Saturday, 28 May 2016

Half-lap Day 26: West MacDonnell Ranges

A strongish wind came up during the night so Tony and I were up for a while making sure everything was secure. In the morning the sky was cloudy and the air a bit cool – very different from the day before. Originally we had planned to stay in Alice Springs only 1 more night, then head out for a couple of nights along the West MacDonnell Ranges. Then we’d discovered that there is an AFL game here in Alice Springs on Saturday, and Tony was keen to see it, so we decided to stay an extra night in Alice, and just do a day trip to the ranges today. We were worried that the cloudy weather might make that not as good, as Standley Chasm is particularly beautiful around midday on a sunny day. We decided to go anyway, since waiting for the weather can sometimes mean missing out altogether, and we often have quite different, and very fun, experiences when the weather is not what we’d hoped for. Also, we were going to be driving 50-130km out of Alice Springs, so the weather could be quite different out there.

We left a bit after 10.30. The MacDonnell Ranges are an impressive range to drive along – they extend for so far (a couple of hundred kilometres) and are constantly changing. Sometimes they are craggy escarpments with red rock, other times covered in low spinifex and Mallee bush, sometimes they are more like mountains with hundreds of water eroded creases in them. I enjoyed the drive out to Standley Chasm immensely. We arrived close to 11.30 and I was a little eager to get going because I really wanted to be at the Chasm by 12. We got shoes and sunscreen and hats on and threw a bag of supplies together, Tony bought our ticket (you have to pay to enter this area) and we set off along the path. It was a fairly easy, recently surfaced path, along a mainly dry creek bed, with craggy hills rising on either side, lots of ghost gums and other trees. I went pretty fast and the others came along at their own pace. I rounded a corner at the end and could see a brilliant red almost sheer wall – one side of Standley Chasm, with the middle of the day sun shining on it. It was so bright, very cool to see. The Chasm is only a couple of metres wide, with very tall sheer rock faces on either side. The clouds had cleared by now and there was a brilliant blue sky above the shining red cliffs. We walked through to the end of the chasm, there were some (very slippery) rocks we could climb up on to look beyond the cliff walls – it was fenced off for walking beyond that point. There was a small waterhole at the base of the rocks, the kids paddled their feet and played with the many small rocks on the chasm floor, making little cairns. We stayed long enough for the sun to come to centre of the chasm, shining on both walls. The slippery boulders strewn throughout the base of the chasm reflected shinily onto the walls when the sun hit them. It was a pretty special place.

Standley Chasm in midday sun
Kids exploring the rocks at Standley Chasm (LiAM is on the left, blending in to the rocks)
The kids climbed up some rocks at the start of the chasm and watched the sun changing the colours from there, and then we headed at a more leisurely place back along the path. Back at the car we had some ham, cheese and avocado sandwiches, and admired the biggest caravan we’ve seen yet – it was being pulled by a little truck and attached to it’s trailer bed rather than being towed. Again it was funny to watch everyone admiring it (like we were) as they walked past.

We continued west along the ranges, which continued to change as we drove. At one point there were thin walls of rock sticking up at intervals, which had a curved top. They looked exactly like stegosaurus fins, and I was fascinated. We arrived at Ormiston Gorge a bit after 2pm. We could see a lookout on the hill nearby, and the platform seemed to come out over the edge of the cliff. Caitlin had been asleep in the car, and got out and said she was NOT going up to that lookout. We’d thought we’d walk to the lookout and back and then have a swim in the waterhole to cool off – LiAM and Millie said they weren’t doing another walk. So I took the kids straight to the waterhole and Tony went up to the lookout. It was only 5 minutes to get to the waterhole – I had been worried that by just walking that far we wouldn’t see any of the cool bits of the gorge – I didn’t need to worry. The waterhole was long and started at the base of cliff where the lookout was, and wound it’s way around to the base of the extremely large cliff that was the northern wall of the gorge, and it was easily visible from where we were. It was an incredible spot. Deep green water, with towering red and black cliffs, a sandy beach, ghost gums, quartzite boulders with amazing patterns in them all over the ground… I loved it.

We arrived at the beach not long before Tony arrived at the lookout and we could wave to him and even have a bit of a conversation. We changed into our swimmers behind a tree, LiAM and Caitlin were straight in the water and made their way to the middle where Caitlin could only just stand up, then over to the beach on the other side. I took a little longer to get in, and Millie wasn’t keen on going very deep so I stayed close to the edge with her until Tony arrived. The water was very cold when we got in, but it soon felt comfortable, way warmer than the pool back at the caravan park. It would have been warmer still except by this stage the sun had moved behind the cliff so the waterhole was in complete shade. I went in further – the depth changed constantly, there were bits where I couldn’t stand up then suddenly I’d be standing on rocks and only be knee deep. I think the water level was on the high side following the fairly recent rains. We could see watermarks on the rocks and obviously it is sometimes higher. It’s a semi-permanent waterhole so there is usually some water, but it would vary with the seasons. I swam a bit with the kids, and we admired a heron who was hanging around on the nearby trees and rocks and occasionally swooping over the water. I made my way across to the cliff side shore and slowly edged my way towards a kind of cave – I really wanted to swim in there – it wasn’t really a cave, more a depression in the rock, but it was a bit scary. I moved a bit at a time until I was at least under the edge of the overhang, then decided that was far enough, and swam back across (the widest part of) the waterhole to the beach. It was great to be able to swim a bit of distance – and it was such an amazing place to swim. Lying on our backs looking up at the cliffs, so so cool.
Tony at the Lookout and Caitlin on the beach

The overhand I swam a little way under
Once I got out Millie and I got dressed and Tony walked along the beach to have a look around the corner, further into the gorge. I was going to go up to the lookout while everyone finished swimming and got changed, by the time Tony came back all the kids wanted to go up to the lookout as well, so I waited and we went together. It worked quite well, the walk up the hill warmed us up after our refreshing swim.

The views from the lookout were pretty amazing. We could see a fair way in to the gorge, and see the river following the base of the cliff all the way, with varying amounts of water in it. There was a beautiful ghost gum just near the lookout, and it was also cool to see all the little trees with a hold in the cliff faces. Tony and LiAM were making jokes about climbing over the fence of the lookout, or dropping cameras off, which freaked me out a little, but once I got up there and right to the edge I was fine, even Caitlin was ok. The lookout did extend a bit over the edge of the cliff, and it was made of a metal grid so we could look right down, but it wasn’t too scary. So glad we all got up there and saw the view. We all were impressed by the size of the cliff and the peacefulness and the combination of water and rocks, so so glad we made it out there.

Back to the car and we had a bit of a snack, then drove a little further west to Glen Helen. We didn’t walk in to the gorge, just down to the river (the Finke, the same one we swam in 2 days ago!) and watched the sunset on the cliff face – even redder than anything we’ve seen so far I think, and very cool with the water flowing past the base. We explored the kiosk and gift shop a bit, and the kids wanted ice blocks and sticky date puddings, I said we could get some from Coles on our way back through Alice Springs and they were happy with that.
Glen Helen and the Finke River

We drove back to Alice mainly in the dark, listening to The Enchanted Castle (by Edith Nesbitt) on the way. We stopped at Coles to get our promised treats and a few more supplies, then back to the tent and had leftover sausages with egg and cheese on bread, and then sticky date puddings for dessert. Everyone was pretty tired so it wasn’t long before we all headed for bed and read a couple of chapters of Brisingr.

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