Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 8 Dalhousie Springs to Birdsville

Monday, Apr 30, 2007 at 18:01

Member - John and Val

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It was even colder next morning when our still-wet towels and swimmers crackled with ice, so we decided against another swim. Besides, we were keen to get out into the “real” desert! Soon we were mobile again, heading east on a fairly rough road with its fair share of corrugations. The sand dunes didn’t start until just west of Purnie Bore and at first they were small and closely spaced making for easy driving.

We stopped at Purnie Bore where water flows into an extensive man-made wetland. Evaporating artesian water has created strange crystalline structures around the edge of the water, unlike anything we had seen before. There are toilets and a shower there, making the bore a good camping place.

We continued east, up and over more dunes until we turned onto the Rig Road to sample what corrugations it could offer. The dunes became bigger and care was needed descending the eastern faces as the original clay topping there had broken up leaving soft sand filled holes. We saw a few camels and stopped early that day when we found a good campsite. After all the clattering over the corrugations an early stop was very welcome.

As we were setting up camp a dingo checked us out, totally unafraid. It was a cold night and we turned in early. The morning was even colder with ice on our water, until the sun came up. We continued along the Rig Road coming to terms with the corrugations and the occasional washout on the eastern side of some of the dunes. We saw plenty of tracks but it was not until about mid-day when we caught sight of a few camels. They were quite flighty and disappeared quickly. At Georges Corner the Rig Road turns south and runs between the dunes for some distance. In this section we came across some big patches of wildflowers, and some surface water that was probably attracting the camels, but was also a magnet for small birds.

In the afternoon we crossed many more dunes as the Rig Road made another turn to run due east across the dunes. We then turned north on the Erabena Track and after a few kilometres we came to the Lone Gum tree, a very healthy Coolibah all alone in the desert – well there are a few younger trees around it too, but only the one mature tree. Some wag had perched a toy koala in a fork.

We turned onto the WAA line and shortly after found a good campsite where we stopped in time to make a fire and get a camp oven meal on to cook. While dinner was cooking we did a bit of exploring and soon found a few worked stone - some may have been tools, fascinating to see and think about how they came to be out here. We took photos but left the stones where we found them.

We had expected the WAA line to be more difficult to drive, but it crossed more open country with only low dunes so it was relatively easy going. A big dry salt pan at the eastern end was cause for a stop to have a closer look and walk out into hat alien environment. Big crystals of salt protruded from the clay of the lake bed.

Knolls Track presented rather different driving conditions, running as it does along the top of dunes with big clay pans in the swales. The knolls themselves are low hills capped with limestone, and from the top there are good views out over the surrounding country. They are on the edge of a very large area of gidgee, with some of the trees being of considerable size and all of them very gnarled and rugged looking.

Then we were onto the French Line again, now just two sandy wheel tracks going over very up-and-down terrain, one big dune after another, some well scalloped out. We stopped for the night about halfway to Poeppels Corner after we had difficulty with one particularly large dune. With the afternoon sun making the sand hot, soft and dry we needed 3 attempts and a reduction of tyre pressure to get over. Happily the warmth lasted through the evening, giving us the warmest night we had had for a while.

Next morning we were on the road early, keen to tackle the dunes before the sand heated up too much. That tactic helped a lot and we made good progress. We had not seen much traffic although we did hear a couple of other groups on the UHF. Kevin had a problem on one dune when, attempting to reverse down for another attempt, his trailer went the wrong way and became stuck. Fortunately we were ahead of him so it was easy to come back and snatch him forward.

Poeppels Corner was our next stop, and Steph was very excited at being in 3 states simultaneously. The run along the edge of the nearby big salt pan, glistening white and hard on the eyes, was very smooth as we were able to travel mainly on the surface of the clay. The vehicles left small clouds of salt dust behind them.

We stopped for lunch in a very dry patch of gidgee, so dry that there was no ground cover at all, just bare sand. We were surprised then, when a bit further east the country turned bright green with fresh vegetation that looked very beautiful.

About mid afternoon we had yet another flat tyre, meaning that we now had both of our spares flat. Hopefully we can make it through to Birdsville without yet another one going down. We encountered more traffic that afternoon. We found a good patch of gidgee for our final camp and stopped by 4pm. We were surprised to find that we had only travelled about 70km for the day, as the driving had seemed easier. Maybe we are just getting the hang of it. A mild evening and a beautiful sunset rounded out the day.

More big dunes confronted us the following morning, many with scalloped out approaches that slowed us down considerably. The country around Eyre Creek was very green. A short detour was required to cross the creek that had quite a bit of water in it. While we were stopped to look at the creek Val had a fall when she slipped on the steep, muddy bank. Thankfully no damage was done, but it was a reminder of how easily things can go pear shaped.

Many of the big dunes in this section had soft active tops, and while they often looked beautiful they had the potential to make driving more difficult. But it wasn’t the dunes that slowed us down. It was yet another accursed flat tyre that happened about morning teatime. This time there was no option but to do a repair, and with Kevin and John both on the job, before long we were on our way again.

Soon Big Red was looming up in front of us. We had driven up and over Big Red last year, so this time we were content to go south to the alternative crossing over little Red. Here the sand was very loose and for a while we thought that we might have to go back and snatch Kevin, but after a couple of attempts he made it over.

We pulled in to the Birdsville Pub and had a celebratory ale there, feeling happy and rather pleased with our desert crossing. It has been a wonderful experience and we had at least sampled most of the tracks. As well as giving us a real sense of achievement, we felt that we had seen many of the great sights that the desert has to show us.

Then it was on to the caravan park, in time for a long hot shower and a big session with the washing machines. But Troopy wasn’t finished just yet – late in the afternoon we had yet another flat tyre. Fortunately we were able to pump it up enough to get up to the garage where, on hearing about the difficulties we had been having, we were offered some very helpful suggestions about causes and solutions.

Tomorrow Kevin and Megan will leave us and make their way east. It will seem strange at first having been with others for company for the past 3 weeks. We intend to wander south via the Birdsville Track and Walkers Crossing. To celebrate the end of our shared adventures we went across to the pub for dinner.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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