"Enter the Dragon" - Our expedition into the Great Sandy Desert in search of Dragon Tree Soak

Sunday, Jul 11, 2010 at 00:00

Mick O

Sunday 11th July
Dragon Tree Soak
Great Sandy Desert

We welcomed on old friend back this morning....the sun. The grey skies of the past three days have broken into intermittent clouds. There are a few showers falling out in the distance and the breeze has again picked up in intensity removing a bit of that awful humidity. It was jaffles for breakfast and it didn’t take too long for the first crisis of the day to materialise. Scott, on returning from his ATV drive to secure better real-estate for the morning dump, managed to hit a large, spinifex concealed rock hard enough to bend the front sub frame in the quad. Repairs were in order to the front end before we could depart. We’d almost forgotten just how much bite this western desert sun has due to the overcast 3 days as the temperature rose rapidly.






We were on the track at 9:30 a.m. and pushed back to the remnants of the old cut line to continue south west. It was tough going with JW forging a path up the dunes. Being tail-end-Charlie is both a blessing and a curse as you get to see and hear about the conditions twice but conversely, you’re last up the track which could have been cut about by the two lead vehicles. We figured we had 8 major dunes to cross before heading north into our preferred swale. The dunes bought many contrasts with John being stopped by one monster. He realised then that his rear diff locker had failed meaning he now had no diff lockers operating. Both lockers are now U/S so he has resorted to the age old method of letting the tyres down further to assist forward passage up the hills.


One interesting thing of note on our track south was Suzette finding what we presume to be a spear sharpening rock on the top of a dune just prior to our turn to the west. The area showed signs of being worked as a tool area but it seemed odd and out of place that these rocks were on the top of a dune so close to an old cut line. We took photographs and left All the artefacts in situ before moving into the swale where it became apparent where the rock had been sourced from. There were several rocky mounds of which one we passed exhibited the same types of rocks as those that were up on the hill top. As far as we could tell, we were a long way from any water source so it did not appear to be a location that indigenous peoples might have sat down to work spears. A mystery perhaps? Who knows?


Turning west (right) into our swale, we had a kilometre or so of recently burnt ground with young new spinifex. Good travelling that was soon bleep tered by undergrowth of ever increasing thickness. The going got real hard real quick and our 14 km per hour rate soon dropped to 7 as the old growth spinifex predominated. JW tried quite few angles across the broad swale but nothing seemed to improve the rock and roll. Every now and then a regenerating, fire scorched area provided respite but after 1.5 hours, our 15 km trek was only two thirds through. We encountered a stand of eucalypts around 12:15 p.m. so decided to shelter in the shade of a reasonably sized tree. The girls were really getting affected by the heat and although it was only about 32C, the desert sun had some real bite. The wind was behind us as we travelled west so the cars took to heating somewhat more than normal, particularly for JW breaking ground out front. Anyway it was a refreshing break in the shade of our tree. As I got up to pack, I performed my customary check of the quad and trailer to find the back rack and been twisted by the violent actions of the trailer during the dune crossings, The whole rack had skewed to the left tearing the metal supports and ripping the seat as it moved forward. The damage had been largely hidden by the cover. Another crisis for the fixing! We removed the twisted remains and placed them on Scott’s trailer for carriage before heading on at 1:30 p.m.





Some 5 km later we managed to locate the north-south cut line or its remains at least and turned south again. We saw a solitary camel sheltering in the shade of a tree on a dune crest. A skinny looking cow who nonchalantly headed off over the dune away from us as we passed. Here the fun began anew as we punched our way over numerous dunes towards Dragon Tree Soak (DTS). Several had to be taken at odd angles and we soon found ourselves travelling without our cut line at all as the 87-03 line ended. In places the dead scrub was so thick that I was actually driving through a vehicle shaped hole that had been punched by the lead vehicles. If it hadn’t sounded so terrible as the scrub scoured down the sides of the vehicle, it would have almost been funny.


With 4 kilometres to go we opted to push due south until we got into the actual soak area and once again found the nature of the landscape changed. It became very much like the country we encountered at Joanna Spring in 2009. Here the Tee-tree became prominent and lower gorse/grevillea like shrubs overtaking the spinifex. My Google Earth maps helped with the lay of the land as we negotiated the many pan areas many of which had the potential to become treacherous traps for the unwary driver. We didn’t detect any clear clay or salt pans, all pan areas being covered with samphire and salt-bush. The walnut trees made up the dominant big tree species in the area. We collected some dead timber on the way and only a minute after resuming out trek and less than a kilometre from our goal, Scott staked the left rear tyre on the Guppy. As usual it was an inside stake requiring the Doctor to crawl under. It looked like a two-plugger initially but I managed to fix it with one. Time will tell whether it holds but it got us going towards our objective. The Dragon Tree Soak area stands out to the eye a good kilometre or more with the dense stand of dragon trees standing tall above the surrounding countryside. Scottie led us in to the treed area where we found an absolute oasis. A wide expanse of green kikuyu grass ringed a significant area of rushes and water. Large dragon trees ringed the whole area standing magnificent and green. The ground was littered with the large white blossoms of the trees. The amount of bird life was amazing with swamp hens, bee eaters, a large bird of prey and even a pheasant coucal. It was amazing and we were thrilled to find something so significant after 4 days of arduous desert travel. A pity the water was not a little better or we would have been in it.




Just the sheer volume of bird life chirping, squawking and trilling away was simply amazing. Many of the Dragon Trees were in full flower, their blooms resembling huge white talons. The dark waters reflected the rushes and trees in the fading light. We set up camp on a flat pan area some distance to the west of the soak. Nearby were the remnants of past explorations in the area as several 1960’s era 44 gallon drums with super thick rims sat quietly rusting. I must confess that the elation of having reached this magnificent spot totally overcame our exhaustion. We all perched on Scotties trailer and had a refreshing beverage to celebrate our achievement. The humidity was oppressive and the breeze, non existent exacerbating the situation. As the last rays of sun shot through the encroaching banks of cloud, we got camp squared away and the fire going. One of the unfortunate side effects of water in this environment were insects and believe me, there were no shortage of them that night. Even the weak light of a LED lights in our Arctic Cat hats have them swarming about you. The heavy clouds rolling in about sunset made it stifling. Thankfully they cleared later in the evening bringing a cool respite. I need a shower.





''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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