Rudall River - The search for Hanging Rock Native Well and then on to Desert Queen Baths

Monday, Jul 06, 2009 at 05:00


Sunday 5th July, 2009
Desert Queen baths, Rudall River National Park
Od 209737

I don’t know why but Desert Queen Baths just draws me back every time. I found myself once again sitting beside the still waters of 3 Goannas Pool at 4.00 p.m. scotch in hand enjoying the warmth and changing hues of the red rocky walls. The tranquility was enhanced by being the only people here, a pleasant surprise after last year. It’s a warm night as I sit here at 7.30, the inclemency of past days weather a distant memory.

I had a lousy nights sleep, the exertions of the day taking their toll on the old war wounds. It's not often I have to down a tablet with breakfast but even they barely took the edge off it this morning. Sunrise bought a spectacular tinge of pink to the clouds remaining in the north eastern sky. Breakfast was a simple affair of yoghurt, fruit and tea, packing away at a leisurely pace and then started the hike to the east in search of the Hanging Rock Native Well.

The co-ordinates from the Natmap 250K maps for the Rudall area gave an 'approximate' position for the well as being some 770 metres to our east, our walk taking us immediately into thickets of acacia and spinifex. Fortunately this gave way to more open country of gums and wattle in relatively short order. The land here slopes downwards to the east and exhibited a firm surface that showed obvious pooling of water at various stages.

We could find nothing resembling the well or soak so began a search pattern outwards eventually reaching the large dune that ran east and climbed to meet the face of the surrounding range. It was from this monstrous hill of sand that the range seemed to emerge like the ramparts of a lost city. The climb to the top in the soft sand had the calves burning but the views to the north and east were spectacular and well worth the effort. The colours were incredible. Reds, greens and then the blue and purples blending as you peered across the distance. I could make out the outline of the Three Sisters Hills far to the north east. To the west and south, the ragged edge of the range ran in a semi circle to the south and then curved around to the south west forming a bowl with Hanging Rock sitting in the middle. We were able to clearly identify the different varieties of flora forming bands across the floor but nothing seemed to indicate an obvious spring or soak.

Reluctantly we climbed down to the floor of the valley, following the tracks of wandering animals, camel and dingo being the most prevalent. Our search continued more to the south and as luck would have it, we located a depression in the ground that appeared to have held water. It was certainly a meter of so lower than the surrounding countryside and was presided over by the skeletal remains of a long dead gum. Kicking away some of the top soil down to a depth of 15 cm or so revealed dark, damp earth and I have no doubt that had we bought the shovel, a good dig would have yielded results. The site is about 250 metres south of the approximate position given on the map so it is well within the bounds of possibility. We’ll chalk that one up as “found”.

On return to Hanging Rock at 9.00 a.m., we took a few more photos, the reds of the rock a lot brighter now the skies were clear. Then it was all aboard and off towards our double river crossing and Curran Curran water hole. The track was still distinctive and as loose as I remember it from previous occasions. The tracks left by my ill-fated attempt to drive along the sandy course some two years ago were still visible indicating that no water had flowed here since that time. Into the crazy, jumbled dunes we headed. It was great driving and Al’s first real experience of tightly packed dunes and sand driving. The 20 kilometres sped by and we were soon onto the open plains heading towards the three sisters veering south east and striking the range and and jagged cleft that holds Curran Curran. The area is still recovering from the bushfires of the past years, the lack of rain making for for a slow recovery. Many of the newly burnt shrubs and trees that were such a nuisance two years previously are now falling over their root systems no longer supporting them forcing us to stop several times to clear the track.

At Curran Curran we stopped for morning tea in the shade of the large gum near the gorge mouth. The well worn path into left by dingo's and roo's made it obvious that water was still present inn the gorge and on negotiating the short distance, we found a small scummy pool of green water in the bottom corner of the rock hole. It will soon be gone if the rains don't materialise. Cuppa and biscuits taken, we were on the road again near 11:00 a.m. and made our way through the rocky ranges towards Tjarra Pool. I’d forgotten just how nice this drive is as you heads east, paralleling the ranges. They are only small but rugged and impressive in their own right. It’s always such an interesting scenario when rocky ranges and sand dunes intermingle, the sand swallowing the rocks only to relinquish their hold in other places. I took the flick turn at the tri-peaked "Saw Tooth" Ridge and had stopped atop a quartz rise a little to the south to take in the view and a few photos when I heard my name being called across the UHF. Peter and Sandy were sitting atop a similar quartz mound about 10 km away so we arranged to meet at Tjarra Pool.

Taking the rocky, quartz laden track in our stride (and frightening a mob of camels on the way), we arriving at Tjarra Pool to find it stunningly empty! I was dumbstruck! The beautiful pool where I had camped the past three years was now bone dry! The rocks I had stood on to collect water only this time last year were now over a metre above a sandy floor. A confronting example of the ephemeral nature of existence in the desert environment. Peter and sandy arrived in due course and we sat down to lunch discussing the events of the past week over a bite to eat. It seems they endured the worst of the weather at DQB where it blew a gale for the past three days. They are heading south west to Newman. We on the other hand are headed from Tjarra to the main road north and then in to DQB. We saw two mobs of camels on the way in which is about standard for the route. The land seems to be making a slow recovery from the disastrous fires with a lot of the gums now shooting and the soft green fronds of spinifex making its way back.

The area within 5 km of DQB is still devastated though. It’s barren and rocky with only the bush tomato’s appearing to have a hold in the gullies.The gums at the DQB camp area have sprouted and are providing welcome shade. We were thrilled to find ourselves the only vehicle here on our arrival at 3:00 p.m. and crossed our fingers that it would remain that way. A quick scavenging exercise for firewood and then it was down to enjoy the dying light of the day at the Goanna Pool.The Pool level had dropped a good 30 cm since last year and over a metre since my first visit in 2006. The waters are dark and still and formed a perfect mirror reflecting the surrounding cliffs in the dying light of day. I reckon the water is actually darker, possibly the tannin's becoming more concentrated as the water levels diminish. Still good for showering in though.

A shower and then dinner of steak and veg followed by pudding, custard and cream. A big carb load for tomorrows hike. A magnificent day in all.

''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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