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.

MOUNTAINS OF IRON

KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK

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The Karijini landscape is dominated by the Hamersley Ranges. These are probably the oldest mountains on earth, the rocks dating back 2,500 million years. Driving through the Hamersleys is unique and beautiful. The undulating hills are covered with spinifex and broken by exposed weathered faces of deep red rock.

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Cutting through the landscape are numerous gorges. Some are accessed by a short walk, others require climbing and scrambling over rocks and ledges, and some can only be reached with ropes and climbing equipment.

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Some of the gorges narrow down to passages just wide enough for a person to squeeze through

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Others are broad and open with clear pools at the bottom

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Looking down into the deeper gorges is an awesome sight. The surrounding country is undulating and fairly unspectacular, but the gorges seem to drop way below the surrounding landscape.

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Passing sculptors have installed some impressive structures using just rocks and gravity.

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Waterfalls and waterholes are found throughout the gorges

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The water is usually freezing cold but, somehow, backpackers seem to be tolerant to near freezing water

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Whistling Kite – Pentax K20D 18 -250mm lens

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Scattered through the gorges are veins of blue asbestos. The Wittenoom and Yampire gorges have been closed because of the high concentration of asbestos

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KARIJINI VISITORS CENTRE

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Architect John Nicholes designed the Karijini Visitors Centre to weather into the landscape. Most of the exterior of the structure is built from heavy welded steel panels. These are acid washed to rust, echoing the iron ore outcrops of the landscape.

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It is an impressive building that also hints at the rusted remnants of the areas pastoral history.

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Old rusted Pilbra sheepyards, built from flattened oil drums

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Power is provided by a large solar array with a thumping big diesel generator, waiting for a rainy day.

THE PILBARA

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The Pilbara region in the northern half of WA  not only contains some of the countrys most beautiful scenery, but also generates the bulk of Australias foreign income. Tens of millions of dollars worth of iron ore, oil, gas and salt are shipped out of this area every day. The major towns of Port Hedland, Dampier, Karratha, and the mining towns of Tom Price and Newman are prosperous and incredibly busy.

Newman mines run 24 hours a day, the average wage of a mine worker is around $150,000/ year. They work a 12 hour shift, night shift one week, day shift the next week then the third week off. Food, accommodation, work clothes and equipment is all provided by the company.

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Huge trains, over 2 kilometers long , run constantly back and forth between the coast and the mines.

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Catching one of these trains at a crossing sure gives you plenty of time to stop and take a photograph.

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The little town of Port Hedland has an incredibly busy port, with a constant string of ships waiting at sea to come in and load.

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The whole town is coated in a fine red dust from the iron ore loading. Even the concrete shipping tower, high above the town, is stained iron ore red.

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It was disappointing to learn that the mountains of salt shipped out of Dampier and Port Hedland don’t find their way into little paper sachets to sprinkle on fish and chips.

Dampier Salt (owned by Rio Tinto) is the largest salt exporter in the world, selling mainly to the industrial chemical markets in Asia. It’s hard to imagine 5 million tons of salt being shipped across to Asia each year. It’s even harder to believe it has nothing to do with the salty taste of Asian food.

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A fine piece of installation art on the salt flats outside Dampier.

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Remains of old sheep station out camp near Wittenoom – corrugated iron at its best

WINDJANA GORGE

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At the southern end of the Gibb River Road is the Napier Range. It is a big chunk of eroded limestone  left over from a, once submerged, coral Reef.

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Napier Range at Windjana Gorge

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The limestone walls in the gorge have eroded into unusual shaped caves and caverns. There are fossils of ancient marine creatures embedded in many of the limestone walls.

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A permanent water course cuts through the Napier Range to form Windjana Gorge. Large drifts of sand, thick vegetation and sheer sided walls make an early morning walk through the gorge pretty spectacular.

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Late afternoon is a good time to spot crocodiles. The waterholes are full of reasonably timid fresh water crocs. Occasionally a salty will find it way there after the wet, so swimming is not a good idea.

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This old croc lost part of his top jaw in a fight. A common disability with fresh water crocs. We saw the croc below in Kununurra. He has a large piece of his lower jaw missing.

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Helpful, informative sign – Windjana National Park.

KEEP RIVER

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After the workshop finished we flew back to Darwin, picked up our car and caravan, had a cracked fuel tank repaired, replaced the caravan springs and stocked up on food and water.

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Our first stop, after crossing the mighty Victoria River, was Keep River National Park. It is listed as one of the 10 best rock art sites in the country.

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The landscape around Keep River is open bush and grassland interspersed with spectacular sandstone escarpments and ranges.

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The temperature hovered around 40 degrees most of the time so we did most of our walking early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

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The Jarrnarm walk is an 8km loop that takes you up onto the escarpment and back through a  series of beehive domes very similar to the Bungle Bungles. At the start of this walk is one of the regions most impressive rock art galleries. Unfortunately the traditional owners had closed it to the public. According to one of the rangers they want to repair some damage and will reopen it in the future.

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A shorter walk following the Keep River had a number of interesting art sites

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We could find no explanation for these strange figures. Von Daniken would have seen them as visiting astronauts. Maybe they were pearl divers encountered on the coast?

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300 million year old sandstone domes, ancient rock art, Livistona Palms and pockets of permanent water make Keep River an impressive National Park

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Spinifex Pigeons wander over the rocks.

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Red Winged Parrot

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Small rock lizard

STRANGE FORMATIONS

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I woke early one morning at El Questro and went for a walk up towards the escarpment of the Cockburn Ranges. I followed a narrow winding gully and came across this weird rock shelf.

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It was formed in sedimentary layers, the underlying layer having the appearance of tidal ripples. Covering this was, what appears to be, a series of layers of flat mud turned to solid rock.

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The really strange thing was the numerous fist sized oval depressions in this top layer.

The depressions are formed in rows and are evenly spaced.

They appear to have been formed when the mud layers were soft, but have hardened to dense, solid rock

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This shot seems to indicate that the depressions were pressed into several layers of soft mud.

What caused the depressions?

The following day Jan, from our workshop group, came up with me to have a look. Jan has a background in science and a keen interest in geology – her son and his partner are both geologists. We scratched our heads and came up with various theories, but will wait til Jan gets some photos and samples back to her son for a more knowledgable analysis.