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 January, 2010

Torrential Rains Generate Profound Thoughts at Pegleg

posted: January 25th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  The torrential rains, which I mentioned in my last posting – and that lasted for five full days – have finally ceased. They stopped three days ago leaving the ground saturated in a way they’ve not been in years. Mike the mechanic at a local garage said he’d lived here for 20 years, emphasizing “I’ve never seen the equal!”


Trails lead directly from Pegleg into surrounding mountains.


Though the rains have forced most of inside we Pegleggers are an industrious crowd and have found things to do. Charging batteries in the rain has been a problem, forcing us to rely on our generators. To keep them dry we placed generators on elevated blocks of wood beneath the lowered the tailgates of our pickups. To keep the contents in the bed of our pickups dry, we spread tarps over the opening and then Bungeed them in placed so the winds wouldn’t whip them around.

Made comfortable in that manner we then went about our various activities, which wasn’t a problem for me as the seclusion allowed me to work on stories and photographs.


But you can’t work all the time, so Janie and I have played cards with Fireman Ted and his wife Carol. Ted and Carol are both great readers and had introduced us to a book called The Road. Authored by Cormac McCarthy the book is listed on Oprah’s Book Club. By the time the rains had arrived we’d all read the profoundly dark master piece, which has a post-apocalyptic setting. None of us could put the book down and the bleak rains seemed to provide the proper setting for much verbal intercourse. Might McCarthy portend the future of mankind?

The rains provided yet more. One dark and bleak night Bruce the lawyer invited us to the VFW for taco night. The club was packed and the mood was so festive that the rains of the evening were themselves drowned out by all the bon home.



Click on each image to see enlarged version and to see extended caption.  L to R: Driving through Slot Mountain, “Wind Caves,” Badlands as seen from Wind Caves.

But now, after enduring such extreme hardships we’re delighted to report that all here at Pegleg have survived – and that all but a few remained. And these people should take note that we no longer view them as true Pegleggers, for they couldn’t tolerate a little inconvenience .

WindCaves5On the other hand we have proven to be more than just fair-weather Pegleggers. We remained, and can report that our Airstream didn’t float away. We’re safe and sound and now out hiking local trails accessed from our RVs and admiring the distant peaks some of which are now covered with snow! (see image of Janie above.)

And now we’re exploring a little more of this incredible park.


One of the places we’ve long wanted to see is an area accessed through Split Mountain known as Wind Caves. We joined Don the forest economist and his wife Nancy and, using their vehicle, drove about 20 miles to an area of the highway known as the “Texas Dip,” (probably because it is so big) and then on along a dirt road which we soon accessed through a series of immensely slotted canyons. After about an hour, we reached our trailhead and then struck out.

The climb was steep, but the hike worth the effort for, indeed, the area is appropriately named. Below badlands spread out, and off in the distance I saw a couple threading their way through an austere landscape created by hundreds of completely eroded hills. At this point, we were not far from the Mexican border.


A little more hiking and we came to a series of hills that contained caves, arches and windows all of which demanded exploration.  We explored these features then we sat and soaked up the scenery and ate lunch.

Several hours later we retraced our steps, and as Don and Nancy were descending the light was such that it etched the gully washers in a way that dramatized the rains not only of the past few days but also of the eons. Cast against this immense landscape of time and breadth Don and Nancy looked incredibly insignificant, reminding me once again that the universe is big and that we’re small — but hopefully not irrelevant.

Good Lord, I hope we remain rain free for the remainder of our encampment, else how will we Pegleggers ever survive the accretion of such murky thoughts?



*Gators On My Mind


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Rains Saturate Pegleg

posted: January 20th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  Here at Pegleg (located in California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park), Janie and I experienced another downpour of torrential rains, which  started yesterday about 3 in the afternoon. For over an hour, rain fell in buckets. When the rains did cease about an hour later, we went outside to survey the results, and they were impressive. Up on the hill, waters were literally streaming down the hill in what appeared to be genuine waterfalls. At the base of the hill, several “rivers” converged and then spread out over the campground. In places waters that were four- to six-inches deep engulfed our trailer and we joked about sandbagging and applying for relief funds.


Waters that were two to four inches deep engulfed our trailer.

We joked until we learned that just west of us heavy rains have created mudslides and are forcing people to evacuate their homes. According to a report I read in the Los Angles Times, the foothills to our west have received almost 5 inches of rain since Sunday. Another storm is predicated for today and that according to Department of Public Works Director Gail Farber who was interviewed by the L.A. Times,  will drop another 4 to 8 inches on the area.


The official went on to say that the ground is “really saturated right now from the two storms that came through the past two days.” Ms. Farber expressed concern for mountain residents about the storm that is predicted for today.  She said people in some places will be asked to evacuate.


Tentatively, Janie peers outside to watch the rising waters.

The storm is the result of a strong jet stream that is sending a line of storms ashore from the Pacific Ocean. Wet weather is apparently expected to continue through Thursday.

Though we’re obviously not escaping the torrential rains, here at Pegleg we’re about five miles from the mountains, where the brunt of the storm is being experienced. Nevertheless, we’re seeing several inches of water engulfing our trailer all of  which makes for interesting conversations and predictions that the desert will indeed be carpeted this spring with flowers. Several years ago the carpets of desert wildflowers were impressive, and with the rains this could provide an equal.




*The Eyes of the Canyon (about desert bighorn)




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Dateline Pegleg, America

posted: January 18th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:

Dateline Pegleg, America! Our friend Richard is the purveyor of all the news at Pegleg that is important. Making the rounds throughout camp on his well-used  bicycle, he informs everyone who is up: “It’s Monday, January 18,” he heralds.  “What more do you need to know?”

Richard’s news really is news for some out here in California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park who don’t even seem to know what month it is. Or at least they’re confused, and that should not be as surprising as it might seem. Some of us are from the north, such as Montana and Canada. Others, all the way from Vermont, and to be sitting outside in shirt sleeves and shorts in weather that is actually warm in January (or is it May?) is, well, just different.


For us, campfires have added a new dimension to the Pegleg adventure, enabling us to share life experiences.


Pegleggers, we think, are an interesting group coming from all different walks of life. Right now there are about twenty of us, and we represent a variety of backgrounds, sharing in common several facts. All of us are a little on the cheap side, enjoying the fact that we’re saving about $600 a month by “boondocking,” meaning that we’re pretty much self-contained. We also share the fact that most of us are either self employed or retired. Here’s a quick breakdown:


Bruce was a lawyer; Ted a fireman. Don has a PhD and worked as an economist for the Forest Service and served as a college professor. He’s now retired and he and Nancy travel in their Airstream to such places as Padre Island (Padre Island2, Padre Island3). Others we’ve met here at Pegleg include an airline mechanic, a plumber, a musician, and several teachers. As I say, Pegleg hosts people from all walks of life, and we’ve not met a single person whose company we don’t enjoy.

Over half in the group have been married more than once so some share pasts that require a little digging, but all eventually want to tell their story, and some are very spicy. We suspect some of the stories are edited for the audience. Others in Pegleg are widows or widowers, who acknowledge that at this stage of their lives they don’t want to be alone, and are very grateful they’ve found someone with whom they can bond.

But regardless of their past what all Pegleggers seems to share is a sense of curiosity and adventure – and some have lived exceedingly adventurous lives – and believe they’re still doing so.

Bruce once sailed the Pacific, and mostly by himself. Richard sailed, too, but generally as a member of a small crew on someone else’s boat. During those years, sailing adventures took them both throughout the Pacific, and in Richard’s case, to Australia and to New Zealand. Both have weathered “Perfect Storms.”

We enjoy hearing these stories and all seem to delight in hearing ours. We all believe that RVing as full-timers or as full-time part timers (nine twelfth-ers we like to say) continues the sense of curiosity and adventure and all of us can tally off remote parts of North America to which we’ve traveled. For instance, in the past few years we’ve been to such farflung places as Nova Scotia and the Dry Tortugas.

Speaking from a very personal point of view, photography remains a huge part of the adventures that Janie and I enjoy, and on that note, I’ll provide a few thoughts on the posted image.


Those who are not familiar with photography might think that the fire is providing the sum total of all the light used for lighting Don, Janie and Nancy, but that is not the case. Once again I’ve used my two SB-800s and have covered the face of the units with the red gel filter that came with each. So covered the strobes add a fire-like glow to the scene, and couldn’t be accomplished without the gel. Strobes were placed on tiny stands between the fire and the fire watchers.

All of us think the evening fire we’ve enjoyed this year helps to make Pegleg. Last year we had no fire and cold from the desert nights did little to encourage us to remain outside. Ted, the retired fireman from Canada, and I have been getting the wood, using his small portable chain saw and the back end of my truck for hauling. Now we’re warm and that encourages the sharing of life adventures in the evening.


Though we’re all self-contained, Janie and I weren’t so completely independent last year. That’s when we headed to the Slabs ( fascinating in itself) and had “Solar Mike” tie in another solar panel. It has served us and has continued to do so while we’ve been at Pegleg this year, but things are about to change. Heavy clouds are moving in and solar panels, of course, require sun. But that may not happen for the next few days, as several rain storms are forecast.

Rain in the desert? It happens every now and then, and when it happens, it paves the way for wonderful displays of flowers. That, of course, is weeks away, and in the meantime we’ll just bide our time, hoping Richard will continue to make his daily bike rides throughout Pegleg, keeping us informed of the day – and even the month.



Year’s Favorite Photos


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Smugggler’s Canyon Provides a Stroll Through Time

posted: January 15th, 2010 | by:Bert


Departing Smuggler's Canyon

©Bert Gildart: Smuggler’s Canyon overlook provides what many say is one of Anza Borrego’s most scenic vistas, which it certainly could be. It is reached following a hike of about a mile and a half, the last hundred yards of which threads through a maze of boulders and steep-sided walls. Historians caution, however, that Smuggler’s Canyon may be a misnomer, noting that smugglers could never use the area as there is simply no reasonable access.

In a round about way Bill and Polly Cunningham, friends of ours from Montana, explain as much in their their book Best Easy Day Hikes, Anza-Borrego.

They say that when you reach the overlook there is an abrupt drop-off above Smuggler’s Canyon, “so keep an eye,” they advise, “on overly adventurous members in your hiking party.”

The drop-off they’re referring to is also known as a “dryfall,” created by water, but which runs only following exceptional downpours. But they’re right, the drop off is substantial, descending about 150 feet. And because it does so abruptly people wonder how it could have ever been used successfully by smugglers?

From our readings of Marshall South’s various entries, we believe he was aware of the overlook as he spoke of other aspects of the vista, which includes the old Vallecito Stagecoach station all of which is back dropped by the rugged peaks of the Tierra Blanca, Jacumba, and Coyote mountains.


Though the vista is worth a hike in itself initially we were drawn to this area because of the pictographs, which take you back hundreds of years. Pictographs differ from Petroglyphs in that the former are created from pigments while the latter by chipping and scraping. Both were, of course, created by Native Americans of the time, meaning these works of art date back hundreds of years.

According to Lowell and Diana Lindsay, in the informative book The Anza-Borrego Desert Region, the pictographs you’ll see along this trail are unusual for “their well executed red and yellow symbolic designs consisting of interlaced elements in a diamond-chain motif.”


Click on each image to see larger version and extended caption.

Janie and I have seen Petroglyphs and pictographs in many areas of the Southwest and concur that these images are extremely well preserved. No one has carved their name over them or destroyed them with bullet holes as have so many in other parts of country.


For photographers the images could represent a challenge, and I find most of the time they photograph best with strobe lights. Specifically, I use two, one of which Janie holds. The other is on my Nikon D300 and I set my SB-800s so the daylight exposure is about one stop less than the setting for my strobes.


View from dryfalls of Vallecito Stagecoach stop and Vallecito Mountains, all of which is spectacular.


But you may not be concerned about photography, and if simply seeing beautiful country is your goal, this hike is a winner. Simultaneously, it exposes you to Rock Art and so to a bit of America’s earliest history.



Ranger Overboard



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Alcoholic Pass

posted: January 10th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: The trail over Alcoholic Pass is a good route to follow in early January, for it twists and turns, “like a drunk,” is the legendary association, so serving to remind some of New Years resolutions. (Are you keeping yours?)


Alcoholic Trail twists and turns, and is here seen dropping down on to Coyote Creek, explored by de Anza in 1774.


Diana Lindsay provides a springboard for yet other thoughts, writing in her book Anza Borrego A – Z that the trail might have been so named because of the drinking habits of several early settlers, specifically the Clark brothers and Cod Beaty. Apparently these men made extensive use of the trail (often inebriated) and so their names are historically linked with the trail, a reminder that we must continuously tread our trails through life with circumspect. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m quite ready to give up cocktail hour around our evening campfire at Pegleg, for it’s now a tradition after a long day hiking, particularly following a rewarding but vigorous hike in California’s Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

With those thoughts in mind, yesterday, I joined Don and Nancy Dennis, our Airstream traveling companions, and made the short drive from our campsite here in Pegleg along the old Anza route to the Alcoholic Pass trailhead. The rocky path climbs through a forest of desert cacti to include various types of cholla, mesquite, and ocotillo.


Click on each image to see larger version and to see extended caption.

L to R: Don and Nancy, boulders at Alcoholic Pass, back lighting dramatizes ocotillo cacti.

The trail continues to climb until it reaches Alcoholic Pass, which is spectacular because it peers over several valleys and several mountain ranges. It also peers over one of the most spectacular boulder fields you’ll ever see.


From our vantage at the pass in the Coyote Mountains we could look east and see Clark Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains. Looking the other direction we could see the San Ysidro Mountains, and then, between us and the mountains, Coyote Creek, the creek along which Juan Bautista de Anza rode in 1774. Indeed, this trail offers immense historical overviews.

There is a register at the saddle forming the pass, which Nancy signed. The trail continues and we followed it down, realizing that we didn’t have time to invest in a hike that would require about seven more miles, for the day was growing late – and so we turned around. But there were compensation for the light was casting lovely shadows along the aforementioned mountains.


To some the blossoms of the ocotillo look like tiny torches.

Equally as important for my photographic ventures were the ocotillo, which seemed so vibrant. Light on the flowers was soft, something I generally can create only with artificial strobe lighting. Over the past few years I’ve posted several blogs on lighting with multiple strobes, and on the ocotillo plant, and how it blooms only following rain storms. Obviously, there has been much rain in recent months as the blossoms are now radiant.


According to Lindsay it is this very radiance that might have given rise to their name. She quotes Mark Jorgensen, the former superintendent of Anza Borrego and an expert on sheep and desert ecology. Years ago I met the man and quoted him extensively in my book on Mountain Sheep.

Referring, however, to the ocotillo blossoms, Jorgensen says the Spanish/Mexican word ocote is a type of pine, which when lit explodes into a torch. Sometimes when the ocotillo is loaded with blossoms and the species is backlit you can easily make the association, for it appears as though the branches of the towering cacti are laden with tiny torches.

Lindsay also says Indians harvested the blooms and that the seeds made a flavored bitter-tasting drink.

Referring to the trail, Lindsay also says that the trail saved settlers six miles of trudging around the Coyote Mountains. If you were a settler, such as the Clark brothers or Cod Beaty on a mission to the local tavern in Borrego Springs, that could have been important. And so, as I made the final decent from Alcoholic Pass I was reminded that we’d soon have to make the momentous decision of whether there will or will not be a cocktail hour.

But why shouldn’t there be? I’m not one to make resolutions I can’t keep.




*By Their Beaks Shall Ye Know Them




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At Yaquitepec, Atop Ghost Mountain In Anza Borrego, January of 1940 Was a Very Good Year

posted: January 4th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: “It was probably a little something like this,” said Bill D., who has become a student of the years Marshal South, Tanya, and their three children spent atop Ghost Mountain in what is now Anza Borrego Desert State Park.   “Marshal,” continued Bill, “would step outside Yaquitepec (name for their home),  and sit on this very rock. He was trying to live off the land while developing a literary following. He hoped for peace in a chaotic world and he would contemplate his place in the universe. Some say he never found it,  but he gave it a good try. ”


"Let my house be a house of Love and Understanding... Let its roof be the arch of the sky and its music the songs of the birds and of the wind and of the harps of the rain."


Because of their lifestyle (also see: Brokeback Mountain or Ghost Mountain…) those in the surrounding communities criticized them. Sometimes the Souths went naked or they dressed in animal skins.

They built their home by hand and lived there from 1932 to 1947. To survive, they collected water in cisterns, collected plants, such as agave for food – just as did the Indians – and they penned their stories and their poems from this remote setting. Marshal in particular, wrote about desert life and desert survival, though in what may have been a romanticized manner.


Later, Marshal added painting and pottery to his artistic repertoire.

As always, we cheer when we find that manifestations of their life remain, enough so, at any rate, to build on what we know. “I think it symbolic that we’re here the first of January,” said Bill, “for one of Marshal’s very first stories for Desert Life Magazine was made in January, January of 1940. He said that “the desert is full of mystery and surprise. No two years are ever they same… He wrote in his story that “It will be a good year.”


Bill, pointing to mark on the sun dial representing north at Yaquitepec, home of Marshal and Tanya South for 17 years.

Bill and I (Janie and I too) have both visited the home many times, but on this outing we were doing so late in the evening, hoping to create images that would recall a life that is fading and may be all too soon forgotten. We both thought that the deteriorating homestead back dropped by a sky full of stars would create the ephemeral image we thought appropriate, but because of an unexpected cloud layer, that was not to be.

Still, the evening turned out to be a splendid one, essentially because of the thoughts we shared about this controversial family, and because of the images we did make.


We began by making images of the eroding home, lamenting the fact that so much had deteriorated. We found the cisterns they used to collect water. We found the bed they’d shared for 17 years but looking sadly a bit more dilapidated than when we saw it a year ago.

Their lives as a couple ended with sadness, but for awhile, they had mastered their environment and had apparently enjoyed domestic harmony, for they had three children, conceived at Yaquitepec.

As we cast around we found the sun dial Marshal had erected, and with close scrutiny Bill thought he found a mark that represented north. “I think,” said Bill, “I know where north is.” Then, with his index finger, he pointed to a fading scratch that seemed aligned with north. Bill went on to say that from his reading he believed Marshal and Tanya had constructed their home so that the door  would face the southern sky, probably to draw in more winter sun.

Bill continued to walk around returning a few minutes later saying he thought he’d found Marshal’s kiln, and wanted to show it to me. Though primitive, the piled rocks could easily have accommodated a pot about the size of one the Indians might have used, adding to our convictions. As well, we found burned wood that now appeared like so much charcoal .


We both felt it appropriate to be reminiscing about the Souths first week in January 1940, a time Marshal recalled in one of his many articles for Desert Magazine with much optimism.



Agave, one of the plants used by Native Americans -- and by the Souths -- as a staple.


“It will be a good year,” wrote Marshal, saying that he was quoting Tanya.


In his January article he also spoke of the coyotes, owls, the agave, and the tiny deer mice, which we soon heard scurrying all around. In his January entry, he wrote about the tiny creatures in a way I could appreciate for once I lived with them too, and knew they had an interesting life history. Wrote Marshal: “And the white-footed mice are always with us. There is something amiable and companionable about a white-footed mouse. Long experience with us has given them confidence. They slip in and out in the evenings like cheery little grey gnomes; squatting on the edge of the great adobe stone and nibbling tidbits…”

That was something I could relate to from my days years ago at Glacier National Park’s Cut Bank Ranger Station (probably one of the reasons I empathize with the couple), and as Bill and I sat on a rock at the South’s and listened quietly, we could hear the tiny microtids scampering around. Later, when the moon rose it provided adequate light  for us to see them. Quietly, they’d move, stopping every now, “while their big, beady black eyes watch us attentively,” as Marshal concluded. It was a condition I knew a little something about.


Eroding ruins of Yaquitepec, home of Marshal and Tanya South for 17 years.


Before long the sun dipped low in the mountains creating an incredible sunset (above), which I photographed through the arch that once served as the entry to their home. Adobe walls still stood, but the bed had collapsed. Though we stayed until it was pitch dark, and though the clouds did diffuse a bit, the skies never cleared adequately to create the type of night I wanted and had so successfully experimented with in Death Valley. No matter, for time spent atop Ghost Mountain in January bodes well, and we agreed, that our successful night might bode for “a good year.”



*Trailer Trash

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.

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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

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Happy New Years From Us Peg Leggers

posted: January 1st, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Beneath a rare Blue Moon, we Peg Leggers celebrated a joyous New Year’s Eve. Blue moons as some may recall are so named when the second full moon occurs in the same month as the first full moon, which is, of course, rare; hence the expression “Once in a blue moon.”


From Peg Leg and beneath a Blue Moon, we Peg Leggers wish all a Happy New Year!


The fire is set between both Nancy and Don’s Airstream and ours, and the moon is unaltered. To create the shot I upped the ISO to 1200 to create a proper exposure for the moon. Then I entered setting for the strobe lights that would enable me to properly expose us Peg Leggers and our warm fire, which felt so very good setting as the temperatures dipped to the low 40s.


Bert & Janie




*Tampa More Naturally




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