Quarry Visitor Center, and they now anticipate a reopening by summer of 2011.




That sounds like a long way away, but not if you want to float one of the monument’s two famous rivers, the Green and the Yampa, for reservations must be made well in advance. In fact, river boat explorations are one of the major reasons to visit the park, but there’s lots more, to include visiting the park’s major petroglyph sites and hiking all the wonderful trails. What’s more, you can still see dinosaur remains in a temporary museum. In other words you can see and do everything this wonderful monument offers, though granted right now you can more fully experience the rivers.

As part of our research for the guide books, we floated them both. On our own, we floated the Green – that was an adventure. The other, the Yampa, we floated with Hatch Expeditions. If you want to float these rivers, you need to begin making plans now, and to give you a sense of some of the excitement we experienced, here is an excerpt from our book, and it took place just below the Gates of Lodor through the exact same section where John Wesley Powell lost his boat. The famous one-armed Civil War survivor was on a survey mission for the government.


…Half an hour later we realized we could procrastinate no longer. We shoved our 14-foot raft into the river—and almost instantly were locked in the river’s brawn.

I wish before we had departed home that I had done more push-ups or lifted more weights. Or that my last rafting experience had not been several years ago. What followed was a series of mistakes executed with precision that were a marvel to behold. In fact, you can use my performance as an example of what you should not do.

Immediately, we broadsided the same rock the ranger (he’d just proceeded us) had so easily shipped. Then, as I attempted to push off with the oar, the boat shot forward knocking the oar from my hand and into the water. You should never allow that to happen.



Just before the oar shot past the boat’s bow, Janie managed to reach out and snatch it from a watery fate. Thrusting it toward me I desperately returned the oar pin to its lock. But during those few moments we had paid a price, for now the boat careened—utterly out of control.

Ultimately, the fates waxed kindly, but not without first presenting a series of challenges. Although I had committed two major blunders in rapid succession, I recovered and had the finesse to pull with my left arm and push with my right just as we slammed onto yet another rock, my actions whipping the raft from that rock and back into the current, which immediately thrust us onto yet another rock.

And now, our raft had begun to fill with water.


Our boat is a bucket boat—one that you must bail yourself—and Janie attempted to do just that. But we were floating through powerful waves and our descent down this maelstrom was less than ideal. More water swallowed our boat until we were almost bathing in it. But though we were now in the midst of Upper Disaster, we actually wallowed through—certainly not with grace or dignity—but rather because we had become as one with the water!


Beautiful Echo Park, once a rallying cry for conservationists.


Four days later we completed our float down the Green, but decided we’d leave our float down the Yampa to the professionals, and so we joined up with Hatch Expeditions.  They made it all seem easy.


Should you decided you want to see this incredible park that links two states, that contains incredible geology, petroglyphs, wonderful camping and bewildering rivers, one of which John Wesley Powell once floated, we can make it easy. Dinosaur is one of those remote and much overlooked parks and you can still see the park’s dinosaur collection. You can buy Exploring Dinosaur by contacting us. Or you can purchase it through either Amazon or through Falcon. Either way, we’ll appreciate your business.




*Lessons From Cades Cove



Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Photographing a Hibernating Bear

posted: November 16th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Again, bears are much on my mind, essentially because Gus Chambers from Montana Public TV spent this past Thursday with me in my office, going over some of my photo files that date back to the late 1960s. I’ll be posting some of those images later in the week, and think most readers will find them interesting. They tell stories of the ways in which bear management in national parks has so drastically changed.

Gus was interested in these photos as Public TV plans a  documentary intended to  rehash that horrible night in 1967 when two girls were fatally mauled, both in a single night (Night Of the Grizzlies). They intend the documentary to be released in late spring and in the gathering of materials the station has visited with all the people involved.  That’s a lot of leg work, but because of time invested, this promises to be a well-researched presentation.


Hibernating black bear on ridge overlooking Glacier National Park


Previously, Gus and his partner had interviewed me but last week he was here to peruse my files. Before he showed up I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to help. Gus wanted bear images, but more, he wanted images from the ‘60s, which was prior to the time when I began the methodical filing of professional images. No problem finding bear images, which he’ll use as stills, but he’d hoped for more, and so he asked:   “Don’t you have an old shoe box of images?”

Well, yes, I did, and what a treasure trove we found; images I hadn’t looked at in years. More later this week.


In the meantime, here is a black and white photo pulled from the days when I was the editor of the Flathead Outdoor Journal, an image which Gus and I found in the course of our search for photos for his documentary. The outdoor tabloid was published by the Bigfork Eagle,  and was eventually inserted into three of the Valley’s weekly papers. During those years, the paper often won first-place from the Montana Press Association, both for story content and for my photographs.

Above is one one of the images that won a first prize, and it was made from a hillside overlooking Glacier National Park. While hiking in late November friends and I had discovered a likely site for a bear den and decided we’d take a peek inside. Snow covered the ground that year, and it was extremely cold. Food was scarce so it was not a big surprise to find exactly what we’d been looking for hidden in the much recessed cave.

Crawling into the opening, I  could see curled in a ball in the far corner, a female black bear. She knew I was there but had already entered into a state of lethargy associated with hibernation, so she simply raised her head and then gnashed her teeth. She repeated this action several times, eventually sinking back into her stupor. A friend was grasping my ankle and if there had been a problem he was to yank me out with all his strength. Quickly I snapped a photo, and although the flash didn’t seem to disturb the bear, nevertheless I signaled my friend to yank.

It was a great photo opportunity, and it did win a prize, but I doubt I’ll do that again.



*When It Snow In The Great Smokies



Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Combining Images with Photoshop

posted: November 12th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Several years ago, just about this time, Janie and I were in Nova Scotia, gathering material for a story on the tragic expulsion by the English of the French Acadians. The group was immortalized in an epic poem by Longfellow, entitled Evangeline, and that’s recounted at Grand Pre National Park.  My story and posting of this tragedy have been well received, and Janie and I were invited to attend a reunion in Nova Scotia by an Acadian family whose expelled ancestors eventually settled in New Orleans.  We wish we could have joined.

Because of the immense tragedy, Nova Scotia has developed what they call an Acadian Trail, and one night we found ourselves in Annapolis Royal at Fort Anne on the site’s very popular Graveyard Walk. The informative talk was conducted by Alan Melanson, himself a descendant of Acadians. Melanson had the perfect features to be conducting the walk all off set by his garb, which was that of a craggy-faced undertaker. This historian understood I was gathering material for a story about the Acadians and became a cooperative photographic subject.


We all carried lanterns and it was an ideal night for a stroll in a graveyard. There was even a moon – and that’s what this posting is really about. The only problem was getting the moon in the right location for composition. Exposure, too, was a problem, so my only solution was to take a separate picture of the moon, go to PhotoShop and import it into the main image.


As you’ll see if you compare my efforts of several years ago with this image, my first efforts weren’t all that good. The moon was too bright and there were no eerie clouds to add drama. What’s more, there’s a real art to combining images – and I don’t think I  came close with my first efforts.

Those thoughts have remained in my subconscious and the other night here in Montana, the clouds engulfed the moon, so I rushed to the porch with my tripod and Nikon D300. I took about a dozen moon/cloud photos and am now using them to create what I consider a better version of the scene in Nova Scotia. Though I’ve been collecting images of moons since that time several years ago – and have experimented with them – this one seems to work best.


Here’s the PhotoShop technique. Because the moon was too large to complement the image of Melanson, I reduced it to a quarter of the size. To get the proper fit, this takes a bit of trail and error.  The moon was still too bright so I darkened it, using brightness/contrast. After that I used the Move Tool and then positioned the moon with clouds where I wanted. Though I’m still not sure that this is the perfect combination, I believe it is much better.

I’ve used Photoshop to improve images before and here’s a link to another, this one of a bald eagle.

Some may say that photography should remain a documentary art, but I’m reminded of  Ansel Adams who said “it is the print,” implying he’d do whatever he wanted to create the feeling he wished to convey. To this end, he dodged and burned, added filters to create his incredible black and white images, which, is, of course, an abstract form of expression by virtue of its very nature.

I like experimenting when something stirs me and think it takes the art of photography to another level.

And now, although I am a day late, I want to give thanks to all the men in the military now serving our country.  Here’s a posting I made last year on Veterans’ Day about Memorial Day, but the message that the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has been great is similar. It also provides a armchair tour of some of our Capitol Parks — and takes you to the grave of one of my relatives.




*Bewitched By Shenandoah’s Late Autumn Season





Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Thought From Experts on Grizzly Weights and Gender

posted: November 9th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: When Bruce Funk, a hunting guide in Alaska who just returned from the Brooks Range, looked at this photo, he immediately said, “Sow.”

Guess, then, that I’m typical of those who see a bear and are impressed by the intensity of the moment rather than by the more dispassionate facts. Big bears can do that to you, and all grizzlies can seem big, particularly when they’re staring right at you. But after talking to a few people who must make proper evaluations for a bear’s safety and a client’s satisfaction, I find that I must modify comments I made in my October 19 post about gender and weight.

Bruce, who is neighbor here in rural Creston, Montana, looked at my pictures and made his instant assessment by looking at several features. “Look at the ears,” said Bruce. “A sow’s ears are located more toward the top of its head while those of a boar are located more on the side. And see how circular this bear’s face is. A boar’s face is more angular, more triangular in shape. This one’s legs are short and squat, so it all starts to add up.”

Bruce said that you also need to look at its neck. “The neck of a boar is longer,” said the hunting guide. “So you put all these things together and I’d say with 95 percent certainly that what you photographed was a sow. It’s a big one alright, but I believe it is a sow.”


Bruce went on to say that the bear appears so heavy because its fur is long at this time of year, and that makes its body weight appear more than what it might actually be. “When you get a bear on the ground,” said Bruce, “and strip the hide from the carcass, bears start to shrink real quick.”

Grizzly bear

Based on short snout and placement of ears, those in the know say this is a sow, weighing about 450 pounds.

Another person whose opinion I greatly respect is that of Rick Millsap. Rick worked for almost 30 years in Glacier National Park and many of those years were spent in bear management in the Many Glacier area. Currently, he’s a backcountry Ranger in Alaska’s Wrangle St. Elias National Preserve, our largest Park Service managed area.


Like Bruce, Rick uses ears in helping him evaluate various features. As a bear ranger, sometimes he’s had to dart bears, and an overdose of the drug could kill it. As a result he has given much thought to the art and says he’s never been off more than 50 pounds off.

“When I look at your bear,” said Rick, referring to the photo which I’d emailed to him, “I see big ears and a relatively small body. It’s about ready to hibernate so it has added another couple hundred pounds. I’d say it could go as large as 450, and that’s really big for a sow in Glacier. “Course I’m not in the field so I’m disadvantaged.”


A file photo from the Wolf Grizzly Bear Discovery Center near YNP, so we know this one is a male. Since you can't get upclose and real personal, look at the elongated snout and ears, which suggests a MALE.


Though I was in the field, still I’m going to defer to Bruce and Rick who both came up with similar thoughts. So now I’ve got to back off from my thoughts about it being a large boar. Bruce and Rick also said that if this is a pregnant female she’ll probably lose several hundred pounds during the course of hibernation. Cubs will be born about February, and if this is, in fact, a lactating female, she’ll loose several hundred pounds by the time she emerges from hibernation. “She’ll void the plug,” said Bruce, “that all bears create in their intestines to keep their digestive systems in order. Then, it will be several weeks before her system is back to normal.”


Bruce said that she’ll probably lose lots more weight during hibernation so that by May, she might only weigh 300 pounds. Bruce thought this was a bear well into her prime, making her about 10 years old.

So with all that information, I’m convinced, my grizzly of several weeks ago was a female that could have weighed between 450 and 500 (give me that as I was in the field), but what do you think?

What we all agreed upon is that the bear was not an angry grizzly bear. She had no cubs with her and she may well have acquired some fear of people through aversive conditioning regularly practiced by rangers in Glacier. What’s more we had not surprised her. However, Bruce said I was certainly smart to have my bear spray out and ready. Rick concurred, saying he’d used bear spray a number of times, and that a healthy blast had once turned a charging bear.

Lots you can learn by talking to good field people.




*Harpers Ferry





Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Emmonak, Alaska Is A Long Way From Home

posted: November 5th, 2009 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s a long way from my son’s home in Kalispell, Montana, to Emmonak, Alaska, but that’s where David worked this past summer. Though he initially took the job because there was so very little employment locally for those in the construction field, as it turned out, not only was the summer profitable, but as well, it was a great adventure, one he may try to repeat. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned about rolling with the times.


Emmonak, Alaska, five miles from the Bering Sea

Emmonak is located near the mouth of the Yukon River near the Bering Sea, and that’s a long way from anywhere. The Yukon is several thousand miles long, and Janie and I know a little something about it. Several years ago, we loaded up our john boat, shoved off from Circle, Alaska, and boated about 2,100 miles in the course of four months.

Our journey took us about 300 miles down the Yukon to Rampart, then back up river to Fort Yukon where the Porcupine River converges with the Yukon. We then boated 350 miles to Old Crow, Yukon Territory, a Gwich’in Indian village, where I was gathering materials for various stories about the lives of subsistence hunters… This is big country, and though we covered many miles on the Yukon, we were still about 500 miles from  Emmonak. Because there are no roads to Emmonak, boat travel or bush plane are the only ways to get there.

Originally, Emmonak was settled by the Yup’ik Eskimo, a group that would hunt the winter ice for seals. But white people moved in, and when they did, roads were needed, meaning gravel to shore up the mud plastering grounds of this delta village. But the only gravel is located about 100 miles upstream around Mountain House, another Yukon River village. Each season that’s where barges go, returning with loads to be dumped along the roads of Emmonak. Maintaining Emmonak is a constant struggle.


Several years ago, the village had a particular series of problems. In the winter of 2008-2009, a combination of a cold winter and increased fuel prices led to economic hardship. Due to a collapse in local king salmon fisheries in 2008 residents were unable to generate enough economic capital to buy increased amounts of heating oil at higher prices. On January 10, 2009 Nicholas C. Tucker, Sr., a town elder, circulated a letter asking for aid. The letter was circulated by Alaska bloggers, where it was picked up by national media.


CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGE AND COMPLETE CAPTION. L to R: George, the chef; David with Coho salmon; main street of Emmonak; David and George, the chef; home for the summer.

Emmonak is small, about 800 people, and the village is considered “dry.” Kwik’Pak Fishery operates a business there, netting and processing salmon. That requires out buildings, and the talents of a skilled carpenter, which after many years in the business my son certainly is. The business also requires the talents of welders, mechanics and of a professional cook, and Kwik’Pak, at least according to David, was very lucky in that they were able to hire “George,” a Romanian cook who has worked in some of the world’s best restaurants. Once he worked on a boat which ran into some bad luck. The ship sank and “George,” said David, relating the story to me,  “had to tread water for twenty-four hours.”

David also says that his crew of about 12 was lucky, for they dined like kings — all on meals prepared by George.


David worked seven days a week, but still had a little time off to join natives as they hunted for moose and seals. He said he wished he’d had a camera with him when the Eskimos tried to spear seals in the traditional way. Nevertheless, he still came back with some excellent story-telling images.

Though no one has a crystal ball, David said he’d very much like to return, for not only did he benefit from the hard work, but he says he also had quite an adventure.

“You bet, I’d like to go back,” said David. “It’s a different world, and I enjoyed learning about another culture and the business of catching fish.”

Seems like in this season of rough economic times, you do what you must do, and sometimes it really works well.



*Photo Shop



Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Pure Photography In Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Valley

posted: November 2nd, 2009 | by:Bert


"Sometimes," said Eliot Porter, "you can tell a large story with a tiny subject."

©Bert Gildart: Often good photography requires the paring down of an immense landscape to something that has fewer elements, and that’s what I often try and do when I enter a place as beautiful as Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Valley.

Contrary to what many say as part joke, you just can’t point your camera in any direction and shoot – even in a place as lovely as this mountainous valley. Instead you have to select and isolate, and do so critically. The famous photographer, Eliot Porter expressed my theme particularly well: “Sometimes,” said Porter, “you can tell a large story with a tiny subject.”

With those thoughts in mind, there’s an old snag about a mile or so from the Many Glacier Campground that I always stop to examine. It’s been there for a long time and provides cavity nesting birds with a home, and is another special component of a wild Glacier National Park.

On our trip of about 10 days ago, I again stopped as we entered, and found the old snag interesting — much potential, but in ways difficult to anticipate. However, those ways revealed themselves over the course of two days, for the lighting changed dramatically and did so in ways that can only be described as magnificent.


The above scene is an early morning one, made just as the sun was rising. Timing was critical – for five minutes later the glow on the peaks behind the snag diminished. And then, a snow squall followed.

The second image was made again in the early morning (the next morning, in fact), but following a storm containing a mixture of rain and snow. The rainbow was associated with the storm and became one of the most magnificent I’d ever seen. I felt privileged to be there at that precise moment and recalled a quote from Ansel Adams:

“Sometimes,” he said, “I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

That’s exactly the way I felt last week, for the setting lasted but a few moments, but before the rainbow’s time on this primordial stage concluded, it expanded into a complete arc. But the arc also embraced man-made structures so lost some of its wilderness drama. As a result, I didn’t feel as though it measured up to what either Porter or Adams might have sought.

In both cases, the foreground consisted of the same old snag, but in the case of the rainbow, I chose a different location for this image so as provide a better arrangement for the two elements. (”A good photograph,” said Adams, “is knowing where to stand.”)


Ansel Adams believed that he often got to places "just when God is ready to have somebody click the shutter."

Together, I think the images make a nice statement and show the benefits of returning to the same setting time after time – in this case to an old snag – dead now for many years. You’ll find the gnarled trunk with its up thrust arms in the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park, and I’m always surprised to see what “a huge story this tiny subject can often tell.”




*Valley Forge




Read Comments | 3 Comments »