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 February, 2011

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge now 50 Years Old, But Challenges lie Ahead

posted: February 28th, 2011 | by:Bert


Our camp near Caribou Pass, which is not a wasteland as some would have you believe.

©Bert Gildart: Fifty years ago this past December President Eisenhower created the Arctic National Wildlife Range “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.” It was the first time in American history that an entire ecosystem was granted federal protection.

Nineteen million acres were set aside ranging from Kaktovik in the Beaufort Sea and then south, crossing over the Brooks Range then dropping down onto Arctic Village, Alaska.

But although the land is de facto wilderness, ever since Eisenhower’s designation oil companies have eyed the area as a potential for exploitation. I am proud to say that Janie and I have fought along with the Gwich’in Indians, hoping that we – along with the millions of others who love the refuge – might succeed in protecting this sacred land. To insure the integrity of these lands is maintained,  President Obama should elevate the refuge to a National Monument.

We continue to work toward greater protection and our  weapons have been photographs and stories, and they have appeared in dozens of different publications. Our intention has been to chronicle misconception – and sometimes to point out downright lies.

At times, we’ve been funded by major organizations and several years ago The Wilderness Society flew us over the refuge. Later, some members of Congress used my images to illustrate the beauties of the refuge. Some of my other work on the refuge has appeared in Time Life, National Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, Highlights for Children, the New York Times, and many, many others.


Unfortunately, some Senators and Congressmen never get off their fat duffs but feel, nevertheless, that they can make sweeping statements. “It’s a wasteland,” said Trent Lott several years ago, a man who has never stepped foot there.

Unlike Mr. Lott, Janie and I have intimate acquaintance with the refuge. We’ve hiked the entire length of the refuge, traveled the major rivers in our johnboat, and we’ve served as summer school teachers in five different Gwich’in Indian villages. We know the refuge for what it is; and that is one of the world’s last self-regulating ecosystems. As well, we know it as a place whose beauty can not be matched, something I hope images posted here will dramatize.


One of the major misconceptions concerns caribou, and people such as Sarah Palin have a way of distorting the facts. Palin and Lott and others of their persuasion say the Central Caribou herd has not been affected, implying that oil development will be good for the Porcupine Caribou herd, the herd dependent on the Arctic Refuge. But there are immense differences as Gwich’in spokeswoman Sarah James of Arctic Village has been pointing out for years.

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CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE: Our camp, deep in Arctic Refuge; fox returning with ground squirrel to feed young; caribou migrate by our camp near Caribou Pass, not far from Beaufort Sea; camped on Porcupine River, a tributary of Yukon and reached only following week of boat travel.

James says the Porcupine Caribou herd needs the Arctic Refuge for calving, a life cycle forged more than 100,000 years ago. According to the Gwich’in, the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the core and sacred birthplace of the herd, the vadzaih googii vi dehk’it gwanlii – or “sacred place where life begins” – and this wild nursery must remain intact. To deflect attention from the true biological purpose of this place oil companies have designated the nursery as “The 1002 Area.” What bull crap!


As well, oil companies say the Central Caribou herd, which calves near Prudhoe Bay, has expanded its numbers despite drilling. That, James admits, is true. But she insists such expansion is “only part of the story.”

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Gwich’in communities and effects of refuge spill over into McKenzie River Delta; Rock John with huge pike caught near Arctic Village on Chandalar River; roasting caribou heads over fire.

James says the untold story concerns geography. In the area where the Porcupine herd calves, the Brooks Range is separated from the Arctic Ocean by about 15 miles. Not so just to the west, where the Central Caribou herd calves. There, as you proceed from east to west, the Brooks Range sweeps to the south, so much so that the mountains are separated from the Arctic Ocean by almost 100 miles. Caribou in the Central herd have room to roam, but not those in the Porcupine herd.


Because the refuge is a land of such beauty one might think this would be a year to celebrate, and thankfully, there have been accomplishments. But oil companies and Alaska developers such as Sarah Palin are “reloading,” and I hope that Ms. Palin finds that her language – and her inflammatory graphics – do nothing more than ricochet back.


Like a spider web, the threads of Prudhoe spread over the coastal plains and most certainly effect caribou and a beauty that is unique in the world.


Encourage President Obama to safeguard the Arctic Refuge by making its coastal plain a national monument.



*Gator Drama In Shark Valley


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Death Valley on Our Minds

posted: February 21st, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: This past month has seen my images featured in a number of books and magazines. Two images may be appeal to those interested in one of Death Valley’s more famous characters, and in the creative use of Lightroom. I’m also posting these two as right about now, Janie and I would both like to be in Death Valley, away from this temperamental Montana weather that sees one day raining the next day snowing.

The two images are of Marta Becket and her work, something most everyone who lives in and around Death Valley knows a little something about.

Marta came to this remote part of the country in 1967 when she was in her early 40s but why she settled in this remote area is a mystery. Specifically, the area is known as Death Valley Junction, and it’s a place where the wind can howl and companions are most likely to be kangaroo rats.


Amargosa Opera House

An acquaintance believes that she had some kind of an epiphany. She and her husband had a flat tire, but she apparently saw something in the old adobe structure that no one else saw.


With the vision of creating a dance performance Marta Becket began making presentations. At first few attended, but because she wanted to feel as though she had an audience, she told me that she painted the murals.

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Marta Becket

As you can see, she is an incredible artist recognized by a number of Hollywood celebrities, many who have purchased her individual paintings. As well, her dance performances eventually began to attract an international audience. For more about her work see Marta One and Marta Two.


Photographing the interior of Marta’s auditorium was a challenge, and without Lightroom and some knowledge about photography in general it would have been difficult.

Because illumination was so very low, I place the camera on a tripod and made a long exposure. That enabled me to provide a proper exposure for the paintings, but the beams of light were very much overexposed.

I took care of that problem using a component of Lightroom to precisely dim the point sources of light. Then I used the program’s exceptional Noise Reduction feature to reduce the bleeding of colors that sometimes occurs from long time exposures – or from images made with a high ISO.

For the image of Marta, I used two strobes, with Janie holding the main light off to the side. I backed off on the light output from the on-camera strobe by 1/3 of an f-stop. Both strobes were Nikon SB800s.

It’s fun for us to review published images, particularly when they evoke memories of clear skies and much warmth. But we’re here, essentially because it provides a good environment to finish a book I’m contractually obligated to complete about Glacier National Park, a favorite place most months of the year.



*Death Valley & Challenge for Photographers


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The Izaak Walton – A Lodge For All Seasons

posted: February 14th, 2011 | by:Bert


Mark Ambre offers over a decade of guide service for x-country ski enthusiasts, all from the Izaak Walton Inn.

©Bert Gildart: Snow swished beneath our skis and the sound mixed occasionally with the distant echo of a lonesome railroad whistle, adding nostalgic to an already romantic  setting.

Trees were weighted with dense layers of snow, and as we reached the outer limits of the well-groomed back-country trail known as the Highline, clouds lifted and we could see lofty peaks spiraling upward from nearby  Glacier National Park.


At this point, Janie and I had reached the summit of trails forming this delightful wilderness setting.

We stopped for a few moments to enjoy the spectacle, appreciating that we were  also engulfed by the Bob Marshall and the Great Bear wilderness areas.

A trail-side gauge indicted snow depths of over five feet, and we pointed our skis downward, quickly gliding along  Pileated run; and, then, several miles later, to a sign pointing us to the hotel, from which our outing had originated.

We removed our skis, walked a bridge that crossed over a series of railroad tracks, then picked up a snow path that took us to the steps of the Izaak Walton Inn. The rustic lodge serves as a year-around retreat for those who want access in the summer to hiking, fishing and rafting – and in the winter to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

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L TO R: In addition to about 35 rooms, the hotel also offers caboose accommodations; goat is the symbol of Great Northern and official mammal of GNP; Empire Builder and freight train stopped at Izaak Walton.


Over the years, the rustic hotel has become one of our favorite destinations, and though it offers no cell phone reception and no TV, it does offer a form of charm that is unrivaled.


Placing our skis in the pegs provided, we stepped into a lounge graced by a stone hearth, which contained a robust log fire that crackled and radiated warmth. We purchased two glasses of wine then turned to the soft chairs, which invited relaxation. We sat and began looking around.

A center table cross-sectioned from a huge tamarack tree dominated the lounge and was complemented by end tables adorned with lamps and lampshades etched with images of mountain goats. Glass-covered bookcases contained old books to include a number of Reader’s Digest Condensed books.


Continuing our visual sweep, we noted signal lamps hung from posts reminding us that it was the train that had first brought visitors to Glacier and that this old lodge was a part of that history. And, then, as though to punctuate that thought, Amtrak’s Empire Builder whistled its way to a stop at a nearby concrete slab, which was embedded with jackets of propane-heated water, installed to prevent the accumulation of snow.

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L TO R: Lodgepole pines flank Middle Fork River Trail; descending Highline Trail; Janie waxing skis prior to day along one of the many trails forming hotel complex.

More visitors to the lodge – and we later learned that some had boarded the train in Seattle. That evening the west-bound equivalent arrived, and this time several skiers hailed from Chicago, again, providing testimony that the rustic wooden hotel is a Mecca for those with a yen for nostalgia and the outdoors.


Izaak Walton Inn was built in 1939 in part to accommodate train crews, but also to accommodate visitors who expected to use an entrance station to Glacier that would be constructed several miles away near Park Creek. The entrance never materialized, but as time went by, outdoor people began to gravitate to the lodge. Appropriately the lodge was named for Sir Izaak Walton, the 16th century English author and sportsman who wrote The Compleat Angler. Sure enough, the area provides wildlife viewing,  rafting and lots of trout fishing.


But on this particularly occasion, Janie and I were there for the skiing and to gather information for a book we’ve been commissioned to write on certain classic aspects of Glacier.  Certainly the old hotel – with its history, railroad themes, multitude of outdoor activities, as well as its cozy bedrooms and wonderful dinning – fulfills the requisite. The lodge even offers a resident ski guide and next day we’d heard that Mark Ambre would be offering a guided tour to a challenging area in Glacier not far from Firebrand Pass.


Dr. Andy Zimet and wife Linda Farmer of Whitefish lounge after a day of skiing. Both excellent skiers.

How could we pass up something like that? In fact, we couldn’t, appreciating that the Izaak Walton was indeed a lodge for all seasons and that it offered all these activities  against a backdrop of nostalgia that remained true to the area’s history — and Glacier National Park’s  intent.



*Eyes of Canyon


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Water To Save A Village

posted: February 7th, 2011 | by:Bert


James Nampushi, hoping to help his village in Suswa, Kenya acquire water that could be life saving.

©Bert Gildart: About a week ago I related a story about James Nampushi, a Maasai Warrior from Suswa, a small village in Kenya, Africa.

My posted story retold one that James had related to the Clemson University media department, explaining how he had killed a lion so that he might be eligible for Maasai warrior status.

At the time of my posting, I didn’t have the information necessary to detail James’ real passion, and that is to help his village obtain monies necessary to sink a well.

Right now, villagers must travel for miles each day to bucket up water that is dirty and possibly contaminated with disease.

They deserve better.


When completed, the well will provide clean water for over 1,000 Maasai people of Suswa, Kenya, and for thousands of cattle, sheep, goats and area wildlife. James sent me a link to a video in which he more thoroughly explains the situation, and it is excellent. This man is a warrior, a highly intelligent one at that; a man who is also seeking advanced degrees at Clemson University in South Carolina.  James knows that in this day and age if he is really going to help his village advance itself, he needs the best eduction he can get.

Watch the video and you’ll see James is an impressive spokesperson, and if you are interested in helping the village, you can donate to the cause, making check to:


Maasai Water Project

C/O Infinity Church
P.O. Box 249
Fountain Inn, SC 29644

Currently James is working on a master’s degree in park management. James and I became friends several months ago when our paths crossed at Cumberland Island National Seashore, just off the coast of South Carolina. Janie and I plan to make a donation.


This coming week Janie and I will be making about a two-hour drive to the Izaak Walton Inn, an historic old hotel located near Glacier National Park. The stay constitutes part of my research on a book about Glacier that I’m contracted to write. Winter in this northwestern part of Montana is in full force, and currently it looks much like this scene set along the North Fork of the Flathead River. We’ll be doing lots of cross-country skiing.

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Enraged bull elk; North Fork of Flathead River in Winter

Incidentally, Janie and I have invited James to visit us here in Montana, and he’s expressed an interest. I told him we have lots of moose , elk and bears here in the Rockies, and the prospect of seeing such creatures in the wild might just be the inducement he needs. If you come, James, bring your camera. And if you’re here in the fall I’ll bet we can find another just like the one posted here.




*Dolphin Superpod




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