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 March, 2012

Photographing Cacti — In a Macro Mode

posted: March 27th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  The cacti are blooming now in the hills that surround us here in Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park, allowing me to pursue my fascination with macro photography.  For me that means multiple strobe setups and a sturdy tripod to optimize composition.  Ideally, the tripod should be one that allows one to position the camera about a foot above the ground level.


Strobes enable one to arrest all motion and optimize depth of field.

To improve understanding of the flower’s components  requires that one increase depth of field, and so I stopped my Nikon 105mm macro lens  down to f-32.  As well I set the camera to manual and then the shutter speed to 250 of a second.  Those settings override ambient light meaning that all illumination is created by the proper  positioning of the strobes.  Such powerful light positioned up close  makes the background go black which seems to intensify the flower’s yellow color.  However, the brilliance of strobe light can create “hot” spots so I covered the domes with diffusers.

But the work pays off  for it dramatizes the color and it accentuates the spines of the cacti, which appear as tiny spears.  Touch them as you may think they are.  Hard to believe that  from an evolutionary point of view spines were actually  derived from leaves.

Because the thorns seem to leap onto a person’s clothing and lodge in their flesh, many call these yellow-flowered cacti “jumping cholla.”  Spend a day wandering around cacti and you’ll soon agree the term is appropriate.





**Padre Island Pelican Patrol





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Vultures at Sunrise

posted: March 24th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: I’ve reported before on some of the more repulsive traits of the turkey vulture, but today, I want to say that at times the species can appear magisterial, wise and aloof.

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For over an hour the vultures preened and dried their wings.  Sinister in appearance the wire added to the thought.

For the next few days we’ll be camped along the Salt River, a river that derives part of its water from the Rio Verde and that flows through Tonto National Forest.  Early this morning, while on an early morning “bird walk, Janie and I saw this group, which was part of a smaller flock of about a dozen.  They had flown in from their patrols overhead, choosing an old fence loaded with barbed wire for a spot at which to roost.  At times they stretched out their wings presumably to dry them off.  Other times they preened, and they reminded us of vultures and other birds we had seen in Florida.


Three Wise old men

Quickly I ran back for my camera and tripod, mounting an 840mm lens to my Nikon7000.  Because the magnification is so extreme I used the mirror lock up to reduce all vibration – and this posting represents an edit I made from over 50 images taken during a two hour periods.

Vultures are fascinating and perform the valuable function of cleaning the landscape.  We’ll be camped here at Tonto for the next few days, and I hope to photograph the group some more.





*Alligators on My Mind





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Airstream Convention – Our First

posted: March 22nd, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Yesterday, several friends (Hi, Todd; Hi Dave) called asking why no recent posts — and the answer is that our time has been booked in ways in which we are unaccustomed.  First, the business of writing has been demanding; and two, we have moved to Fountain Hills near Phoenix to attend an Airstream Rally.  And that, though lots of fun, has kept us jumping.


Airstream rallies provide opportunities for members to share information about travel


Specifically, we’ve been attending the Four Corners Chapter of the Wally Bynum Caravan Club International, known as the WBCCI, and the group chose McDowell Mountain Regional Park for the gathering.  Though one of my first assignments as a freelance travel writer was to cover – back in 1988 — the huge Chinese/American  international rally held in Black Hills, this is the first rally Janie and I have attended.


The rally coincided with St. Patrick’s Day so Irish attire provided the theme for the gathering, which included about 20 trailers, all, of course, Airstream Trailers.  Monies charged those who attended provided for a number of meals and for some of the attire that dramatized the occasion, which was the green hats.  At such times, everyone, of course, claims to be Irish, but several in attendance actually were Irish — one hundred percent Irish —  and with his blue eyes, curly blond hair, Pat was genuine.

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Theme of this Four Corners Airstream Rally was Irish, and appropriately everyone dressed the part.  One members, on right, was 100 percent Irish and Pat certainly fit the protocol.

Airstreamers have been holding rallies for decades and the purpose is to bring together people who share in common the travel life – and who do so using an Airstream travel trailer.  Such commonalities create fraternity and the gatherings makes good sense, as techniques to improve travel with the trailer of choice can be shared.  Techniques can run the gamut and typically include discussions on solar panels, wiring, hitches, general trouble shooting – virtually anything that can make life easier while on the road.


For us the gatherings also provide opportunities to learn about the peripherals, specifically the rally’s many mountain bikers.  By joining several of these hard-core bikers on rides along trails that course through these beautiful mountains, we learned much about the current rage in bikes.


Mountain bike trails in and around McDowell Regional Park offer hundreds of miles of premier riding.

Apparently, most devotees to the sport have made the leap from bikes using the old 26-inch tire to brands that incorporates the new 29-inch tire. I rented one of these gems, and delighted in the way in which these full suspension bikes handle the rough rocky terrain typical of trails in this premier regional park.  And true, the 29-inch tire seemed to provide more stability and a bigger bang for each revolution inscribed by the pedals.

Campfires were another major attraction of the rally, and each night everyone convened around the cheer, glow and warmth generated by these settings that seemed almost atavistic.  Weather during the rally was perfect for the first two days, but then it turned, dumping inches of rain on our Airstreams and blanketing the surrounding mountains with snow.  Not to be deterred members gathered around propane fires beneath the shelter, and the camaraderie continued.


Though the weather deteriorated, camaraderie did not. This group was creative and created warmth with a propane fire.

Though Janie and I have been told that many Airstream Conventions are noted for regimentation, that was certainly not true of the Four Corners Unit, which was relaxed. In fact, the group prides itself on informality and we’ve concluded that if we are in the neighborhood again, this is a group with which we would like to mingle again. Certainly, we’d feel privileged if we could join the Four Corners Chapter of WBCCI.









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Views and Feelings From Vista Del Malpais

posted: March 12th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  My father’s words rang in my ear as we parked our vehicles at Vista del Malpais and then stepped out into a windy evening.  “Stick with your objectives,”  he always said, and ours was to enjoy the incredible vista of badlands offered from THE VISTA as we munched on a locker full of cheese and snacks and then wash it all down with several fat bottles of red wine.  All this, of course, set up the conditions for much philosophical discourse.

Dragon-3 Dragon-1

Forgive me Betty for including an image that makes your checks look swollen, but you’d  just munched a slab of cheese and the other photos were blurred because of the wind.  Image on Right: our “fort” against the wind.

The setting was absolutely incredible but the wind was creating a challenge, making it hard to even sip wine, but Tony Feathers was inventive. “Let’s do like we did when we were kids and make a fort.”

So that’s what we did. We positioned our vehicles beneath several ocotillo bushes now touched with their fiery torches of red, opened the doors, sat in the lee of the wind and watched the sun slice the badlands into a myriad of tiny entities — and downed our bottles of wine.  Then we discussed our place in the universe.

Dad, we were sticking to our objectives.


View from Vista del Malpais


We sat there until dark, then returned along the four-wheel drive road to the state road.  We bid Tony and Betty a sad farewell (“Stay in touch – see you next year.”), and then we drove to one more place I wanted to photograph. I wanted to capture THE DRAGON beneath one of the famous Borrego “dark sky nights.”


THE DRAGON, beneath one of Borrego's famous "dark sky nights."


By now the wind had died down and my long time exposure complemented the feelings of immense space and a timeless universe that badlands, wine and clear skies can create.



Night Photography in Organ Pipe


(One of our new books, below)

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Goodbye Pegleg

posted: March 11th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: My how the time flies!  Several days ago we spent one of our last nights at Pegleg trying to create a campfire scene with Lou and Larry Woodruff, another Airstream couple with whom we’ve shared fun times.  We wanted an image that would highlight all the time  we’ve spent in and around Pegleg.


One of our last setting at Pegleg


The image is one of the last taken this year at Pegleg, for we’ve now moved to a commercial campground.  We’ll be staying at “Springs At Borrego” long enough to thoroughly wash our truck and clean the camper after almost four months of boondocking.  On Tuesday we’ll be leaving Anza Borrego heading to an Airstream rally near Apache Junction, Arizona.

It has been a good winter and I’ve accomplished my major goal, which was to complete another book manuscript for Globe Pequot, and do so in a warm climate where at day’s end we could step out the door and hike to our heart’s content.  An extreme example is my climb up Coyote Peak.


Just by stepping our our backdoor we've been able to hike and climb to our heart's content, such as climbs up Coyote Mountain.


But we also wanted to maintain contact with friends we’ve made here in this sprawling California park.  Many have come from distant areas, and because so many things can happen in the course of a year, we’re not  sure just who will make it back.  But we’re hoping the power of campfire settings, the beauty of the night skies, the exhilarating card games and the charm of the desert will lure them all back.

It’s been a good winter and we leave with regret.




*Amargosa Opera House




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Exploring Anza Borrego With Life Long Friends

posted: March 10th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: About a week ago life-long friends Dave and V.V. Shea flew down from Montana and have been exploring parts of Anza Borrego Desert State Park with us. I think they are beginning to understand why we’ve become desert rats, and why we’ve been making winter visits each year to this part of the Sonoran.


Trail through Indian morteros and pictographs concludes at incredible overlook of Smugglers Canyon.


I met David in Glacier National Park (This link is about my new Glacier book, mentioned below. Lots of pictures.) back in 1966, where we both served as rangers.  We both were involved in the park’s first fatal grizzly bear maulings.  David was at Granite Park Chalet where I was at Trout Lake, and each of us shot the grizzly bears that were thought to have killed the two girls that one night in August of 1967.  David married V.V. 30 years ago and then he and his bride packed into Belly River Ranger Station.  The historic station is the park’s most remote station, which is according to David and me, another word for “the best.”

Dave&VV-4 Dave&VV Dave&VV-12


L to R:  Trail to Smugglers Canyon Overlook provides opportunities to study ancient Kumeyaay Indian pictographs and morteros.  Another outing took us through Split Mountain to a trailhead that lea to caves sculptured  by wind, called therefore, “Wind Cave.”

Both David and I say that it was in part because of our experiences in Glacier that our interest in natural history mushroomed, and appropriately, David eventually worked as a permanent botanist for the Forest Service.  He is also a first-class writer and editor and has published a book on Glacier’s Chief Mountain.  As well, he reviewed the manuscript on my new book Glacier Icons, so for a host of reasons we were delighted they wanted us to share Anza Borrego with us.

David and V.V. both enjoyed our camp at Pegleg in part because the nights are so clear and the stars so vivid.  One evening we saw five planets: Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and Saturn.  Seems as though David knew every single one of the 88 constellations, and he says his interest in astronomy began when he was in high school.

During the day the four of us made a number of hikes several to old Indian ruins, the others to see desert vegetation and the park’s incredible geology.  While here, the four of us hiked to an overlook that peered down onto Smuggler’s Cave, to several Indian morteros, to a panel of Indian rock art, and to an area known as Wind Caves.  We also made the drive to Sonny Bono to see owls, the subject of my last posting.

So far our only disappointment is that we have not found bighorn sheep, but that’s OK, for people should always leave a place wanting more.

AND NOW A NOTE: David, you should be here now as huge flocks of Swainson’s Hawks are flying north from Argentina. We saw them last night flying over our campsite.

AND YET ANOTHER NOTE TO OUR READERS: Finally our book Glacier Icons has hit the Amazon books shelves, and is described as follows:

From the mountain goats who linger by the visitor’s center on Logan Pass to the crystal-clear glacier-fed lakes, from the magnificent views from the Many Glacier Hotel to the old-growth forest landscapes, visitors will find much to ponder and enjoy within these pages. In 1903 writer, editor, and naturalist George Bird Grinnell expressed his thoughts in Century Magazine about this land he had come to love, calling the area the “Crown of the Continent.” His image of and descriptive story about the magnificent glacier-carved landscape in the far reaches of Montana brought about the creation of Glacier National Park in 1910. Grinnell’s description is apt, but it is just one of the collective descriptions that evokes iconic images of Glacier, also called the “Land of Shining Mountains” and known by many millions of visitors for their own personal stories and connections to its magnificent vistas and small wonders.

Glacier Icons contains fifty chapters filled with thousands of facts and hundreds of full-color photographs of iconic people, places, events, foods, animals, traditions, and more from all parts of this great national park.





*Exploring Glacier’s Highline





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Burrowing Owls and The Bizarre Nests Needed To Survive

posted: March 7th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Three years ago I visited the Sonny Bono Wildlife refuge, which is located about an hour drive from Borrego Springs in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.  At the time, which was March first, I’d gone there specifically to see the burrowing owls, and yesterday, that was again my purpose.


Even near a wildlife refuge Burrowing Owls can not find natural nesting sites.


Essentially, I wanted to see if nesting conditions had changed, and to quickly summarize, little has changed, meaning that burrowing owls — at and around this refuge — survive only because of some help, and because the species is so incredibly tolerant.  Put in other words, nest sites are about as unusual as you can find.

Under natural conditions, burrowing owls select burrows created by ground nesting mammals such as prairie dogs and various ground squirrels.  But farmers have eliminated all species of mammals that create burrows, and as a result, burrowing owls  have to rely on something else.

Three years ago a nesting pair was making use of a discarded Goodyear tractor tire, and I was absolutely astounded to see that an owl was making use of it this year.  Only one owl, however, occupied the “nest” so I’m not sure if young had already fledged.  Perhaps they had.


Farmers have eliminated ground nesting mammals -- and consequently the burrows once used by burrowing owls. To help, mangers have substituted PVC pipes, which owls have accepted.


Though wildlife managers had set out PVC pipe several years ago, at that time I didn’t see any owls, but this year we saw dozens of pairs at these artificial nests, so help seems to be working.  Apparently there are a few owls that are nesting in the old fashion way, i.e. using burrows created by the various ground squirrels.

Burrowing owls are one of the smallest species of owls, standing but nine inches-tall. It has a short tail, very long legs, and weighs but 4 oz.  When the owl sees something approaching its home, it bobs up and down a few times, and then dives into its burrow. Here, the owls breed in late winter, and the females lay around 6-8 eggs. Eggs take one month to hatch, and young owls remain in the nest for about 42 days before leaving.




*Organ Pipe, Struggling to Keep Stories Alive


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