Gibson Desert - Into the crazy dunes in search of Alfred and the Fair Maid of Perth.

Saturday, Jun 05, 2010 at 00:00


What a big day today. We managed to navigate a dune field that more resembled a crazy gods sandpit than the parallel dunes we expect of the Australian Deserts. On the way we found that the guppy can fly, Suzette attracts dust and I love diff locks. At the end of the day we were all dusty (some outright dirty), tired but satisfied after making the cross country excursion to the Bedford Ranges. We didn’t find any remnants of lost explorers but we did have a bit of fun, the odd moment of anxiety and more than one puncture! Tonight we are camped amongst the acacia in the sheltering embrace of the Bedford Range. The fire is roaring, we’re sated and Gaby has won the prize for punctures today with TWO (count them folks...two).

And now for a bit of scene setting with a quick geography and history lesson. The Gibson Desert covers a large dry area in the state of Western Australia and is still largely in an almost "pristine" state. It is about 155,000 square kilometers (60,000 square miles) in size, making it the 5th largest desert in Australia, after the Great Sandy, Great Victoria, Tanami and Simpson deserts. As noted by early Australian explorers such as Ernest Giles large portions of the desert are characterized by gravel-covered terrains covered in thin desert grasses and it also contains extensive areas of undulating red sand plains and dune fields, low rocky/gravelly ridges and substantial upland portions with a high degree of laterite formation (Laterites are soil types rich in iron and aluminium, formed in hot and wet tropical areas. Nearly all laterites are rusty-red because of iron oxides. They develop by intensive and long-lasting weathering of the underlying parent rock).

Outback Al and I were first out today tagging for the throne and each spending some time getting the fire going. Fearing that the front pod may have moved out of alignment with the tray, I investigated the seating issue and found everything tight. There was a lot more activity around the quads regarding preparation and breakfast and then some time spent spinifex proofing the front of the vehicle. I’ve gone for the novel three phase approach of shade cloth, sponges and gaffer tape. This seems to have worked a treat. We were on the road a little later than usual due to the preparations and unfortunately we only managed to get a few kilometres before Gaby ran out of fuel...seems someone forgot to empty a can into the unit last night (not like he had anything else to think about LOL). With Alan “Equinox” McCall leading, we all headed back down to the 404 marker where we headed off to the left and into the jungle. My goodness the spinifex was thick! The dunes forced a torturous route amongst circular depressions and bowls. At Times we traversed grassy glades with statuesque Desert Oak and then we’d be right back into the jumbled mess of dunes.

Scotty had to dump a fair bit of air to get over the first large dune being successful on his third attempt. It was often slow, dusty going with the quads riding shotgun. They were often used to scout routes ahead for us and to determine what was on the other side of a dune. On more than one occasion they managed to identify a better route through the maze of dunes. Al managed to get himself out of com range and give us a bit of a scare at one stage but all was well in the end.

We had a bit of difficulty locating swales at times as what was often represented on the Natmaps was somewhat lacking in, yep there were a few dunes missing. At one point we had to negotiate a route over a large dune, into a bowl like depression on the other side. Then it was two more dune crossings in quick succession all while pushing through thick scrub. Scotty prepared well be deflating tires and then backing well back for a run-up. bleep he took it fast and I watched the guppy soar over the dune followed by the trailer, also airborne, in a descending arc towards the bottom of the bowl. He made it though. The quads were used to mark the approach and best place to cross the dunes. We were all exhausted by the time we got to the other side so we decided to call a lunch stop. Bikkies with sardines, cheese and tomato at the Tuck-truck and were joined by John McCall.

On departure, Equinox found his rear passengers side tyre somewhat square on the bottom which prompted a quick group repair session before continuing on our merry way. I also realised I had a very slow leak in the front right as did Michael J and Gaby. The going got easier as we broke out of the dunes approaching the Bedford’s. One slow rise gave us the opportunity to drive the vehicles to the summit for a spectacular view of the Bedford Range to our east. We continued on with the intention of trying to locate Yindi Rockhole. We managed to push the vehicles into the ranges and parked on a slope conducting a foot search of the area with no result. While we located many animal tracks, no water. The view to the east from the top of this minor range overlooked a grassy valley and a magnificent rocky bluff and cliffs a kilometre or so distant. Somewhat disappointed we headed back down and into the wide shallow valley beneath where we established a camp on the edge of a copse of thick mulga.

The late afternoon bought a tire mending session once again. Scotty set up his shower and water heater which was gratefully received, especially by Al who was caked in dust after an exuberant day in the quad. Dinner was tube steaks (snags) and vegies. Gaby provided a baileys to me for picking up a container of oil that had been lost from their trailer. The real story I won’t tell them till they get home...or maybe never LOL.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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