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 August, 2011

Montana’s Wild & Scenic Missouri River

posted: August 27th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  For the past seven days Janie and I have been floating Montana’s Wild & Scenic Missouri River, one of the most isolated areas remaining in the United States.  We were joined by our good friends Adam and Susan Maffei.


Canoeing Montana's Wild & Scenic Missouri River


The trip is not for everyone. During our journey of about 110 miles we saw but few other people, meaning that one must be comfortable with isolation.  Rather than people, we enjoyed the company of eagles, white pelicans, sheep and a multitude of night sounds created by deer, raccoons and by the yipping of coyotes.  There are no cell phones along the river and certainly no internet connectivity.

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L TO R:  Bert, Janie, Susan and Adam

In years gone by the Missouri River was home to a number of homesteaders but, today, few call the banks of the river home.  Other river occupants in the early 1900s include outlaws and some may recall that Marlon Brando and Jack Nickelson portrayed thieves in the movie entitled “Missouri River Breaks.”  In the end Brando is ambushed, dying as his character had lived.

Such recollections make it appear as though none but the most rugged of outdoor people could enjoy such an adventure, but Adam and Sue both worked in the corporate world. We don’t hold that against them and last summer they also joined Janie and me, hiking many of the trails that will soon be described in our 4th edition of Hiking Shenandoah. They climbed Old Rag with me, also in Shenandoah. On yet another adventure (Alaska’s Chilkoot Pass), they proved they could be depended upon, even when the chips are down.

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Of course it was Lewis and Clark who first brought attention to the Missouri River and Lewis in his journals described the White Cliffs area of the river, saying that the “Hills and Cliffs present a most romantic appearance.”  We carried their journals with us and marveled at the distances they covered traveling upstream. Our adventure followed the flow of the river and there were a few days when our travels were bested by the Corps’s upstream journey.


Montana's Wild & Scenic Missouri, near Hole in the Wall


Throughout my many years in Montana I have floated the river over a dozen times, several times on extended hunting trips with my son. About 25 years ago I also provided Far Country Press with pictures and text for a book about Montana’s Missouri River.  It was a wonderful project as the area is rich in Montana history, geology, scenery and in wildlife.  Though development is encroaching the river remains relatively pristine, suggesting that there is a great need among people from all walks of life to pit their skills against nature and whatever she might decide to dish out.




*Skagway Alaska & The Klondike




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Kootenai Falls — Impossible to Float?

posted: August 13th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep may have navigated Kootenai Falls in the movie “River Wild,” few others have successfully run the rapids.  From a point just above the falls the river drops at a rate of 90 feet per mile.  If a floater survives the rapids, they must then contend with the falls, which drops 30 feet at its most extreme.


Some have attempted to kayak the falls and been successful, but not all.


Early explorers recognized the dangers inherent in the falls and choose to portage.  In 1808, the upper end of the falls stopped David Thompson and four other men traveling in a large canoe, at which they decided to portage.  Fifteen trips were required to pack equipment around the falls, each of which took one and a half hours.


Thirty years later, Father Pierre DeSmet, a Jesuit Missionary, arrived at the same conclusion, though his choices were limited as he was progressing up the river rather than traveling down.  DeSmet took eight hours to journey around the falls, mentioning in his journals that he made the crossing in a quadrapedal position, meaning he was crawling on all fours.

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Perhaps the most challenging aspect of visiting the falls is crossing the bridge; Kootenai River creates a warm micro-climate that speeds transition from flowers to berries, as in this Oregon Grape.

Today, thanks to creation of a Kootenai Falls County Park, established in 1991, all aspects of this beautiful falls can be enjoyed.  To look into the mouth of the falls, modern-day explorers will have to cross a swinging bridge, and that may be the most challenging aspect of the outing. But the rewards are immense.


Kootenai River flows through a narrow gorge engulfed by ledges of ancient sedimentary rock.  Rocks date from the Precambrian era and are 1.5 billion years old. Once they formed part of a great inland sea and today preserve ancient blue-green stromatolites, still visible as concentric rings.

Today, the falls are one of the main attractions in the Troy/Libby area, and a challenge to river rafters and kayakers.  Several have successfully kayaked the falls – but others have attempted – and failed.


One of the major attractions in the Troy/Libby area


And now a head’s up.  Janie and I will be joining other Airstream friends for a six-day float down one of Montana’s Wild and Scenic River. We will drive to Fort Benton, spend one night in the Grand Union Hotel and then the next day launch canoes into the Missouri River.  This is the same section about which Captain Meriwether Lewis waxed so eloquent.  When we return, we will be posting images and blogs about our journey. The float provides much beauty, and glad to say, none of the near impossible challenges provided by Kootenai Falls.




*Klondike Gold Field



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Charcoal Kilns Were Once “Beehives” of Activity

posted: August 3rd, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If you have seen charcoal kilns before, quite likely it was while visiting Death Valley National Park. They look like huge beehives, and they were once used in the park for converting wood to charcoal. Though the charcoal then had to be transported from high in the Panamint Mountains to Death Valley proper, the benefits of using charcoal were immense.


Janie hiking into Canyon Creek Charcoal Kilns


Charcoal produces high temperatures required for extracting borax from rock. As well it it burns hotter than wood because it is almost pure carbon. It is also much lighter and easier to transport, making it an efficient and economical method of smelting ore. Because of their mystical beauty, Death Valley features them prominently in many of the their publications.

Though kilns do exist in other parts of the country, such as Colorado and Nevada, most have not withstood the ravages of time. But in Montana, perhaps because the kilns are remote, a group of them still stand, and they remain in very good shape.  To me, they exceed the beauty of those in Death Valley.


Located high in the East Pioneer Mountains near Melrose, Montana, we reached the Canyon Creek Charcoal Kilns following an old dirt road that twisted and bumped for about15 miles taking us first to the old mining town of Glendale. Operated by the Hecla Minding Company, the town existed to extract silver in the still-standing smelter, and during its heyday buzzed with activity.  In addition to the miners’ dwellings, there were several saloons featuring “hurdy gurdy” dancers.

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Only a few decaying structures remain of the once bustling settlement of Glendale;  though charcoal kilns are showing wear, the Forest Service is attempting to restore luster and structure.

For operation, the smelter depended on charcoal produced by the kilns, located yet another five miles up the road. In the old days, charcoal was hauled from the kilns down the road to Glendale.


The kilns are located on Forest Service lands, and when we reached them we began our exploration simply gazing around at all the natural beauty, and the “hives” that blended but in a surrealistic sort of way.  Nearby ran a small creek known as Canyon Creek, and once it provided water needed in the process of brick building.  Other brick and kiln components included a ready source of clay and sand, and last but not least, an abundance of timber, which came in the form of lodge pole pine.

A trail lead from the parking lot and the Forest Service had posted interpretive signs, explaining that the 25 kilns were 20 feet high and measured 25 feet in diameter. They were used between 1884 and 1900, and during that period contributed to the extraction of more than $20,000,000 worth of silver, making it one of the state’s most productive.


25 well preserved old kilns remain in the East Pioneer Mountains of Montana


Historically, the kilns are reminiscent of one of the state’s most consumptive periods of time. To fire these kilns, reports suggest that loggers working for the Hecla Company cut over 18 section of timber for charcoal use alone.  But those were different times, and today, the kilns remind us of one of state’s most important early day activities; a time when rough shod miners roamed the hills and hurdy gurdy girls danced in nearby saloons.  To preserve history, the Forest Service has been attempting to stabilize the kilns and appear to be succeeding.  The kilns are equally as appealing as those in Death Valley, California, and certainly much closer, at least for those in Montana.




*Lilies in Glacier National Park


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