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.

BEND, OREGON

Tucked under the backdrop of the Cascade Mountains is the little town of Bend in central Oregon. First settled as a logging town in the late 1800’s, today Bend is one of the main mountain bike centers in the US and a headquarters for all kind of outdoor activity including fishing, kayaking, skiing, golf and rock climbing. We felt kind of  wimpy, arriving for the indoor pursuit of watercolor painting!

Mirror Pond – down town Bend

All along the Deschutes River and through much of the town are these beautiful old timber houses.

Evening, down town Bend.

We were lucky enough to arrive the week the “Bite of Bend” was being held. A big food, wine, beer and music festival taking over the main roads in down town Bend.

Stalls selling all kinds of food lined the streets. The numerous boutique brewerys had their wares for sale. Ten bucks bought you a ticket to sample spirits from dozens of distillers dotted throughout the area and the main stage had a non stop variety of awesome bands from all over the country.

Half an hour drive from bend is Smith Rock State Park – an impressive gorge of craggy rock cut through by a small meandering river. A great place for rock climbing, horse and mountain bike riding, walking or just relaxing under the juniper trees.

SILENT ECHOES

Over the past couple of weeks I have been busy working on this large (1500×900) acrylic, charcoal and ink painting. It is based on a large sandstone wall, towering over a rock pool in the Umbrawarra Gorge, south of Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory. Apart from the spectacular appearance of the place, the thing that impressed me was the strange silence, broken by occasional disjointed echoes. The sounds of distant birds, insects and breezes all seemed to emanate from the rocks, always punctuated by long periods of silence. Hidden through the rocks was evidence of faded aboriginal rock paintings.

I used colored acrylic glazes over white areas of gesso to get a transparent glow into some of the rock shapes. These are contrasted with solid opaque patches of similar colored acrylic. When the paint was dry I drew over it with charcoal pencil (black and white) and Burnt Sienna pigment ink. The most difficult part of this painting was getting the abstract marks right. It took a lot of looking and adjusting until everything seemed to fall into place. What I like about this process are the intricate, underlying textures that build up. Painting like this really makes me appreciate the work of  Franz Kline. He seems to effortlessly create the most beautiful abstract marks – perfectly balanced and proportioned, right from scratch.

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.

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.

GIBB RIVER ROAD

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The drive from Kununurra to Derby can be done via a thousand kilometre stretch of sealed road through Turkey Creek, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. The other option is the Gibb River Road –  seven hundred kilometres of dust and corrugations that link the bulk of the Kimberley cattle stations. This road also gives access to some incredibly beautiful gorges and waterholes and cuts through some of the most spectacular mountain ranges imaginable.

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The spectacular Cockburn Range skirts the northern end of the Gibb River Road.

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Catching the late afternoon sun in this area is something  special.

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The Pentecost River is the major river crossing along the Gibb River Road and the last to open after the wet. What appears to be a large white rock on the downstream side of the crossing is the roof of one of Home Valley’s Landcruisers.

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View towards the coast across the floodplains of the Pentecost River.

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Gibb River grader – no wonder the road is so rough!

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The Durack River is another of the many river crossings. At the end of the dry season it is reduced to a string of picturesque waterholes.

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Another victim of the corrugations. Heavy impact fractured the sidewall plies. Fortunately we spotted it before the tyre blew.

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Half way along the Gibb River Road is Mt. Barnett Roadhouse. From here a track leads in to Manning Gorge. A great spot to camp, swim and walk.

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Accessing the main Gorge requires swimming across the Manning Creek. White foam boxes are provided to transport clothes, cameras etc.

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Manning Gorge is a large clear pool fed by a waterfall and surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs.

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Galvans Gorge is another beautiful, clear waterhole surrounded by sandstone walls. Clean water and no crocodiles make it great place to dive in and cool off.

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Wandjina paintings can be seen on the walls of the gorge.

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Further down the Gibb River Road is the turn off to Adcock Gorge. We camped there 27 years ago and the area was strewn with rubbish. No surprise, the station owners have stopped people camping there now.

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Deep, clear water – Adcock Gorge

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We found this old blue tongue trying to disguise himself as a rock on the road.

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Towards the Southern end of the Gibb River Road is the King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park. There is good camping at Silent Grove and, further up the track, Bell Gorge.

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The main pool and falls at Bell Gorge are reached by climbing over the escarpment and following markers down into the gorge.

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Bell Gorge was one of the few gorges to still have a fair flow of water over the falls this late (September) in the dry.

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The southern end of the Gibb River Road crosses the King Leopold Ranges before cutting through the Napier Range. Beyond the Napier Range is sealed road through to Derby, or turning left leads to Windjana Gorge

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.