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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #031

Editorial

The best wildflowers in 37 years, or so one person said. Others said 18 years, still others said five. No matter how you look at it though, we are certainly being treated to an unusual event here in central Australia.

Not that we're seeing vast fields of crimson or yellow, it's much subtler than that, just tiny dots of colour at our feet, some so small that we really can't see any detail until a photograph is enlarged on the computer.

Yep the West MacDonnell ranges are putting on a show for us and, with plenty of free camping, and a rugged landscape to explore, the "West Macs" are becoming one of our favourite places.

 

Thu 15 Jul 2004

We arrive in the Alice. As we haven't seen a shopping centre in a couple of months we spend some time browsing.

I buy a new pair of steel-capped work boots, then we drive back out of town to a spot near the airport.

For some time I've been wearing my walking boots on a daily basis, but they're expensive and it's wearing them out for no good reason, hence the new steel caps.

Also, the walking boots have laces and, as we don't wear our outside shoes inside the truck, I'm constantly tying and untying laces.

I've always hated laces, partly because I'm lazy, and partly because they get caught on the motorbike's gear lever.

The work boots are lace free and they will become my day-to-day footwear, until we pull the sandals out of mothballs that is.

Fri 16 Jul

My dad's flying into the Alice today. Just before his flight is due we ride around to the airport.

Even out here the security is a lot tighter than it used to be, and we have to pass through a metal detector to get into the arrivals lounge.

I offload my keys and loose change into a basket and walk through.

Beepeepeepeep!

"Sorry sir, you'll have to come back".

But I've got nothing else...wait a minute...the bloody steel caps in my new boots.

I remove the boots, place them on the conveyor belt, and try again.

No problems, good thing I'm not wearing the holey socks.

Tue 20 Jul

We've spent the last few days with my dad doing some general sight seeing.

Today he leaves on the bus for Darwin, we see him off, do some shopping, then camp just out of town.

We have done a couple of the touristy things while my dad was here, but by and large none of us are into "seeing the sights" and we mostly spent time catching up.


Maitlands Wattle, Witchety bush flower with caterpillar, and weeping pittosporum seed pod.


Red Mallee flowers.

Fri 23 Jul

After spending a couple of days camped just out of the Alice, we go back into town.

Chris gets a stack of books from the St Vinnies store, I get some new overalls to match the steel caps I bought last week (I hope this doesn't mean I'm going to be doing some work), and we buy a small amount of food.

We also need some more fuel, both diesel and petrol. Diesel is easy enough, we sussed out a bowser recently at a Shell service station on Larapinta Drive. We pull into the servo but the side I need is occupied so I drive right through and sit, ready to reverse up to the bowser.

Then someone drives up behind the current occupant, at this rate I'll never get to fill up.

Chris jumps out to make sure nobody else queues up; she finds out that the last que-jumper is a fire vehicle on it's way to a fire just south of town. You'd think they'd keep them topped up wouldn't you?

Eventually I get to fill the right-hand tank. Now we think about petrol.

NOTE: When building Wothahellizat I kept one of the truck's original petrol tanks, we use it for the motorbikes and generator. I also kept the electric fuel pump, and I use that to pump the petrol from the tank.

The forecourt's awning has a 4.1M clearance, according to the sign. I ask the attendant if that's for real. "Yep" he says.

It looks a bit low, but it's difficult to pick 100mm in 4M, so I'll believe the sign, to a point.

I back up and drive up to the petrol bowsers, being careful to only go as far under the awning as I have to. I get out and look up, the truck has cleared the sign easily, but is within about one inch of the main steel beam that supports the awning, and the structure gets lower ahead!.

I fill up and go to pay, mentioning to the attendant that there's no way the awning has a 4.1M clearance. "Any one who drives through will have a problem" I say. "Yeah, we had a bus hit once".

Thanks for telling me before I drive under.

I had no plans to drive through anyway, but the moral of the story is "Don't trust nuthin' or nobody".

We drive 7k out of town to John Flynn's grave, there is a lot of burnout marks here, but we've camped here before and it was OK.


Moon and clouds over our campsite

Later in the evening some rowdy elements turn up, letting off fireworks and drinking. They leave, but it's Friday, and the night is still young, so we move further out of town.

Before long we pass the turnoff to Simpson's Gap, but the park is closed at night so we drive another 100m and turn down a side road. Within a few hundred yards we spot place on the banks of a river. It's dark but looks like a very pleasant spot.

Sat 24 Jul


A nearby mountain and ghost gum at dawn.


Our campsite on the banks of the creek.


The dry creek bed.

It's 30 degrees today, luverly.

After a midday snooze I walk up to the top of a nearby hill. It's a bit of a slog, with some rock scrambling near the top; the view is well worth it, but the light is lousy at this time of day.

I'll be back.

At around 5PM I grab camera and tripod and trudge back to the top of the hill. As the sun sets the light improves.


A lone ghost gum in the field below, and looking south along the ranges.


Sunset from the top of the hill

I wait until well after the sun has gone, then stumble down the rocky slope in the near-dark.

It should look pretty good in the dawn light as well...unfortunately.

As we prepare dinner I notice some headlights in the riverbed. It looks like someone is putting their sand-driving skills to the test. As we watch it becomes clear that they aren't doing very well. Although the engine is revving quite a lot, the vehicle makes little progress.

Eventually it grinds to a halt, and we see the occupants alight and scavenge for branches to place under the wheels.

The vehicle is a Landcruiser, there's no reason it should have trouble on that sand, and I'm fairly sure I know what their problem is.

I wander over with a torch. "Have you let your tyres down?" I ask, "No". I look at the hubs, they're not locked. "How about your hubs, are they engaged?", I knew the answer, just wanted to see what he'd say. "Not yet".

Not yet! That told me all I needed to know. The first thing you do when approaching sand is engage your hubs, the next thing is lower your tyre pressure. They had done neither, and were defoliating the district to get out of a bog.

They thought they were in 4WD because the lever inside indicated so.

I explain that the vehicle should deal with this sand without any problems, just engage the hubs, and if that's not enough, lower the tyre pressure.

I engage one hub and the driver does the other. He gets back in, starts up, and drives straight out of the hole.

Forgetting to engage the hubs is a common enough event, even for experienced off-road drivers. These guys were inexperienced and didn't appear to know about locking the hubs, still that's how we all learn.

They drive out of the creek and head off along the road, probably wondering who the strange bearded fellow was who appeared from the darkness, talked about hubs and tyres, then disappeared.

Sun 25 Jul

It's 5:30, freezing cold, and the alarm's buzzing. This is why I said that it's "unfortunate" that the view from the nearby hill will be nice in the dawn light. I'm compelled to go and try to get some good photos when I'd much rather stay in my warm bed.

I make the effort though, and after stumbling through the pre-dawn darkness, I'm rewarded with some nice photos.


The mountain at dawn

Later in the afternoon I walk over to a ghost gum in middle of the neighbouring field. As the sun sets I work around the tree.


Different angles and light on the lone ghost gum

Mon 26 Jul


It's amazing the variety of subjects one can find in one area, all these photos were taken from within a few metres of each other

Tue 27 Jul


Even in sparse Australia most land is owned by someone.


Dead tree and a rising moon.


A ledge used for shelter by rock wallabies

Thu 29 Jul

Finally we leave our spot near the creek and head further west.

We've heard of a rest area about another 60k into the mountains and before long we pull into it.


Camping in the rest area

With great views, about 1000 varieties of plants we haven't seen before, and two amazing rock walls, this will do for a couple of days.


Nearby rock wall at sunset...


and sunrise

Sun 1 Aug

Still here, that's in the rest area opposite Ryan's Gap???. The wildflowers around here are fantastic, and yesterday a tour operator said that they aren't always this good. They only bloom like this after a good rain, and around here they only get a good rain every 4 or 5 years.

There's not the carpet of flowers that you get in some parts of the world though, in fact a casual glance over the landscape will hardly reveal a single flower.

But if you get down close to the ground there's little coloured surprises everywhere.

After four days we're still discovering "new" plants.


Saltbush berries, tumbleweed flower, and velvet hibiscus.



Wildflowers in and around the rest area.


A huge grasshopper with raindrops on its head.


Bleached snail shell and caterpillars.


Green pussytails.


Desert fuchsia flowers and fruit.


Satiny bluebush flowers.


Wild tomato flowers.


Blue crowfoot (also storkbill) flowers.


Butterfies playing birds and bees.


Full moon and clouds.


The HOG rally drops in, and I was worried about the noise of our generator.


More wildflowers

Mon 2 Aug

You wouldn't believe it but I'm actually in danger of running out of film, or at least CDs which is the digital equivalent.

Add to this the need for some more Tandoori spice, and a general need to get an email fix, and we decide to go back into town for the day.

Alice is still the same as we pull into the main street. It's a nice enough place as towns go, but that's it's problem, it's a town.

We buy up and bugger off, eventually camping in a gravel pit about 50k from town.


A moth comes out of hiding for the night.


Even a diseased leaf can have some nice colours

Tue 3 Aug

After a brief stop at Glen Helen to watch the helicopter we continue along the corrugated road to Redbank Gorge.


Taking the helicopter flight around the Glen Helen gorge

On arrival we set up camp in one of the official campgrounds, of which there's two.

The first is larger and we stay there, but the second has better views, a fact we don't find out until later.

Wed 4 Aug

Chris and I ride up to the gorge to check it out. There's a short (about 1k) walk along the creek to the pool and cliffs at the end. You can swim here, but the water is freezing and the shallows are full of dead fish.

Apparently the fish die because the water is so cold that algae grows in their gills.

Apart from the dead fish it's a very pleasant walk.

We ride back to the truck for lunch, then I return to the gorge with my camera.


A white necked heron fishing in the drying creek.


Wildflower on the side of the track.


Dead and drying nardoo plants form a nice pattern

Thu 5 Aug

"Come and have a look at this flower" says Chris. I grumble a bit, get out of bed, grab the camera and follow her across the campground.

Two hours and 150 photos later we return to the truck.


New growth and an acacia seed pod.


Tiny spider with a fishnet-like net.


Hairy caterpillar crawls over a kangaroo poo.

That's the sort of thing that happens around here. There's so much interesting insect and plant life it seems that every time you look down you see a great-looking wildflower or caterpillar.

Even as we return she spots some weird little bugs on a branch right next to the truck.


Weird bugs on a leaf.


Moth rests on the back of a canvas chair. That's a serious set of antenna there

We had planned to return to the gorge but decide it's too late, and elect to wander around the camp area instead.


Hairy caterpillar on leaf.


Tiny insect hitches a ride on a caterpillar.


Wildflowers near our campsite.

Fri 6 Aug

Today we're going to spend the morning in the gorge so at about 9 we climb on the bike and make the, now familiar, 2.5k trip.


Two views of Redbank gorge.

Just as I finish taking the above photo I hear a flurry of wings. Looking up I see two birds fighting high above the gorge. They tumble out of sight behind the cliff, there's a splash, and a single bird flies off.

Obviously the loser has hit the deck. As the winner was a hawk I assume the other bird was one as well, and with visions of the swimming eagle I saw in the Tarkine I rush to the pool.

The bird is there all right, but it's a cormorant and therefore quite happy in the water. It's swimming around in circles, looking up, presumably to see if it's safe to take to the air.


After losing a fight with a kite this cormorant seeks refuge in the pool.

After a while it swims over to the rock right in front of us and climbs out to dry its feathers.


Eventually the cormorant climbs onto the rocks to dry its wings

It's obviously very agitated and constantly searches the sky.

Eventually it flys to a nearby rock ledge.


A spider hunting in the mud and a very diseased gum leaf.


A nardoo plant floating on the pool surface.


Native thornapple seed pod.

Sat 7 Aug


Daisies growing on the gorge wall.


Cute little hairy spider on the gorge's quartzite rocks.


At around noon the gorge lights ups.


Some kind of insect eggs on the gorge wall.


The reflected rock walls take on a coppery hue.


Amazing colours in the quartzite gorge walls.


Black footed rock wallaby with a Joey in her pouch.

Sun 8 Aug

Back into the gorge today with a view to taking a couple more panorama photos. However by the time we've photographed some plants and bugs, and chatted to some people I know from Canberra, (it's a small world as they say) the light has gone.

Well it hadn't actually "gone", but it was no good for the shots I had in mind. Nevertheless we found plenty of material in the coloured rocks.


Two vastly different views of some strange-shaped leaves.


Gum leaves impaled on the extremely sharp spinifex.


Wildflower and a tiny cricket on the track into the gorge.


Great colours in the rocks on the creek bed

We feel that this is the best time of day here because it's quite and cool. It seems that the wallabies agree, as this is the second day in a row that they've appeared right in front of us.

They're a little wary, constantly looking in our direction, but content enough to feed and approach to within a few metres.


This cute little rock wallaby hides behind a rock, occasionally peering over the top.


Hole in a river gum trunk

Mon 9 Aug

Once again we spend the day in the gorge, and once again we find plants and wildlife we haven't seen before.


More great colours in the rocks.


A dead nardoo and aquatic insect.


A live bee drinking from the damp moss on the creek edge.


Unusual fern high up on the gorge wall.


Insect hides for the day on a thornapple seed pod

Chris climbs up the cliffs near the water hole and yells for me to follow. She's found some spiders.


The gorge walls are alive with spiders.

Chris used to hate spiders, but since we photographed the cute hairy one the other day she's changed her opinion. Now she goes looking for them.


The creek disappears into the gorge, with a wet suit (water is very cold) you can explore 16 more pools up the creek.


The white necked heron fishing.


Wildflower on the end of a long thin stalk

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