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 July, 2011

Montana’s Deer Lodge Prison. Is Incarceration a Crap Shoot?

posted: July 30th, 2011 | by:Bert


Prison conditions were harsh, though "Turkey Pete," (shown here as both a young and old man) may not have cared. Sentenced to life for two murders in 1918, he was assigned to tend prison turkeys. He eventually lost touch with reality and began selling prison turkeys for 25 cents apiece. He was assigned to other duties and lived in tiny cells such as this one to the ripe old age of 89.

©Bert Gildart: Is life little more than a crap shoot?  That’s the question you may well be asking yourself if you tour the old prison in Deer Lodge, Montana. That facility — now replaced by a nearby more modern facility — once handled some of the nation’s most incorrigible criminals.

Jerry Myles was one such man, and his resume at the time of incarceration in the Deer Lodge Prison included stints in prisons to include ones in Georgia, Illinois, and Alcatraz.

He committed at least fifteen crimes in eight states to include burglary, grand larceny, conspiracy to commit robbery, mutiny with weapons, and finally threats to burn alive guards whom he had captured. Jerry Myles absolutely despised authority.

Born in 1915 to a mother who rejected him shortly after birth, he was passed from one family to another – often with brutal consequences — until he finally wound up in reform school, serving in his case as a training ground for crimes to follow, which eventually included the association with murder.

Not surprisingly, Jerry spent virtually his entire adult life in prison. During the few times he was free, he searched for his biological mother. But she didn’t want to see him, and the search ended in failure.

Prison psychologists later said his evolving hatred of women lead to a predatory life of homosexuality, during which time he preyed on young and, sometimes, reluctant young men.  Myles always wanted to be the “Lion.” Today, he might be called a “control freak.”


Jerry is best known for the lead role he and Lee Smart, his young male “wife,” played in the infamous prison riot they started in 1959.  Because prison conditions at the Montana jail at the time were so horrendous, they found a willing following among other inmates.

The riot lasted several days and was highlighted when convicts captured a number of prison guards and then threatened them throughout the long days and nights of captivity with guns and knifes.  “I’m going to kill you,” Jerry Myles kept saying to several of the guards they’d forced into a cell. “Think about it, ‘cuz I’ll be back.”


Security was tight in 1959, but Jerry Myles and Lee Smart still managed to stage riot.


Eventually the riot ended with the death of a deputy warden and the suicides of both Jerry Myles and Lee Smart. Men from the Montana National Guard stormed the old prison, first firing a bazooka into Cell Tower One, where Myles and Smart were controlling rioting prisoners. That hole still exists, and is one of the features that serves to remind of the days when things went so array.


In part because of the riot, Montana built a new prison with modern facilities – and one night I rode my bike along a small  country road to the new facility.  From my vantage the huge complex appeared neat and clean and well kept.  But it is also surrounded by some of the state’s most beautiful mountains, and paradoxically, that could be the most frustrating aspect of serving time in Deer Lodge.  So much nearby beauty, but for those inside the walls, that beauty  is very – very — far away.

Today’s convicts are encouraged to create works of art, and many do, and they do so at a high level of creativity.  It is for sale in store near the old prison.

PrisonArt-10 PrisonArt-1

Prison art work, showing immense skill, for sale at store near Old Prison.

The art may enable some to work out the frustrations of lonely childhoods, fraught in some cases with much pain and abuse.  It provides opportunities for introspection and perhaps a way to deal with circumstances imposed by horrendous environmental circumstances into which chance birth once placed them.

For the rest of us it might also provide an introspective moment or two – and perhaps a way to reflect on our own luck of the draw. Prison physiologists say Jerry had an IQ of 125, suggesting that environmental circumstances were just too much for Jerry Myles to overcome, bright though he may have been.



*Fort Peck


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Lewis & Clark Caverns, Montana’s First State Park

posted: July 28th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Almost the moment we stepped onto a stone stairway that would take us deeper into the Lewis and Clark Caverns, the lights went out.  Few had head lamps, so our descent was spooky. Janie and I both grabbed hard to the railing, and tried to maintain our balance as we descended the slippery stairs.

Laurie Koepplin, our tour guide and an employee for the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, joked, explaining we were experiencing conditions similar to two ranchers who saw the caverns in 1892.  “Imagine,” she suggested, “that all you had was candlelight.”


Deep in Lewis and Clark Caverns


Though most found the conditions intriguing, the slippery rock and tight space concerned one individual who elected to turn around. Coincidentally, we had reached “Decision Rock,” a point at which guides customarily  ask visitors if they’re apprehensive.  “Everyone OK?” queried Koepplin.  “Nothing to be ashamed of. You’ll get a full refund if you need to go back.” Despite the darkness only one person turned back.


Our adventure in the dark was short lived, and soon power was restored.  Picking up from her introduction, which included information about the Townsend Big Eared Bats flying overhead, Laurie explained that though Lewis and Clark passed nearby, they never mentioned the caverns in their journals.  “Most likely,” she said, “it’s because they never saw them.”

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Though Indians knew of the caverns, the two ranchers became aware of them during a November hunting trip.  Cold air had flushed out the warm air, creating a funnel of steam that stirred the men’s curiosity.  No such funnel occurred in the summer when Lewis and Clark passed through the area.  What’s more the “discovery tunnel” is small and is located at a relatively high elevation, making the caverns unique.  “Most caverns,” said Koepplin, “are down lower and tend to run more horizontally than do these.”


Eventually entrepreneurs began offering tours into the caverns, but in 1908, the federal government assumed management, and then, in 1935, the caverns became Montana’s first state park.  As a state park, sophisticated tours developed — similar to the one we joined yesterday.


Darci and Rob Smith of Kansas ascend into a main cavern


Our tour was several hours long and as we continued our descent, the formations seemed to become more and more spectacular.  As we progressed, Koepplin pointed out stalactites and stalagmites — those pointed columns of rock that either ascend or descend vertically.  We saw ponds of water refracting colors that appeared brilliant in the artificial lighting, and we saw formations that appeared like popcorn, flowstone and “cave bacon.”

Though the caverns are the main attraction of the park, other features exist, and we have signed up for several nights of camping. We want to hike the park’s trails, and watch as lighting dramatizes the beautiful Jefferson River, up which Lewis and Clark traveled so many years ago.




*Global Warming


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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Beautifully Matched Horses Simplify Hay Gathering at Historic Grant Kohrs Ranch

posted: July 25th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  The horses were all beautifully matched pairs and were well trained for the job at the Grant Kohrs Historic Ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana.

“Raise your foot,” said one of the team drivers in a quiet way, reminiscent of the protagonist (Robert Redford, remember?)  in the movie, Horse Whisperer. “Step left.”


Process begins by gathering hay in buck rake


The job at hand was a multi-tasked one and the horses responded on cue.  Horses and the team driver were collecting hay already pushed into windrows, but to now be pushed again with a horse-drawn buckrake to a unique farming implement known as the beaverslide.  When the job is complete, ranchers will have created a pile of hay that looks like a huge breadloaf.


Beaverslides originated in the Big Hole country, and Jay Nelson provided an initial introduction for me to the procedure, explaining the expediency of using beaverslides with horses.  Nelson had encouraged me to take in the annual demonstration held at the Grant Kohrs Ranch, where I could see well trained horses in use.

First hay is assembled in the slide at its base in a section known as beaverbasket where workers distribute the hay horses have pushed in. Cables are attached to the basket and then string out to the harnesses of another set of powerful horses.  On command, the pair moves forward and the beaverbasket begins to rise.  When it reaches the top, the hay falls off and begins to accumulate into a growing pile.


“The hay couldn’t be better,” one of the old time ranchers told Janie.  “It’s not the least bit wet, and if it were that would make the job more difficult, for it would be heavier.”

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Horses (and one set of mules) working the fields with the drivers were perfectly matched Belgians and Percherons, a form of draft horse.  In the old days, ranchers who used such horses (and mules) were proud of the teams, and as Janie’s new ranch friend told her, “Families were proud of their teams in the same way people today are proud of their cars.”

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Teamster Kai Christensen, beaverside showing hay being deposited into basket, ranch girls spread hay to facilitate growing “loaf of bread.”


Haying at the Grant Kohrs Ranch is conducted in part to help preserve history.  But it is still used in the southwestern part of Montana, in part because it is still an economical way to gather hay. Perhaps, too, the procedure provides a bit  of nostalgia, the longing for a more simple way of way of life that is devoid of mechanization and that still relies on the use of beautiful draft horses.


Ironically, one of the teamsters was Kai Christensen, a man whom I had met 25 years ago on a five-day wagon trip through the lower Flathead.  Kai was one of the several teamsters Janie and I had enjoyed watching. He handled his horses well, and detailed for me the patience required to help his Belgians overcome the intimidation they felt as they approached the beaverslide.  As well, Kai and I recalled the highlights of the trip we made years ago, and seeing him turned out to be yet another bonus in traveling throughout Montana, as Janie and I have been doing.



*Chena River, Alaska


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A Montana Sleazy Saloon? Standards Must Be High!

posted: July 21st, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In 1970 beat poet Jack Kerouac visited the M&M Bar in Butte, Montana, and was so inspired by the assortment of characters that he included impressions in his book, On The Road:

“…What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spittoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar…”

For over a century the M&M was Montana’s longest operating bar.  Sadly, that run ended several years ago — but don’t despair.  Currently, Janie and I are working hard, trying to find a replacement for Kerouac’s icon. It’s a tough job,  because high standards must prevail. Nevertheless, we claim some expertise, and have visited many (Tombstone, Arizona, Sloppy Joe’s, The Palace, Virginia City) bars nationwide.


The Dirty Shame


This will be a summer-long project, but we are proud to report that we have already found several candidates.  They include the Dirty Shame located in the state’s most isolated country, the Yaak, and the Home Bar in Troy.


The Dirty Shame ranks as a contender because owner Gloria said that back in 1970, a group almost hanged a man outside the saloon. The man’s name was Tom Dooley. Honest!

We’re concerned, however,  because some of Gloria’s more recent clients have included movie actors and actresses as well as some well established writers, such as Rick Bass. Does the Dirty Shame, then, have too much class?

GloriaBelcher-2 DirtyShame-3

Gloria and her Wall of Shame, which includes movie stars and well known writers; sign on door that greets all patrons.

Troy, Montana’s Home Bar ranks high simply because I remember the bar from my two years teaching in this small logging town back in the early ‘70s.  “Bikes, Babes, Beer,” reads the sign in bold red letters above the door.  Peeking into the bar at the enthusiastic clientele already assembled there several days ago, and I had to conclude that this might be the type of place my mother once warned me about.  For that reason, it could qualify. But the jury is still out, essentially because we need input from sophisticates.


Because we  can no longer rely on Jack Kerouac for guidance (He died October 21, 1969), we must rely on others to help define what qualifies for a Montana Sleazy Saloon. We hope readers may have suggestions, but we ask that they set standards high.


Troy, Montana's Home Bar welcoming "Bikers, Babes, and Beer."

In the meantime, we will continue researching the subject and report on our findings and on their potential.




*Best Photos From World Eskimo Indian Olympics





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Ross Creek Cedar Scenic Area – Where Trees Tower

posted: July 20th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: The day was absolutely beautiful accented by the nearby lofty peaks from the as yet snow-capped mountains from the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area.  But the area we entered contrasted drastically with blue skies and the warm sunny weather of the day.  As we left our truck and began walking the path of the Ross Creek Cedar Grove Scenic Area, this area reflected precipitation and lots of it.  The ground was soggy, and Ross Creek rushed nearby. Water loving and shade tolerant plants carpeted the area, highlighted by the species known as Pine Drops, Hookers Fairy Bells, Queen Cup Bead Lily and Prince’s. But what captivated us more than anything was the immensity – and the species of the trees.


Majesty of cedars


Appropriately, these are cedar trees, huge cedar trees, tress such as one seldom sees in this state so dominated by prairies and by its assemblages of pine, fir and spruce. These trees were also immense, and as interpretive signs pointed out, some towered 175 feet overhead.  They were old and some dated back over 500 years. As well some required five or more people clasping hands, linking arms to circle them, for they measured over eight feet in diameter, making them a logger’s dream.


Ironically, it was local loggers who helped bring about designation of the Ross Creek Cedar Area.  During the late 1950s those who worked to “Save the Cedars,” realized the importance the western red cedar play in overall forest health, and so, in recognition of this special tree, in 1960 the area was designated a state park.

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L to R: Prince’s Pine, Queen Cup Bead Lily, Hooker’s Fairy Bells — all growing at base of giant cedars.

Indeed the area is representative of unusual conditions for Montana. Located not far from Troy, considered at an elevation of 1880 feet to lowest point in the state, the area is also located geographically so that it receives more moisture than most other places in the state.


Age allows for unusual growth formations


Each year the region receives about 25 inches of precipitation, meaning it can be categorized as a temperate rainforest.  As such it has produced trees that are ancient by human standards and as such have come to chronicle all the conditions the area has endured for over five centuries. Trees in the area bear evidence of fire, drought, wind, and flood.


Some were used by Native Americans, and interestingly, the forest service campground in which we have parked our Airstream is called Bad Medicine, and it was also used by Indians of the Kootenai tribe.  This same camp was once located in the shadow of a massive rock ledge, and one day it broke covering the area and it occupants.  Though Bad Medicine for some, it has been good medicine for us, essentially because of the beauty contained in the Ross Creek Cedar area, located but a few miles away.



*Alaska’s Chena Hot Springs


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Jay Nelson Recalls Valley of 10,000 Haystacks

posted: July 12th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Big Hole Country in southwestern Montana claims the state’s harshest weather conditions. Here, the  mountains are high, snow fall deep and subzero temperatures may persist for months.  Anyone not suited to hardship doesn’t last long.


Jay Nelson built about 35 Beaver Slides


On July 3rd Jay Nelson logged in 88 years, which may not be surprising as he is the descendant of one of the Big Hole’s first settlers.  In the early 1880s, Jay’s great grandfather homesteaded a prime section of ranch land, which once saw passage of the Nez Perce Indians.   Great grandfather Soren stayed and so did most of his descendants, to include Jay, who has been a positive force throughout his life — no matter where he might have gone.


Jay has been a board member of a rural electric country, a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, a logger, cowboy, carpenter and snow plane pilot.  As well, he has helped maintain and build a peculiar type of farming implement known as the “Beaverslide.” Under some conditions beaverslides facilitate the gathering of hay, but most conspicuously, they result in huge rounded piles that look like the lodges of  many beaver.

Beaverslides are such a unique implement that the Grant Kohrs National Historic Ranch just south of Missoula provides an annual demonstration on their use.  Equally as significant they’re still used each summer by several big spreads in the Big Hole.

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L to R:  Jay Nelson uses a model he built to explain function of beaverslides; Nelson built approximately 35 such slides in Big Hole Valley; Nelson believes times were a bit more laid back when the Big Hole was famous as the  “Valley of 10,000 Haystacks.”

According to Jay’s book, A Scrapbook from the Big Hole, the beaverslide was invented in the Big Hole by Dade Stevens and Herb Armitage in about 1909. The slides were effective in such vast country because ranches were so big.  “In those days,” said Jay, “more hay could be loaded by fewer men.”


Jay who built about 35 of the huge devices, says that when men assemble to begin the job of haying the ranch lands looks like the beginning of a Chinese Fire Drill. “But it’s deceiving,” said Jay, “because everyone really knows what they’re doing.”


Jay fought in Battle of the Bulge. See "Note."

Jay says that all hay to be processed is the product of a natural crop of wild hay, which is what the Big Hole does best.  “We help a bit,” says Jay, “by creating literally hundreds of miles of irrigation ditches.”

Operations begin with the raking by horseback of cut hay into windrows.  Over a period of several weeks the hay dries and ranchers sweep the fields with a horse drawn rake and load it onto the bottom of the beaverslide basket.

Cables extend from the basket to which horses are hooked and as they pull, a “beaver basket” is lifted, raising the hay about 25 feet.  Hay falls off the basket to create a hay stack that increases in size each time the basket makes a new deposit.  Eventually, the stack assumes the domed appearance of a huge beaver lodge.


Though many ranchers in Big Hole country still use the beaverslides, such implements are being replaced by the mechanized “Round Bailer.”  Jay laments their passage, wishing for the days when the air tasted just a little bit more crisp, and when the Big Hole Valley was famous for its reputation as the Valley of 10,000 haystacks.

But the practice is still alive and in about three weeks ranchers in the Bill Hole will once again be putting beaverslides to use.

NOTE: In 1945 Jay fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was severely wounded.  He says that initially there were 187 of us in our company and “When I left them, only 12 of the original bunch remained.”

Some of these memories are shared in his two  books, Big Hole Memories and A Scrapbook from the Big Hole.  They provide wonderful reading and both should be on the shelves of any interested in the state’s history. Though it took determined families to withstand the rugged nature of Southwest Montana, Nelson’s speaks of his memories with a sense of nostalgia, as though we may have lost something through society’s many changes.  Some aspects of this blog will most likely be used for a book I’m writing on Montana. All pictures and text are copyrighted.



*Trip Down Alaska’s Chena River


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Lessons from Montana’s Big Hole Battlefield

posted: July 8th, 2011 | by:Bert


Star trails intended to create feeling of eternal life at Chief Joseph Battlefield.

©Bert Gildart: Several nights ago I sat outside the framework of a tipi located at Montana’s Big Hole Battlefield. The tipi is thought to be located at the exact site where Chief Joseph slept one night while attempting to elude an army initially lead by General Howard.

Howard was attempting to force this band of Nez Perce onto a reservation site that was not to the tribe’s liking. Now, 150 years later I was attempting to create an image that might symbolize the pathos of a band of men and women doing nothing more than attempting to maintain their freedom.


I sat there for four hours with my tripod mounted camera pointed at the North Star, and as I lounged in the darkness I could hear all sorts of night sounds that suggested peace and a certain degree of security.  How that contrasted with the horror that followed in the predawn light as Howard’s soldiers fired on the sleeping camp, directing their bullets low so as to intentionally kill women and children as well as the men.

They were guilty of absolutely no crime at all, other then that they wanted freedom.

The government’s cause was Manifest Destiny and the maintenance of the comfort of settlers who had bullied their way into the traditional country of the Nez Perce. These settlers had discovered gold and wanted no conflict from the Indians herding their horses or tending their crops, and though the Nez Perce regrouped that horrible morning and sent Howard and his soldiers retreating, the ultimate story for the Nez Perce, which ended some 2,000 miles later, was a tragic one.

Because Joseph was a good man (probably a brilliant man), respected by all, I had to question the power of a Divine Being looking after all of his children.  Is the ultimate test of right determined by the might of a people and the power of their leaders at a given moment in time?


What lessons do we take with us from this chapter in American history, and how do we apply them to contemporary times?

In Chief Joseph’s Own Story, he asks in his narration about the conditions that prompted his tribe to rebel.

Who was first to blame? They (referring to individuals in his tribe) had been insulted a thousand times; their fathers and brothers had been killed; their mothers and wives had been disgraced; they had been driven to madness by the whiskey sold to them by the white men… they were homeless and desperate.


Does Joseph and his band wander in new more peaceful land? We will never know.

Ultimately Joseph capitulated to General Miles in Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains. Miles. Miles was sympathetic to the Nez Perce and assured Joseph that he would send his tribe back to the land where his father’s bones rested. However, the U.S. government did not honor the Miles’s promise of 1877.

In his narration Joseph said he would never have surrendered if “I had not believed Miles.” Instead, Joseph and his band were shipped to Fort Keogh and then to a swampland located about four miles from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  None of these new areas resembled their homeland in the Lapwai Country or present day Idaho and 21 died from various diseases.

Joseph died September 24, 1904 and physicians of the time said the most probable cause was “a broken heart”; and as I sat beneath the various constellations of the night and the millions of stars creating the mystery of the Milky Way, my hopes went out to this good man.

Though I’m inclined to believe that compassion is a product of the here and now, I nevertheless hoped that Joseph and his band ultimately found the freedom they so sought somewhere in the cosmos that appeared so dramatic from the skeletal lodges located now at the Big Hole Battlefield.

I am not sure what lessons we take from the Big Hole, and suspect I never will.

NOTE: Venturing onto the Battlefield at night is illegal unless one has a special permit.  The area is also a burial ground and sensitivity and respect for various local restrictions is paramount.



*Lilies In Glacier National Park



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Virgina City’s Brewery Follies – It May Not Be For Everyone

posted: July 6th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: When you buy the $18 ticket for the Follies they tell you right up front: “You know this is adult entertainment don’t you?” Adding, “If you’re not comfortable with off colored jokes and sometimes a little political satire, this program may not be for you.”


Ribald performances at Brewery Follies may not be for every, but talent can not be questioned.


Of course that may be just the tantalizing come on you need to attend the Brewery Follies, held in an old brewery in Virginia City, Montana.  But if it’s not, you’ll know what’s what right from the get-go. Then all you have to do is stick up your nose, saying in so many words, “These are not my type of boys and girls.  I’m above this.”  Be assured your moral certitude  — and subsequent departure — will garner much applause…

Four young talented men and women provided acts that were rehearsed to perfection. Each of the four could sing or dance and create audience participation. And all could poke fun in a way that didn’t antagonize, even in roles that some might considerate off limits.

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L to R: Bobby Gutierrez; Brit Buchan ; Don Furhman


Don Furhman played the part of a jilted gay lover, Bobby Gutierrez a suave Italian Romeo, and Brit Buchan  seemed involved in everything.  Sometimes two or more of the four acted out parts together as did Bobby and Don, when they played the part of detectives.  Same with Arcadia and Brit, when they created a dialog in which they discussed the ten things a man and woman who are romantically involved should never do.  Now, here, you can let your imagination run wild.

Everyone in the audience seemed to have a favorite, but Arcadia Jenkins, who dramatized the part of a young girl trying to win a lover, may have been our favorite. She did so with ribald humor and gestures that were exaggerated to the extreme.

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Arcadia Jenkin is a master of extremism and her performance offers sexual suggestiveness, naivety and vexation almost simultaneously.

“Ooooooooo,” she said with a degree of sexual explicitness, pain, understanding, and naivety, all rolled into one.  “We may be getting somewhere now. Oooooooooooooooo”

Not everyone can create laughter by appearing forlorn, vexed, simple, sexy and wise, but Arcadia possessed the necessary mannerisms and dialogue. The four men and women worked well together and if you are looking for some pretty darn good talent, you need go no further than Virginia City, Montana, and take in an evening at the Brewery Follies.



*Fort Peck Montana


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Too Beautiful To Keep? — A Fish From Montana’s Big Hole River

posted: July 5th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: “It is the largest brook trout I’ve ever caught in this part of Montana,” said Chuck Robbins. “Maybe not the longest, but certainly the heaviest.  I think it may go three pounds.”


Chuck Robbins, guiding in and around the Big Hole River for over a decade.


For the past few days Janie and I have been touring Big Hole River country with Chuck and Gail Robbins, good friends whom we have know for almost a decade.  The couple lives in Dillon, which is the small town in the southwestern part of the state where Chuck bases himself as a fishing guide.  Because the Big Hole is such a fabled fishing river, I have been anxious to learn all I can about the area and would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable couple – or a better guide than Chuck.


Because the river has been so high for this time of year, we have been bidding our time making short driving trips and have reconfirmed our convictions that this is a beautiful part of the state.  Dotted with but a few small towns such as Wisdom, Divide, and Jackson the area remains some of the state’s most undeveloped country.  At times the area can be brutally cold and extremely hot, and that may be the country’s salvation, preventing it from such ungodly over development as is now happening in other parts of the country.

PumpkinBugger-1 BrookTrout-3 ChuckRobbins-3

L to R: Art Bivens Conehead Pumpkin Woolly Bugger; brook trout; Chuck Robbins with largest brookie he has caught in Montana.

The country is high and is surrounded by lofty mountains such as the Pioneers and Beaverheads. It is cut by the 7400 foot-high Big Hole Pass. Add to that the Big Hole River, and this becomes some of the state’s most intriguing country, particularly because of its fishing.

According to Chuck who has made precise map measurements, the Big Hole flows for 188 miles. It begins near Idaho at Skinner Lake and finally empties in the Jefferson at Twin Bridges, Montana.


Because of the high water, Chuck felt we should float a 15 miles upper section between Fish Trap to the East Bank of the Fishing Access Site.  I was particularly anxious because we were still finding salmon flies in the bushes. Occasionally they’d take to the air and then hit the water, causing trout to go mad.  Though the waters were unusually high and murky for this time of year, I made my first tentative casts with much anticipation, and was rewarded almost immediately when several small brookies hit the Mepps spinner I had attached to my outfit. It was not, however, until we stopped near a small feeder stream that I finally landed one.  But it was small, and nothing like the one Chuck caught later in the day.

Chuck , who was also manning the paddles, did little fishing until we stopped near Deep Creek,  a point about midway along the river.  Here, several more feeder streams entered the Big Hole and Chuck began by affixing what looked like a “Woolly Bugger” to his line. Chuck, who is thorough, said that the fly was most properly called the Art Bivens Conehead Pumpkin Woolly Bugger, “After,” Chuck said, “the man who first tied it.”


Chuck wasted little time. He made a few tentative casts, and then within a few minutes landed several  few medium sized fish.  Generally, he releases most all the fish he catches but because Janie and I both like fish dinners, we saved several.  Chuck then cast again, and this time I saw his rod arc sharply.  Apparently he knew he had something different on his line, as he played it slowly, bending his body left and right and keeping the line tight. He played the fish for almost five minutes, finally landing it.


Too Beautiful to Keep


Too Beautiful to Keep!!

The fish was large, and Chuck said it was the largest he had ever caught in Montana. We both admired it and then Chuck said it was too beautiful to keep and so we released it.  We watched it as it regrouped, then suddenly, with a flick of its tail, reentered the swift waters of the Big Hole, where it made its home.

“Some day,” said Chuck with much satisfaction, “we might just catch  it gain. ”




*Nikon Strobes & Flower Photography




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Ridin’ The Range

posted: July 4th, 2011 | by:Bert


Ridin' the Range

©Bert Gildart: Been ridin’ the range out here in southwestern Montana with my “Soiled Dove,” and we decided to have us a picture made in  Virginia City, a territorial capitol of Montana.  Hopefully it will be used as the insert of a book we are now researching on this incredible state. (Incidentally, Karen, a “Soiled Dove” is not a “dirty bird.”)


Abbigail Lee at Montana Picture Gallery in Virginia City done the best she could with what she had and went all out with  attire on hand to make us look the way we both know we looked in other lives.  Back in those days I hope I was an old cowboy, perhaps a little like Gus or Call from the TV series “Lonesome Dove.”  Janie wanted to be Kitty, from “Gunsmoke,” but she particularly seemed to enjoy resting a small pistol next to the side my head.

Though we hoped we might have been riding good sturdy steeds, in this life our hoss is a Dodge ¾ ton pickup and our wagon is an Airstream.  From our wagon we’ve been a-postin’ lots of little stories on, this, the nation’s fourth largest state, and it is what we’ll be a-doin’ fur the rest of this summer.

Note: By using such clipped jargon I hope I’m a-sounding a little like an old timer  — maybe Festus — but realize some may mistake the language for that used by Sarah Palin. (Okay dokay, it’s the chance I’ll take.)


We’re doin’ lots of excitin’ thangs and last night celebrated my birthday near the Chief -Joseph Battlefield.  After the cake and ice cream I took my camera and tripod to the Battlefield and then set up for some long night time photography, which I’ll be showin’ in some of the upcoming postings along with some images from fishing along the renowned Big Hole. I made that trip with Chuck Robbins, one of the river’s most experienced guides — and also a darn good writer.

In the meantime, we’ll be spendin’ a few days here at Virginia City where we hope to enjoy a rip-roarin’ 4th of July.  Please stay tunned, cuzz we’re going to keep right on a ridin’.




*Pig Dig




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Salmon Fly Hatch Creates Wild Times Along Montana’s Big Hole River

posted: July 1st, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  They’re only about three inches in length, and they appear along the banks or in the waters of the Big Hole River but for a few brief weeks each year. When they do appear — usually about the second week of June — their emergence creates a call heard globally, at least among certain groups (Holy S—).  In fact, Chuck Robbins, who guides on these waters, says he has fishing clients from countries such as Japan and from most every state in the union.


At long last, salmon fly desert the "shuck," leaving behind only a dried out case


The tiny creature responsible for this fanaticism is the salmon fly, and when it emerges, trout go wild.  Their cyclic nature, however, can be slow and it is a finely tuned biological phenomena.

Eggs are deposited by females atop the river’s rushing waters. Eggs then drift to the river’s bottom where the nymph stage begins to develop.  Three years later mature nymphs head toward the river’s banks and then crawl up onto shoreline vegetation where they struggle to break free, leaving behind a “shuck.” The shuck is essentially an exoskeleton.

When the insect  finally struggles free it it spreads its wings and flies to nearby bushes where mating occurs.  They often crash land onto the water’s surface and when they do, fish to go wild.


Salmon fly about to take wing.


That’s what’s happening now, though not quite as dramatically as in most years because heavy atypical rains have affected the Big Hole River water levels.  Still, in a day or so from now, when currents are a bit safer, I hope to join Chuck for a day of angling on this fabled river. If so, I’ll be joining a group of sportsmen about as passionate about the sport of fishing as the fish are about the sumptuous dinning that awaits them during the brief but frantic season of the salmon fly.




*Knife River

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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