We leapt at another opportunity to camp out under the stars. This time we were to check Junction Well and the boundary fence at the same time then double back 2/3rds of the way and turn off to the dam in Devil Devil paddock. There is a direct route through from Junction Well but the recent rain would probably make the creek difficult to cross so we were to take the long route round (not that we minded).
The road out to our first stop was rather tricky due to water softness. We didn’t want to get the truck stuck nor make deep furrows in Jake’s carefully graded tracks, which would only necessitate grading again as the ruts hardened. Diverting off the road to prevent this latter problem merely increased the likelihood of the former. If we kept to the rockier areas and avoided the grassy traps we were less likely to sink in but that type of terrain is particularly harsh on the vehicles. It was a bit of a conundrum, preserve the road or the vehicle, (neither for which we will be around long enough to take the blame) and one that Landrover need to exploit if they are to regain their position as a top off-roader.
I jumped out each time we came to a ‘dark’ area and tried to find a reasonable route off road and back to the track. This wasn’t always easy but I worked on the basis that if I sunk in, the truck definitely would. I wasn’t convinced of the converse but eventually we made our way to the fence. Returning was a little quicker as we could follow our own tracks as we had not befallen any adverse eventuality. Next was to turn off onto a completely new route for us. Frankie assured us that it would be signposted and the initial turning was. It was after then that things became less clear. As the station covers such a vast area the map, on a single sheet of A3 paper, is rather small scale so specific features are absent. I navigated best I could but with the fading light we were acutely aware that no dam was in sight. We hadn’t even reached Jake’s painted desert. We ventured further on when I suddenly had an awful thought, I’d not packed any matches! Asking Roger if he had any was a bit pointless but desperate. As I tried to wrestle with the bag tied onto the back to see if there was our errant lighter lurking at the bottom, breaking a nail half way down the nailbed in the process, I suddenly thought to get him to check the cab of the truck, surely there’d be something. He found 12 matches and we just hoped that the wood had dried enough from the rain the previous night.
We were just beginning to decide when to stop and make camp anyway when we came over a ridge and there in front of us, lay a beautiful valley, shimmering in the deep glow of the setting sun. This would be more than adequate. As we pulled off the road I spied the rather unusual termite/ants condominiums that we had noticed previously on Lambina. These nests are built and extended wherever they land. If underdistrubed or unencumbered by inconvenient branches they grow upright, sometimes to a height of 2 feet or more. They seem to consist entirely of the red sand so stand out in their monotone pinnacles.
The wood was gathered, the fire lit, the wine and chocolate opened, though not at the same time obviously! The jacket potatoes were slowly roasting in the embers whilst we settled down to read for a period, boy do we know how to live?! Actually, yes we do, for us it was sublime, there was a very slight breeze, just enough to carry away the smoke from the fire and the air, whilst cooling, still retained some of its daytime warmth but we were more than adequately dressed for the conditions. The stars began to sparkle over head, initially in ones and twos as the light from the setting sun faded but before long there were thousands and thousands of tiny little twinkly solar systems, much like ours, or not!
We enjoyed another meal of camel steak, a luxury at Alice Springs restaurants, and roasted jackets before retiring to our swag to star-gaze. No satellites this night but I saw 7 shooting stars which more than compensated. Whilst gazing up and long after dark, 2 birds flew overhead, no owls here and the only night bird we know about is the very rare (and expensive) night parrot. Maybe they were bats but I’m not sure that you get them here either. We’ll check with Jake, he knows everything pertaining to the outback.
We both dozed on and off during what transpired to be a rather chilly and dewy night but were awoken at the same time when the truck definitely moved! Not by much but there was a distinct lurch which woke me and Roger, already awake, felt it too. He also told me the following morning that he had thought he’d heard very soft breathing for a few minutes before. We have no idea what it was but it was definitely something, albeit not sinister.
We woke with the dawn chorus, not the birdsong of British birds but a continual calling more akin to a collection of football supporters wielding their vuvuzuelas! The sun rose soon after so the fire was stoked, the billy can filled and steak and eggs prepared for our outback breakfast. Can’t be bad. We decided to continue a little way along the track to see if we could reach our intended destination. After traversing the creek we knew there was still quite a bit further to go and were aware of the time. We decided to stop at the next ridge from where we may be able to see the dam but no. There was a little hillock nearby so we climbed that for a better view which it certainly was, but still no dam. We were in the middle of Wintinna’s own little painted desert which looked beautiful in the early morning sun. The area at the bottom of the hillock however, looked more like a lunar landscape. Even underfoot was weird where it felt like the soft type of asphalt you can get now for children’s playground surfaces. Time to go back to our unusual reality.