Carnarvon Gorge-ous Part I

I am incredibly tardy in getting the blog updated. My apologies. I do not want to race through the last three weeks of this program, but they have been some of the densest, busiest, most emotional, and most magical of the three months we have spent in Australia.

Now on to the final of the Terrestrial Ecology field trips. I am glad they saved the very best for last. I did not really want to have a favourite, but this was the absolute best. Nature turned it up to 11.

The bus collected us (with Dr. John, Toby, and new tutor Sheree) from the backpackers bright and early on a Monday morning. The mysterious and yet perfectly sociable Sausage was our busdriver. Apparently, no one knows the meaning of his name, although he grinned excitedly at some of the more bizarre hypotheses we advances on the topic. It was a long drive (7am-about 6pm), with multiple stops for lunch in parks, comfort stops at random towns’ Lion’s Club-maintained parks, and collecting our catering cook Dwayne. The landscape was incredible. We saw bottle trees (a hold over of Australia’s distant rainforest past) and emus wandering alongside the road. The ubiquitous kangaroo could be seen grazing in the presence of the cattle and sheep.

During that time, we had a brief introduction to the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) that went extinct in the late 1930s but still inspires regular sightings throughout Australia. Mia and I also started watching The Hunter (with Willem Defoe) on her laptop, a fairly low-budget film about a man hunting a thylacine in Tasmania.

Dr. John and his epic hair profile review notes on the bus.

Australia has the cutest choo-choo traffic signs

The Bottle Tree, a rainforest remnant in Australia's dry country

Toby (the tutor, aka Dr. T) had the best eye-mask for bus-napping

Madness on the bus

Finally, right at about sunset, we entered Carnarvon Gorge. There was a fire burning somewhere on the other side of the park, which we had to stay mindful of on some of the longer hikes but never actually created any problem.

Approaching the gorge about sunset, with a wildfire burning in the vicinity

There were the typical long walks (one day capped about 14km) punctuated with mini-lectures during water breaks. Finally, I figured out that a small flip notebook and a pencil in my pocket was more accessible and suited to this style of hike-learning than trying to haul my entire field manual out of my backpack while also getting a drink of water. We also had to complete our field manual scavenger hunts and writing assignments before getting on the bus to leave.

It was quite hot, and Dr. John and the tutors were adamant about checking that each of us was carrying at least two litres of water on every hike. I discovered for me personally that three litres was necessary. Sunscreen was liberally applied. Water was frequently drunk (or many a gulp was skulled, as Dr. John would put it). Hats were worn. I had cursed myself for not brining my straw hat, but the less flattering canvas UQ hat I was given proved excellent. I frequently dipped it in the creek and let it evaporate off the top of my head.

Dr. John, intent on scooping up some ant lions

Pretty-face Wallaby


This way...

Let's go!

Swamp wallaby

The troops march




So close...

While Girraween was stunning (albeit cold) and Lamington was breath-taking (I am a sucker for a good rainforest), Carnarvon was my favourite of the field trips.  Nature just seemed to turn it up to 11. It is a stunning location. The geology of the gorge was quite interesting. An ancient swamp formed a siltstone base before a swifter river (cue a discussion about the Hjulstrom diagram with Dr. Tibbetts) laid down the heaps of sand that would compress into the sandstone that dominates the bluffs. Following that, Eastern Australia’s volcanic period laid down a layer of basalt. This basalt not only helped seal in the sandstone and protect it from total erosion, is also provided a rich source of nutrients that has fed the soil over the millennia. Cracks in the basalt seeped water into the more erodible sandstone, and this eventually created the gorge as it is today.

Tyler displays...

Ryan, Corrine, Sheree, Tyler, Arizona, and Anna

Ian and Johnathan

Arizona and Ryan

The much sparser ridgeline...

...above the lusher gorge

Trees even manage to grow on shallow outcroppings part way down the gorge

The entrance to the Ampitheatre

The Ampitheatre

In the Ampitheatre

The roof

for scale, that is Johnathan in the entrance

Our camp was situated directly adjacent to the Platypus Pool. It is a small pond in the permanent creek where several platypus live. We would get up early in the morning to see the tail end of their foraging. They would always be in the distance, swimming along the top and then silently dipping into a dive (never a splash was heard). We also managed to see echidna on this trip. In the wild, I got to see two species of very ancient egg-laying mammals. So cool.

Platypus sighting

These photos cover one portion of the trip, and then I will get entries on Heron Island and our final week in Brisbane. I am sitting at a friend's house (the friendly people of Brisbane, I will miss greatly). We are going to hit a meeting tonight, and then I fly back to the States in the morning. Hope to get some good writing done on the plane.

Much more to come...

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