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 October, 2011

Violence on Montana’s Wildhorse Island

posted: October 28th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Throughout North America, many species of wildlife engage in ritualistic contests to determine male order of dominance during the mating season.  In the animal world, few contests are more vigorous nor is the ritual more complex than among mountain sheep.  I have followed sheep throughout much of North America and have always considered it a rare treat when I stumble across action such as I enjoyed with two other photographers a few days ago.


When all else fails, rams resort to violence.


We had left Dayton, Montana and then made the 15 minute trip by boat to Wildhorse Island where we beached in a small cove known as Skidoo Bay.  The island is mountainous and we immediately began to climb, looking as we did for wild horses, the island’s namesake.  Instead we saw a few small deer but then, off in the distance, a herd of “bachelor” rams.


At this time of year, males are still in groups, where they begin determining a “pecking” order.  They gather in groups known as “huddles” where they curl their lips at one another, poke one another with their hooves, and nudge one another with their horns. A great deal of information is exchanged in such groups, information that often helps determine male order of dominance without having to resort to “violence.”  But when doubt remains, rams sometimes resort to battles, which can sometimes produce injury.

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L to R: Todd Campbell, engulfed by the beauty of Wildhorse Island, focuses  on nearby action; Jack Floegel approaches herd of rams near top of Wildhorse; bachelor herd of rams “huddle” to exchange information.

We continued our climb and found several of our bachelor herds, and as we watched we saw several rams that appeared huge.  We also saw several that appeared on the verge of a violent confrontation and we set up our camera gear, waiting to see what might happen.  We were not disappointed.

From a distance of about 50 yards we watched as two rams stalked off to a distance of about 30 feet, turned to face one another. Rising on hind legs they ran forward dropping at the last minute for increased momentum then collided.  In the stillness of the day the sound of their impact sounded like a high power rifle and we struggled to record the drama, which they repeated.  Though the impact must have produced immense headaches, in this case no eyes were poked out, no ribs were broken, though one of the males did appear to emerge as a solid champion, for the other ram stalked off.

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Toward day’s end we reluctantly leave behind one of the largest rams any of us have ever seen but find compensation when a group of ” wild” horses find us.

When the sheep tired we began to wander the island, finding more bachelor herds.  We looked as well for the island’s famous mule deer herds, but saw but one or two lone bucks.  And though we never found our wild horses, they found us near one of the old homestead shacks that still remained on the island.  They were a friendly group of about four and apparently had been fed in the past as they poked at our pockets, hoping perhaps for an apple.

Reluctantly, we departed near sunset, believing we had enjoyed a most successful day.




*Bighorn Sheep Wear Biographies On Their Horns




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Bison Kill Site Contender For Designation as World Heritage Site

posted: October 17th, 2011 | by:Bert


Don Fish explains significance of bison kill site.

©Bert Gildart:  Janie and I have been so extraordinarily busy that I have not had time to post on some of the many other exciting places we have seen this past month; and though we’re now back in  our OTHER home — catching up on other business matters — nevertheless, I want to post a few images of another place we highly recommend.

While in Great Falls we also visited what was known until recently as Ulm Pishkin State Park. Though little has changed, the site, now a contender for status as a World Heritage Site, is  known as First Peoples Buffalo Jump.


Bison jumps are located all over Montana, but this is one of the largest of the prehistoric bison kill sites in the United States. A visitor center and interpretive trails tell the story of the people, the animals, and the landscape of the buffalo culture

Trails course throughout the park and Janie and I lucked out.  Don Fish, a Blackfeet Interpreter, was scheduled to lead a group of students, and teachers said they’d be glad to have us join.  As we hiked we learned from Fish that Indians used the area for over six-hundred years and that they would stampede buffalo to the edge of the mile-long cliff.  Though  bison might sense danger, by the time these beasts approached the lip of the cliff it was too late.

Bison rushing up from behind would force the front runners over the cliff, where they’d fall to their deaths.


After hiking to the top of the cliff we then walked along the face, enjoying expansive views of not only the Rocky Mountain Front, but also of Square Butte, a setting that provided the famous Cowboy Artist Charles M. Russell as an inspiration for many of his paintings, to include several of Indians hunting buffalo.


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Don Fish leads school group to top of mile-long cliff face; bison jump, showing drop of approximately 30 feet; burial site of Native Americans back dropped by Square Butte, a setting that appears in several of famed cowboy artist Charles M. Russell paintings.



I’ll soon be posting a few other blogs of Montana travel areas which we recently enjoyed, but rRight now we’re scurrying around trying to prepare for a lengthy trip in our Airstream.  We plan to leave before the snows descend much lower (it’s capping the peaks now) in the valley.  We intend to take materials we have gathered about Montana to the desert, where we’ll finish the essays for our book about Montana.

Hopefully we’ll be out of her by the first week of November.  We don’t want to ever again take the chance of a state truck thoughtlessly dumping magnesium chloride in such as way that it will blast our Airstream.  In fact, we don’t want to think about the subject of filiform corrosion, preferring instead to say focused on such incredible subjects as the First Peoples Buffalo Jump.




*Valley Forge


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A View Over Some of the Nation’s Most Varied History

posted: October 12th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  So many travelers passed though what is now Montana’s Headwaters State Park that I am tempted to say it is one of the most significant state parks in the nation. Fall is also one of the most ideal times to visit the area.


Camping at Headwaters State Park


Two days ago Janie and I climbed to the top of a relatively low prominence called Fort Rock, but it was high enough to see one of the most significant geographical features in all of North America.  From the top we could look to the west and see the confluence of the Jefferson and Madison Rivers.  We could then turn 180 degrees and just half a mile away, see these two rivers converge with the Gallatin to form the Missouri River.  Several days ago the entire area was absolutely gorgeous.  Huge mountain ranges surround these rivers to include the Bridgers, the Madison and Gallatin ranges, and the Tobacco Root Mountains, all covered with fall’s first dusting of snow.


Parking lot for accessing Fort Rock, vantage from which one can see the convergence of the Madison and Jefferson Rivers. From here, the Jefferson appears large, the Madison (a little to the left of center) smallish


Lewis and Clark traveled this country and when they arrived here, thought all three rivers about equal in prominence believing that none was the Missouri River proper, rather that the three of them together formed this, the longest river in North America.  In his journals Captain Clark wrote “I saw several Antelope common Deer, wolves, beaver, otter, Eagles, hawks, crow, wild gees, both old and young, etc. etc.”

Because of the abundance of water the area was rich in wildlife, and was visited by all the area’s major tribes.  Later, the Three Forks was visited by trappers, and legend has it that it is here that John Colter made his historic run to escape the Blackfeet.  As the story goes, Indians captured Colter, stripped him of his clothes and then told him to run for his life.  A fast runner, Colter eluded all of the runners but one who was closing in with a spear. Before the warrior could thrust the spear, Colter grabbed it and killed the man.  Then he dove into the Missouri and hid from his other pursuers beneath a raft of reeds.


From Fort Rock one can turn 90 degrees and see the Gallatin. If one turns 180 degrees one can see the actual convergence of this, the Gallatin, with the Jefferson and Madison.


Though the campground was officially closed for the season, we found a spot and “parked” for several nights.  Because we support our state parks, we nevertheless paid the $7.50 campground fee.

The Heritage Trail departed from nearby and invites cyclists and hikers.  A sign alerts users that this is also moose country and that bulls are in rut and that hikers should be careful.  Essentially, we had the whole place to ourselves.

For Janie and me, the stop was delightful and we continue to believe that fall can be one of the most enjoyable of times to travel the state.



*The Princess of Acadia


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“Cowgirl” Poet Petersen Touches Many with “Cow-boy” Verse and Humor

posted: October 9th, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: For the past few days Janie and I have been living  free off the fat of our great land, which in this case means parking our Airstream at an empty lot located behind the Grand Hotel in Big Timber, Montana.  Our purpose has been to position ourselves so that we might visit in various settings with one of the nation’s best known “Cowboy” Poets.


"Campsite" outside the Grand Hotel (background) in Big Timber, Montana


We knew about Gwen Petersen from a Cowboy Poet Gathering we had attended several years ago in Lewistown, Montana.  Throughout that short weekend we had laughed with a number of great artists, but were particularly interested in Gwen, because she was a cow-woman poet.  Unlike most of her counterparts, Gwen had to break down barriers, contending with the challenge of “riding a range” most typically traveled by cowboys.

And so we found ourselves several nights ago at a bar in the Grand Hotel in Big Timber, Montana, conversing with Gwen over double shots of brandy-on-the-rocks. Though a widow she remains self assured — bolstered by an infectious sense of humor.

“Now,” she joked,  “I don’t have to cook, clean, or take criticism. I live like a man.”  In a humorous way she punctuated those thoughts with a few choice expletives prompting Janie and me to pull out a book we had used to brush up on Gwen’s background. From the last stanza of her poem A Cussin’ Woman:

…But let me step in fresh cow pie–
I take it as an omen;
So close your eyes and plug your ears–
Cuz I’m a cussin’ woman.

Gwen’s work has been published in over a dozen books to include: How to Shovel Manure and Other Life Lessons for the Country Woman; The Ranch Woman’s Manual; The Greenhorn’s Guide to the Woolly West;  Everything I know about Life I learned From My Horse; The Bachelor From Hell; and, How to be Elderly, among many others.

Because of these books (available on Amazon) and her appearances throughout the nation at anything and everything related to Cowboy Poetry, she has been dubbed “Erma Bombeck with some special problems with temperamental hired men, skunks and other varmints.” Janie thinks she is Phyllis Diller in a straw cowgirl hat.

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Reciting poetry

Though Gwen insists that it is life experiences and not so much a landscape’s features that has shaped her work, she invited us to her ranch so that we might see the Yellowstone River, which flanks her ranch; the horses she tends; the manure she steps around, or in; and the methods she has used to discourage “development” near her ranch.

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Tending horse, displaying “green” cattle skulls to discourage development near her ranch (sign reads “Beware of — Well, Just Beware”), shoveling hay and manure


How these aspects have given voice to her work remained unclear initially, but as we walked her ranch we got a feeling for the vastness of space that might shape a person’s  thoughts.  But I also got the impression that Gwen believed problems were best handled with humor — and with participation that did not allow defeat.

Janie and I suspect Gwen Petersen has ridden at full gallop after all her stray cows, and that she has cinched the rope on most.  We know that her Cowgirl Poetry has enriched the life of all those around her and that it has undoubtedly  lifted her own spirits with humor, enveloping a life that has allowed but few regrets and but little remorse.

That, of course, is exactly what cowboy poetry is supposed to do.




*Mount Katahdin


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In Zortman, Montana, Some Are Still Finding Gold

posted: October 4th, 2011 | by:Bert


John Kalal finds a "picker."

©Bert Gildart:  Because the Little Rockies in eastern Montana produced gold and silver several settlements sprang up, but only Zortman remains. Surrounded by beautiful cliffs, the settlement’s dirt streets are flanked by the Miners Bar, an old jail, the Buckhorn Store, several RV parks, and a prominent Catholic Church which reposed atop a small hill. A number of cabins and mobile homes accommodate approximately 90 permanent residents, several of whom we came to greatly admire.

John and Candy Kalal have families from the area that go back for several generations, and the couple has established strong roots. They’ve raised both biological and foster children in Zortman and have contributed in many ways to the progress of the small community.


But I admired John in other ways as well. He served in Vietnam as a Marine where he was badly wounded, though one would not suspect as much.  Despite the fusion of several vertebrae, he scurries everywhere and has found answers to all of life’s questions through a strong personal faith.

John and Candy are both outgoing and operate a small museum. They can accommodate visitors in their small motel or in their RV park. They have a fascination with Montana history and have helped publish several books on local subjects.  As well John offers a guide service for those who want to pan for gold.


I told John that folks in Zortman should be thankful he’s a resident, a comment he answered with a shrug of his shoulders. John then said that he wanted to make miners out of us, and moments later we were bouncing over a boulder-strewn road in his old truck. Twenty minutes later, we stopped along Alder Creek, hefted a pick and shovel from the bed of his pickup, dug up some gravel which we loaded into a sluice box. After examining those rocks, we then turned to the art of panning for gold.

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“Often we find some pretty good ‘pickers,’” laughed John lifting his pan from the stream.  And indeed we did. John also plucked a nugget from the rocks, then laughed when he saw our eyes widen.  He said he’d sneaked it in to create drama, adding that we sometimes do find one. “Which is the reason,” he said, “that this can be so much fun.”

We returned to Zortman several hours later, and John pointed me to a trail that would take me to the top of one of the cliffs now  flanked  with autumn leaves. I was developing a strong attachment for Zortman and the Little Rockies, and understood why Captain Lewis — who described them year ago  — had described these mountain in such glowing terms.




*Antietam National Battlefield


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Billings, “Montana’s Trailhead”

posted: October 2nd, 2011 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: For the past two nights we have been camped in the “World’s First KOA,” located in Montana’s largest city.

Cities are not my first choice for camping, but Billings, population 104,934 – and with a population density of 3080.9 per square mile – has managed to capitalize on features that keeps people here.  Recently, city fathers filed for a logo they believe reflects their past.  From hence forth, Billings will be known as “Montana’s Trailhead.”


Billings now calls itself Montana's Trailhead, with justification.


Last night I got a sense of that rationale when I drove to a parking lot near the airport. From there I hiked a trail that took me out and along the Rimrock bluffs.  It was quiet and from below I could hear the occasional yip of a dog, music of various types – and the sound of what sounded like the chants from a Native American PowWow.  Back dropped by the Yellowstone River, and the blend of various sounds, I thought that night photos of Billings might suggest a city that certainly provided a staging area for adventures yet to unfold.

In fact, Billings does have a fascinating past and “trails” from the city lead to a variety of nearby attractions to include the Little Bighorn, Chief Plenty Coups State Park, Pompey’s Pillar, the Pryor Mountains, and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

We’ll be here for another day or so, catching up on the many places we’ve seen and not yet been able to report on. As well, we’ll be absorbing some of the features Montana’s largest city has to offer and will reporting on them from the World’s First KOA.



*Nova Scotia Tells Story of Tragic Deportation


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