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 June, 2010

Some Skunks are Welcome – But Not All!

posted: June 28th, 2010 | by:Bert


Skunks remain our new and most welcome neighbors

©Bert Gildart: Recently U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a man with oil interests (until he sold subsequent to his decision), lifted the moratorium on oil drilling. To put it bluntly, I smell a skunk. In fact, the skunks I’m now seeing in my yard quite likely have odor that is considerably less foul than is that of those now responsible for lifting this moratorium. The moratorium, of course, was not an indefinite one, just one intended to allow us time to conduct research that would help prevent another disaster – and the loss of yet more lives.

But that apparently won’t work for Feldman, who is now setting us up for a catastrophe that could be greater than the one we are now experiencing.

From what I read virtually all available resources are currently trying to help BP with its mega disaster, which has created a catastrophe beyond anything we’ve ever known – at least on a short term basis. Lives have been lost, jobs destroyed, and an environmental nightmare has been created that just seems to be getting worse. Compounding the matter is that BP “facts” change each day as company representatives take to the air.

And now Feldman wants to proceed with more drilling, which says to me that the man could care less about the potential loss of more lives or the immense environmental problems that yet another oil spill could cause.

What I want to know is: if we do drill — and if drilling creates another Apocalypse, how would we attempt to resolve a new problem with most world resources now engaged?

Am I missing something?


Logan Pass in Glacier Park opened June 24th and with its opening, more people are visiting, and some, in fact, are carrying guns, as the law now permits.

As predicted by most park rangers, the law permitting guns is going to create immense management problems, as was demonstrated this past week. Apparently two women hiking one of the trails in the Many Glacier Valley were approached by a deer that was swinging its head to and fro. This frightened the women and one of them pulled out a .38 caliber pistol and then fired it into the ground near this ferocious animal. Though it is now legal to carry firearms, it is not legal to discharge them randomly.


They've gotten used to us and no longer threaten us with raised tails.


From the way the summer is starting off, it does appear as though someone is going to be seriously injured, for most visitors cannot tell the difference between the barrel and the stock (or the pistol grips). It seems likely, too, that a bear will be wounded and then there will be real problems.

On the home front, young SKUNKS continue to explore the new environment into which they have just emerged. Of the three that we originally saw a week ago, only one seems to remain, and as you can see, we’re only prejudiced against certain types of skunks, not all.




*Keeping Guns Out of Our National Parks


Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Striped Skunks Now Our Neighbors

posted: June 22nd, 2010 | by:Bert


One of our neighbors

©Bert Gildart: This past week we’ve been trying to make the acquaintance of a new family that has probably been here for some time, though we’re just now meeting them.

At the moment the family consists of two young and one adult female, and all three are characterized by black bodies punctuated by two broad white stripes running along each side of their bodies. On all the stripes join into a broader white stripe at the back of the neck. The stripe is then interrupted by a small patch of black, but then picks up immediately, running along the center part of each of their foreheads.

Of course, I’m describing what now remains of a family of striped skunks, and because family units are generally larger, I’m assuming one of the Great Horned Owls we frequently hear at night from the huge nearby cottonwood may have taken several. Or maybe it was one of the feral dogs or cats, which we sometimes see and cuss.

Janie saw our skunk family  the other night from our kitchen window. They were emerging from beneath a hole along the side of our neighbor’s outbuilding. From the building the two small young made their way to our front door, and for awhile, we could hear the soft movement of their paws in the gravel.


Grabbing my camera I had to see what their response would be. Upon opening the door, they turned tail (literally), and then elevated their three bushy tails as though choreographed. I kept my distance, and they kept  their spray, only threatening me when I approached too closely. I assumed they must have a range of tolerance, and I certainly intended to keep it.

We live in a farming community and some of our neighbors enjoy them as do we.  But not everyone feels the same. In fact, the other night a friend exclaimed :

“We don’t need skunks around here!”


Turning Tail accompanied by nervous camera shake

Janie responded saying that skunks may sometimes defend themselves with spray, but when left alone they go about their business in ways that can sometimes be beneficial.  Our immediate neighbor, the one whose out building under which they have taken up residence, agrees.


Actually, skunks benefit us all (more from my previous skunk postings). Feeding between dusk and dawn, they search for mice, eggs, carrion, insects, grubs, and berries. At sunrise, they retire to their dens, which may be a hole beneath a building, a rock pile or simply a burrow in the ground. Skunks do not hibernate but instead become semi-active or simply take long naps.

In February or March, mating occurs, and by early May, after a 42- to 63-day gestation period, a litter of about five or six young is born. The young are born blind, but as they mature, follow their mother until late June or early July.


I’ve been told that skunks actually make pretty good pets, and in fact, this last image is of a tame skunk. At the time I was working for a newspaper and a young man, who had once been a student of mine, knew I also photographed wildlife, and said we could take his desented skunk into the woods and find a good setting. This old log worked and the two old Metz Strobes provided the proper lighting. I recall that the skunk was affectionate and that it was easy to transport. Later yet, I used the image in a Mammal book which I produced in cooperation with Glacier National Park.


Emerging for evening feed


As I say, I’ve had a long association with stripped skunks and see no reason to harm them unless they’re getting into someone’s chicken coop.




*In Defense of Dandelions






Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Three Baby Skunks Venture Into the Big World

posted: June 21st, 2010 | by:Bert


Stomping Feet

©Bert Gildart:

Note, this is a blog I posted three years ago, and wanted to link to it from a new skunk  blog,  which I’ll now be posting tomorrow. Somehow this (the one you are now reading) posting got gobbled up in cyberspace so I had to go back to the original document. So I’m posting this one and, tomorrow, yet another with new and exciting skunk experiences (enjoyed yesterday) as I just know everyone will be equally as  excited about skunks as I am.  And so, from a June 2007 posting, I offer the following:

The young of all creatures are generally adorable, and that is certainly true of three baby skunks I saw this evening while riding my bike near home, about 30 miles south of Glacier National Park. Off in the bushes near a small creek known as Rose Creek, three tiny striped skunks emerged from the bushes.

Their first reaction was one of curiosity, and though I was nervous as they moved my way, I too was curious. Closer and closer they moved until one was almost standing on my feet. Suddenly it sensed something might not be quite right, so it backed off, puffed itself up and stomped its feet, a normal response when afraid. Believing this might be a good photo opportunity, I quickly peddled back home, got Janie, got camera equipment, and together we returned in our old work truck—not the good one that pulls our Airstream, and that we certainly would not want sprayed.

Because I am so fascinated with wildlife, years ago I convinced the Glacier Natural History Association they needed a mammal book, and they concurred. Here are a few paragraphs from it.

Of the four species of skunks in North America, only the striped skunk is seen locally. As skunks are nocturnal, they are not commonly seen in Glacier or Waterton. They can, however, make their presence known, for when they are disturbed or provoked, they discharge a strong smelling fluid from scent glands located beneath their tails. Occasionally local populations increase significantly, and they have to be live-trapped from buildings and then relocated. Over 40 were removed from one of Waterton’s campgrounds, and in 1974 more than 50 were removed from Apgar Campground in Glacier Park.


Paying a friendly visit.

Despite their defensive mechanism, skunks are sometimes preyed upon by coyotes or bobcats, especially during hard times. Owls—in particular, the great-horned owl—seem to be immune to these offensive odors and often prey upon skunks.Normally skunks sleep in dens during the day and do most of their hunting for insects, rodents, frogs, and snakes at night. They are not true hibernators, but during a cold spell may take long naps…

Janie and I spent an hour photographing the three baby skunks, and again they approached us, this time almost stepping on Janie’s feet. Rather than babies, however, they reminded us of teenagers, testing their way into adulthood with bluff and bluster. Again, they stomped their feet, but they never raised their tail in a way that concerned us.

Eventually, they crawled back into a log, and there they remained, for we didn’t see them again. Not everyone appreciates skunks—so we hope they remain well out of sight. We left, wishing them a good life—and a long one.



This Time Three Years Ago:

*Top Ten National Parks  For RVers




Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Are Great Blue Herons Diminishing In Number?

posted: June 15th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Over the years Janie and I have made many boat trips from our home near Montana’s Flathead River to fish, to evaluate the immense changes in human population that have occurred, to look for one of our favorite birds – and seek out the impressive rookeries this species has  created.

In short, we’ve caught some fish, mostly pike; have agreed that the number of people establishing homes along the river is deplorable; and that for that reason the vast Great Blue Heron rookeries that once existed up and down the Flathead have greatly diminished. At least that is what we have recently suspected and was the big reason we pushed off two days ago; we wanted to find out.


GBHeron-5Old Barn-6



Traveling up Montana’s Flathead River from our home near Bigfork, searching for Great Blue Heron Rookeries and for other story-telling features, such as this old barn.

We pointed our johnboat (one we’ve also used for months on end on the Yukon River) upstream. The wind was blowing hard and to avoid a bumpy ride we proceeded slowly, pulling back even further on the throttle as we passed the site where one man has attempted to create a huge marina despite the objection of many neighbors in this small Flathead Valley farming community.

We were among those objecting, so when we saw the owner working along the shoreline, pointing at his huge tin storage area – waving us ashore – we turned without reciprocating and traveled on. Childish, perhaps, but few wanted him here, and we most certainly agreed. He was arrogant, and we didn’t like him either.

Continuing, we passed by an old log barn that was of interest, thinking that if barns could talk this one might have quite a story.


Of course we kept our eyes open for bird life. Along the way, we saw a number of ospreys, one Bald Eagle nest, and a multitude of waterfowl, such as Mallards. We even saw several Great Blue Herons, but sadly, one of the rookeries that existed several years ago had been abandoned. And so, we continued our search, powering yet further upstream.


At this time of year, Great Blue Herons adults stay busy searching for food.

Within the hour, we approached a piece of land that had been preserved by the Nature Conservancy, and it was here that we saw several herons rise from a collection of nests. We turned off the engine and listened.

Sitting quietly, we heard the chatting of several black birds and the distinct sound of nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes. We were encouraged, and paddled into the shore.

Great Blue Herons are known for the huge rookeries they create, when given a chance. In years gone by, I had counted three large rookeries, and, now, had found a new one. Some large rookeries can number 50 to 60 nests, but this one numbered but 19. Still it was impressive, and so as not to disturb the nesting birds, I pulled out an 800mm lens and then Janie and I settled in to watch.


The Great Blue Heron is the largest of all North American herons and is well known for the loud croaking sound it makes just prior to flying. The species has been around a long, long time, having evolved during the Paleocene, or about 65 million years ago.

In addition to size, you also recognize the species by virtue of its long plume-like feathers sprouting from its lower neck. They are prized by some, and so the bird is at times shot by a certain group of unconscionable “sportsmen.”

As well as size and coveted feathers the stiletto-like bill is somewhat unique in that it changes during breeding season from a dull yellow to a somber orange. The lower parts of their legs also change at this time – going from grey to an orangey color.

As we watched the birds, every now and then the young would poke their heads above the rim of the nest, voicing their need for food. About the same time, one of the parents would fly off, returning 20 to 30 minutes later with food.

We photographed the birds for over an hour, and then returned to our boat. We powered further up the river, stopping near a place called Foy’s Bend, where we had seen a rookery just two years ago. Sadly, it was gone, and we had to assume the influx of more people along the river was the cause. That or perhaps the shooting!



Returning to rookery with food in gullet.


I realize that growth in the valley is inevitable, but still lament the fact that we as a species are intent on destroying our planet with oil spills, unchecked population growth, and attitudes that are destructive toward virtually all species but ourselves.

On the flip side, I am delighted I can still find simple things such as a Great Blue Heron Rookery near our home, and that some species manage to conduct themselves in the same way they have done for millions of years. Though improbable, we hope change here in the Flathead will proceed at a slower rate else the very features that lured people here initially will cease to exit.





*A Baby Pelicans Big Gulp




Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Though Enticing New Blood, Airstream Helps Many Age Gracefully

posted: June 6th, 2010 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Judging from the number of people who hung around after the two programs I gave this past week at Rich Luhr’s Alumapalooza Airstream Trailer rally, I have to assume the presentations were successful. My feelings were reinforced by thoughts shared by those who specifically sought me out during the three and one half days I spent at the week-long rally at the Jackson Center in Ohio.

Brett (Rich’s co-producer) introduced me as “a much published writer/photographer who had contributed to every single issue of Airstream Life since its inception about six years ago.”


Airstream Factory tour


My first program at Alumapalooza was about national parks and Glacier’s Centennial, the latter of which included a retrospective on grizzly bears. The second program concerned photo techniques, and following the presentation many said they hoped I might do the same next year but include a field seminar in which we’d all take images — and then compare.


Of course, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the successful program Rich and Brett put together. First, Alumapalooza was set next to the site where Airstreams are manufactured, and I am sure that over the course of the week, all attendees, who probably totaled 400, took in the factory tour.

I’m also sure that all who could summon up the energy included seminars as part of their daily itinerary. Such talks included presentations on Towing, Vintage Airstreams, Riveting, Airstreaming in Europe, Fulltiming, Bowlus Trailers, as well as many others.


Visiting early Airstream models; Ken and Petey Faber, “living little”; Rich and Brett presiding over “Open House.”

Because I was in Jackson for such a short period of time, and because I was traveling back and forth between a hotel and the convention grounds (I had to fly because of personal time constraints), I was unable to attend some of the talks, to include one on Route 66 and another on Yoga. Still, I met these presenters, and because of luck with timing was able to spend a little time with each of these people.

Through this luck, which I’ll categorize as a “random sample,” I concluded that the Airstream group as a whole is adventurous, excited about life in general, exceedingly curious, and loves to travel.


Specifically, I spent time with Ken and Petey Faber, a delightful couple who after retiring from one career, subsequently turned to restoring older Airstreams creating Vintage Airstreams,  “Mostly,”  said Petey,  “small ones. We live little,” she laughed.

As well Ken and Petey gave a seminar on Route 66, and they have traveled this romantic old historic route in its entirely, from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California.


sKY & slaDE “fulltime” in their 34-foot Airstream Classic doing two things: Sky diving and teaching Yoga, but with a twist.


“sKY & slaDE” was another other couple with whom I spent time, and though they call themselves “Yoga Instructors,” in reality they are much more. Both are sky divers, and sKY (as she configures her name) has made about 1,300 jumps, while slaDE (as he configures his name), has made about 700. As I later learned, the couple also yet another blog, with postings that completely concur with my own environmental philosophy.  Take time to scroll down and you’ll also find lots of Airstream maintenance.


Adam examining predecessor of more conventional Airstream

I met the couple Friday, the day of my departure — and unfortunately at the end of one of their performances — but they offered to provide a demonstration in front of their 34-foot, 60th Anniversary Limited Edition 1991 Airstream Trailer. Their routine combined gymnastics with yoga and demonstrated not only great agility but also great strength.


Actually, the one couple with whom I spent the greatest amount of time was Adam and Sue, whom I again owe a debt of gratitude. Last summer I threw my back out as we were climbing the Chilkoot Pass in Alaska. Being the compassionate folks they are, they took the majority of items from my pack enabling me to hobble out with the aid of my trekking poles. (Note: my doctor says it was just plain bad luck and that I should definitely try again.)

And now, this past week, they gave me a place to hang out after the frantic flight from Montana to Ohio and the discombobulating sense associated with the acclimation to strange faces milling in new places — and the recoup time needed after seminars. So thank you once again, Adam and Sue!  I love you both!

Because of the life style Janie and I have followed, in the 12 years we have been Airstreaming we have never before attended a rally, but after meeting so many delightful people and learning so much we may try working more into our future. Certainly the community of Airstream enthusiasts (many are retired) know how to age gracefully using a premier form of travel. But more significantly, Airstream has a history and certainly a cache. As well, it seems that there is an adequate infusion of young blood into this “niche group” so I have faith the market will not stagnate.

Regrets? Only that I didn’t allow more time and that Janie wasn’t with me to share.



*Natchez Trace National Parkway


Read Comments | Post a Comment »