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Friday, 7 November 2014

McLarty Hills to the Dragon Tree Soak

West towards the Dragon Tree Soak

Heading west from the McLarty Hills towards the Dragon Tree Soak there are no established tracks and we thought that traveling between and parallel to the sand dunes might be easier, but we were wrong. There was a lot more vegetation in the swales and travelling was often a lot easier up nearer the dune slopes:

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The terrain between the sand dunes was anything but flat, as this video shows as we try to follow Deano’s wheel tracks:

The springs and suspension got a real work out on this section and quite a few small trees and bushes had to be pushed out of the way:

A Convoy of Okas:

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We weren’t usually that close together in a convoy, we were often a km or more apart, sometimes trying different routes and communicating via CB radio, but we tried to remain in visible range, just in case…

That evening we made a superb garden campsite by clearing all the spinifex off a square between the Okas in a slight sheltered depression in a sand dune.

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We called it the Milk Powder campsite since the rough ride this afternoon had shaken a cupboard door open and a container of milk powder (that someone other than me had failed to secure the top of) had fallen out and spread itself liberally over the floor of the Oka.

Kaye cooked a superb silverside beef in the camp oven for all of us to share, with a committee of other cooks contributing the veggies and gravy, very nice. We even had chocolate cake and custard for afters.

Later, after a few ales and celebratory glasses of wine around a roaring campfire, over a discussion of “trucks we have owned”, Dave reckoned his Kenworth A/C system wasn’t worth “2 knobs of goat shit”. Hadn’t heard that expression before but the meaning was plain enough.

The moon was shining brightly by the time we had polished off the port but it started waxing soon after. (Waxing, shining, polished? Get it?)

6 Aug

The same camp site in the bright glare of the morning sun, after all the silly puns had gone away:

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We left our “superb” garden campsite and turned south towards the Dragon Tree Soak. It was only 25km but took all morning to navigate the sandy and overgrown terrain.

We traversed several sand dunes but only after walking up and holding a conference on the crests to determine the best approach:

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The decision is made:

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Dave crossing the sand dune fairly easily once we’d decided on the best approach:

Dragon Tree Soak

After a couple of hours of sand duning, the terrain turned from sand into into dry salt marsh and a green smudge started appearing on the horizon. This was Dragon Tree Soak emerging, or at least the Dragon Trees were. It was flatter than expected but then water features often are flat.

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Finally, when we reached the Dragon Tree Soak there was plenty of water and a few access beaches and it looked almost like the location we had seen from the photos, maybe a bit greener even.

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The flowering Dragon Trees, the waving reeds and whirling flocks of finches made it a welcome sight, an oasis in an otherwise dry desert.

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However, when we got a bit closer, we were disappointed, but not really surprised, to find that camels had fouled the water so we couldn’t use it. Luckily (or rather through good planning) we had not counted on getting good water from here, but it would have been a bonus.

This is not what you’d expect to find in the middle of a desert:

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Dave and Pauline who was having to hold her hat on in the strong breeze:

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Dean photographing Kaye at one of the Dragon Tree Soak’s “beaches”:

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A group photo on the beach at the Dragon Tree Soak:

Dragon trees and a dragon tree flower:

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After lunch we set out to find Elizabeth Soak, only 1km south of the Dragon Tree Soak. We had been expecting it to be surrounded by a thicket of acacias but after forcing our way though the tangle of sharp scrub it is was completely dry. We tried the other side of the soak but it was much the same:

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This is supposed to be a lush blue lake of fresh water protected from camels by an impenetrable thicket of acacias. The acacia was certainly impenetrable, it took me quite a while to get through for a photo, but there has obviously been no substantial rain in this area for a couple of years and the green grass was turning brown.

Janet disturbed a couple of the aforementioned camels coming for their afternoon drink:

Whilst we were a bit disappointed about the quality of the water in the Dragon Tree Soak, it had taken us 8 days of difficult desert crossing to reach this isolated spot, and beneath it all we were really quite proud of achieving our major objective, it had not been easy, neither would the exit route.

The whole areas looked drier than previous photos had suggested, presumably due to intervening less wet wet seasons. This clay pan on the way to Elizabeth Soak was quite dry whereas earlier photos show it filled with water:

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Analysing our trip on Google Earth after we arrived home revealed some interesting information about this area.

Looking at the track altitude profile for this section shows that Dragon Tree and Elizabeth Soaks are actually on top of a rise amongst the sand dunes, whereas you would expect them to be a the lowest point between dunes.

The area containing the soaks is roughly 15m above the low points in the surrounding dunes (with Elizabeth Soak being higher than the Dragon Tree Soak), so I infer from this that they are true springs, not just lakes formed from the collection of rain water, with water pressure from a larger catchment area (maybe the nearby McLarty Hills area, which is higher), forcing water upwards and maintaining some of the springs at least during dry seasons.

[I also checked the altitude profile around Joanna Springs, which we didn’t visit, about 100km east of Dragon Tree Soak and it’s generally true in that area too although the variation in altitude is much less pronounced, presumably accounting for the smaller springs there].

There were a number of other potential soaks or springs marked on the maps but the general dryness of the countryside suggests less than average recent wet season rains. That would have made finding any good water seem somewhat chancy, so together with our increasing concerns over fuel usage, we made the sensible decision to head west rather than expend fuel on further searches.

Looking back now, it would have seemed reasonable to do more exploration in the area but at the time we saw things differently, so after our failure to find water at Elizabeth Soak and since we weren’t keen to return to the rather polluted Dragon Tree Soak, we turned west and headed towards a cut line which would take us theoretically down towards the Anna Plains Track.

There were no tracks in this area so we made our way cautiously across salt marsh country and camped in the next sand dune area about 10km west of Dragon Tree Soak where the terrain was certainly not boggy, if not firm and flat (Campsite #9).

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That evening around the campfire we made a short video for Serge and Eli while we drank some of Serge’s home made wine to mark the occasion, we really had achieved our major trek objective but it took quite a while to sink in:

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7 and 8 Aug

The next 2 days were a repeat of previous travels, forging our way over dozens of sand dunes and through thick scrub as we turned south from the Dragon Tree Soak swale and headed towards the APT, but we had some good campsites and spectacular sunsets. See “Dragon Tree Soak to the Anna Plains Track”.

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