Saturday, August 5, 2017

Gosse Bluff and Finke Gorge

Instead of taking the fully paved southern route from Alice Springs to Uluru, we opted for the scenic loop drive through the West Macs.  This meant we would have the opportunity to visit Gosse Bluff (actually a huge comet crater) and Finke Gorge. 

Viewed from the distance, Gosse Bluff just appears to be an odd circular formation of hills. 
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Viewed from the inside, you see heavily eroded rock formations, that were once nearly vertical.  They ring the entire crater, which is about 5km across. 
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Approximately 142 million years ago, a comet over 1km in diameter crashed here in what was likely a temperate forest at the time. The energy released was over a million times the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WWII.  When the dust settled, a crater over 20km, and hundreds of meters tall was left in the plain.  Within that crater another small 5km crater of solid displaced (nearly vertical) rock was also present.  Over time, the larger crater has eroded into a small rise, which can be noticed driving to the central crater, which is Gosse Bluff. Only the vertical and erosion resistant rock in the bluff has remained prominent.

After we finished at Gosse Bluff, we continued driving south towards the end of the pavement and took a small detour eastwards to Finke Gorge. At the end of its own 20km 4x4 access track, Finke Gorge is a bit of a challenge to access. Jen's incessant desire to see unique flora and fauna set us towards this destination, only to find it was a "Severe 4WD Road." A quick conference with someone who just finished the road, gave us confidence to move forward however. On the way to the gorge, we managed to eject stuff from various cabinets on the rough track.  The last 5km are basically light rock crawling at 20kph.
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A number of times we used the skidplate to clear rocks and debris during dry creek crossings. 
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Here is a video of the 4 km between the campsite and the gorge. Took us 16 minutes to complete. 





There were also lots of brumbies (wild horses) roaming the area. 
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One of the big draws of the gorge is a unique species of palm tree called the Red Cabbage Palm.  Found only in this small reserve in central Australia, this palm is a leftover throwback to a time when central Australia was wet and green.  Now it only grows in a few isolated pockets where it is protected from fire, and has permanent access to water.

Here is a Cabbage Palm seedling.  Notice the distinctive red color.
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Interestingly, this gorge is also one of the few places where Cycads can be found.  These are another leftover from a bygone epoch, and are evolutionarily separate from the seed-producing plants we are all familiar with.  Several of the cycads in the photo below are over 200 years old.
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