Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 7 Alice Springs to Dalhousie Springs

Sunday, Apr 29, 2007 at 15:52

Member - John and Val

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We had a slow start the following morning but by 10.30 we were driving past the airport and dropping our tyre pressure once we were on the gravel. We were heading out towards Santa Theresa then on to Old Andado, through Mt. Dare and Dalhousie Springs and onto the French Line. Initially the road was good but it soon deteriorated so we stopped to let more air out of the tyres – and found that we had yet another tyre going flat. This was getting to be annoying, but after a quick change we were soon on our way again.

The country changed frequently with picturesque, rocky hills, patches of spinifex and attractive gumtrees. We passed Santa Theresa and stopped for lunch near a dry creek. The road from then on became sandy and winding but we travelled slowly with many photo stops to capture the stunning sight of red sand dunes against distant blue hills. We stopped to collect firewood then realised that we were close to the start of the dune corridor so decided that it would be best to camp before getting in among the dunes. A bit of scouting around and we found a great spot, away from the road between a rocky ridge and a dry creekbed.

We were quickly set up for the night, and then it was time to go exploring. Up on the side of the rocky ridge there was a tiny cave affording wonderful views out over the surrounding hills. A flat rock at the cave entrance carried aboriginal engravings of things that might have been sea creatures – but out here in the middle of the continent, over a thousand kilometres from the sea? Whatever the etchings portrayed we were thrilled to find them.

We had a lovely campfire, and it was not particularly cold even after the wind died down after sunset. Everyone was excited about what might lie before us. The following morning we did a bit more exploring before we set out again. We found a wallaby skeleton, though Steph was not impressed by this grisly object.

The road south first went between widely spaced dunes with open grazing country in the swales. Then we were in among rocky hills and more photo stops. At one point we climbed a dune for a superb view in all directions. There was a stretch of road that went for several kilometres where the road was covered with deep bulldust. Several vehicles were negotiating a particularly tricky spot so we stopped for a chat. One of the men worked for NT Tourism and he was putting up track markers right along the length of the track.

We explored a short distance down a side road to the base of a high rocky ridge and came upon a camel skeleton. By now Steph’s curiosity was engaged and she found this second dessicated find much more interesting. It reminded us just how adaptable children can be, and with a bit of encouragement, how much they can learn on an outback trip.

We made the short detour out to the Mac Clark Acacia peuce Reserve to marvel, not for the first time, at the toughness of those hardy desert trees with the wind endlessly sighing through their unfamiliar leaves.

As we were approaching Old Andado, travelling through some starkly bare but curiously beautiful country, we joked on the UHF that we might find half of Canberra there. We knew that a group from our 4WD club would be passing through Old Andado sometime about now, on their way to Geosurvey Hill. Our comment was made half in jest, and we were very surprised when our call was answered by a familiar voice confirming that the club convoy was indeed at Old Andado for the night.

It was an excited group that we joined, with plenty of travel tales to exchange. The donkey boiler was well alight and the showers hot, and there was a big campfire ready for cooking. The next morning was very cold – below zero, made uncomfortable by a sharp wind. The club convoy got away quite early, but we delayed our breakfast in order to get some photos of the convoy leaving the old homestead. Then another traveller was keen to see how we had set up our Troopy so it was quite late when we eventually set out.

Even so our progress was slow as we stopped often to admire and take photos of the abundant wildflowers – and to open and close gates. We climbed some more dunes for better views and found wildflowers growing right on the top of some dunes. Then we entered the Mayfield Swamp (or the Finke Forest) of stunted coolibahs sustained by the last vestiges of water from the Finke River seeping below the ground. Certainly there were no signs of swampishness as we passed through in billowing clouds of dust. But we did stop to climb yet another sandhill so that we could see out over the extent of the “swamp”. There were some cattle around the bore so we drove carefully to avoid them and the couple of big holes in the track where the ground had subsided.

Soon we were crossing into SA. Regrettably the old gate with its hand painted signage was gone, and before long we were pulling into Mt. Dare. The new pub there has great slabs of polished wood forming the top of the bar and other counters, and the rest rooms were spotlessly clean – though the new facilities did lack some of the character of the amenities that we remembered from an earlier visit some years back.

We refuelled there and enjoyed an ice cream that really did seem like an exotic treat, and a well-earned treat at that. It was a hot afternoon, even if the calendar said it was the middle of July and winter – even the corellas were sheltering in the shade of a big tank stand.

Leaving Mt. Dare we continued south over roads that became progressively rockier through bare stoney country. By mid afternoon it was time to call a halt as we found a reasonable spot for the night beside a dry watercourse with a line of red mulga (with its lovely curly mini richi bark) giving a bit of shelter from what had become a persistent wind. Despite the earlier heat the evening grew cool surprisingly quickly. We were able to have a cheery fire having collected enough wood along the way.

Before going on to Dalhousie Springs we detoured down to the old Dalhousie homestead ruins for a look around. Despite having been partially restored the old homestead is a just a shell, but enough remains to see and be amazed at the effort, determination and optimism that went in to building the house and outbuildings. Today the surrounding country gives no hint that any form of agriculture would be viable, even with modern machinery to help. That pioneers attempted it with horse drawn implements beggars belief!

A few date palms have been left around the house for authenticity, although most of the springs have fortunately now been cleared of them. The palms were becoming an exotic weed, drawing too much water and drying up the fragile springs. At the homestead their fronds formed a cool cave over the tiny waterholes near the house, enjoyed by tourists and birds alike. We spent quite some time at the very photogenic stockyards, again admiring the craftsmanship that went into constructing these simple looking post and rail structures. Sadly the termites are slowly destroying the timber.

The road back to the campground at Dalhousie Springs was very rough, but at least the passenger could take time out from watching the road to see the extensive salt flats and the locations of the many mound springs marked by patches of vegetation. This whole area with its many springs providing permanent water in the desert is quite breathtaking and we can only begin to imagine what it must have meant to the aborigines who lived there. Its no wonder they tried to keep it away from European eyes for so long.

The campground was very dry and dusty although there were not many people there. After setting up, our first priority was to have a soak in the warm spring-fed water, which was wonderful – warm and very relaxing. The little fish were rather vigorous, nibbling on our skin, which tickled a bit. Refreshed, we went back to camp to prepare dinner, but Val just had to go back for a sunset dip. It was rather cold getting out of that warm water environment into rapidly cooling desert air. It became very cold later that evening.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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