One Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty Seven Kilometres. Four States. Two Deserts. Seven Geocaches. It's been a big week!
On a crisp Monday morning, we tried to wind our body clocks back to 'rise before the flies to eat breakfast in peace' time. It took a few more days to get the rhythm right. Loading up on groceries at TJ's Roadhouse, and a full 120ish litres of diesel, we turned west and pointed Gary at the desert.
We wound our way on gravel, corrugations, the occasional sandy dune through the red scrubland that marks the transition into the Strzelecki Desert. The dry air of the Sturt National Park. The pleasantly mild high twenty-something air temperature and thousands and thousands and thousands of flies. At least they were the little annoying ones and not the big bitey ones.
We did a little hook turn through South Australia and found ourselves at Cameron Corner (Queensland). Adam was last here with his Nana and Grandad when he was nine years old. The corner plinth is the same. The red dirt is the same. The pub looks the same. Maybe the dog fence is in better condition. Two bucks a litre for diesel. What a spot. We decided to stay the night.
The pub is festooned with the caps of a thousand visitors, rank slides and unit patches, and signs everywhere 'Do not throw for the dog, no matter how soppy his eyes get. $20 donation to RFDS penalty.' The dog will bring a scrap of bark, or even a rock and plonk it expectantly at your feet. Hard to resist.
We wandered around the desert for a half an hour and got a three state multi-cache geocache (number 22), before returning to the pub to drink beers as the sun set. We ended up hanging out with a group of motorcyclists from Geelong who were on an off-road outback adventure on their dirt bikes. They began as eight, but were down to seven after one of their number hit a kangaroo the day before and needed to be air lifted to Adelaide Hospital. They were also bound for the Strzelecki Track the next day, continuing on in solidarity despite their injured companion.
We almost beat the flies the next dawn. The desert sky gets more beautiful every morning. It is a very different kind of light to the coast. Tuesday was a long day on the road. Crossing cattle stations, dodging cows, cresting dunes, dodging bulldust holes, gliding across corrugations, juddering across corrugations. Trying to find that perfect balance of tyre pressures that allows smooth travel over the corrugations while protecting sidewalls from sharp shredding rock. Gary likes 20/25 (psi front/rear) sometimes and 25/30 at others.
Across the Strzelecki Desert we drove. Then eventually we hit the Track. More of a wide, well maintained, very occasionally sealed road than a track nowadays. The development of oil and gas resources out near Innamincka means we passed a couple of sections with a water truck, grader, roller trio improving the road. Still vast, empty, arid, sparse and beautiful though. We stopped off by the Strzelecki Creek Crossing for Geocache 23 and continued out southwards run.
A desert is, by its very nature and definition, desolate. That makes stumbling upon the intensity of life that surrounds an oasis of life giving water all the more remarkable. In the middle of the desert is an artesian bore - Montecollina Bore. Sunk in 1903 (unconfirmed, couldn't find much info on it), the bore spills warm (46 degrees!) fresh water into a series of cooling ponds that have evolved into a wetland home to a variety of plant and bird species utterly absent from the rest of our desert crossing. There was even a solitary duck swimming in the first lagoon when we were there. Standing in the cool air downwind of the water, seeing the white ancient ocean-bed sand and scraggly dune shrubs, it is easy to feel like the beach must be just over the next sand ridge, instead of hundreds of kilometres away.
After lunch at Montecollina Bore (and finding geocache number 24), we continued along the Strzelecki Track to turn southwards at Mount Hopeless and follow the eastern flank of the Flinders Ranges. This drive along Mount Hopeless Road (apart from the 20 km north of Balcanoona which was really, really (Balladonia Road bad) corrugated) was one of the greatest drives we have done to date. Out of the sprawling desolate red earth and gentle hills of cattle stations, you see the northernmost end of the Flinders Ranges slowly rise above the horizon. The road turns away to the east, then back again, each time offering a different reveal of the sometimes rounded, sometimes jagged, striated red and yellow and purple and brown mountains rising into the sky. Desert gives way to increasingly wider creek lines. Sometimes there is a friendly cow. The Ranges grow and grow and consume the western horizon in stark contrast to the flat nothingness of the Lake Frome salt pan to the east. What a gorgeous drive.
We wound our way along the edge of the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, a privately held conservation reserve in the northern section of the mountains (and another awesome place to visit recommendation by Grandma Davies). As dusk approached we got to see a couple of Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies (one made Gary test his stopping skills, and escaped with all his tail fur intact) around the place before pulling up, weary but safe after out desert crossing at Arkaroola village. Sunset amidst the ranges was a real treat - golden light on every hue of brown and red in the rock around us. We made our camp on dry rocky ground and slept a well earned sleep.