Golly, it really is hard to write these things several weeks removed, especially since those removing weeks were so full of other experiences.
Our days were full of hikes. While we had some pretty sweet tents, I elected to pull my stretcher (cot, in America) out into the open and sleep under the stars. In addition to a variety of familiar (Orion? What are you doing here?) and unfamiliar stars (Southern Cross. Magellanic Clouds!), we were often visited in the night by curious bettongs. The Milky Way is impressive in the Southern Hemisphere, although I do not know if it is better than the expanse over my house in Joshua Tree. On the final night, everyone slept out, with our cots arranged along the banks of the platypus pool.
Throughout the central gorge, there were small side canyons, each with its own flavor. In the last post, you got to see the ampitheatre. We also went to a place called the art gallery, where the sandstone walls are covered in aboriginal art. The art was often made by mashing ochre into a paste with water and then spraying it from the mouth across a stencil held up to the wall. These stencils were usually hands and boomerangs and other implements.
|the white streak represents a goana (monitor lizard)|
|Carved fertility symbols|
While no indigenous peoples permanently occupied the area, many different groups would pass through and convene here for spiritual occasions. We learned about some of the bush tucker in the area, plants that the original inhabitants would harvest for meals. This included the generally toxic (unless done right) cycad seed, the hearts of palm trees, wild raspberries, and even hibiscus flowers (that offer a nice dose of vitamin C).
|A tuckered bunch in need of bush tucker: Corinne, Anna, Ian, Arizona, and Ryan.|
|Impressive roots hugging the sheer face of rock. The water is just a spring of absorbed water sweating out of the sandstone.|
While the hikes could be grueling, our spirits were almost always high. Jonathan, Ian, and I frequently made up the tail of our troop, and we were nearly always laughing. I do not know if there is an acceptable limit to the number of inside jokes a small group of individuals can have. If there was, we pushed/exceeded it. This became the basis of a skit we performed for the final campfire and even the closing dinner of the program.
|I always just expected a dinosaur to amble across|
|A lithophytic fig tree. Like the figs in Lamington, it grows down over wherever the seed was deposited. In the rainforest, it was a tree. Here, a rock.|
|A burrowing frog, which survives drought by aestivating in the and until the rains come|
Dr. John had us experience the Moss Garden with our eyes closed. It was entertaining to form a chain of us, hanging from each other's packs, blind. It was an incredible sensation to wander into the cool of the canyon, feeling the cool humidity on my skin, smelling the musty vegetation and hearing the gentle trickle of water. When we opened our eyes...
|Anna, Tyler, Jonathan, Arizona, and Ryan. In the back, there is Corinne with a mouthful of carrot and a lurking Ian.|
|A tail of two Johns...Dr. John and Jonathan|
|Corinne, Arizona, Ian, Ryan, Anna, me, Tyler, and Jonathan|
|Mama and joey|
One of our mornings, instead of starting with a gentle nature walk, kicked off with a massive climb up to the plateau above the gorge. We were gathering field data on vegetative densities and comparing the plateau and the gorge. Water and nutrients tend to be washed off the tops and settle into the valleys, having significant consequences for the vegetation of the areas.
|So pleased to start a 6am hike with a 1km hike straight up|
|Alright, the view was worth it.|
|Jacqui measures tree girth.|
|Tyler measures tree girth.|
|Ian gathers data.|
|Jonathan gathers data (honestly) and monitors the borders of the transect.|
|Anna measures tree girth.|