West Macdonnell Range
We began our first of many adventures in the Outback, making a tour to the West MacDonnell Range, 320 km long in some of the most rugged country you’ll ever come across, hot, barren, with hundreds of kilometers between stations, outposts with a gas station, cafe, sometimes primitive accommodations for adventure travelers.
We spent the first two hours driving to the first stop, parking in a dusty parking lot and hiking in about a half mile along a dry creek bed with giant red boulders piled under shear red rock cliffs, one of the hallmarks of the MacDonnell Range.
As we were hiking along a path, our guide pointed up to a mound of large boulders across the way, “Rock wallabies on the rocks!” she cried out, just in time to see one of the little furry marsupials hop from one rock to another, then disappear into a crevasse.
We hiked along a path, passing a pool of water left over from the last rain. We moved into a narrow canyon with sheer red cliffs on both sides, staring up at the magnificent wonder of the rocks.
Another hour down the road, we pulled off the highway and drove about 30 kilometers to Standley Chasm. It’s private land and our driver paid admission. We parked and began walking down a very rocky trail, also along a dry creek bed through heavy brush, trees and rocks, and boulders. We met a few returning hikers in places so narrow one of us had to step aside to let the others pass.
The walk was somewhat arduous with the rocks and gnarly tree roots in the path so our group was strung out over the trail. Ahead we could see daylight in the narrow gap between high rock walls.
Standley Chasm wasn’t as scenic at Simpson’s Gap, St the end of a trail, we came to narrow gorge with high rock walls. Boulders between the walls prevented us from going further.
After returning to the highway, we drove another 40 kilometers over the narrow, two-lane road with very few cars or trucks. Our tour driver sped us along, out mini bus bumping along, dipping into low-lying roads where rivers flood during winter rains.
Our driver gave us geological and botanical background to the Red Center. Most of the trees are from the acacia family, including one, the blue Mellia, which lined most of the road we traveled on that day. The blue mellia trunk is below ground. When frequent fires rage across the barren Outback, the tree’s branches are charred to ash. But the tree doesn’t die; with the next rains, it sends up new branches from the ground and the tree is healthy and growing.
Fires had spread across the area the last few years. But along the road, you could see blue mellia branches growing a few feet out of the ground with a charred trunk.
Another interesting species was the desert oak which was more along dry creek beds and along vast stretches of the Outback. When a desert oak sprouts, it sends up a trunk about six meters high with branches that are more vertical around the trunk. During the first couple decades, the desert oak will send down a tap-root deep into the ground until it finds water. Then, often as long as thirty years, the tree will then grow into robust trees with leaves somewhat like a black oak in California.
Our destination was the Ochre Pits, a sacred site for aboriginal peoples who used the chalky rock to pain their faces and bodies. The ochre pits had open seams of purple, red, orange, brown, and yellow ochre, quite dramatic in the bright sunlight.
Glen Hellen Range
We stopped at the Glen Hellen Resort, a remote set of buildings at the end of a dusty road. We enjoyed a few minutes inside the cool, dark ‘resort,’ having a beer, chatting with the bartenders, two young Americans taking a ‘gap’ year to see the world before resuming careers.
The ‘resort’ was typical for several out stations where we made stops in the Outback, a cafe, bar, and lodgings for weary adventurers, bikers, and travelers.
Backpackers, miners, cowboys from cattle stations had left mementos of their time in the Glen Helen range on an old wooden piano baking in the sun outside. A few of the keys actually worked, but they sounded more like ‘thonk’ and ‘bonk.’
Ellery Creek Big Hole
Our last stop was another narrow gap in the Macdonnell Range with a pool and sandy beach where we enjoyed our last swim of the day before returning to Alice Springs. Several campers were at the Big Hole, where boys were jumping from the cliffs into the pool, enjoying the coll water on the hot, dry afternoon.
Our day tour showed us the incredible breadth of the West Macdonnell Range and all the beautiful places to experience this geological landmark in the Northern Territories Red Center. The next day we had an even bigger adventure, a two-day trip to Kings Canyon and beyond to Kata Tjuta and Uluru.
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Next: Kings Canyon, Wattarka National Park, our most arduous hike in the Outback
As many of you know, I also write mysteries and romantic suspense novels.
I recently published my first international thriller, Thirteen Days in Milan, which is available on Kindle as well as other ereaders, tablets, and smartphones.
I’m back in Europe for the summer to hire a translator and to research my next book which will also be a thriller based in Milan. I’ll be posting along the way from Milan, Stresa, Zurich and other locations.
I have a few posts on another blog, Anatomy of a Thriller, where I write about the process of researching and writing an international thriller. I’ll add more posts there as well.
Please share these links with writers or readers who might be interested.