MONUMENT VALLEY

 

From Brisbane, Australia to Flagstaff, Arizona via LA and Phoenix is a long haul. We were jet lagged and weary when we collected our hire car and drove into town to a motel.

Next morning, bright and fresh, we headed down Route 66 and peeled off north to the Utah/Arizona border and the spectacular landscape of Monument Valley National Park.

148Old Trading Post along the northbound Highway180

190Strange sign leading to an Indian Reservation.

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153Goose Necks on the San Juan River

156Mexican Hat

181Bridge across the San Juan River.

160San Juan Motel perched above the river at Mexican Hat – a mecca for bikers from all over the country. This group were from Florida via Texas.

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162Small scale oil drilling – Mexican Hat

163Patriotic Cowboys.

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187…Off into the sunset

 

FLINDERS RANGES

From Maree we headed south into the Flinders Ranges via the ruins of Farina and the soon to be abandoned town of Leigh Creek.
The Flinders Ranges contain some of Australia’s most spectacular landscape. We zig zagged our way from the south, back and forth up through the ranges until we reached Arkaroola in the north.

© John Lovett 2016
Farina chicken run

© John Lovett 2016The country surrounding the ranges is flat, dry and vast.

© John Lovett 2016This distorted grass tree looks almost as old as the country surrounding it.

© John Lovett 2016Camped in a ring of ancient mountains

© John Lovett 2016Walking in these ranges is compelling. You can’t help walking to the top of the next hill or exploring the next stony outcrop.

© John Lovett 2016Beautiful colors, textures and shapes are everywhere.

© John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 Watched by wedgetails.

© John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016

© John Lovett 2016

The Arkaroola Ridgetop Tour is something not to be missed. Almost 5 hours exploring some of the wildest four wheel drive tracks and gazing over the most spectacular views I have ever seen. These landcruisers get just 2000 kilometers from a set of tyres!

© John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016

The Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby makes it’s home in some of the remote parts of Arkaroola.

© John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016    © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016  © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 © John Lovett 2016 Wild white horses along the track into Arkaroola

© John Lovett 2016

© John Lovett 2016

© John Lovett 2016Early morning Drink. This guy was sharing a tiny, cereal bowl sized waterhole with half a dozen of his mates and a couple of noisy Galahs.

SOUTH THROUGH LIMMEN

Following the road east from Mataranka out to Roper Bar brings you into the top of Limmen National Park. The Northern region of the park is popular with Barramundi fishermen, but heading south along a badly corrugated road towards Cape Crawford brings you to Butterfly Gorge and a number of areas dotted with strange sandstone formations.   xrNT__2951
Butterfly Gorge (minus waterfall at end of dry season)
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This little Azure Kingfisher spent a lot of time patiently watching the ever diminishing waterhole for fish.
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Pillars of sculpted rock.
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Heading south east, we camped at the Ayrshire Hills. Another spectacularly weathered landscape 70kms out of Winton.
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CARNARVON GORGE / BLACKALL

A workshop in Blackall provided a great excuse to head off a couple of weeks early and spend some time in the Carnarvon Gorge / Salvator Rosa area of central Queensland before settling in for the workshop.

gorgeCarnarvon Gorge is a spectacular collection of sheer sandstone cliffs, narrow side gorges and pockets of rainforest.

 

BLAC2978Light spills briefly into one of the damp, narrow side gorges.

BLAC2997Palms and ferns grow in the protected pockets of the main gorge.

BLAC3004x_1Strangler figs engulf anything in their path.

BLAC3011The surrounding country side is in the grip of drought, but permanent springs keep the creeks and waterholes in the gorge full of water.

BLAC3045Strange textured fungus.

BLAC3083After a few days exploring Carnarvon Gorge we looped around to the North and came back into the western end of the Carnarvon Ranges at Salvator Rosa. The access roads quickly become impassable as soon as rain falls. With no prediction of rain we were confused heading into this looming black sky. It turned out to be a mixture of suspended dust and smoke from nearby fires. It made for an amazing orange light as the sun set.

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BLAC3126Exploring some of the tracks around Salvator Rosa was hard peddling in the sand and bulldust, but a lot of fun.

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BLAC3127The fine bulldust mixed with coarse sand make this kangaroo’s footprint so detailed you can even see the texture of the pads on his foot.

arts centerWe left Salvator Rosa and headed via Tambo to Blackall where we stayed in the Living Arts Centre for the workshop.

The Living Arts Centre was formerly a hostel for school students from the outlying stations. Students now attend boarding schools in the city, so the premises has been converted to accommodation and studios.

DSC07191The studios are spacious and filled with light. Our painting was punctuated by excursions to numerous places of interest around Blackall. We visited “Alice Downs” where Jacky Howe broke the record for blade shearing – 321 sheep in 7 hours and 20 minutes back in 1892. The record still stands today. We enjoyed great meals supplied by the “Marmaladies” from Blackall and also dined at a number of restaurants around the town, including a memorable feast, slow cooked in a wood stove at the wool scour.

BLAC3201Another local hero was Roy Dunne, who jumped his goat, Nugget, over a 3’6″ bar in 1905 – another world record feat.

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BLAC3194Mustering cattle for the Thursday cattle sale in Blackall.

 

BLAC3185Long neglected fuel pump.

BLAC3296xStu Benson first drove cattle at the age of 12 and has been a proud Blackall resident all his life. His stories of the town and knowledge of the area are captivating.

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BLAC3407xHypnotic local goats.

BLAC3453Blackall wool scour – amazing steam driven chaos brought back to life.
Many thanks to Sally Campbell and her enthusiastic helpers for a fantastic workshop in Blackall.

 

ACROSS THE PLENTY

From Mt Isa we drove south west to Urandangi, a pub, a couple of houses and a small aboriginal community near the Georgina River. The last time I visited Urandangi was 1988 and before that 1982. Not much has changed. The store has closed down and the pub now sells essential supplies. Trees have grown taller, the pub has changed hands and the fuel pumps are newer.

Urandangi 2012

Urandangi 1988

We called into the pub for a beer and to catch up on all the local news, then drove down to a waterhole on the Georgina. As I sat and watched it get dark on the waterhole I could hear a faint hiss. It turned out to be the inside dual wheel on the truck.

Next morning I got to try out this handy device I purchased from the Mining Expo in Mt Isa. A Torque Multiplier – guaranteed to remove the most impossible truck wheel nuts. It worked a treat.

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After fitting the spare we headed back into Urandangi to use their compressor and mend the puncture.

A donkey and a small horse were entertained for ages watching me break the bead on this rusted rim.

Once the puncture was mended we headed down to Tobermorey station and across the Plenty Highway. The road was surprisingly good compared to the last time we used it. A few big patches of bull dust and corrugations, but mostly fairly smooth. Parts of the road appeared to have been recently graded. Our last trip across this road was after a dozen road trains had beaten it to a strip of rock and pulverized bull dust that could swallow a car.

Along the road the landscape varies from big plains of Mitchell Grass to tortured looking rocky outcrops and gibber plains

Approaching Harts Range, the size of the mountains increase and they take on the typical Central Australian pinks and purples.

Plains Turkeys are fairly common along the road. They walk slowly with their heads in the air and stand about 750mm tall.

Cool Mornings – even with the sun shining.

OVER AFGHANISTAN

On our way to Europe we were lucky enough to fly directly over Afghanistan just as the sun was setting. The flight information screen put us half way between Kandahar and Kabul at 30,000 feet. The country was amazing – incredibly rugged with very little vegetation except for a few cropped and settled river valleys.

A military transport plane crossed under us at about four o’clock and, within a few seconds, disappeared out of sight. A cold reminder that, down among the cracks and crevasses of this beautiful landscape, a war is going on.

TICKING VOLCANO

Mt Etna is one of the worlds most active volcanoes. It last erupted in 2008 and, according to our guide is overdue to erupt again. He took us up to the 2000 meter level and the scene is pretty impressive.

Huge lava flows have built up the landscape on the southern side of the mountain. The eruptions causing these flows have been occurring every 3-4 years

This tiny village was destroyed and re built several years ago, eight meters above it’s original location

Insurance is impossible for buildings on an active volcano, but the Sicilian government will pay up to 60% towards re building provided the business employs a certain number of people.

This guy gets around the problem by sitting outside in the freezing cold, carving and selling lava heads.

At the 2000 meter level there are several craters from previous eruptions.

We would have liked to have seen gushing lava and rocks being shot into the sky, but had to be satisfied with evidence of previous eruptions. The steam and strong smell of sulphur, according to our guide, indicates that an eruption is eminent.

Red foxes live up around the snow line on the mountain. This guy was coaxed out of the woods by some tasty Sicilian pastry.

At the foot of Mt Etna is the small town of  Nicolosi. It still shows evidence of earthquake damage caused by past eruptions.