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 April, 2012

Nation’s Loneliest Highway

posted: April 25th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  Highways from Winnemucca, Nevada, north to Bend, Oregon, pass through the nation’s loneliest lands. Highway 50 through Nevada used to hold that distinction, and  Janie and I have covered that story for several magazines — and, OK –  we did find it to be lonely.  But we now contend  that once you turn north onto Nevada’s Highway 95, see a sign or two that says next gas 100 miles, that you are now entering the nation’s loneliest country.


Highways 95 & 78 -- through Nevada and Oregon. Are these now the Nation's loneliest highways?


At Orovada, Nevada, population perhaps 20, we did find a post office, and mailed a package.  After that the road passes a sign that says Paiute and Shoshone Tribes  and then Highway 95 enters Oregon.  Perhaps every 15 minutes we saw a single car, then, we begin negotiating high mountain passes:  Blue Mountain Pass, 5293; Riddle Mountain, 6352 elevation; and, Sagehen Summit, 4,699. And for a long period of time we did not see a single vehicle or any sign of human life.

Somewhere along the drive we passed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where we saw various species of birds, but still little evidence of people.  Finally, as we approached Burns, Oregon, we saw a few cows, and then, finally, several small ranch houses.

We concluded that in winter this must be an intensely hostile environment, and perhaps that is the reason it was so lonely.

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L to R:  Lake Powell and our Airstream at a grey- and black-water dump.  Could this be the most beautiful dump site in the NPS?  Don, Nancy, Janie and me, departing Lake Powell.  For us, a most delightful series of winter travel are winding down.

Whatever, after almost 2-1/2 days of driving from Lake Powell we began seeing mountains comprising portions of the Cascades and the incredible Three Peaks Wilderness Area, which backdrops Bend, Oregon, host town this year for the Northwest Outdoor Writer’s Association of America.

We’ll be here for almost a week and expect we’ll learn much from the various seminars.  As well, I’ll be attending business meetings and will discover whether I enjoy the partial limelight as a member of the organization’s Board of Directors.  Usually, I shy away from such positions and suspect the organization must have been desperate.





*Honeymoon at World Trade Center




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More Beauty from Lower Antelope Canyon

posted: April 24th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though we are within striking distance today of Bend, Oregon, location this year for the Northwest Outdoor Writer’s Association annual meeting, the beauty of slot canyons is still on my mind. They’re easily accessed from Lake Powell Recreation area and my last two posts have described some of their beauty.

Look at the picture in my last posting of Janie ascending from “Mother Earth,” and then look at the ones posted here.  This is what you see beneath the fissure in the earth.  This is Lower Antelope Canyon, and must certainly represent some of the most beautiful erosion in the world.

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Add to this some skillfully rendered flute music in what is a continuous echo chamber and visual beauty is augmented with an ethereal sound that delights the auditory and visual senses.

Negotiating some of the bends and twists could be challenging but the Navajo have installed iron steps to facilitate placement of feet, creating a perfectly safe environment.


Presence of Janie in image adds depth


Because I had established professional credentials – and paid for a special photography permit which authorized publication of my images – Janie and I were permitted to wander alone.  My permit specified that I would not deface these incredible works of time, and I certainly had no problem signing the paper containing that agreement.    Apparently, in the past some have lacked integrity, and I am delighted the Navajo are going to great lengths to preserve these national treasures.

The record-breaking temperatures throughout the country persist as we travel, but we recall the slots were cool, another reason to visit these gorgeous examples of subterranean erosion.




*They were Honeyed Up — Reflections From My days as a Backcountry Ranger





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Ascending From Mother Earth

posted: April 23rd, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: In the last couple of posts I have covered the beauty of slot canyon, specifically, those on the Navajo Indian Reservation, located at Lake Powell, near Page, Arizona.

But what is a “Slot Canyon?”

Essentially, they are narrow canyons sculpted  by the forces of erosion.  Here, these forces create art, and the medium is mostly Navajo Sandstone, generally colored yellow, orange and red, or a combination of the three.


Janie ascending from "Mother Earth," which is more traditionally referred to as Lower Antelope Canyon.

Often forces act on these walls over the millennia and in the case of Lower Antelope. Length of the canyons may be short or long, but in this image of Janie ascending, it is so extensive that it appears she is literally ascending from Mother Earth, and been doing so over an extended period of time. No wonder so many legends of origin are related to a grand exodus from the world below.

Though beautiful to explore, ventures must be chosen with care. In spring the area is subject to violent thunder storms, and about 10 years ago eleven hikers from France, Sweden,  England  and the U.S.  were drowned, caught below in flash-flood waters that rushed between the steep vertical walls. Sadly, none in the group escaped.

At the moment we’re traveling to Bend, Oregon, but my mind is still on the beauty of our adventures in and around Page, so I will be posting a few more images as we travel.





*Compassionate Water Tanks




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Antelope Canyon – Celebrating the Ages

posted: April 21st, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona may offer opportunities to capture one of the most picturesque series of sandstone formations in the world – and the Navajo who own this land have learned how to capitalize on the opportunity.

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Antelope Canyon Tours offers several excursions to the canyon, one for the general public and another tour for those who consider themselves to be professional photographers.  If you join the latter, the price doubles from $40 to $80, but then the opportunity is most likely a once-in-a-life-time event.

The photography tour is limited to 12 people though you will at times still be competing with individuals from the other tours for space.  Most are considerate, but they are trying to move along, so sometimes it helps to point your camera up rather than along the route others will follow.

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Upper Antelope Canyon is only about 100 yards long, and access to the canyon does not insure that you will return with good images.  In fact, there are techniques which one should master if one really wants to do justice to the canyon.  It also helps if your guide works with you to insure that other visitors don’t walk in front of your camera during the long time exposures that are mandatory.

I lucked out with a good guide, whom I later tipped generously.  When others were about to enter the scene I was trying to record he’d ask them to please hold for just a minute.  “Photographer at work.”

Contrast in the canyon is intense so most of the images shown here are created from a blend of three separate images, each taken at different exposures from a tripod for about two minutes, and then later merged on my computer using a High Density Resolution (HDR) program known as PhotoMatrix.  Images of the people were made quickly cranking up my ISO to about 800, and from previous experience (see images from WEIO in Alaska) I know that Nikon can handle high ISO settings.   However, to make images of people work I had to avoid pointing my camera at scenes where contrast was great.


To accentuate the light streaming in from above, guides threw sand into the air.  In other words, they’d learned through the years what makes for a good image.  My guide also knew some of the best areas to set up.

Summer, meaning about now, starts to see overwhelming numbers, so winter could be a better time if you are bothered by large numbers of people.  Regardless, I’d recommend the tour for any simply wishing to see some of the world’s most incredible sandstone formations.  Upper Antelope Canyon has got it!  But then, so does Lower Antelope, which I described in my last post. In fact, I enjoyed Lower Antelope because the pace was more relaxed and there was time to set up without having to worry about people stepping into your picture.  With Janie, we were also able to develop a feeling for these works of natural art, and, again, I described all that in my last post.



*Amargosa Opera House


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In Beauty We Walked

posted: April 20th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Some of the most dramatic land in the world is located on Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Arizona, and yesterday we felt privileged to walk through a portion of that land.

Over the years we’ve read books and articles that have quoted parts or all of a Navajo prayer.  Upon returning we looked up this prayer about beauty and it seemed as though segments of the prayer summarized our feeling as we explored.  And, so, I include it here, for it seems to fit precisely with the beautiful land we explored in Lower Antelope Canyon.

I walk with beauty before me.
I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me.
I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me.
My words will be beautiful.




In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful…


Though Janie and I fully expect to be immersing ourselves in more beautiful places over the next ten years, we both agree that we’ve indeed been fortunate to see what we’ve seen during  the past 21 years of marriage.  Some of our best experiences have been covering Native American stories and meeting people from these various cultures, and yesterday our hike and visits with several Navajo people epitomized the best of these experiences.

Below, I’m providing links to a few of the stories and images that have served as the background for thoughts and feelings.  We’re enjoying creating this small retrospective because these experiences have at times defined our lives.




World Eskimo Indian Olympics (background material for story for Native Peoples Magazines)

Athabascan Fiddle Festival  ((background material for story for Native Peoples Magazines)

Alaskan Boating Adventure

Earth Mother (recent)

Chief Plenty Coups (From Montana Outdoors)

Hunting For Their Future (National Wildlife Magazine)

Power Of One (From Christian Science Monitor)

Gwich’in Friends (From my weblog)

NOTE:  This is a small sampling







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Montezuma Castle and Well — “The Name Stuck”

posted: April 16th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Off and on over the past few days Janie and I have been visiting a number of areas formerly occupied by the Southern Sinagua Indians.  One of the most spectacular of these areas was Montezuma Well, a natural tank of water created when an unground cavern sunk.

Today, this natural limestone sinkhole near Rimrock, Arizona, sees the flow each day of over 1,400,000 US gallons all created by two underground springs. The well measures 368 feet across and is 55 feet deep.

Montezuma Well-1

Janie descending trail to Montezuma Well


Water from the well was used for irrigation, and trails maintained by the national park service provide bird’s eye views of the outlet in the side of a wall from which the waters pour from Montezuma Well.


The Sinagua once used the water for irrigation funneling it through a canal, just as it is done today.  Today, farmers still use portions of the water that yet  flows through the original Sinagua canal. Some Native Americans  believe they emerged into this world through the well, and remains a very sacred place to them.

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L to R:  Small cliff dwelling near Montezuma Well; canal that directs water from outlet seen at middle right to agricultural fields; Montezuma Castle


Trail to the canal pass by several old cliff dwellings, and we stopped to examine several.  Another nearby visitor  said they’d just seen a scorpion scurrying across the rock floor.  Most likely, life for these people provided constant challenges.


One of the best preserved of all these cliff dwelling is Montezuma Castle, located about ten miles away and a ruin we wanted to see, because it had a reputation of being very well preserved.  The odd name came from the mistaken believe that the cliff dwelling was a castle Aztec refuges had built for their emperor.  Montezuma, however, never strayed this far north, but the name stuck.

Today, marks the end of a week-long stay at Dead Horse Ranch near Cottonwood, and from here we’re making a slight detour to hopefully take in the scenic wonders provided at Antelope Canyon near Page.  It is probably one of the most sought out places by professional photographers, which is probably a good reason now to avoid it.  But it is also our last chance to visit with Don and Nancy before we all go our separate ways, a couple we’ve grown very fond of.




*Natchez Trace


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Airstream Friends Depart Amidst Gloom. But Antidote Now Exists

posted: April 14th, 2012 | by:Bert


Brian and Leigh departing Cottonwood. Note wind and snow do not affect Brian's hair.

©Bert Gildart: Though we’re in “sunny” Arizona, the white specs you may notice in the image are snow.  Not a particularly nice day to be departing but the somberness of the day matches the mood as we see the last of our “gang” departing for new landscapes.

First we watched our friends Nancy and Don depart, though we will see them in another day or two for several days.

Now, we’re watching Brian and Leigh depart (her blog tells of last night’s wine and cheese tasting) in their Airstream, reminding us that our winter adventures with all these grand people is coming to an end. In a few days, we too will be departing, heading for a writer’s conference in Bend, Oregon.

We have about 10 days to make the trip so we may stop at Death Valley, or perhaps Mojave National Preserve.


We’ve known Nancy and Don for a number of years, (In GNP five years ago) (Also see, “The Slabs”) but didn’t meet Brian and Leigh until this past September, but the meeting was momentous.  Both of us were buying new Airstreams from George Sutton’s in Eugene, Oregon, and that’s when our friendship developed.  As Leigh says, Airstreams form a basis for friendships as it shows we’ve got good tastes.  “That,” she says, is a start.”

This past week brought us all together at Dead Horse Campground near Cottonwood, AZ, and while here we’ve enjoyed lots of outings.  The other night we made the short trip to the old mining – now an artsy-oriented town – of Jerome.  The “gang” all dined at Quince’s and Leigh took a picture of Janie and me in front of the restaurant that we both liked.  (Rare!)


Perhaps the most exhilarating experience was enjoying the superb drinks “Bartender Brian” concocted, and one I’ll share.  Follow it exactly and I can guarantee that any problems you may have will evaporate into thin air.

Here’s his recipe for margaritas.

*Start with 2 ounces of Silver Tequila, add to it one ounce of Cointreau and one ounce of lime juice. Pour that on to a shaker of ice, and presto, you may now be on your way to heaven.


That may add some CHEERS  and be an antidote to this gloomy weather — and the departure of some of our Airstream  friends.

Plans call for us to be back at our “other” home first week of May.




*Organ Pipe and Armed Escort




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Earth Mother

posted: April 13th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Let’s entitle this posting “Earth Mother,” for one of the most significant images depicts a woman giving birth to the animals which came to inhabit the earth.

Earth Mother panel is set in the Sedona area and is managed by the Forest Service. The setting is referred to as the Palatki Red Cliffs Heritage Site and it contains not only several panels of pictographs and petroglyphs, but the ruins of a dwelling and a site referred to as the Agave Roasting Pit.


Earth Mother, shown in upper right of image, is giving birth to the animals that came to inhabit the earth


Unfortunately the tour has become so popular that there were not enough interpreters (required) to lead us to the roasting site.  Nevertheless, the panels are impressive, for not only is there an image of Earth Mother, but some of images document great antiquity — dating  back over 10,000 years! What’s more several of the panels hold some of the best preserved  examples of Indian art in North America.


Interpretation of the panel that was of particular interest to us began with our guide pointing with a small beam of light to the Earth Mother. “She’s giving birth  to an animal,” said our guide,  “while other types of animals are standing around.” (Earth Mother is in the upper right hand corner of the image just above.)

Palatki-30 Palatki-32 EarthMother-40

L to R:  The rock art shown here are all pictographs and they represent just a few of the hundreds contained on the several panels at Palatki. Image on right is a close up of Earth Mother giving birth to the earth’s animals.

The interpreter continues, asking if we can recognize any of the species. She says that when she looks closely she sees deer or antelope, wolves, coyotes, and birds of various types.

From the Mother Earth panel, we moved on to a wall with a few petroglyphs, created by pecking as opposed to those created from actual pigments.


According to the interpreter some of the rock art is truly  ancient, “perhaps 10,000 years old.”   She continued, saying pictographs can be aged  using radio carbon dating techniques. In the year 2000, a black charcoal pigment yielded an age of 1080 from the Earth Panel.


Guided tours provide much information


From yet another room known as the Grotto, aging techniques dated a few of the pictographs to the Paleo Period, which goes back 11,000 years.

Truly, images from these panels are of great archaeological significance — and the public is fortunate that these remnants  from some of  North America’s earliest inhabitants  were rescued from vandals. Sadly, many such examples of Native American culture were  destroyed.




*Four years ago we were in  JEROME — just as we were two nights ago.



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Does the V-Bar-V Heritage Site Preserve a Solar Calendar?

posted: April 12th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  Among the red cliffs of Navajo sandstone  just south of Sedona and north of Cottonwood, AZ,  there is a rock panel that is perfectly aligned in a north-south orientation.  That orientation figures into creation of some of North America’s  most incredible Native American petroglyphs.

Standing before the fence intended to protect rare rock art from careless hands, one sees images of the sun, elk, deer, cranes and of many indescribable squiggly lines that until recently had meaning only to their ancient makers.  Amazingly, these lines influenced a culture, and Janie and I had arrived early to see them.


Wall of petroglyphs at V-Bar-V


But now it is afternoon and because I’ve come to realize the squiggly lines were so important and reacted with the sun so significantly, I’ve remained from the initial tour Janie and I joined to see the unfolding of a phenomena.  At almost 1:15 exactly, the sun slices between two boulders that have lodged high on the cliff overhead.  There are two dark  lines and as they lengthen they strike a path over one  of the 1,000-plus  petroglyphs on the wall, specifically one of the several etched out suns referred to as the “Sun Father.”  As well, the ray covers one of the squiggly lines, which our guide calls “steps.”

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L to R: Details of images from the huge panel, noting suns in left image as well as pared turtles; paired cranes in middle and paired designs on right.


According to our guide, the actual sun will progress from one of the three suns created as petroglyphs.  As the month progresses it will move to eventually touch  the other two, simultaneously moving along the steps represented as interconnecting letter “w,”  our squiggly lines.  This movement requires 180 days, and it was once important to observe as it represents the vernal equinox and the beginning of planting season.  Finally, about three  months later, it represents the end of the planting season.  After that the various crops  would  no longer prosper. In other words, it preserves what some believe was a solar calendar.

The conclusion, of course, is inescapable:  The Southern Sinagua Indians who once occupied this site were a sophisticated group.  They understood the movements of the sun and the movements of the earth.  Fortunately, their way of life has all been preserved at the V-Bar-V Heritage site in a Forest Service preserved site located between Sedona and Cottonwood, Arizona.

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Huge boulders and the chance alignment of the sun and wall combine with the drawings on the panel, which were not “chance” creations .  All this according to interpreters provided a calender that informed on appropriate time for planting.  Last image shows close up of sun (near edge of image toward bottom left) and again, interpreters explain the manner in which this lingers over the months to signify the end of the planting season. Look for the “squiggly” lines just above the turtles.

Most such sites are locked up tight (such as a solar dagger in Chaco), but this one is available for public tours and no one in the area should miss the opportunity.  The two end photos were taken about 1:15 and the streaks of light remained for about 30 minutes, lengthening and then finally fading until the wall was completely blocked up, once again, in shadows.  Low light works well and is the lighting I chose for all above images.




*The Natchez Trace and Two Centuries of Travel






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Tuzigoot, an Ancient Dwelling of the Southern Sinagua

posted: April 8th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  We have moved from our wonderful campground at the base of the Superstition Mountains to Deadhorse Ranch State Park near Cottonwood, Arizona.  Though noted for tourism we were attracted to the area because of the multitude of Native American ruins located nearby.

Yesterday, we visited Tuzigoot, a remnant of a Southern Sinagua village built between 1125 and 1400.


Tuzigoot, a pueblo of the Southern Sinagua


According to the park brochure, the village once consisted of a cluster of rooms which began with the work of about 50 persons, all of whom tilled the soil.  Refugee farmers fleeing from drought added to the population and the village swelled to about 200.

About 1400 villagers abandoned their pueblos and though no one knows exactly why, offer as possible reasons over population, depletion of natural resources, weather changes – and perhaps even changes in spiritual beliefs.

Any of this sound familiar?


Photographing Tuzigoot in the intense and harsh Arizona sunlight can be a challenge and here is where I think High Density Resolution (HDR) may provide the perfect solution in the creation of pleasing images.


Tuzigoot, ruin left behind by the Southern Sinagua, a culture that once flourished in the Verde Valley.

To create images shown here I bracketed three stops and then used PhotoMatrix to merge those portions of each image where the exposure was correct.  That way shadows don’t go black and highlights don’t wash out.  HDR has a tendency to dramatize the colors and that can be modified, though I like a slight exaggeration, and believe there are times natural light might render the images as currently shown.  Some may also think the image appears to have been heavily  polarized.

The Cottonwood area contains many more Native structures and we will be visiting those over the next few days. I will also be reading the galleys of my book on Montana which Globe Pequot, my publisher, has pushed up to September.  It appears that work this next week will keep Janie and me jumping.




*Natchez Mississippi and Its Spring Pilgramage


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Departing Lost Dutchman, A Campground of Diversity

posted: April 6th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Today, we will take down our solar panels, pull up the huge outdoor mat (checking to make sure there are no scorpions underneath), crank up our stabilizing jacks, and unite the stinger on the Dodge with the Hensley Hitch on our Airstream and depart this beautiful campground.


Airstream at Lost Dutchman, back dropped by Flatiron Peak, just a little left of center.


We’ve been here 12 days and our next destination is Dead Horse Campground near the town of Cottonwood.  Seems, however, that we always regret leaving an area, and that is certainly true of Lost Dutchman nestled here at the base of the Arizona’s Superstition Mountains.  During our stay here our activities have been diverse, to include two nights now at Filly’s Bar, where they have a great country and western band.

But that’s been a diversion from our other activities which essentially have been exploring all the natural wonders this area has to offer. Back dropping the photo of our Airstream you can see Flatiron Mountain, which I struggled up.  It’s located about a third of the way in from the left.

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L to R:  Beavertail cactus; Zebratail lizard, and Fishhook cactus, all seen along Hieroglyphics Trail.

As well, Janie and I hiked the Hieroglyphics Trail, and were astounded at all the short hike had to offer.  Cacti were in bloom and for me were climaxed by opportunities to photography the Fishhook and the Beavertail cacti in full bloom.  The end of the trail lived up to its promise with an amazing display of petroglyphs.  Joining us and scurrying around our feet was the  Zebratail Lizard shown just above.

Days here have been hot but the six solar panels we use for keeping us charged have insured that we can run our two Max-air fans, and they’ve kept a steady current flowing through our trailer that has provided comfort, despite afternoon temperatures near 90.

Quail HieroglyphsTrail-1 CurvedBillThrasher2

L to R: Birds surrounding our campground have been numerous, and include Gambel’s Quail and the Curved-billed Thrasher.  Center image shows a petroglyph panel from along Hieroglyphic Trail, also in the Superstition Mountains.


Mornings and evening, however, have been comfortable and we’ve invested our time studying all the birds attracted to the feed which we have scattered.  Interesting species include the Cactus wren, Curved-bill Thrasher, Gambel’s Quail, male and female Cardinals, and many others.

And so we leave Lost Dutchman with regrets, though we are nevertheless anticipating seeing the fascinating Native American  ruins that surround the Dead Horse Campground.





*Why An Armed Escort in Organ Pipe




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Surviving in the Sonoran Desert — If We Had to

posted: April 5th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  We’ve been camped at Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park for almost 10 days and have particularly enjoyed learning about some of the uses of  plants once harvested by Native Americans. The campground hostess added relevancy when she said she’d been harvesting some of the Anderson’s Wolfberries, which now flourish.  We sampled them and agreed that they taste a bit like tomatoes.  In miniature they also look like tomatoes.


Anderson's Wolfberry, now growing in profusion just outside our Airstream.


Because they are so abundant we were not surprised to learn that Native Americans also made use of them, and research reveals the Navajo used parts of the plant as medicine and in ceremonials.

In times of famine various tribes ate the dried berries, which they mixed with saline clay to create a “food clay.”



In addition to many other uses, they also make for compelling photographic studies, particularly for those interested in macro photography. The berries are tiny, perhaps a quarter inch in diameter, and their red color adds interest to the study.

Another species growing outside our Airstream is the jojoba, also used by Native Americans who ground the jojoba seeds to create an oil.

As such they used it to protect skin and hair against the desert sun.

(Jojoba shown at right.)

Oil from the jojoba seeds was also (among other things) used to treat skin irritations and burns.  Jojoba seeds were chewed as a dietary supplement.

Put in other words, life in this — the Sonoran Desert — was possible through the accumulation of knowledge subsequently handed down through the ages.

Such knowledge is still useful.


Today, the oil from the jojoba is used commercially and just as it was popular with Native Americans so it is also popular contemporaneously for hair and skin care, particularly in the USA. As well it is used in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, sun burn, skin care.


Anderson's Wolfberry, fruit according to campground hostess tastes like tomatoe and makes good jelly, which is one of her winter projects.

Though its uniform color does not provide for the same dramatic photographic studies, pictures reveal an interesting species that had and still has many uses.  Because it is growing in abundance immediately outside our door, understanding the use of  both the jojoba and the  Wolfberry provides insights into the survival of land-based groups.

It shows how Janie and I might start to survive – if we had to.



*Amargosa Opera House


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The Challenge of Climbing Flatiron Mountain

posted: April 4th, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  This past Sunday Don, Nancy (our Airstream travel companions) and I hiked and climbed to the top of Flatiron Mountain, high atop the Superstition Mountains.  Though the first part of the trip was easy, the last part was almost as difficult as climbing Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park, which I did several years ago.

Flat Iron-7

Note trail which courses from campground below and then through center of image.


The trip begins from Lost Dutchman Campground where hikers access the Siphon Draw Trail, which begins climbing almost immediately.  The trail, however, is well maintained and we easily ascended to an area commonly referred to as The Waterfalls.  The Siphon Draw Trail ends here but a route continues on, and though easy to follow is not easy to climb.

All along the way hikers must climb around boulders and in several places, it helped if one were acquainted with the concept of three-point holds before moving further upward.  The route continues in this manner for about a mile but eventually breaks out into an opening.  Views are spectacular and rocks formations incredible.  Spires jut up and views of the sprawling town of Apache Junction become more of an abstraction rather than a distraction.

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L to R:  Slick rock over which water falls subsequent to rain; ascending route to Flatiron, seen in background; descending Flatiron.

As we wandered around the top, which is like a plateau, we found the black spot which represents the disastrous plane crash from this past November.  According to the report, a father flying his own personal plane picked up his children for Thanksgiving and apparently misjudged the height of Superstition Mountain, which is about 5,000 feet elevation. The plane reportedly hit the mountain at about 4,500 feet, and we could easily see the scorch marks on the spires. Some debris remained at the base.

But this is not a report on tragedies, just simply an observation, and the hike was dramatized – and dominated by – the beauty which surrounded us.  Indian legends report that the mountains hold the spirits of their deceased, and settlers, learning about the stories, began to call the mountains the Superstitions.

Flat Iron-8 Flat Iron-6 Flat Iron-10

L to R:  View of Flatiron just past point where “route” breaks out above boulder fields; view from Flatiron; igneous spires forming part of Flatiron’s intrigue.


Climbing and then descending Flatiron required the use of upper body muscles which I had not used for hiking or climbing in some time and, now, several days later, I’m still feeling the effects.  But that’s OK, as the majority seem to turn around when the reach The Falls, and that’s too bad as the panoramas from the top are truly astounding.




*Padre Island is a Birder’s Paradise


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Everything Cholla –Though Deceptively Beautiful It can Also Protect

posted: April 2nd, 2012 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:  Here at the base of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, various species of cholla are now in full bloom and the flowers the species produces are absolutely gorgeous.  But it requires only the slightest of brushes against the plant to appreciate the names:  Staghorn cholla, Teddy bear – and Jumping Cholla.  The last of the names is applied because the spines literally seem to be jumping from the plant and then clinging to its victim.

The biology of the species is fascinating, but just as interesting are some of the ways in which various species of wildlife have managed to use the most irritating aspects of the plant to work for them.

This, then, is a brief portfolio picturing the plant’s biology as well as a few of the species of wildlife that have made the almost dangerous aspects of the cholla work for it.

Cholla-27 cholla-10 Cholla-25

L to R:  Jumping Cholla backdropped by Superstition Mountains, flower of cholla, fruit of cholla.

Cholla has evolved to produce both flowers and spines from the same location known as the areole (see middle image just below).  Spines, of course, are the structures used for one of two purposes.  They either protect or they are used to help in the process of dissemination.  Spines are of two types and if you look closely at the pad of this jumping cholla (again, middle below), you’ll see two types of spines, the central spine and the radials.  When touched, spines of this cholla break off in joints and it only takes the merest of touches and wham – you’ve got an unwanted passenger.

I carry needle nose pliers, and that’s generally what it takes to pull one off.  Obviously, the spines are painful.

Cholla also produces a fruit (above right) and I’ve back dropped its beauty (below right)  with a sunset.  Fruit of course is also associated with flowers, and the flowers of cholla are absolutely gorgeous.

Cholla-26 Cholla-23 Cholla-29

L to R:  Pack rats use the joints, which contain those lethal looking spines to protect its nest, somehow dragging them by the hundreds to their sites; areole of cholla showing both central and radial spines; cholla bacdropped by setting sun, creating a deceptively inviting setting.

Some species of wildlife have somehow learned to use the cholla joints for protection and one is the packrat (above left).  Janie and I found this nest immediately outside our camper.  Not only had the packrat collected cholla, but it had also pulled in a corn husk and several different candy wrappers.

To me the most incredible adaptation is the one made by the Curved-billed Thrasher. Somehow it avoids the spines and creates a nest deep with a cactus plant, most typically, the Jumping Cholla, probably because it grows up to 12 feet tall.  Finding a nest (me that is)  meant carefully pushing aside cactus branches and then invariably using pliers to extract cholla joints.  In this manner I found four nests, only one of which was properly oriented for photography.

Cactus Wrem-20

Though "everything cholla" is interesting, the most fascinating of associations is that of the Curved-billed Thrasher with an environment that seems almost lethal.

Curved-billed Thrasher emerges from nest to investigate the noise created by ravens flying overhead.  The bird quickly accepted my photo blind.

I set up a blind and then spent almost eight full hours waiting for the nesting Curved-billed Thrasher to assume the proper pose.  For me this provided one of my most exciting photographic challenges of the season and I was delighted with several of the results.  I’m hoping that before we leave the young will hatch and that I can see them perched on a thorn.

For me, the adaptation this Thrasher has made to almost lethal environment symbolizes one of the greatest challenges in this complex world of natural history, and I feel privileged to have seen it here at the base of the Superstition Mountains near our Lost Dutchman Campsite.





*National Bison Range


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