Western Desert Meanderings 2008

Saturday, Jun 28, 2008 at 00:00

equinox



This trip/journey report covers some of the desolate interior of Western Australia and the associated routes to and from the capital city of Western Australia, Perth. The trip was undertaken in my trusted Landcruiser Ute. My 72 year old father John accompanied me in the two seater cabin.

"The complete Google Earth track and waypoint file for this expedition is available for download at the bottom of this page. This enables viewing of the entire route and points of interest in Google Earth."

Perth to Hunt Oil Road Turnoff:

We left Perth on Saturday 28 June 2008, relaxed and in no rush, and our intention was to camp somewhere north of Bullfinch. Just before the settlement of Yerbillon one of the back tyres blew out and we unexpectedly found ourselves prematurely unpacking the load to access the spare. The blown tyre was the worst tyre of all my tyres, one that had made it all the way through last years trip, so it wasn’t so bad. In hindsight I should have replaced it earlier or used it as one of my spares. As it was I had six tyres on five rims, but the sheer irony of blowing a tyre on the bitumen on the first day of what would be a major desert trip was not wasted on me.

So our plans were already modified and we now drove onwards to Southern Cross where I called the tyre shop gentleman to open his shop if he would. Here I purchased a new tyre and had it fitted; it was a brand I had not tried before. We stayed in the caravan park in an onsite van and ate at one of the roadhouses. It was already quite noticeably colder at night than in Perth.

In the morning after breakfast we headed north to Bullfinch but stopped to have a look at Hunts Soak first. We then headed north along the Bullfinch Evanston Road and admired views of the Helena and Aurora Range and Mount Jackson. At the Evanston Menzies Road we turned east. Shortly after, we deviated slightly to briefly visit Lake Giles before continuing on and stopping at Hospital Rocks, eventually having lunch at the roadhouse at Menzies.

After lunch we headed north again on the Goldfields Highway until we reached Leonora where we topped up with fuel. We then travelled east on the road to Laverton where we would try and find a place to camp near the road. Soon after, though, a kangaroo came out from the left and slipped under the wheels of the 4WD and gave us both an intensive lesson in the anatomy of the kangaroo when we drove back to look at it. We shortly camped near Murrin Murrin Mine just off the road, and the noise of the workings and vehicles was annoying but tiredness soon overtook all, and sleep was the result..

At dawn we broke camp and headed again towards Laverton where we then topped up the fuel tanks and visited the “Explorers Hall of Fame”; this was my second visit.

We then headed out to the northeast along the Great Central Road. The road was good, but it was corrugated enough to rupture one of my precious 20 litre plastic water containers. I had had this one for a few years and it spent most of its life along one outside wall of my house. We tried to tape over the crack but eventually it was not useable. I had seven 20 litre containers left of which four were of the same age as the broken one. We stopped in at Cosmo Newbery to see if they had any spare containers. They didn’t so we continued on.

We deviated to Limestone Well, not far off the main road, then on to Beegull Rockhole where there was some water above the caves. We decided to keep going to Tjukayirla Roadhouse and arrived there after 4:00pm. There were pet emus and a dog and cat there which kept us company. It was a nice camping spot with good facilities. We were the only guests. We had a good feed from the shop and also purchased two 20 litre flexible plastic water containers.

After a shower and breakfast we departed just after 8:00am. We headed east again with the aim of reaching the Hunt Oil Road turnoff around lunchtime. Whilst travelling the Great Central Road we visited Terhan and Babool Rockholes without drama, and also Walhgu Rockholes, which were not at their positions as marked on the map. Babool Rockholes are off the old track and would be rarely visited now. We continued and visited one more rockhole, Muggan Rockholes, before stopping for lunch at the turnoff to the Hunt Oil Road.

Hunt Oil Road Turnoff to Geraldton Bore:

We wanted to proceed if possible to Mount Worsnop to camp so started to head north up the track that is Hunt Oil Road. The road started out in reasonable condition but deteriorated, after, the further we proceeded. The first signs of spinifex seeds were encountered along the way. We camped alongside the track, some ten kilometres short of Mount Worsnop. We did make good time and we were in the outback, at last.

In the morning I spent a bit of time putting some flywire protection across the front of the bullbar and also directly around the radiator. The spinifex seeds were only going to get worse from here. We travelled the remaining ten kilometres to Mount Worsnop and then headed off the track to the eastern breakaways and admired the view of the area. There were many camels around; more than I had ever seen in one place before.

Glancing at Woodhouse Lagoon, it looked as if it didn’t have too much water left in it. We further explored the breakaway range and followed one valley to its head. I walked for one kilometre east across the top of the range but had only glimpses of views of the other side. We then proceeded to Mount Allott, which we summited. There is a plaque commemorating the Forrest and Carnegie Expeditions. John Forrest came through here in 1874, whilst Carnegie visited in 1896 and 1897.

Just northwest of Mount Alllot, is a track that leads to Alexander Spring, the nearby spring marked by a small rock cairn. We visited the spring which had water in it. This spring was discovered by the Forrest Expedition. We heated up some canned spaghetti for lunch near the rock cairn and rested.

Now our destination would be Geraldton Bore at the junction of this road and the Gunbarrel Highway to the north. It was a fairly straight forward run to the Gunbarrel Highway. Knowing that Geraldton Bore would be devoid of firewood we gathered up pieces as we passed them. We arrived at the bore right on sunset and we were the only ones there. This was my fifth visit and John’s third. The duties of camp were carried out speedily as the final wisps of light were shining.

Geraldton Bore to North on the Gary Highway:

In the morning of 3 July 2008, we started out slowly, as the entire load had to be repacked. As our entire load was strapped on the back of the ute, in various size general containers, water containers, jerry cans, tyres, planks, and loose items, it requires minor adjustment frequently and a complete repacking every few days. We also transferred fuel from the jerry cans and topped up both the tanks. We broke camp to head for Everard Junction. It was only a short distance to the east and we had morning tea there, at the junction.

Now we will head to the north along the Gary Highway until the turnoff to the Patience Well search area south of Windy Corner. We proceeded north and the track twisted and turned near the Young Range. The range was visible from a fair distance to the north and we pulled over into the scrub and admired the view whilst we had lunch. There were a few birds around, and we wondered where they drank from.

We continued north. Huge sections of the desert had been burnt out and there was little live vegetation remaining around the burnt areas. We camped some 25 kilometres past than the Eagle Highway turnoff in an area that was akin to a desert wasteland. For kilometres around there was nothing but burnt shrubbery and bare soil. When wandering around camp the Gary Highway could easily be missed, even if you are only metres from it. It blended very easily into surrounding countryside. We were in real desert country now and one could sense the dryness of it.

In the morning we packed up the camp and again headed north along the highway. At McDougall Knoll we parked atop and had a coffee and chance for a small repack. I had lost a further two water containers due to fatigue so far, so were indeed lucky to have got the extra two at Tjukayirla Roadhouse. This is another well visited spot for us as it was my third time here, and John’s second. We again travelled to the north until we were about 16 kilometres from Windy Corner. Here we will turn off and head east to pursue the whereabouts of Patience Well.

The search for Patience Well:

For a completely separate and more detailed report of the search for Patience Well see this Blog:

Finding the long lost Patience Well in the Gibson Desert

This current chapter however, will include my actual diary for this period verbatim.

Friday 4th July 2008
Left area in morning. Very very windy. Drove north along Gary Highway. Turned off highway 16 kilometres south of Windy Corner to the east and made for the stoney banks I found last year. To my surprise there were some more banks but these would be too far south to be Carnegie's. Lost some empty jerry cans off the back of the ute but went back and picked them up. Arrived at stoney banks in time for lunch. Searched thoroughly for any signs of the explorers to no avail.

Saturday 5th July 2008
Packed up and headed along Carnegie's route and then started to search for Patience Well. Looked all day for the well. Sometimes there was rain in the distance. We did get some sprinkles of rain. No punctures as yet - Also the new bullbar seems to prevent a lot of spinifex from getting in the radiator - All the old water containers have fractured. Down to 100 litres of water.

Sunday 6th July 2008
In the morning after a slow start proceeded to go to a small creek we had sighted yesterday for a closer look just in case the well was in the creek somewhere. Did not find anything like it so we then decided to head along a route we planned last night, taking in the southern and south western areas of the entire search area. We followed the creek along roughly toward its head and I happened to notice a slight depression in some rocks several hundered metres from where we were looking at the creek. It was a rockhole - This may be the rockhole that Carnegie went to which he said was 8 miles ESE of Patience. There was dampness in the soil at the bottom. Most of it was silted with run off over the years. I dug away some of the silt and got some animal bones. A part of a grinding stone was close by. The rockhole was very singular and had no features to point to it, as Carnegie had decribed his rockhole.

We continued along our predetermined route still looking for Patience. But when we got close to the point 8 miles WSW we decided to revisit some of the clumps of trees I had visited in 2003. The third one we looked at had a line of rocks which was either pointing in or out from the clump. This clump was only 300 metres or less from our camp in 2003 and was one I had already looked at as a Patience Well possiblilty - However, with the discovery of the rockhole it changed the scenario somewhat as it was almost spot on WSW of the rockhole and 8-9 miles away as opposed to 8 miles that Carnegie had said. - The clump of trees contained many healthy green gum trees which I had not seen anywhere else in the area.

I believe this may be Patience Well - There was grass around and it had an ill-defined creek fed by two parallel slopes of gravel. However - No water was seen - We decided to keep looking around so headed back to the main search area to the south east to eliminate any other possibilities. We camped not long after anyway.

Monday 7th July 2008
We continued in the morning to search in the area to the far east of the main area before heading back to the Patience Oasis. Dad (John) did a map / survey of the Oasis whilst I proceeded to dig for water in a likely looking spot. I did not find water but the ground was dirt and not rocky but very hard. Both of us believe this is the Patience Oasis but the actual well is hard to pin-point as it is 15 feet underground. We then proceeded to the Patience Well Approximate position on the map and camped.


Patience Well area to Kiwirrkurra:

Day eleven of our trip and we set out in the morning to Patience No 2 Oil Well, about sixteen kilometres to the northeast. We followed the faint track for two kilometres before once again going overland towards the well which was reached without trouble. This was an abandoned oil well, which I had visited last year also. There is a good track leading to this all the way from the Gary Highway about 45 kilometres away.

We were in a good mood resulting from the previous days’ activities and now one goal of the trip had been achieved. Now we would start on our journey to Wilson Cliffs which were about 200 kilometres to the northeast in the Great Sandy Desert. We would first head for the community of Kiwirrkurra on the Gary Junction Road to see if we could re-supply and maybe even get a proper roof to sleep under. We would try and get there heading roughly northeast via old seismic lines (old mining exploration tracks) marked on my map. The marked seismic lines went as far as 37 kilometres away from the Gary Junction Road so the last section before the road would again be bush-bashing.

From the oil well we followed the tracks, which were very rarely used. They were not overgrown but rather quite drivable in the first section, but at a corner where we turned right to the southeast the old track deteriorated until I lost it altogether until the next corner. At every track intersection there was a star picket driven into the ground. We turned to the northeast again. Again the track was quite drivable and shortly we came across an abandoned air strip. There were some breakaways nearby and the view to the east across a valley towards some other isolated breakaways was most pleasant, and one got the feeling that we were in a truly remote part of the country.

The views were very pleasant for the next eight kilometres or so further along the track and we stopped at a section of large breakaway which had a resemblance to Mount Worsnop away to the south. We stood upon the summit and again were amazed at the views which reached out for many kilometres; the sheer remoteness and isolation of this area had me awestruck and I felt privileged to be a part of it right here and now.

Another ten kilometres and we came to another junction where we had lunch. The track that joined our track continues for about 60 kilometres where its cuts the track into Veevers Meteorite Crater to the northwest. The star picket at this corner had fallen over. The ground was very hard and we had trouble hammering it back in. Onwards now and the vegetation started to encroach a little more upon the track. I lost the track, or tracks, as there were sometimes parallel tracks, a few times when we eventually came to another star picket. This picket was tagged with EOL (End of Line), and the track did cease right here so from here we will again travel straight through the bush.

We would try and make it to the road before nightfall but we did have a minor goal along the way, that being to visit the confluence of 23 S 126 E. We meandered along what was fairly open country and soon reached the confluence. From here it was about 20 kilometres to the road and we were very conscience of running short of daylight, although sunset was an hour away yet. I continued on our general course and soon came to a very thick belt of spiky bushes about bonnet height. This was actually marked as a patch of vegetation on my map. I veered right and followed the grain of the belt for a few hundred metres as I didn’t want to risk damage to the vehicle or tyres. I then made a less than fantastic decision and headed straight into the belt to try and penetrate it to get to the other side. Trying to get to a destination in a remote area late in the afternoon before dark can cause a bit of desperation and can sometimes cloud what is usually good judgment in a person. This was one of those times.

As soon as I drove into the thick bush I realised I was going to be in serious trouble if I continued my vector. I had visions of losing all four tyres simultaneously as I used all my concentration to avoid running directly over the stems as I heard the stems cracking underneath the vehicle. I then swung in a large clockwise arc to go back in the direction from which I had come. Safely out of the mess I surveyed for damage and luckily two small slow leak punctures where the only result. I veered around the thick belt for about one kilometre before managing to get past, something I should have done the first time.

From here there were large sections of the land burnt out in recent fires which was of further concern as there were many sharp bush remnants protruding from the ground. We did strike one of these and stopped to repair the tyre and continued on with only about 20 minutes of sun left. We were forced to stop and camped only five kilometres from the Gary Junction Road in an area which was fairly devoid of firewood due to the fires.

It was now 9 July 2008 and we were approximately on the border of the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts as the gravel of the Gibson was gradually changing to the fine sand of the Great Sandy. We hoped that we would have a proper roof over our heads tonight as it would be a pleasant change to our tent and we wouldn’t mind a proper wash either, our last shower being at Tjukayirla Roadhouse ten days ago.

We started off, anticipating a fairly easy day, when no less than five minutes after we broke camp we heard the undeniable sound of the fast release of compressed air emitted from the rear left tyre. Sure enough, there was a 12mm hole. We were still in a fairly burnt out area, and with yesterdays reasonably good luck we were still having a run of good luck with punctures. We changed the tyre over with a spare and carefully headed on our way again. We shortly arrived at the Gary Junction Road, and then we proceeded to the east.

Shortly, we passed an oncoming vehicle, the first other vehicle we had seen since the Great Central Road. We stopped for a while at Terry Range, and admired the surrounding view of the area and then briefly visited Jupiter Well, with its hand pump. We arrived at Kiwirrkurra around midday and went to present ourselves at the Shire Office as the sign at the entry asked of us.Kiwirrkurra is on Northern Territory time.

After we had made ourselves known we had some lunch to the amusement of some of the locals and their dogs. We also stocked up on fuel and general stores. The general store was very busy and it made time for interesting conversation with the locals. The studio is interesting as all the art is produced there and it is quite original. We were after a room, and it took several hours to confirm, but we were granted a room in a house used by a couple who worked there. It was a great gesture and we accepted the room for a small fee. It was great to make use of the facilities and also do some laundry whilst also engaging in conversation with the couple.

Kiwirrkurra to Wilson Cliffs:

Our plan from here as mentioned previously was to attempt to get to the extremely remote Wilson Cliffs. These cliffs, which were visited and named by Carnegie, were over 100 kilometres away to the northwest with many, many sandridges in between.Carnegie had camped there 24 September 1896 and found a dry rockhole which has always been listed “position approximate” on maps. It would be nice to try and find this rockhole and confirm its position.

Originally we had planned to head west along the Gary Junction Road to where we cut it from the south and roughly follow Carnegies original route from 1896 to get there. Now we had learned of the existence of a track which goes from Kiwirrkurra all the way to Balgo Community almost 300 kilometres away. Our thoughts were to now use this track until we reached the latitude of the cliffs and then head to the west. We asked several of the local people about the track and made our intentions known. As this track was technically subject to Part III of the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972, permission was required to use it, but none of the locals showed any concern for our proposed journey, instead they rather helped us with directions.

We finally left Kiwirrkurra after having lunch from the shop, and chatting and having some coffee with some fellow tourists at Len Beadell’s burnt out supply truck, and then headed in an easterly direction along the only track that fitted the local people’s descriptions of the one we wanted. We followed the track for some time, and as there were other tracks deviating from the main track we were not entirely sure we were on the right track. We continued on and saw the upper portion of the spectacular Mount Webb to the south across the sandridges. As we really wanted to head in a northerly direction, and as Balgo was to the north, we expected at anytime for the track to start to veer that way but it headed about another 30 kilometres slightly north of east until finally it went to the north.

The huge expanse that was Lake Mackay was to the north now and we started to think that perhaps taking this track was not the best idea as we were a long way off course.Kiwirrkurra was about 70 kilometres to the west now and the latitude of Wilson Cliffs was more than 60 kilometres to the north still. As we approached the lake we hoped that the track would veer to the west; we didn’t want to think about what we would do if the track went into the Northern Territory to the east. Our worries were unfounded though.

Lake Mackay was a huge salt lake, the fourth largest lake in Australia. We spent some time on the shoreline admiring the view of the lake all the way to the horizon to the northeast. There was a shimmering haze above the lake. David Carnegie actually saw this haze and predicted the lake’s existence on his return journey from Halls Creek in 1897. The well-defined and obviously well-used track followed the southern shoreline of the lake to the west and then around to the north. We had yet to see a vehicle since leaving Kiwirrkurra.

We followed the track as it veered off to the west at the most western part of an arm of the lake. The track went west for about 30 kilometres and we thought that it was great that it was going west as we knew that each kilometre it went west was a kilometre less that we would have to bush bash to reach the cliffs. Now the track went north again. There were still about 35 kilometres until the latitude of the cliffs so this direction was still in our favour. In a couple of kilometres we reached a solar powered water-tank and stopped for a look. Water was available and it would be very useful in emergencies for the locals who used the track, not that we had seen any around yet.

Again we were blessed with more luck as the track continued north for about 30 kilometres before veering west about ten kilometres and out of the Central Aboriginal Reserve. We went another ten kilometres after another change of track direction where we stopped about fifteen minutes before sunset. All we had come was about 205 kilometres since leaving Kiwirrkurra at lunchtime. As we were setting up camp the first vehicle we had seen on the track passed without stopping, heading south. Here we had our first bush barbeque with meat purchased from the Kiwirrkurra store this morning, a rare treat, as we were travelling without any form of refrigeration. That night we discussed amongst other things just how fortunate we were to use this track as we were now only about 70 kilometres from Wilson Cliffs which was slightly north of west, and the track we were on was now heading northwest.

In the morning of 11 July 2008 we set off after packing up camp and followed the track for about eight kilometres before it started to head north, so we decided to leave the track.Wilson Cliffs were now roughly to the west and any further travel on this track would make the trip to the cliffs more difficult, as even if the track took us a bit closer there would be more sandridges to cross. It was now or never!!

Now here was a moment of thought and slight hesitation. I had been to remote places on this trip and on trips in days past, but this stage of the trip at this time surpassed all of these. If I could complete this next planned section without drama, I would consider it a significant personal achievement. Most people would not even consider doing this in a group of people let alone doing it only with one single vehicle with their father as company, as it does involve some risk. We would hope to eventually come out on the Canning Stock Route at Well 37 or 38 and these wells were over 220 kilometres away from here.Wilson Cliffs were over 70 kilometres and about 180 sandridges averaging twelve metres in height north of the Gary Junction Road, over 150 kilometres to the east of the Canning Stock Route, over 60 kilometres west of our current position and to the south of some of the last remaining remnants of isolated desert country left in Australia extending to the southern portion of Lake Gregory 200 kilometres away. To the cliffs we would now head.

We turned to the left and west, off the track and headed into the scrub. The ground was more like the Gibson Desert here, with loose gravel around and the sand sturdy and firm. We soon came across our first feature, a small unnamed hill which I would have stopped to investigate if I was not so single-minded about reaching the cliffs, besides, if I stopped to look at every interesting thing we came across we would hardly make any headway anywhere. We were in an open plain about fifteen kilometres across and the parallel sandridges that run roughly in a west-east direction beckoned. We would enter the swale between two sandridges and try to keep between sandridges until the cliffs. Theoretically this was possible if my maps were correct, but maps drawn from aerial photographs sometimes can be a lot different to what is the reality at ground level. Anyway, we stopped on a high patch of gravel within a swale and had some morning tea and the view was already quite desolate but awe-inspiring. It already seemed quite the remotest location and we had only just started.

We continued on in the swales and two or three times pushed our way through some very thick bush country until we had lunch by a single lone tree with its shadow hardly covering the cab of the ute. That section was quite an adventure – pushing on and on through virgin bush. I wish I could elaborate further on it but, although quite a vehicular challenge it was quite monotonous in regard to features. I could hear the slow release of air from one of the tyres. In the distance to the west we could see a flat section of horizon, which we correctly assumed to be the top of the cliffs which were only about twelve kilometres away now.

We continued on until we reached the top of Wilson Cliffs just after 3:00pm and admired the view. David Carnegie arrived here 111 years earlier and wrote, “From the top of the cliffs an extensive view to the South and North was obtained. But such a view! With powerful field glasses nothing could be seen but ridge succeeding ridge, as if the whole country had been combed with a mammoth comb”. We, with all our technology had managed to get here from the Lake Mackay track without cresting a single sandridge due to plotting our route from maps imported into a GPS system; something Carnegie could never have even imagined.

Wilson Cliffs:

The cliffs themselves were made up of three sections in the swale, of which we were on the highest and most significant. They average about 3 metres high. We worked out a way to get down to find somewhere to camp so drove along and then down a sandridge and swung around to the south of the cliffs.As we turned to find a clear patch for camp I saw a rockhole; I drove right past it actually, so it easily presented itself, and we stopped to camp 20 metres away from it. We got out and observed the rockhole which was about half filled in.Carnegie as previously mentioned had found a rockhole here at the cliffs but this was not that one.Carnegie described the rockhole he found in his book, "......careful exploration of these caves, on hands and knees, led to the finding of a fair size rockhole, unfortunately quite dry." This new rockhole was about 80 metres from the southern end of the cliffs and was in the open so this was a rockhole that Carnegie probably did not find. It is located at 22° 05’ 42.6”S 127° 03’ 56.6”E. This was a great start to a two night stay here.

I had been meaning to visit these cliffs for some years and was pretty excited about being at the cliffs as hardly anyone from modern times had been here and I would have a good opportunity to look for the rockhole that Carnegie found. I ran to the cliffs in anticipation of what was there and I found Carnegies rockhole in about 60 seconds flat and my voice yelling “Dad… Dad... It’s here… It’s here…” would have been heard for many miles (if anyone apart from Dad was there to hear). A great find this was and the “Position Approximate” of the rockhole on the National Maps was suddenly made obsolete.The unnamed rockhole of Carnegies is located at the extreme southern face of the cliffs and its position is 22° 05’ 40”S 127° 03’ 55.7”E. The rockhole, which like Carnegie, we also found dry is within a small cave and is fed from a hole in the cave ceiling. – This was a huge day and it didn’t really feel like we only left the Balgo-Mount Webb track this morning. We set up the tent and camp, looking forward to the next day, as we would spend the whole day exploring the area.

The next day we followed the trend of the cliffs to the north and poked out heads into most of the gaps and crevices of the cliff face. I found a caterpillar, identified as Eudocima fullonia, which possibly may be the first speciman found of its kind in Western Australia (others in Queensland). There were 3 specimens in total on Snake Vine.

We did a thorough search of the cliffs area and I dug out the first rockhole we found until the bottom. I got moist dirt at best, however I was still happy with the find. Later we built a cairn of stones above Carnegie’s rockhole on top of the southernmost point of the cliffs. As this rockhole was undercover there was minimal sand in it so could be considered “dug out”.

I found an old rusty tin can near a dry creek 40 metres or so beyond the uncovered rockhole. I wondered who consumed the contents, and when!! To the south west, about half a day’s travel away are some high sand ridges. Along with the cairn, adjacent to Carnegies Rockhole in a small protected cleft, we left at the site a hand written note essentially logging our visit, which we enclosed in a container.

Wilson CliffsCanning Stock Route:

The next day we set off again, leaving the cliffs for the confluence of 22S 127E, which was only about 12 kilometres away. We had to cross out first sandridge, and did so without drama. Soon we came to an old track heading in a north south direction. We followed the overgrown track north for about 1500 metres. There was a pole adjacent to the track with some lettering welded onto it, probably remnants of oil exploration in the area.

We continued on to the confluence of 22 South 127 East. It was located on a flat area between sandridges and typical of the area. We took the obligatory pictures and had a coffee. After the confluence we still headed in a north west direction for a few kilometres. This was to align ourselves to the swales and the general trend of the country for the next 120 kilometres. For the rest of the day we continued travelling to the west before camping in a pretty spot near a sandridge. The whole day was travelling offroad, with exception of the old track we found, and we made a little over 100 kilometres for the day travelling for almost 8 hours.

It was 14th July. In the area to the west of the camp, there was a myriad of small lakes and ill formed sandridges. When I was planning the trip in Perth I was worried about this section but my fears were unfounded as the country was easily traversed. We arrived at the next confluence, 22S 126E, and had a coffee there by the side of a sandridge. We were thinking of trying to reach Well 37 on the Canning Stock Route. This was still about 50 kilometres away. We headed off and then saw two camels. These were the first camels we have seen in the Great Sandy Desert this trip and the first since Mount Worsnop in the Gibson Desert.

I could see in the distance a rocky hill of sorts, and we wondered if it may have been Reeves Knoll for a time but realised that it would have been still too far away to be the Knoll. We reached the hill and realised there were some more small hills over an adjacent sandridge. Travelling around here was slow as there is much spinifex and scrubs; most driving was done in second gear, indeed for the first time the temperature gauge was showing a fraction over halfway which indicated the harshness of the country. The reader may be interested as to the average speed of this section from the confluence to the hills as this a good guide to average speed of desert travel. The section from the confluence to the hills took 1hr 07min and was 13.5 kilometres long. The maximum speed was 37kph and the average speed was 12.03kph.
We admired the hills which are situated about 36 kilometres east of the Canning Stock Route. One of them has a small cave in its western face but they are generally interesting only by their isolation. They are located at 21° 58’ 18.9”S 125° 52’ 55.3” I have named these small hills Temperature Rocks, as I was worried about the temperature of the vehicle immediately prior to their discovery.

We had lunch to the west of the hills about a kilometre and then proceeded on our journey. Well 38 was now our target, and we had hoped to get there by sunset. A huge sandridge blocked our way somewhat to the south and I tried four times, at four different locations to try and get over it. I was keen to get over it as the trend of the sandridge was trending too far north and out of our preferred direction of travel.

It wasn’t long however until there was a lower point on the sandridge so we crossed at that point and then proceeded to cross a number of sandridges to the south before regaining our preferred latitude. We continued within the main swales of the trend of the land when we came to a dry creek. I tried to find a way through the thick bush to no avail. I was forced to the north around the main area of the creek before swinging around to the south west.

The country was becoming rockier now and gave nice views when at lower portions of vast complex valleys. We came across at dry waterhole. This was made up of a small series of adjacent basins. A wedged shaped boulder placed at the waterhole implies some importance to the site. Another 4 kilometres and we reach the Canning Stock Route only a few kilometres south of Well 38, or Wardabunni Rockhole. We had a look at the dry rockhole before bivouacking a few kilometres north of there.

Canning Stock Route to Rudall River:

We packed up in the morning and appreciated the fact that we were safe as far as not being in an extremely remote area anymore. At least if something went wrong now, chances are there would be someone around to possibly help if required. Well 37 was just down the track and we briefly visited the well and the graves there. Soon after, a convoy of 3 vehicles passed. We knew they were coming, as we heard them on the UHF radio, talking amongst themselves, deciding whether this track or that one was the correct choice.

We drove on and on, and passed another two vehicles near Kidson Bluff. The corrugations on the approach to Well 33 were quite bad and I can imagine there would be a fair few suspension problems for some vehicles as a consequence. We arrived at Kunnawaritji around 2pm and managed to secure two dongas for $30 each. This was most pleasant to what we were used to recently. We caught up on some washing and spent a great deal of time relaxing. There camping area was quite busy with everyone attending to chores as appropriate. After dinner we caught up with a large group and sat around the campfire and spun a few yarns. It was great to sleep on a normal bed.

After a very slow start in the morning we set off along the Wapet Road to the west hoping to reach Rudall River National Park by the end of the day. Just before Lake Auld, we stopped by the side of the road and had dry biscuits and vegemite for a treat. Passing by the lake we eventually reached Punmu. Here we spoke to an old woman who told us that she had been here her whole life. We bought some fuel here and continued up the Telfer Road. After the Malu Hills we found the bypass road and headed down it before coming to the Telfer Mine security gate. The road into Rudall River was past the gate. We filled in the log book and went on our way.

We soon visited Christmas Pool in the Patterson Range. It was interesting to see the names of the explorers inscribed into the face of the pool.The pool looked fairly dry but there were frogs near the bottom so I would imagine there is water not far down. Further along we came to Moses Chair. This was a hill first seen by William Rudall but named by Jean-Paul Turcaud, an independent prospector, in 1970. I was rather disappointed with this choice of name as it makes it sound like the hill is somewhat special but in reality it is just a plain goosebump in an otherwise fairly featureless horizon. We camped just past the “Chair” in a section of bush that had recently been burnt out.

Rudall River National Park and Beyond:

It was Thursday 17th July and we broke camp and the Throssell Ranges in the distance to the west and the Broadhurst Ranges to the east made the drive most pleasant. Not before too long we came to the turnoff to Desert Queens Baths which we headed for. Soon in the distance lower down in a valley I saw two vehicles towing trailers. I thought it may be Mick O and his friends who I knew were going to be in the general area and I was right. I pulled off the track so as the lead vehicle could pull along side. The driver said to me, “might you be Alan McCall”? I said, “might you be Mick Olsen?” It was one of those rare moments, an unexpected rendezvous in the desert. Mick’s friends, Canadians Scott and Gaby accompanied him. They were exploring the area, and were using diesel powered quad bikes, Arctic Cats. They told me they had already discovered a mesa type peak, Darlsen Pinnacle. We spent the next hour trading stories and comparing vehicles, and I got the run down on the quads. They had spent the previous night at Desert Queens Baths and were on their way out to explore the park further.

We bid our new friends goodbye and continued toward the baths. We found a spot to camp when we arrived - the only ones there. We started to explore the gorge the pools sat in. There was water in 4 out of the first 5 pools we came across. It was quite a special place. The pools are spread apart and some scrambling over rocks is required. I came back to camp quite tired, and ready for a sit down, and I know John was too. We cooked tea and had a good fire and later went over and talked to some late-comers who had arrived for a look around.

In the morning after breakfast we headed off, waving to our neighbours on the way out. Our plan was unclear. We wanted to head out of the park using the old track to the west, however had no set agenda or schedule. We meandered out from the vicinity of the baths to the main track and then turned to the south. The track from Telfer is good, and looks well used. We went all the way down to the river. Watrara Creek, a tributary of Rudall River headed away to the north west and we followed the top bank for a while before crossing the creek. We stopped at Tjingkulatjatjarra Pool, noticing the water level was at very low levels.


We spent a bit of time trying to find the track out as it did not reveal itself readily, and eventually we made our way westward. Some nice views were afforded shortly after overlooking the desert and the nearby ranges. It was a very rocky track to start with, but later reverted back to sandy. We made it to Currun Currun Rockhole which was dry before a decent drive to Hanging Rock, a feature of Rudall’s. I scaled one side most of the way but failed to summit it as it seemed just a bit too steep. We had lunch here at the rock.
We then headed across the parks boundary and shortly arrived at Meeting Gorge. Historically important was this place, as William Rudall met his contemporary Frank Hann there in 1897. However, aesthetically Meeting Gorge is not of high value being basically a few minor waterholes lining a creek. A few kilometres to the west is Tchukardine Pool. Mick had told us that he had left a message bottle there a year or two ago, which we found in its position beside a tree. We read some of the messages people had left there and we added our own.

We still continued on until we reach a plain, not dissimilar to the black soil plains of Queensland. We noticed that there had been some vehicles in trouble here at some stage when it was wet as there were indications of boggings etc. It was just after here that I lost the track. I started to drive in a crisscross pattern and found the track again within the half hour. The track from here now started to get progressively better. We passed by the beautiful Bocrabee Hill and also crossed the Oakover River at Christie Crossing before stopping to camp in the shadow of Mount Hodgson. A huge day!!

Now Saturday 19th July we headed north to Skull Springs Road. We briefly took a wrong turn near Enacheddong Creek but didn’t lose too much time. This area in the vicinity of the Oakover River is very scenic with nice views afforded at many places. We stopped at Pearana Rockhole for a bite to eat. It was a huge rockhole and it was obvious by all the tracks the local cattle and native fauna frequently drank from it. Passing Mikes Mine, we made it to Skulls Springs Road.

The hills and ranges found along this road typify the Pilbara. The redness and the contrasting colours of the landscape are truly magnificent. We drove all the way to Nullagine and had a short rest and a game of pool. We felt like moving along, so we headed south along the Marble Bar Road. At Munjina Roy Hill road we headed west before accommodating ourselves at Auski Roadhouse on the Great Northern Highway after dark. It was great to make use of a brick motel, and use the services of the restaurant. We had made it through the desert and back out the other side, and it was a relief.

Journey Home to Perth:

Auski Roadhouse was immediately adjacent to Karijini National Park. It would have been a personal disservice if I didn’t have a bit of a look at it while we were here. We headed over to Wittenoom Gorge, and had a brief look at the asbestos mine. There was an old track on my map heading to the top of the range and I thought it may be a good challenge to drive it; however it was too tough, overgrown – and even if I did have a chainsaw, I wasn’t allowed to use it here. We headed anti-clockwise around the park, seeing Hamersley Gorge, Joffre Falls and Dales Gorge – only briefly of course. I said to myself I would come back for a more detailed look in the future as the area was quite spectacular.

Paraburdoo was our goal for the rest of the day and we tried to get a room there but all rooms were apparently booked out months in advance so we backtracked and camped just east of the town airstrip.

In the morning we drove around the mine there to the south as there was a road that linked up to the Ashburton Downs Meekatharra Road and would be a good short-cut. Unfortunately, just after Seven Mile Creek there was an unlocked gate with a sign stating no-entry. I rang Mininer Station on the Sat-Phone to try and get permission but was denied, so we went back to town.

After, we headed off and went to the start of the Ashburton Downs Meekatharra Road via the Nanutarra Munjina Road. Just before Ashburton Downs on the side of the road was an old mining haul pack truck. We continued on, having lunch in a dry creek bed, and then passed Dooley Downs before stopping to camp at Mount Augustus Outback Tourist Resort. We had a good home cooked meal here.

Our goal was basically to get home now, but I had one more thing to investigate. I had read that there was a track that went across the top of the Kennedy Ranges, and had a bit of a mud map. So we travelled to Mount Sandiman Station via Ullawarra Road. We had a chat to the lady there and then headed to the north of the range. We found the track no problems and it was surprisingly well travelled.Atop of the range one could believe they were in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert, with the sand and the Spinifex in abundance. After crossing the top we followed a track parallel to the western side of the range and followed that until the dry Gascoyne River which we crossed.

Now we had a hot pie at Gascoyne Junction, before heading off for Murchison. It was very dark by the time we got to Murchison and we hit two kangaroos on the way. We stayed in an onsite van and dinner was included in the price. The next day, the last of this trip we passed by the towns of Mullewa, Coorow and Bindoon before arriving back in Perth.

Just over 7200 kilometres were driven on this 26 day trip. We were both really tired at the end, however it was worth it as we had seen so much, and had achieved a few goals along the way as well.

Cheers
Alan McCall
Perth.

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