Great Sandy Desert - A confluence quest as we negotiate the Anna Plains Track

Monday, Jun 22, 2009 at 00:00


Monday 22nd June, 2009
Anna Plains Track 102 km west of last nights camp
“Whithorn” Ranges (Well that’s what we’ve called them !)

Another travel day today in the sense that we traversed a fair bit of distance in a variety of conditions.You could never say the Anna Plains Track is boring as it is constantly surprising you with ever-changing scenery. At times it’s torturously slow, twisting and turning through thick turpentine scrub. Then, you’re off track into the spinifex and sand, eroded rocky gullies on occassion and then wide open expanses of salt lakes that leave you throwing clouds of superfine white dust as you power along at a heady 40 kph. Nothing ever lasted too long though and we’ve made good distance including several stops at points of interest such as the odd mooching camel and sychronised bustards. But first…. the night before.

I’d gone with the plan and got to bed early after my miserly wash. The journal was compete and I was drifting off. I could just here my neighbours as a low murmour in the background when there was a loud “ripping/zipping” noise right under my tent.Well it woke me up all right and I lay there for quite a while wondering what it was that I’d just heard. I was wondering if John and Suzette had any super sized zips on the ultimate. As it was, it remained a mild night with a cool breeze springing up in the early morning. I was out of bed at six and over the mornings fire, John told of a loud noise he’d heard during the night also. He likened it to someone ripping velcro apart very loudly. The same as mine. A mystery animal and bird although I had heard some strange calls coming from a thicket just north east of our camp while taking sunset photos at the Landy wreck.

I pioneered a new breakfast today. The open Jaffle. It’s what happens when two halves stick to the idividual sides of the Jaffle Iron. Two dish shaped pieces of bread that you have to spread the contents between. Laugh, it was an amusing brekky. We noticed many finches sitting in the nearby bushes in direct line of the smoke from our fire. Whether it was the smoke or the scent of water drifting from the billy’s, we don’t know.

We were away at 7.30 a.m. and had gone no more than 300 metres when John and Suzette scared up three large bustards from the bush near our camp. I think our mystery sound has been identified. A Bustard call indeed. Our first stretch was only eight odd kilometres through thick scrub to a point where we could turn left and head for our second confluence 23 degrees south, 123 degrees east. When we reached a spot along the track where we were just over 4 km north of the confluence, J & S unhitched the Ultimate and off we went. It was hard going, the thick scrub was almost engulfed in high, old growth spinifex. We twisted and turned our way through the scrub and over short but often sharp sand dunes ever beating our path south west to the confluence. It’s actually very exciting watching the metres tick off the GPS as the directional arrow faithfully guides you in the right direction.

At one point I spied a group of camels off to the left. A bull and 5 cows in fantsastic condition. We took ample video and photos as they stood sampling the air (our scent) and sounds. After a lot of split second directional decisions enroute and more than one nose dive over a dune, we finally pulled to a stop in a picturesque, succulant covered flat and walked the last 30 metres back up a dune to our confuence. Whoo hoo.John and Suzette did the confluence shuffle as I call it. That’s where you the two of you stand close together holding the gps unit between you as you move slowly left and right, backwards and forwards like partners at an old time dance until the digits representing the decimal seconds on the GPS all turn down to zero. Then there’s the mad rush to take photos and much jumping for joy as we mark the spot. It’s a strange ritual for non-navigation nerds but the feeling you get as all the numbers align is truely exciting. Wierd but true.

We had souvenired a star picket from the dope farm days earlier so that was hammered into the confluence and our right of claim etched onto the aluminium of a coke can. Together with business cards, they were placed in a jar, sealed with gaffer tape and then wrapped in two garbage bags. The cache was buried at the base of the picket and two aluminium tags with “DIG” and an arrow were fastened to the top of the picket with good old number 8 fencing wire (also souvenired from the cannabis farm site). Our claim staked, we headed down onto the flat and had a conlfuence cuppa in the shadow cast by the Tojo.

The trip back was less arduous as we decided to head to the west and follow the 123 degree line north. We wend our way across samphire flats and plunged down dunes. Many of the small saltlakes had sides so steep and deep that they appeared like craters, a good 1 to 2 metres deeper than the surrounding countryside. Eveywhere were the dust baths left by the many resident camels. These bowls would billow white dust into the air as you drive through them making it interesting driving when you are sitting pretty close to the tail of the fearless leader. You had to stick close as the scrub was that thick it was far too easy to lose both the tracks and the lead vehicle.

On reaching the track, we were a couple of klicks to the west of where the Ulti was parked so J & S headed back east to hitch up while I took a slight break in the pathetic shade offered by a turpentine bush. Heading west again we entered large tracts of thick scrub and then into a area dominated by samphire and salt flats. The country was a lot more open and we noiticed that we had dropped in altitude down to 70 metres, hense the salt plains. He going was a lot easier across these areas and we sometimes hit speeds of a whopping 40 kph. We located the upturned remains of an old Jeep 4x4 ute slowly rusting into the desert, more being subsumed by the shifting sand. Johns low coolant alarm was sounding continuously and you could detect the tension emanating from the cab up front as that piercing whistle was certainly penetratringly annoying!. In the end he cut it off with his chicken man tool. Problem solvered boss and in the ensuing quiet, a lunch stop was called. As there was absolutely no shade available and it had been many kilometres since we’d seen a tree of a substantial nature, the awning came out for lunch. Crackers with ham and cheese for me. Onwards we plunged, praying the open country would didn’t. Something completely different was the low grevillea and wattle. We surprised several more bustards and one beligerent camel who was sheltereing in the shade of a spook tree (as we call the Native Walnut trees) and reluctant to move.

Near the old airstrip we found a good pond of water collected in an old gravel pit. The water was fairly brown and off but it provided a haven for surrounding wildlife and birds. The finches were peeping madly at our intrusion. By this stage it was 3.30 p.m. and the map was showing some rocky outcrops up ahead. We decided to try and make this area for our nights camp. The first outcrops were low and not overly appealing but the land rose ahead of us so we headed on. On reaching the rise we were rewarded with an impressive view of the surrounding country to the west. The distant hills and plains were tinged with blue. We decended into the hinterland of a rocky range with several small outcrops and “pinnacles” of deep, red leopold sandstone.

We decided to off track to the south and approached one small valley where we found a picturesque rocky valley to shelter in. We were nestled under rocky hills on three sides with an impressive view off to the south west. Hurridly setting up camp, we climbed to the top of the rocky range behind us to enjoy the changing hues of the surrounding country with the setting sun. The deep red, greens and blues were spectacular. On a distant sandhill, a camel was silohetted as he foraged. The warm breeze made the summit a great palce to sit and enjoy the golden hues of the sunset. The rocks were rich in fossil remains. It was with some reluctance that we had to climb down before the fading light made the path back to camp to treacherous.

A shower tonight and then a lovely dinner of marinated lamb backstraps with lemon and oregano potato’s and carrots. We should be on the coast by tomorrow all things, and the track being equal.

Authors Note: The Degree Confluence Project is a fantastic initiative aimed at having people visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world, and to take pictures at each location. The visits, including ours, are recorded on the DCP website. Have a look. Mick.
''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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