Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for March, 2010

Zion – But Isn’t This Also About the Raven?

posted: March 31st, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This, I submit, would have been a compelling photograph without the raven, but doesn’t its presence, though tiny, really tell the story of this magnificent setting in Zion National Park?

Yesterday, I was driving the Mount Carmel Highway dominated on either side by Navajo Sandstone, when I came across this powerful sweep of rock and color. Climbing the cliff face I set up my tripod then noticed several ravens flying in the distance.

Wouldn’t it dramatize this scene if one of the ravens silhouetted itself where the sky is so incredibly blue?

To make this picture work one of the ravens had to fly into that precise spot. Then it had to cant its wings else the composition wouldn’t have worked. Reading my mind, the raven performed precisely as I had wished.


Zion, yes, but isn't this image also about the raven?



The setting also required the use of an extreme wide angle lens to dramatize the world which the raven surveys. In other words, the story is certainly about artistic lines, but the presence of ravens creates a feeling of supremacy. Though the raven may not rule this country its presence adds grace no matter where it is, and that’s something I’ve commented on before.

A friend of mine, Rich Charpentier, makes good use of such settings as he has recently shown us in a trip to Arizona’s White Pockets. Rich is an excellent photographer and a superb print maker as well. He offers educational workshops validated by many testimonials. When I return home I believe Janie and I will commission him to create a large print for our home use.

As well, I’ll be forwarding the image to my photo agent who has been doing well for me with the sale of images, particularly those of birds. And certainly I’ll be using the image to illustrate a story I am producing for Rich Luhr, and his Airstream Life magazine.

Today the bright sunny skies have been replaced by thick overcast clouds, dramatizing the fact that Monida Pass, the major pass we must cross to return to our home in Montana, is now being slammed by blizzard conditions.

Horrible, isn’t it, that prudence suggests we hang out in Zion until conditions improve?



*Sunset For the Joshua Trees?


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Dark Skies and Lonely Lands

posted: March 26th, 2010 | by:Bert


Joshua Tree National Park still provides dark skies.

©Bert Gildart: Several days ago we departed Anza Borrego and the campsite at Pegleg where we had parked our Airstream for the past three months. During the course of our stay we met wonderful people and enjoyed our explorations of this huge desert park.

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll most likely be posting a few blogs reflecting  on our stay in this the largest of all of our nation’s contiguous state parks. There’s much about our experiences there that have yet to crystallize.

One of the features that attracted us to Anza Borrego was its night skies; and the small town of Borrego Springs takes great pride in declaring that it is devoted to preserving its night-time environment. We became fascinated with this concept and decided that while heading back home to Montana, we’d make stops at areas claiming a dark-sky status.


Not many such places are left, but several national park administered areas still remain that way and I’ve written about several to include Organ Pipe and Death Valley.

Although Joshua Tree National Park is surrounded by huge metropolitan areas, nevertheless, it claims a dark-sky status. We camped high in the park at Jumbo Rocks Campground and because late campers were driving through – and because the moon was still up – I waited until 3 a.m. to take my photo.


L to R: Joshua Tree still provides dark skies for those camped at Jumbo Rocks; Chloride Production is a lonely land separating two national park administered areas; Mojave National Preserve.

No problem getting back up as we mature gentlemen have a built-in alarm that needs to be attended to several times at night.

Earlier I had found a spot for our Airstream that offered an ideal foreground. The spot enabled me to set up my tripod immediately outside the trailer and then return inside and read, waiting for the long time exposures to complete their course. I made a one-hour exposure, shown here, and several other short exposures using high-ISO readings. Obviously it was the one-hour exposure that created the lengthy star trails. I may show the other images in subsequent postings for they are also instructive.


Our next destination was Mojave National Preserve and from previous experience we knew that this desert region offers lands that are incredibly lonely meaning that the possibility for dark skies was great. But on this occasion, although the completely isolated camping was blissful, a thin haze filtered in advertising the one night we had for night photography would not be ideal.


Sun sets over Mojave National Preserve, also offering dark sky potential -- just not this time.

But as photographers know, you go with what you have. In this case, it meant the haze would mute the sun, creating a huge orb which I could further dramatize using an extreme telephoto lens.


Though lonely lands and dark sky areas still exist they are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and that makes a commentary on our burgeoning human populations. Mostly, these growths have occurred in the past 100 years, and if this growth continues, what will it be like 100 years further down the road?

May lonely lands and dark skies be with us forever.


*Armed Escort in Organ Pipe


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Borrego Badlands – “Privileged To See Such Scenery”

posted: March 22nd, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Picture stories come in many forms and in the case of the ones shown here, occurred in one of the nation’s most spectacular settings: the Borrego Badlands as seen from Font’s Point in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

The setting was made particularly interesting when four women began oooo-ing and ahhing as they peered over the ledge and down onto the rugged terrain represented by the Borrego Badlands.


Awed by what they see, the natural response is to immortalize the experience with photography, which the four ladies then proceeded to do.

Though I was located some distance from the women their body language telegraphed their feelings, and I quickly mounted a 400mm telephoto lens onto my Nikon D300, then clicked off a series of images. At the time I thought I was being discreet, but later two of the women made the 100-yard hike from their overlook to my overlook. Smiling, they asked if I’d been taking photos of them, and when I showed them the images, they asked if I’d be so kind as to email several to them.


The ladies all thought the view was spectacular and it certainly is. They were happy they said, to have been privileged to see such spectacular scenery, such an incredible manifestation of erosion. But the panoramic view also tells a little about this largest of all contiguous state parks in California. Facing south, your gaze embraces Mexico, just 25 miles away. It encompasses Borrego Springs to the west and the Salton Sink with its Salton Sea to the east. Turning around, your gaze falls on the Santa Rosa Mountains to the north. In other words, it’s spectacular which ever way you look.

Font's Point-4

Borrego Badlands created by forces of erosion


Not only is the view point scenic, but it is also historic and has immense palenontological importance. In 1775 Pedro Font was the chaplain and navigator on Spain’s second expedition from Tubac, Mexico to Mission San Gabriel in California. The expedition was led by Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, for whom this park was named.


From the palenontological perspective, these badlands have been an immense repository of fossils to include the ground sloth, short-faced bear, dire wolf, sabertooth cat, mastodon, mammoth, giant zebra, half-ass, camel, yesterday’s camel, llama, giant camel, pronghorn, elk, deer, shrub oxen, and the Bautista horse. In other words, a trip to Font’s Point may well offer a little something for everyone.

It did for these four ladies, and it certainly did for me.



*Mojave Preserve


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RV Friendships Know No Boundaries

posted: March 19th, 2010 | by:Bert

Tom Palesch creating “Cowboy Breakfast.”

©Bert Gildart: If there are any limits to what Airstream friends will do for one another, I have yet to find them. Case is point is my request of Tom Palesch:

“Tom,” I asked, “would you mind placing one of the strobe lights next to our scorpion?”

My request was made shortly after Tom and Sandi (see Sandi’s web site on MINIATURE FOOD) had prepared an incredible “Cowboy Breakfast.”  Using the Dutch Oven that the couple toot around with them in their trailer, Tom had placed a pound of breakfast sausage into the metal pot.

After browning he then added a package of frozen hash browns to this cholesterol-free (Ha!) mixture, placed the lid back on and then covered that with about a dozen pieces of charcoal, so creating an oven-like effect. When the potatoes had cooked, he then depressed the mixture with a spatula. He cracked a number of eggs over everything and, finally, he slathered on cheese and  salsa.


All totaled, cooking required about half an hour, but we then gathered under his awning and dinned on one of the most sumptuous meals I’ve had in a long time. (Somehow all this reminded my of one of my father’s admonitions who always watched his health: “If it tastes good,” he’d exclaim, “SPIT IT OUT!” )

Unfortunately, such delicious meals (No, I didn’t spit it out.) vanish all too soon, leaving us with only another cup of coffee or two to wash down Tom’s epicurean delight.

It was about then that “Eagle-eye Janie” saw the tiny creature (previously described ) undulating over the desert rocks toward our circle of seats. But we’ve learned much since her sighting and my photographic work.


We now know that our scorpion was most likely the bark scorpion, and the description of the species provided by a subsequent Google search made me catch my breath.



Setting for our Cowboy Breakfast and the discovery of a scorpion


“The Bark Scorpion was once thought to be extremely dangerous, but now is considered to be fatally dangerous primarily to infants, children, people in poor health, and the elderly. Also, people who are allergic can have very bad reactions to a bark scorpion. Even still, it has a very potent venom, and can harm you with its powerful sting.”

Of course Tom and I both knew that the sting of a scorpion can be painful but this one didn’t appear to be particularly aggressive, so Tom knelt down beside me and held one of the strobe lights – two to provide greater depth of field as I’ve described in previous postings about flowers (and natural history). I also took photos of our scorpion using natural light, and because our arthropod was so sluggish I asked Tom if he’d take a small twig and elevate the stinger, something he did without hesitation. Now that’s friendship!


When our photo shoot was complete we conducted another research on scorpions and learned a bit more about their life histories and something more about their venom. Life histories of all scorpions are fascinating, but it was the capabilities of their venom that we focused on.




Nothing is too great a favor to ask of Tom Palesch who holds one of my strobes as we work just inches from this bark scorpion.



Here’s what this Google search provided:

“The venom of scorpions is used for both prey capture, defense and possibly to subdue mates. All scorpions do possess venom and can sting, but their natural tendencies are to hide and escape. Scorpions can control the venom flow, so some sting incidents are venomless…”

Now that description made me feel a bit more comfortable.


Despite the potential danger, scorpions intrigue many people and Anza Borrego State Park offers various lectures on the species, one of which I attended last year. At the time the speaker recommended the purchase of a black light for finding scorpions at night, the time at which they are most active. Now that I know they’re out, I’ve been making a thorugh search around all the bushes that surround our two Airstreams. However, if I find one I’m now wondering if it would be too much to ask for night-time photo assistance.



Bark scorpion photographed with natural light



Maybe I’ll just try and con Tom and Sandi out of another one of their delicious Cowboy Breakfasts, if not now, perhaps a little further down the road of our perpetual adventures.





*Compassionate Water Tanks





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Life Around Harper Cabin Brought Alive By Retired Superintendent Mark Jorgensen

posted: March 18th, 2010 | by:Bert


Retired superintendent Mark Jorgensen explains the phenomenal growth spurt of the agave

©Bert Gildart: This past weekend the Anza-Borrego Foundation provided an all-day excursion to Harper Cabin as its “Hike of the Month”. Since we’ve been here I’ve tried to take in as many of the seminars the park offers, but I particularly wanted to take in this one, specifically because retired superintendent Mark Jorgensen was leading the hike.

Without a doubt Mark knows more about the Anza Borrego Desert than anyone. Before accepting the position as superintendent, he worked as one of the park’s rangers. As well, Mark sat on several prestigious bighorn sheep councils, and that is why I sought him out about 12 years ago. At that time Mark helped me with several chapters in my book about Mountain Monarchs, Bighorn Sheep, and so I wanted to renew acquaintance.


The gathering started with a surprise. Since arriving in Anza Borrego I’ve been following Bob Baran’s blog, which is about this state park. Months ago we agreed to provide links to one another’s posts, so it was a wonderful surprise to find that Bob was among the 23 hikers. When the group was all assembled at Tamarask Campground, somehow we both recognized one another immediately. His posting about our trip shows some wonderful images, particularly of the cabin and the area in which the Harper Brothers once lived.

From Tamarask Campground we made the short drive to  Pinyon Wash. We then followed a “jeep” trail for about five miles to the trailhead.  Then we began our hike.

Our destination was the cabin built by the Harper brothers about 1920, where they had discovered a large, gently sloping flat that could be used for grazing cattle. Upon reaching the cabin we learned that little remains of their attempts — other than a multi-level dam and their cabin. The brother’s efforts to retain water with the two dams soon met disaster for sand quickly filled them. Then, their cattle contracted anthrax.

Unfortunately, the anthrax may also have affected the area’s bighorn sheep population. Mark said that because water had been so drastically diverted the park recently installed several water tanks to help the sheep. Under the circumstances, installation of the water tanks was justified.


Mark led us directly to the cabin and we discovered that little remained of what had once been a one-room 15- x 12-foot home. Originally, the top and front were made from corrugated iron. Agave stalks supported the roof.

Though it was fascinating to relive the struggles of the Harper Brothers, much of my interests concerned the area’s natural history. Along the way we stopped at an agave plant that had just put on a phenomenal spurt of growth. In a period of but two weeks, the stalk of the agave had soared about 12 feet. Soon, blossoms will cap the stalk, representing the end of a long life, which is why agave is also known as the century plant.



We also stopped at an ancient Indian village and as we cast around we found morteros, metates and old pottery shards. Mark showed us one of the shards but then returned the tiny piece to the spot from which he had taken it.


Though the trip was exceptional, for me the highlight always seems to be the meeting of all the interesting people who invariably sign up for such adventures. All were natural history and history enthusiasts and it was fun to share thoughts.




Once more it was instructive to join Mark. It was fun meeting Bob Baran and sharing  a few thoughts about blogging — all backdropped by the incredible desert provided by Anza Borrego Desert State Park.



Star Light Star Bright — Night Photography at Organ Pipe

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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Scorpions Are Out At PegLeg

posted: March 17th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Since Janie had cataract surgery, which included lens replacement, it seems as though there’s little that passes by her undetected. So it seemed this morning as we sat watching the rocks just beyond the huge mat in front of the Airstream that belong to Tom and Sandi Palesch.

“You wanted to see a scorpion!” she exclaimed. “Well, there’s one right now.”


First scorpion I've ever seen, much less photographed. What kind is it? Anyone know?

How she saw it I’ll never know for it was small. As well it seemed sluggish, reluctant to move, and so everyone in our small group had difficulty finding it. But she was right; there it was, and because it blended so perfectly with the rocks and the sand we all knew it might be time to start watching where we walked.


Because so many species of scorpions apparently inhabit southern California (Anza Borrego in this Case), I’m not sure of the species, though it could be either a rock scorpion or a bark scorpion. That, at any rate, was the consensus after attempting a Google ID. Hopefully, as time goes by we’ll find someone who can do a better job of identifying our arthropod.

In the meantime, head’s up, for the hot weather is apparently bringing them out. Watch where you walk, and if you are an RVer who has been leaving your shoes out at night, now might be the time to start bringing them in. If you’ve got a woodpile, you might want to examine each chunk before you pick it up.

In general, the advice is to keep your eyes open. In my case, I think I’ll just be taking my wife with me everywhere I go. Aside from the fact her eyes are obviously much better than mine, it’s not a bad option in many other ways.



*Amargosa Opera House


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Owl Photography at The Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge

posted: March 15th, 2010 | by:Bert


Barn Owl, Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge, peering from behind dense cluster of palm fronds.

©Bert Gildart:  Several days ago I returned to the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge and was able to photograph two owls, ones that have life histories that are entirely different.

One is the burrowing owl, and it is one of the few that hunts during the day. It’s also the only one I know of that lives in a burrow.

The other owl, the barn owl hunts at night and is so different from other species of owls that it is placed in a separate family all its own.

Unfortunately, owls as a group have not received a favorable billing in recent years. Spotted owls are on the endangered species list – and so, is the burrowing owl.


Experts say that owls serve as one of the very best forms of predator control. Placing a new box for owls on a property can help control rodent populations (one family of hungry barn owls can consume more than 3,000 rodents in a nesting season) while maintaining the naturally balanced food chain.

Sometimes owls are also associated with sorcery and I recall in a wonderful book written by Margaret Craven, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, that the protagonist in the book, an aging priest, did in fact hear the owl and when he heard it, he knew his days were numbered.

Photographs shown here were made on the Sonny Bono Refuge and with long telephoto lenses (840mm).

Lens and camera were mounted on a tripod and because I wanted as much depth of field as I could muster from my setup I stopped the aperture down to the point my shutter speeds were at times about 1/15 of a second.


Burrowing owl habitat is diminishing and to help the species, biologist are creating nesting sites from artificial materials.


So as to eliminate camera movement during exposure I used the mirror lockup function on my Nikon D300.



*Joshua Trees


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Is This REALLY The Desert?

posted: March 11th, 2010 | by:Bert


Sand Verbena (Abronia maritima), growing in the sandy flats of Anza Borrego.

©Bert Gildart:  Another title I considered for this posting was “Rainy Day Details — From Anza Borrego Desert State Park”. The point, of course, is that all the rain of these past few months is creating a profusion of wildflowers not seen every year.

And now the rains of the past few days have added their artistic touch. Still, the desert is alive, and more alive, I believe, than I have seen it in a long time. Even Clark Dry Lake held rain this spring and those of you who follow this blog will recall the resulting water produced a hatch of fairy shrimp — making me wonder again: Is this really the desert?

But it is the desert and the rain has complemented the carpets of flowers by softening the light and by adding interesting patterns of moisture. In some cases, the moisture acts like a magnifying glass, accentuating details. Look, for instance, at the droplets that have come to lodge in the intersection of the lupine leaves.

What a spectacle we’re being treated to!

Flowers, then, are the headlines in this park and are appearing in many places and in many forms. Drive along the Henderson Canyon Road from Pegleg toward the DiGorgio Road and within half a mile you’ll see vast fields of sand verbena. Mixed into these fields are various other flowers to include the beautiful primrose with its delicate white flowers. As well, there is creosote, desert lily, chicory, desert dandelion, phacelia, brittle brush, and the brown-eyed evening primrose, among others.


One of the most abundant little flowers is the lupine, which has been blooming for the past few weeks. To see it here at Pegleg Campground, all we’ve had to do was step out of our trailer and walk a few feet. Unlike other species, it does not appear to be as site specific as does the sand verbena and the various species of cacti.

Cacti, incidentally, are also blooming, and one excellent place to see them is along the Cactus Loop Walk, adjacent to Tamarisk Campground, reached by driving over Yaqui Pass. The trail head is near the entrance to the campground.


PrimrosePegLeg-3-3HPSand Verbena


Dune Evening Primrose; lupine, sand verbena

Over the weeks I’ve used a variety of techniques to photograph these plants, ranging from strobe lights to natural light. Strobe lights are the only choice when winds are blowing, as they arrest the motion. Strobes, however, were not necessary the other day, which was a calm one, enabling me to shoot at shutter speeds of ¼ a second or even less. For comparison, I’m including an image of the fish-hook cactus, which was taken with two strobes.

Fish-hook Cactus

Fish-hook cactus (Mamilaria diocica) as seen along Cactus Loop Trail, Anaza Borrego

This is a small cacti and the image is almost 1/1, meaning its actual size is about equal to the image that appears in the camera’s view finder.


Other than the image of the fish hook cacti I used natural light, an acceptable choice as pervading clouds reduced harsh shadows, though I sometimes used a small reflector to add detail in dark areas. As always when photographing such tiny subjects, I used a tripod, essential when the elements must be arranged exactly to create a pleasing composition. A tripod is also essential when using a macro lens as any movement at all is accentuated. Movement results from the slow shutter speeds you must use to stop down your aperture for increase depth of field, so that you can record all those desert details in the multitude of flowers now rearing their heads.

In fact, this year there are so many of them, and they are so abundant that once again I have to wonder: Is this REALLY the desert?




*Star Photography in Organ Pipe


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Wildflowers — and Sightings of Endangered Bighorn — Combine to Create Perfect Day

posted: March 8th, 2010 | by:Bert


Young ram threading its way through cactus forest.

©Bert Gildart: The drama was high pitched, almost as exciting as watching two rams collide during mating season. But this contest was between a huge barrel cactus and a single ram, and if you’ve ever examined the sword-like thorns on the species, you’d understand the challenge.

According to Eric Hansen (a photographer friend I’ve mentioned often), who documented the entire episode, the ram trotted over to the barrel cactus, and then showing complete indifference to the species’s enormous thorns, it bashed the plant with the curve of its horns, partially splitting it in two.

Though Eric (also with us last year  in Death Valley) later saw thorns embedded in the lips and horns of the ram, the young ram seemed indifferent. These guys are tough, or the rewards are too great to bypass. Perhaps the later, for the ram continued its battle with the plant, slashing down with one of its sharp hooves to expose the center and the succulent pulp, which is apparently delicious, for the ram immediately began to feast.


The drama occurred several days ago, and when Eric asked if I like to return to the setting, I jumped at the chance. The probability of seeing such a sight again, we both knew, was slim, but that was OK. Much rain has been falling and various plants are putting forth incredible displays in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, so there was that. And, then, who knows? Perhaps we’d run across more desert bighorn sheep, and that’s always special, for the subspecies (cremnobates) — the one inhabiting this portion of the desert — is endangered.

DesertBighorn-1DesertBighornRam-3BlueFlowerBarrel Cactu

L to R: Ram completely relaxed; ram, showing growth patterns in horns; Phacelia; barrel cactus now in bloom.

Cremnobates has horns that vary enough from the other desert bighorns to warrant designation as a separate subspecies. Current estimates are that less than 600 remain in the US, with some estimates as low as 335. Approximately 200 of the remaining sheep are located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Others range north to Palm Desert and south into the Baja Pennisula.


Once the subspecies was common throughout this entire region, but when you have a region that values golf courses more than it does wildlife, animals such as the magnificent bighorn don’t stand a chance. Right now there are over 100 golf courses in — or immediately surrounding — the Palm Desert area alone, and that is ridiculous. Bob Hope once lived near the area and just before he died, he was told by research biologists that because of his involvement in trying to perpetuate the species, they wanted to name one of the rescued Cremnobates after him. “What shall we call it?” they asked. Without hesitation, the famous comedian said “Hope, and for all the obvious reason.”

Fortunately there are areas such as Anza Borrego that safeguard the species and shortly after starting on our hike up Palm Canyon, Eric and I saw two rams thudding down the flanks of Indian Head Mountain. As they scurried down they exhibited all the sure-footed traits characteristic of the species, quickly crossing the trail in front of us and then scampering up the opposite hill — another rocky slope.


Profusion of brittle brush


Though our progress was considerably slower, we followed them, and eventually their route took us back to the exact area in which Eric had watched the battle of the ram and the barrel cactus. On this day, they ignored the other barrel cacti, but apparently found the area satisfied their other needs, meaning it was safe. We stayed with them for several hours and they tolerated us, alternating their activities between wending through cactus groves and  perching on the huge boulders that enabled them to survey all that surrounded them. Occasionally one would rise and nibble on a creosote bush, somehow avoiding the thorns that seem to occupy everything that grows out here.


Though most of our day was spent photographing the sheep, it was impossible to bypass the many wild flowers. Species that predominated included the brittle brush, phacilia, brown-eyed evening primrose, and the desert chicory. As well, a number of cacti were blooming to include the fishhook cactus and the barrel cacti. One is small the other large, but both produce flowers that are extraordinarily colorful.

This is a wonderful season to be in the desert and we count our blessings for the good fortune to be here when the sheep sightings are still common and the flowers are so gorgeous. Our only hope is that Hope – or most likely, now, its descendants – continues to flourish.



*Sands That Sing


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Can Music Charm Kangaroo Rats?

posted: March 6th, 2010 | by:Bert


Could the soft soothing music from Tony Feathers' guitar be luring in our new friends?

©Bert Gildart:  Whether it was the superb guitar playing, the warmth from our night fire, or the small pieces of peanuts we had apparently dropped on the ground I can’t say for sure, but one of the factors must have been responsible for the stealthy appearance of one of the desert’s most secretive creatures.

Though Janie and I have seen kangaroo rats as we’ve hiked the various deserts environs, we’ve never seen them at our feet – crawling over our boots, scampering across our hands. But that’s the way it has been the past several times we’ve sat around one of our cheery fires.

Curiously song writer and guitar player Tony Feathers has joined us on each of the nights, so maybe it has been the soft sounds of his instrument and voice that have coaxed in these mysterious creatures.

He plays frequently on Public Radio and at coffee houses in his home state of Tennessee, so I’m not going to sell this possibility short. He’s good, and the rats could have been mesmerized.


Another factor, of course, is the warmth from the fire. Perhaps the light from the fire has helped drawn them in. Possible, I suppose, but with their large, light-gathering eyes I doubt the fire improved their vision, so more than likely because the fire has lured us out, it is something about our presence that has drawn them in.

From our presence there is the possibility of food, and perhaps they’ve learned that. We chow on peanuts as we sip our wine, and when we chow on the peanuts, we inadvertently drop hulls. Still, it’s amazing that these timid creatures will forsake their desert ways — even for the chance of some free food.


Kangaroo rats are extraordinarily well adapted to this life in which they’ve been placed. Look again at their eyes, which are huge and excellent for gathering light. Then look at their huge hind legs, the source of the name. With these powerful legs, they spring long distances, soaring in huge arcs from one life-saving hole to another, chased sometimes by a coyote – and, yes damn it! — sometimes by the cats that some RVers allow to wander free from their campers.

But back to these charismatic desert denizens… look at their extraordinarily long tail, which enables them to adjust their trajectory in mid air with a powerful flick.


With their huge hind legs Kangaroo rats can leap long distances and then, with their long tails, even change the trajectory of their flights.

There are yet other adaptations, and most have to do with the conservation of water. Scientists say their kidneys are extraordinarily efficient, capable of extracting life-giving moisture from tiny seeds. That’s just for starters, for scientists have tabulated many features that go on for pages.


Those, at any rate, are some of the characteristics of the visitors we’ve been enjoying the past couple of nights as we sit around our warm campfire listening to Tony Feathers play his guitar. So fearless have these creatures become that I actually had one crawling over the palm of my hand. They’re fastidious little creatures and because of the trait some people have actually tamed them as pets.


Tug of War


We, however, like them where they are and will try and do our part to keep them wild, not always easy to do. The other evening I saw one of our new friends creeping toward the hull of a peanut. Trying to reach it before the small rodent did, I succeeded only in tying with the tiny animal, which resulted in a small tug of war.


Large eyes placed on the sides of its head provide these tiny rodents with ample light-gathering capability.


“Kangie” won, and we all watched as the animal bounded off into the night. Several nights later, it returned again, but this time with several of its friends, all of whom we tried to ignore. That, at any rate, is a summary of another of our evenings here in Pegleg, America.




Organ Pipe



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Disappearing Habitat Mandates Bizarre Nest For These Burrowing Owls

posted: March 1st, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Throughout the years, Goodyear Tires have probably been used in many ways, but perhaps the most unique is the use an abandoned tractor tire is seeing just outside California’s  Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge. Right now, just a few miles from the refuge located near the Salton Sea, a pair of burrowing owls has laid eggs, incubated their young and seen them to the fledgling stage.




Eric Hansen, an RV photographer friend whose acquaintance I made years ago through the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America, spotted them several days ago with his wife Sue. Happily they shared the finding with me and yesterday, Eric and I departed Pegleg and made the hour drive to the Salton Sea, where the owls were still surveying their world from beneath the side of the tire.


The choice of nesting sites is not one burrowing owls would naturally choose, but was made essentially because farmers have eliminated all species of mammals that create burrows, such as prairie dogs and the various ground squirrels.


Anthony & Marguerite Breda, full time RVers and wildlife refuge volunteers.

Burrowing owls need burrows, but when they cannot find appropriate holes have to rely on something else, in the case the recess created by a discarded Goodyear tractor tire.

In some places wildlife managers are increasing the nesting habitat of burrowing owls by inserting plastic piping into the ground.

This, according to Anthony and Marguerite Breda, a couple who has been volunteering at wildlife refuges for about eight years, is helping.

Of course, they point out that natural habitat is best, and that is what the Sonny Bono Wildlife refuge still offers burrowing owls, something Marguerite knows about. Each morning she sees several pair nesting in the old fashion way — in the burrows created by the various ground squirrels.


Burrowing owls are one of the smallest species of owls, standing but nine inches-tall. It has a short tail, very long legs, and weighs but 4 oz.  When the owl sees something approaching its home, it bobs up and down a few times, and then dives into its burrow. Here, the owls breed in late winter, and the females lay around 6-8 eggs. Eggs take one month to hatch, and young owls remain in the nest for about 42 days before leaving.


Burrowing owls on Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge, in natural habitat -- a burrow abandoned by a ground squirrel.


Burrowing owls are found in many places in the West and I’ve photographed them on the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge in Montana where they still find nesting opportunities from the holes which prairie dogs have abandoned. The ones shown here were photographed with Nikon Camera equipment and in several cases, an 800mm lens, which placed me well away from these two nests, that is the natural nest and the abandoned Good Year tire.




*Desert Five Spot & Function of Beauty



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