Roads and Tracks We Have Traveled (Part two The Western Deserts)

Monday, Feb 20, 2012 at 10:32

Member - Michael John T (VIC)

Planning the trip across the Anne Beadell Hwy, Connie Sue Hwy, The Gary Hwy and back via The Gary Junction Rd brought up some interesting challenges.
The several permits required was time consuming but easy however time line also included our 40th wedding anniversary, Mother's Day and an unforseen medical problem. Whilst there were no cards, phone calls or flowers from the kids for the mum's, mother nature in the Great Victorian Desert provided an adequate substitute - fantastic vegetation and plenty of 'wildflowers' to be found. The 40th, well, a visit to Coober Pedy as our kicking off point for the Anne Beadell easily solved that predicament in advance. Unfortunately one of our group developed the painful symptoms of kidney stones. A visit to the local hospital at Coober Pedy who issued antibiotics and advice to drink plenty, to complete the flushing process (was this an excuse to drink more beer?) left us a little hesitant about heading off into the isolation of the bush. We did, and except for one bad night all went relatively well.
Leaving the highway on a well formed gravel road we passed Opal fields and Mabel Downs Station making our way to the Dingo Fence gate where we camped. A good spot but marred by the untidy remains of a large campfire. It is desert country, it is easy to dig a fire trench, extinguish the fire and bury the remains before leaving - simple but people persist in not bothering to do so.

From here we experienced reasonably rough track conditions, largely due to corrugations which persisted for most of the SA section. The country and vegetation was varied and becoming very pretty with rich colors - very photographic. After 50klms we crossed the first sand hill passing Tallaringa Well at 55klms, now with light but persistent rain falling which continued until after we set up camp. For most of this trip the 120klms traveled today would not be exceeded, average speeds were between 30 - 40kph, giving us plenty of time to look around. We stopped often observing flowers and birds, this also helped look after the vehicles shockers.

Day 3 saw us reach the Emu Plains bombsites (Maralinga section) and to contemplate this interesting piece of Australian history. The first indication was the marked "Camera C site) and then down to the Totem 1 and Totem 11 obliesks. The area around them was flat and if you look carefully you could just make out a series of ripples across the ground. The first bomb was detonated by the British from a 30ft tower on Oct 15th 1953 and the second about a mile east on Oct 27th 1953. Although the area has been 'cleaned up' at great expense to the government (I believe much of the vast cost of this, for these and later blasts further south have to this day not been recouped from the British Government) there still remains scattered items which reveal the power of these blasts including small pieces of molten rock which are still mildly radioactive. (Google for more information about these sites).

A few klms further on we came to the clay pan graded by Len Beadell for the Emu airstrip and signs of where the workshops existed. 500 metres on, on a low rise are the remains of the tent sites and the concrete mess and latrine floors of Emu itself. It was here we met two Defence Department personnel setting out GPS co-ordinates for a proposed test firing from Woomera to be held in June. The track was to be closed for 6 hours on that day. They were interesting to talk to and warned us against the dangers of collecting any rocks. Their advice was taken.

From here we entered low sand hill country with great vegetation and very pretty driving, twisting and turning through the low and now prolific sand hills. Beautiful colors through this section, rich greens and reds matched against a clear blue sky. Camels on the track. We camped just short of Anne's Corner and next morning came across the first mounded spinifex plant, a little later, more of them in a vivid display of green rings (looked like English garden hedging). By the end of the day we were camped in the Unnamed Conservation Park where the country appeared much drier and the spinifex much older looking. Walking in this country could be treacherous if you hadn't taken note of your landmarks - over one sand hill and then the next and next - it all looks the same. that night we witnessed a strange phenomenon in the night sky - a strange light - we thought it was a satellite at first but traveling to fast, not a plane, no flashing lights, 'as it got closer' its pattern of flight was quite erratic, then it disappeared - oh well! A few weeks we heard a report of a large icicle that had entered the atmosphere.

Vokes Corner was reached where the road links the A B Hwy with Cook 206klms south. We left a note in the book and moved on for 10klms where "well I'll be dammed, a Give Way sign of all things." A note on the back explained the correct spelling of Vokes - Voakes. More sections of walled in canopy - ' scratchydoorus' - now. We had to find a camp for the night prior to the 50klm 'camping exclusion zone' in culturally significant country. This has been an extremely interesting drive, plenty of birds, (parrots, babblers, kites, honey-eaters, whistlers, cuckoos, robins), camels that won't get off the track and consequently leave large blobs of spittle (marshmallow blobs) on the bonnet as they gallop for klms in front of you. Plenty of flowers and flowering shrubs, insects galore and the ants with their fascinating ground nests. A series of markers highlight significant tree species - besides the persistent Mulga there were Black Oak ( Casuanna Pauper), Cypress Pine Woodlands, the Grass Hakea, the Desert Kurrajong (Desert Maple) and later the beautiful Marble Gums.

Now we approached the Serpentine Lakes, where Len Beadell, in one of his seven books recounted his attempt to cross these clay pans. Today it is easy but back then with his bulldozer, grader and supply truck it was a real challenge. Digressing here, his stories tell of the hardship, the isolation and the funny incidents that surrounded his "Gunbarrell Crew" as they carved out the 6 thousand klms of tracks across this previously untraveled area of Australia. If you enjoy the outback, you will enjoy his books. He has been described as " our last great explorer".
On reaching the lakes we had expected clay pans but were surprised to find that they were full of water. This was a great spot for a rest day, as the next day was Mother's Day, we set up camp under the Desert Mulga trees on the western side. Shortly after we were visited by a couple (also from Central Vic) Chris and Mel. Over the next few days we saw a lot of them and enjoyed their company. For us it has taken 5 1/2 days to get this far a total of 609klms. The only downside so far had been the persistent flies.

Two klms west we crossed the border into WA where the road improved and 10klms on the first of two fresh water tanks and camping areas appeared. Some 58klms from the border and through several burnt out areas the quite modern looking Illurka Roadhouse was a welcome sight providing fuel and some limited supplies. Some klms earlier we had deviated 12klms south of the track looking for a waterhole (said to be where Len Beadell had his grandchild baptized) we didn't find it but instead we found an unnamed dry lake bed. The area and the sandstone rock were brilliant in color, well worth the detour.
Next day we reached the very pleasant Neale's Junction campsite with fireplaces and tables provided, set under lovely Marble Gums. Here the track intersects the Connie Sue Hwy(running North/south). Prior to this we had driven 8klms off the track north through sand-hills to the site of the wreckage of the Goldfields Air 2 engined plane that crash landed in 1983 with no casualties. That night we shared camp with Chris and Mel with a delightful night of wine and cheeses - this was to be the last time we met up with them.

One of my dreams, had, for a long time been to drive the Connie Sue and today we turned north along it. This is a much less used and less cared for track which made it interesting with its washout's and short detours. Plenty of places to see along here and over the next couple of days driving, we visited many of the sites. Beautiful Lillian Point 5 klms west of the track (where we camped) then into Point Sandercock along a quite rough track. We passed by Lennis Exploration Well (drilled to 2016ft for no result) sited in a quite wet and boggy area. After this the track deteriorated into a stretch of deep sand, wash-aways and corrugations. Further on we looked unsuccessfully for Woods Pass and the Ngamma Hole.

About 4klms further on we stopped at (explorer) Hann's Tabletop with its spectacular views over the surrounding area. More rough track through extensive Spinifex plains before stopping for the night near Waterfall Gorge. The Harkness Gorge gives more great views over the plains, followed by McKenzie's Gorge (beside track) and then Manton's Knoll (which is a ridge line drive). All through this area we passed gorgeous groves of Heath Myrtle, Native Fuschia, Crimson Emu Bush and numerous small wild flowers all in bloom. Birds were prevalent especially the prolific green and gold Budgerigars, many of whom were nesting in the hollow branches.

From here it was an easy drive into Warburton Roadhouse for a chance to clean up. It had taken us 11 1/2 days to travel just on 1300klms, not because it was difficult but because we took our time to enjoy the wonders of the Great Victorian Desert.
The following year, 2008 we traversed the full length of the Connie Sue Hwy from the Rawlinna rail siding through to Warburton, once again we revisited many of these sites but in addition we traveled the 60klms east to Sidney Yeo Chasm. It took us 4 hours to reach it, clearing fallen branches from the track but only 2 1/2 hours to return the next day. The spinifex was so thick that just on dusk we camped in single file on the track itself, next morning a few klms further on we came across a reasonably well used camping area, that's life.

Back to 2007 - we accessed the Gunbarrell Hwy via the Great Central Road and then north on the Heather Hwy. The Gunbarrell proved to be rough and washed out for the first 11klms and later spread out over several tracks as vehicles tried to avoid the persistent corrugations. On our second day on the Gunbarrell at Beadell camp we lunched with a young Brown Falcon watching over us from a low branch above us. This is beautiful country, with rich foliage and with plenty of wild flowers present. Our next stop was Mt Beadell, again with great views from its steep summit and its memorial to its namesake. That night we camped 12klms short of Mt Everett.

Reaching Everett Junction we turned north along the Gary Hwy, the travelers book recording a note to us from Chris and Mel who now preceded us by several days. The' Gary' in places was very overgrown with spinifex, was often rocky with numerous washouts. Further on it improved considerably. Emus, camels, dingos and bustards all appeared along this section. The spinifex was now in full bloom, with its tall flowering stalks often reaching above our side windows. A lovely sight, with its golden stems and wavering silver shimmer in the wind. Naturally we spent a fair bit of time checking and cleaning underneath our vehicles.
The track out to McPhersons Pillar and Mulligan's Waterhole accentuated the colors of the vegetation with the sun now behind us. Mulligan's WH about 2klms from the Pillar was first discovered by Carnegie in 1896 and then again in 1982 by the "Carnegie Expedition". Surprisingly it is only about 1 1/2 metres wide by 1 metre deep. We camped the night out here before the 30klm return trip to the Gary Hwy. We passed through the dry Lake Cohen as we continued north, the track now often over grown with shrubbery and the whole area was becoming a virtual "Nature's Garden" of colour with the now dominant red Holly Grevillia and golden wattles. On many occasions we came across burnt out areas, many in different stages of regrowth. The variation of nature out here is just astounding, never boring and thank goodness for digital photography, giving us hundreds of photos to download each night. It really is beautiful country.

McDougall's Knob provided a great campsite for us, aided by another spectacular sunset. Another spot I've looked forward to visiting was Windy Corner, just an intersection with the Talawanna Track marked on the map with nothing but a Beadell marker and a rusting 44 gallon drum - but now I've been there. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn (it's amazing how it immediately got warmer) and several cleared shot lines indicative of the search for oil and gas in days gone by. It was at Whau Whau Well where we turned off for the 16klm drive out to the small Veever's Meteorite Crater. Being only about 50 metres wide it doesn't match the one at Wolfe Creek but was only recently discovered in 1975. That night we returned to camp at Whau Whau Well.

The track now had been graded into a road and as we drove through a winding section of sand hills we eventually came to the Jenkin's Track which we followed for 31klms into the Kunawarritji Community on the Canning Stock Route. The community was almost deserted but they have a small campground where we were able to stay for the night and refuel our vehicles from a hand operated pump (the normal pump was broken down and it was going to cost $5,000 just to get someone out to look at it). Here we met a couple of pilots doing government survey work, one had been here for 5 weeks and was bored witless with little to do between flights.

From here we drove east along the well formed and wide Gary Junction Hwy, a great drive passing between sand hills with superb vegetation and the appearance of the Desert Sheoaks. We visited several aboriginal communities, bought some art work from the excited women artists at Kiwirrkurra (also the site of Len Beadell's burnt out truck) and enjoyed the fantastic approach to the Dover Hills and later Mt Strickland and Mt Leisler. The scenery became quite stunning as we approached the Amunurunga Range and Mt Liebig, the colors were just superb with the hazy blues and pinks of the ranges. This was a fitting end to what had been a fascinating and memorable section of our trip.

During 2008 we left the Connie Sue at Warburton finding the Hunt Oil Road which led us to the Gunbarrell a few klms west of Everett Junction. This too was one to remember but will have to wait for a future date.
Scanning my photos of these trips there is just too much material so I have decided to add a part 2A concentrating on the Flora and Fauna of the Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts.
Part 3 will look at the Pilbara.
We retired to travell
It's time to go again...
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