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, 2011

Egypt In Chaos – A Travel Writer’s Perspective

posted: January 31st, 2011 | by:Bert


Here are the pyramids

©Bert Gildart: Turn on the TV and you’ll see the news dominating American airways concerns Egypt, and little wonder. We provide $1.5B in funds to this economically challenged country, which is now in total chaos.

We provide funds because of Egyptian oil and and because Egypt is our strongest positive link with the Muslim world. Some fear all this unrest will result in replacement of President Mubarak with a militant Muslim group that may support al-Qa’ida, a concern that seems justifiable in the wake of 9/11, ten years ago though it might have been.

Other Americans say this could simply be a wake up call, and that we should get out and wean ourselves of foreign oil. There are, of course,  counter arguments that can go on and on until you are blue in the face.

Currently our State Department is recommending that Americans leave Egypt with haste. Other nations are urging their citizens to avoid traveling to Cairo as days of protests descend into chaos. What a sad state of affairs our world seems to be in, for as most realize, Egypt has always been one of the world’s most interesting places to visit.


About 25 years ago Travel/Holiday, one of the most respected travel magazines of the time, sent me to Egypt. For almost a month, I was privileged to meet an interesting and accommodating group of people, but how those memories contrast with the images we’re now seeing on TV.

Sunday morning Airplanes were flying overhead, soldiers were policing the  streets — and rioting had disintegrated to such a point that some of the country’s more responsible citizens were encircling their museums and their precious antiquities, hoping to safeguard them from looters.

My adventures there began on the cruise boat Osiris, which transported me along much of Egypt’s Nile River. Each night crewmen placed a bottle of Queen Nefertari wine in my stateroom.

Pharo Sphinx BoatPilot

Statue of pharaoh; the Sphinx, showing lack of nose, which Napoleon shot off;   pilot of small boat.

The cruise boat provided me with access to tiny villages, and it is true, many were impoverished, certainly part of the reason residents are rioting today. They believe the Mubarak government does not represent their economic interests.


From the cruise boat, I also disembarked near Cairo, and one morning as the sun was rising, I visited one of the World’s Seven Wonders — the Pyramids of Giza. The Sphinx was located near the entrance, and as I studied it I recalled Napoleon had shot the nose off the Sphinx.

Though I thought I was alone, before I could set up my tripod, a “camel jockey” rode toward me, “firing” at the air with his staff. “I’m John Wayne,” he called out in a sing-song voice. Then he commanded his camel to perform several “Western” tricks.  But this guy was a con artist and soon got around to the subject of tipping. “Baksheesh, baksheesh,” intoned John Wayne, “and my camel  can do so much more.” I laughed and coughed up a few dollars.

PeoplesBoat BetweenV-O-K&V-O-Qeens


People’s Boat; trail connecting Valley of Kings with Valley of Queens.

Near Luxor I took a bus to the Valley of the Kings, and then hiked five miles to the Valley of the Queens. I was hiking through a culture that had reached a stage of development and sophistication that none of its contemporaries surpassed and few to this day have equaled.


Somewhere during the course of my extensive  journey along the Nile,   I boarded  a “ People’s Boat,” and then described the experience in my Travel/Holiday story:

The People’s Boat is a barge-sized vessel with a second deck aft… Donkeys stomp and bray, complaining about their backbreaking burdens of sugar cane. Robust men sit arm in arm, joking… Veiled women stare but mask their thoughts with expressionless eyes.

When I disembarked a man on a motor scooter offered me a ride back to my hotel. “Hop on,” he said. And I did. At the time I found the people friendly and helpful, though some asked for baksheesh. This man didn’t, and refused when I offered.


Camel Jockey, "I'm John Wayne."


Near the Aswan Dam in northern Egypt, I took a Felucca, a sailboat which provides Nile River residents with a means of transportation. It was the conclusion of an adventure through one of the world’s oldest and most enduring cultures, and whether or not it will be possible to duplicate it again soon will depend to some extent on choices Americans make in response to this crisis.  It is a situation we should all follow and hope our country can make  appropriate decisions about an issue that is complex and now riddled with mistrust.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if the doors on visitation to  a culture that appeared four thousand years before the birth of Christ were suddenly sealed shut.




*Gator Drama In Shark Valley



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Killing Lion Paves Path for Maasai Warrior To Clemson University

posted: January 24th, 2011 | by:Bert


Maasai Warrior James Nampushi with spear used to kill lion

©Bert Gildart: “James Nampushi has great respect  for the lion that almost killed him.”

That’s how Ross Norton, Public Information Director at Clemson University, opened his story about this Maasai Warrior from Kenya, Africa, now a graduate student at the  university.

Janie and I met James this past fall while we were camped on Cumberland Island, just off the coast of Georgia. He seemed impressed that we had battled waves and wind and successfully kayaked to this national seashore. In turn, I was impressed by the fact that he was enrolled in the National Parks Management Program — and that he would continue graduate studies this fall as a doctoral candidate at the prestigious South Carolina university!

Little did I realize  then that Nampushi had almost died from  wounds sustained in “battle.” But James and I developed a friendship while on the island and promised to remain in touch.

Though he returned to Clemson and Janie and I to Montana, we’ve carried on a number of telephone conversations, and slowly his incredible story has developed; in part from our phone visits, in part from the popular stories that Mr. Norton has written.


In short, James, now 29, wanted Maasai warrior recognition, and to achieve such status he had to kill a lion. Circumstances developed in which he (then 19) and two other young Maasai men sought out a large male that had been harassing the village. As the recognized leader, James directed the other two men into position and that’s when the lion made its move.  “James aimed his spear,” wrote the Clemson information director, “for a place on the charging lion’s breast that he knew covered a vulnerable center of veins and organs.”

“The lion leaped,” James told me by telephone, “and I was able to sink the spear into his chest.”

The wound, however, was not fatal, and the lion began to maul the young man, lifting him and placing him as a shield between itself and the other two young Maasai men. The lion ripped a gash in James’s right leg; it ripped a hole in Nampushi’s  stomach and was so deep that the young man’s  intestines bulged out. Though his friends could have run away, they stayed and finished off the lion.


James spent six months in a cave recovering. Village elders nursed him with a bone-marrow soup and medicine from various plants. He recovered completely and as a proven Maasai warrior was awarded a position on the Council of Elders. Warriors composed songs and 5,000 sang and chanted the songs in his honor.


James Nampushi now graduate student at Clemson

As a proven warrior Nampushi  had many options, but decided to obtain an education so that he could help his village.  His educational aspirations are now in  sight, and he hopes to use his knowledge to solicit grants and donations that will enable his  people to construct a water-well and build a fence to restrict the egress of lions.

He hopes, as well,  to help his village with tourism development, and though it might be presumptuous to assume I can help a man who has killed a lion and distinguished himself academically, still  that is a prospect  I would like to explore.  Travel between nations is a very good thing, and as Mark Twain once said:  Broad wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.


In years past magazines and airlines have sponsored my  trips, and one journey  took me  throughout Egypt and into the Sudan. For me, good causes and hard work have always provided a winning combination.     

42256 42257 Image1

CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGES. L to R:  Small village in Egypt along Nile River; camel jockey at Pyramids of Giza; sunrise, but this man still ready and waiting for day’s first visitor, which I was.

As I learn more about James’s incredible story I may soon draft query letters, soliciting assignments. But regardless, I’m sure James and I will remain in contact. When he calls he says, “Is this Bert, my good friend?” I reciprocate in kind,  and although I’ve known him only briefly, we both share the exact same concerns about the state of our wildlands, our wildlife and our national parks.

I hope to show my friend Glacier National Park, a park I patrolled for many seasons as a  ranger. On Cumberland we talked about bear management and how good management has improved conditions in Glacier from a low point in 1967. I think my story in Smithsonian magazine about the  horrible twin tragedies of that year helped influence development of the park’s ultimate Bear Management Plan.  “Dr.” James Nampushi will soon be attempting to influence society as well, using his doctor’s degree in national park management. In fact, he’s already moving forward.

I hope Nampushi might one day be able to show me Kenya and the wildlife and way of life he is determined to perpetuate.   Africa still hosts massive migrations of wildebeests and parks preserve the lions that James so respects, but now such world-class spectacles are endangered. I ask myself: Wouldn’t it be rewarding if I could help this Maasai warrior in some small way?

In the meantime, James,  I thank you for your friendship!




Fairy Shrimp

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

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

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We’re Back, But How Do the Birds Know?

posted: January 17th, 2011 | by:Bert


Resident pileated woodpecker, measuring almost two feet.

©Bert Gildart: Often times Janie and I are on the road for months at a time, which means that our bird feeder remains absolutely empty for the duration. When we returned bird life is conspicuously absent, but then something happens which seems inexplicable.

Typically, we’ll load our feeders up with seed and suet and then settle back. Though nothing happens instantly it seems the word is out: “The Gildarts have returned.”

Truly, in so many words, that’s what they seem to be saying.

First come a few songbirds, and invariably a small woodpecker or two, such as the downy and the hairy. Perhaps a day more goes by, but by the end of day two our feeder is crowded.

How do they know?

Right now a huge pileated pair is poking away at suet. In the past,  the two (males have a red mustache) have been frequent visitors and so we’ve named them:

“Janie, Hector is back. And, look, here comes Hortense!”


Though they’re huge, the other birds remain and we see chickadees, juncos, grosbeaks, flickers, doves, and warblers – sometimes all together. In their exuberance to feed, the group scatters seed from the feeder mounted on our railing down onto the ground, about eight feet below.

That attracts a resident flock of turkeys, which yesterday numbered about 12. Sometimes one grows bold and flies to the railing and, then, down onto the porch where it feeds – and where it poops! Because turkey poop adheres I try and shoo them off, usually with comical results. Immediately upon opening the sliding door the bird panics, forcing me to close the door so it can escape from the “maze.” That can take time, but other than that gesture — no other help from me for I fear the turkey’s sharp spurs.

Over the years, raccoons have also visited us as well as families of squirrels, which we attempt to discourage, preferring the company of birds which sometimes number 30 or more at one time. Our several feeders provide us with an immense source of satisfaction, which buoy our spirits on short winter days.



*Anza Borrego Desert State Park


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Best Images From 2010, Many Already Published

posted: January 4th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: It’s always a pleasure for Janie and me to sort through images I’ve produced over the year and decide which we like best. Although I’m usually the one depressing the shutter, often Janie holds strobes or serves as a model, sometimes in very challenging positions.

Travel creates some unusual opportunities, and 2010 was no exception, and so we were able to examine images from Anza Borrego, Zion, Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge, and a few places along the East Coast to include Cumberland, Bull Run and Andersonville.

Kayak-3 AnglesLanding-1

L to R: Kayaking to Cumberland Island National Seashore; Daniela Weiss peering down from Angel’s Landing and onto canyon created by Virgin River.

Several images from Zion brought back delightful memories, particularly one of Daniela Weiss peering down from Angel’s Landing onto the canyon created by the Virgin River.


As well, an image of Janie and me kayaking from South River State Park in Georgia, across the Intercoastal waterway and then, finally, seven miles later reaching our destination. For us, this image approaching Cumberland Island National Seashore also ranked high.

Pictographs ClarkLake-7


L to R:  petroglyphs at Hell’s Canyon;  fairy shrimp, which emerge but once on average every five years — both from Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

But the images that seemed best from a photographic point of view were the ones taken in and around Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and perhaps this should not seem surprising when we recall the months we spent camped in this wonderful California area. While there we hiked to a spot preserving the ancient images of Indian art, and because of the photographic techniques, including the balancing of several strobes with daylight, I liked that image.


So, too, the image of fairy shrimp, which emerge only following extreme desert rains, generally about once every five year. Last year was one of those years, and at the time I posted this image and described the elaborate techniques for recording these inch-long crustaceans.

Despite the successful documentation of the above, my favorite image of 2011 was taken near Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge of a pair of burrowing owls.


Though it is difficult to photograph these tiny owls, even more difficult was finding a pair with a compelling story. Farm practices have eliminated the burrows required by these diminutive owls, forcing them in several cases to resort to discarded tractor tires.


Twenty-first Century provides many challenges for wildlife, epitomzed by the bizarre nest these burrowing owls had to settle for -- a Good Year Tractor Tire.

Publication also makes a statement and several of these images have already appeared in magazines; others will soon follow.




*Ghost Mountain




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