Week Two– Palms, Camels, Wild Horses and A Long Dirt Road

On the way to King’s Canyon, we met a red dirt road that went forever.  With diversions such as Palm Valley, “just a bit off the main track”, it took us about 10 hours to go from Alice to King’s Canyon Resort, 50% owned by Aboriginal shareholders.  The Palm Valley side-trip was only 22 km.  How bad could it be?

But when our 4-wheel drive vehicle was challenged on a barely-a-road full of rocks, hardly a dirt path at all in some places, that 22 km. took forever.  Well, only much of the afternoon.  The twelve-mile equivalent times two for the round trip reqired about three hours of very careful navigation through the rocks, dips and mud holes.

The beginnings of Palm Valley

The beginnings of Palm Valley

Soft sand turns out to be as hazardous as deep snow, and though my 4WD skills are quite good, we spent a good hour before the first palm showed up in our line of vision.

Short story was that we arrived at the trail head mid-afternoon, when the temperature was about 40 degrees Centigrade . . . perhaps 104 degrees, and the short, fairly easy hike became a sunstroke threat for this woman.  Neil, Ashley and Justin completed the walk, while I retreated halfway through, found the car, and practically plunged my face into our water-soaked washcloths.

Once recovered, having collected my companions, we headed back up the rutted trail toward the “main road” if one can call it that.  The permit-required Mereenie Loop.  Fortunately there were no permit checkers on the way, but there were groups of camels on the sides of the road, along with the wild horses and foals running back and forth in front of our car, all headed to the potholes filled with rainwater from occasional showers as we moved down the Loop.  The photo at the header of this website was taken on this part of our journey.  It was actually quite exciting!  I hadn’t considered sharing an Australian road with camels . . .

As the sun hung lower in the sky, our collective nerves began to rattle a bit.  There was NOTHING out here . . . absolutely nothing.  No streetlights, no houses, huts, tents, no gas stations, no cars, nothing but us, and beyond us a continuous show of sheet lightening with surprise instant rain showers.  And when the dark came, we were plunged into the black, but for the now inadequate light from the front of our car.  “Trusting the process” took on a whole new meaning.  We were on the red moon, or Mars, and though we knew we couldn’t get lost, because there was no other road, King’s Canyon might as well have been weeks away.

By about 9:00 p.m., we arrived at our destination, checked in, got to our room in the darkness and took turns learning our way down the path to the communal bathrooms.  Getting ready for an early hike the next day was our first priority after we settled in, because the heat of today’s hike let us know we did not want to be away from heat shelter by noon.

The beginning of our "little day hike" . . . King's Canyon.

The beginning of our “little day hike” . . . King’s Canyon.

The next morning, we were out by 7:00 a.m., headed toward King’s Canyon for our hike.  The drive to the trailhead was only about a ten-minute one, and we parked in a large lot, along with the other cars and tour busses.

A fairly easy hike, said the book, but for the first 20 minute climb.  Again, I asked myself, “How bad could that be?”

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November 2-9, 2012, Week Two continued – The Red Centre – We WANTED to buy the permit, truly . . .

Red hot takes on a new meaning!

Red hot takes on a new meaning!

Well, are any of you wondering about the camel photo at the top of this website?  Yes, that was a photo I took this week, the week in which we felt like we were in the Twilight Zone on Mars (the red planet, yes?).  More about that in my next post.

Our first and last nights in the Outback were spent at Toddy’s Backpacker Lodge in Alice Springs, separate rooms the first night, sharing a room the rest of our time in the Outback, cooking in the hostel kitchens of our various lodging locations.  Good training for the Camino next year . . . and excellent relief for our wallets, with outrageous restaurant costs all through Australia.  This is NOT what we remembered from eight years ago on Oz’s east coast.  But we weren’t on the east coast yet.  We were in the middle of the desert, surrounded by heat and red dust.

We awoke on Day Two, excited to head for King’s Canyon.  Since I’m the 4WD driver in most situations, I took the wheel.  Remember, our driving time in Oz was focused and on the lookout to make sure the driver, sitting in the passenger seat, turned left onto the left side of the road, and turned right onto the . . . left side of the road.  We also got to laugh at whoever was in the “driver’s seat” every time he or she used the windshield wiper rather than the turn signal, also situated on the wrong side of the steering wheel.  It was a twisted brain exercise each day, re-learning to turn ourselves backwards and inside out.  Anything to get to the reverse orientation.  And the passengers cheered and counted all the right and wrong actions of the driver as we made our way down the dirt road.

So . . . I drove.  We were to go by way of the Mereenie Loop Road to King’s Canyon, but needed a permit to drive on the Aboriginal property. My instructions were to drive to Hermannsburg to a gas station there, buy a permit, and be on my way with my three red-dirt companions.

Anxiously on the lookout for Hermannsburg, we saw it rolling up into our line of sight like a strange tumbleweed . . . in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was the “gas station”.  Hmmm . . . dust, old cars, lots of Outback mutts gathering around and a battered building with a caged front door..  I got out of the car, and walked into the “store”, greeted by a goofy white guy, perhaps in his mid-twenties.  When I asked to buy a permit for the Mereenie Loop Road, the guy guffawed, stopped, put his hand to his mouth, guffawed again, and told me he was “real sorry” but they were out of permits.  Yep, he had just started working there a week ago, and he had run out of permits about three days into his new stint. (Chortle, chortle, sideways look, silly grin . . . )

“But hey, if they stop you”, he advised, “just tell them you WANTED to buy a permit, but we just (guffaw, guffaw) ran OUT!”

I’m not sure what he was smoking, but I would like to have tried some of it.