I Thought Deserts Were Dry

Canning Stock Route – Windich Springs to Well 15

Mud, Glorious Mud, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Mud, Glorious Mud, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Overnight the rain continues for hours and hours. Brief excursions outside reveal more and more and bigger and bigger puddles, it looks like we’ll be here tomorrow to let the track dry out. The next day has brief periods of lighter skies and each time we hope that’s the end of the rain but soon more showers fall. Our stay extends another day. After a very brief period of warmer weather on the day we arrived here when we managed to change into shorts the temperature has dropped again so I’m happy to be able to retire inside the camper and keep warm and dry. We’re both surprised to find there are lots of flies around even in the rain, they must be desperate.

After our third night here the next morning is another grey and overcast one with light mist and some drizzle. While the worst of the puddles around camp have dried up the track is still damp and no doubt there is mud ahead. While we’ve been here one 4WD and one trail bike have gone through heading north, they haven’t returned so maybe that’s a good sign but then there hasn’t been anyone heading south either so we don’t know what to expect. We debate staying another day but it seems unlikely conditions will change anytime soon so eventually we decide to push on.

It is 11.00am by the time we head off and after an initial easy start we reach our first section of mud and water. Then there’s more water and mud, and then even more as the water-logged dirt track winds between the trees. There are a few slippery patches but generally we have a firm base underneath and we get through without mishap. At times it is hard to tell where the track goes as it resembles a creek and our passage through the water extends up to 200 metres and around bends. Following the tracks of the vehicle which passed this way two days ago helps us identify where to enter the water and where to come out but a few times some exploration on foot first is in order. I haven’t had a lot of mud driving experience and I know my vehicle is pretty heavy so I’m a bit apprehensive but following Paul’s lead and suggestions make it much easier. As Paul says it’s all fun unless you have to get the shovel out.

After a couple of hours we are almost 40km along the track, better progress than I expected, and the country changes. Sand dunes appear and the ground becomes far redder and sandier. Grass trees dot the sides of the road and most of the low trees we have been weaving between largely disappear.

Grass Trees, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Grass Trees, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Instead of negotiating mud and water we now have corrugations and occasional rocky patches. By 1.30 we arrive at Well 6, Pierre Springs. Stands of white gum trees are spread throughout the camping area and the fully restored well has crystal clear water in it. Lunch and coffee are the first order and then, as we are wandering around, we decide that even though we have covered less than 50km today and it is still quite early this is too nice a place not to spend more time so we will stay the night. As a bonus the flies have decided not to inhabit the area.

Pierre Springs, Canning Stock Route

Pierre Springs, Canning Stock Route

We’re set up and enjoying the peace when 6 vehicles travelling in convoy arrive at about 4.00pm. Much to my surprise in this large camping area they set up close by around us. I guess they must have had a weather forecast as during dinner it starts to sprinkle and then gets heavier. The rain continues steadily all night and by morning the camping spots I thought they could have used are pools of water. Everyone sloshes around in rain gear as the ground gets wetter and wetter and the pools of water bigger and bigger and all vehicles stay put for the day.The stand of white gums next to our camp is now surrounded by a pool of water about nine inches deep.

It is Paul’s birthday today, the big 60, and we had envisioned sitting around a campfire in the desert enjoying some of the bottle of scotch I picked up in duty free on my way back from Malaysia. No campfire is practical in these conditions but we make a feast of nice cheeses, pate, smoked oysters and olives followed by chicken souvlakis from the left over roast to go with the scotch. Jazz music and lots of laughs provide accompaniments to our celebration.

Happy Birthday Paul, Canning Stock Route

Happy Birthday Paul, Canning Stock Route

Apart from an occasional light shower the rain has finally stopped by the next morning and the convoy of 6 vehicles head on by 7.00am. We decide to give the track a bit of a chance to dry out and to take another rest day. A couple of other very muddy vehicles pass through in the morning and mid-afternoon two more pull in to camp. It’s Vince and Robyn, people Paul met originally in Alice Springs and then spent time with in Esperance accompanied by their friends Jim and Julie. They decide to stay the night and we spend a very pleasant evening sitting around the campfire chatting and later watching some of Paul’s photos on his big screen.

The following morning the others leave and we get our act together and follow a short while later. We don’t expect to see them further up the track as they have a much faster rate of travel than us with a planned total of two weeks from Wiluna to Halls Creek; we’ve taken a week and a half to get this far. We’re both keen to get moving though as our stays have been longer than we planned and we hope to cover a good distance today.

It sure is an interesting day’s drive. We start with lots of mud and water, really long patches which aren’t too bad as they are reasonably firm. A few slippery patches see us drifting around a bit, the vehicles in front of us have churned up the mud and the additional time has allowed the water to start seeping into the base. While they aren’t too bad they still take lots of my concentration and when we eventually reach a dry area I’m glad to take a short break. People following in the next week or so might have a more difficult trip until it eventually dries out. The wet and muddy patches are interspersed with sections of corrugations which have to be taken very slowly, small patches of rocky track and the occasional sand dune crossing. As the day progresses we see more of the sand dunes and eventually fewer of the long patches of water although they don’t entirely disappear.

More Mud On the Track, Canning Stock Route

More Mud On the Track, Canning Stock Route

We make good progress, keeping to our average of 20kph, which we consider pretty good considering the conditions. We make it to Well 11 by about 3.00pm and decide to head on toward Well 12 before stopping for the night. The onward drive starts with more sand dunes and then we come across a sight we didn’t expect to see in the desert; a flooded lake bed normally filled with dry grasses which is now a billabong probably a kilometre across. Patches of grass still showing above the water look like reeds. Ducks and other water birds poke between the grasses and further away we can see numbers of white necked herons striding through the water.

Desert Billabong, Canning Stock Route

Desert Billabong, Canning Stock Route

On top of the next sand dune we look over a large round depression filled with green vegetation, White Lake we presume. A firm track leads us around the perimeter of the lake and we cross more sand dunes before arriving at a dune above the water filled Aerodrome Lake which is normally dry and used as a landing strip by light planes. We pause on the edge of the lake while Paul takes some photographs.

Lake Aerodrome, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Lake Aerodrome, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

The track around is firm and I’m feeling pretty happy with that, I’ve had enough mud for the day but I was too optimistic with that thought and we have to cross several more patches of mud. They are a bit slippery but again we make it through with no problems. It’s almost 5.00 by the time we reach Well 12 but we’ve covered over 130km for the day, a very good distance for us. The camp area is delightful with desert oaks surrounding us. Paul is able to gather enough wood nearby for a small campfire and spots plenty of camel tracks while doing so. I hope we see some soon. Another lovely place to spend a night especially with the sound of the wind in the oaks.

The next morning’s drive is delightful. We are really in sand dune country now and cross plenty of them. The damp sand means reaching the summits is straight forward even though some are close to 10 metres high. It would be far more difficult if the sand was dry and hot. In between the dunes sections of rough corrugations could make the driving unpleasant but we’re quite happy slow to 10kph and we walk the vehicles over them with time to admire the countryside. I’m loving the colours in the vegetation, there are so many greens; blue-greens, grey-greens, yellow-greens and straight out green-greens and every variation in between. Pale yellow spinifex and other grasses and spindly black bushes provide contrast as do the occasional patches of red or yellow flowers. All these are set against the bright orange-red sand dunes, I just wish there was also a blue sky but once again it is horizon to horizon grey.

Early Sand Dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Early Sand Dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Lunch is at Well 14 then we are back on the track and what a difference. No more dunes but lots more mud and this time we strike patches without a firm base. A couple of times we are revving the vehicles as hard as possible and just maintaining forward motion, lose that and we’d be stuck. Getting bogged vehicles out would be no easy thing as the nearest firm ground could be around the next bend and there are very few good size trees. If the other vehicle came to help we’d end up with both stuck. I’m very happy to get to the other side of this swampy ground without mishap, the adrenaline was flowing a few times but it’s all good experience. Mind you it is an experience I’d be quite happy not to repeat, or at least not from the driver’s seat.

A short side trip just before the next well takes us to a lookout and we climb the rocks to take in the views. The land all around looks pretty flat and is covered in small bushes so we get no preview of what we can expect from the road tomorrow and the grey clouds covering the sky don’t suggest a sunset worth a camp up here so we return to the main track and head onto Well 15. We arrive by 2.15 and while I was keen to travel an additional 40km to Well 16 for the night I’d prefer not to face more mud today so we make an early camp. It’s another pleasant spot and some firewood has been left behind, by Vince, Robyn, Julie and Jim we suspect, so we can enjoy another fire. The time is well spent transferring the diesel fuel we have been carrying on our roof racks to our tanks, much better carried down low especially over dunes and along ruts where our vehicles are tilted. We’d hoped the weather was finally clearing but more clouds and drizzle fill the night and the next morning.

I shouldn’t have been too worried about the track to Well 16 as there is no more mud, just lots of beautiful country and easy driving. At least after a good night’s sleep I can relax and enjoy it. The corrugations and the odd rocky patch keep the pace down once again so our average remains around 20kph and we have several photo stops as well. We made a late start because I prepared a slow cook curry before we left and we stop for coffee and lunch at Well 16. To add to the pleasant morning’s drive the grey skies are starting to break up and for the first time for a week we are seeing some patches of blue.

Rocky Track, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Rocky Track, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

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