Wednesday, August 31, 2016


I didn't know much about Australia (beyond Crocodile Dundee and the Sydney Opera House) before we traveled there, but I knew I wanted to see Uluru.  There's something about a giant rock in the middle of a flat plain that draws you in.  Geology, Aboriginal heritage, and a bit of spirituality all mixed into one humongous red stone.

Our first glimpse!  Love the colors in this photo:

A popular activity in the park is watching the sun come up and go down.  We started on the backside for a sunset, not as colorful for sunset viewing but still an interesting angle.

Oh look, spinifex!  This spiky plant had been a topic of discussion for several months as we prepared for the upcoming rogaine near Alice Springs.  We had been told to get better shoes to keep the spikes from poking our feet.  Lots of shoe discussions and brainstorms.  More on that in a future post, but it was fun to finally see the plant that had garnered all this attention.  Oh, and this was the "soft" version?

As an aside, I happened to see this entry in a book at a roadhouse on the way there, describing how Aboriginal people use spinifex resin to fasten spear blades and points to throwing shafts.  Good to know the plant has some usefulness, I'll try to remember that when I'm getting poked and annoyed.

Sunset at Uluru, with the Kata Tjuta rocks in the background on the left:

And now... sunrise!

Good morning Uluru!  Happily we were getting near the end of the coldest part of our trip, but for now we were still bundled up every morning:

Solar panels for John's inspection:

We weren't going to climb Uluru anyway - I wish the park would just close the trail completely and respect the wishes of the Aboriginal people.

Sandstone is my favorite rock.  I love the shapes that result from water and wind erosion, and the colors can be so striking.

Part of a ranger walk, always a national park highlight:

A pool hidden at the base of the rock, an important source of water:

Jucy at Uluru!

We went on a run on the trail that circles the base.  I was struck by the variation in shapes as we went around:

Desert flowers:

I ran clockwise and John went anticlockwise (trying to be a little bit Aussie with the terminology).  Here he is passing me in the other direction.

More interesting shapes:

Nice one!

Another pretty pool of water:

Petroglyphs on an under-hanging rock:

Fun little view:

Still more scenery from a different angle - I really enjoyed the tour and seeing all sides up close.

Jucy at the sunset viewing spot:

Photographers preparing for the sunset:

Not professional quality, but the little camera captured a few different colors as the light changed:

A glow on the ridges:

And... darkness closes in:

Thank you Uluru, that was special.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Breakaways tour near Coober Pedy

We booked a tour with George, the guy that runs our campground in Coober Pedy, to see some nearby sights.  George told us a bunch of stories about the town, the history, things we wouldn't have otherwise heard (quite entertaining), and we saw things in places our Jucy couldn't go (no driving on dirt).

Not normally part of the tour, but John expressed a desire to see the local golf course, so George helped us out.  The only green part of the course is on the tee, and yes, this is a real golf course that people play:

Love it!  There is a true sense of humor in Coober Pedy.

An opal mining hole:

Strange landscape - apparently you aren't allowed to refill the holes since that would leave dangerous soft sand instead of hard ground for the next prospector.  So there are piles of dirt and holes in the ground for miles in all directions.  No telling how much opal was found here:

The Breakaways, a beautiful area of many lovely colors:

George told us that the game trails are made by kangaroos (not your Texas cow paths here).  All be darned, we even saw a couple roos during our drive around, very cool.  They were too quick for a photo this time.

Thanks for taking our picture, George!

Pretty landscape:

More bright colors:

Fun formations (geology rocks):

We didn't see the sunset for the clouds, but we did get several moments of stunning lighting beforehand:

Checking out the Dog Fence, built to keep dingoes away from the sheep to the south.  It's the world's longest fence:

Certainly looks pretty long from here (didn't see any dingoes though):

George explained that some of the posts are still the originals from maybe 100 years ago?  Not sure I'm remembering that right, but it seemed pretty amazing:

Petrified wood amid a barren landscape, didn't expect to find that here:

The "Moon Plain," the area that has been compared to Mars (so perhaps it should be renamed).  Didn't see any rovers but you could certainly imagine one:

A break for hot tea and cookies - and our first exposure to Tim Tam cookies, yum!

A big beautiful sky as the sun went down...

Thank you George, that was fun!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The underground town of Coober Pedy

Before we left for Australia, John learned from his solar partner Herman about an "underground mining town" called Coober Pedy.  We had never heard of it, but we were very curious.  Turns out it's right on the way from Adelaide to Alice Springs and the perfect stopping point to break up the long drive.  Campsite booked, let's go see this thing.

Jucy in the Outback (or maybe in "the bush", not quite sure about the terminology, but we had certainly left civilization and found the flat plains):

The only stopping places in between huge swaths of ranchland were roadhouses - convenient outposts with gas, food (most had a grill and cooked meals to order), little stores, and campsites.  One had license plates on the wall, including Texas and Hawaii and California side-by-side, so that was worth a photo:

Jucy at the roadhouse:

Some big distances across the flatlands.  At least it's in kilometers and not miles... but still:

A plaque for John McDouall Stuart, explorer and eponym of the highway we were driving (side note - I just learned the difference between namesake and eponym, hopefully I got it right):

South side of Coober Pedy, a distant view of opal mining piles amid colorful terrain:

Time for a walk around town to find out how much is actually underground.  Apparently these underground apartments have a "desert view" - we didn't try to find out if that view might entail simply the inside wall of an underground room, but it was funny to imagine:

Many buildings were dug into the sides of hills, some partially coming out from there.  Someone had the genius idea of escaping the heat of summer (and sometimes chill of winter) by living underground.  Temperature regulation inside is much easier and comfortable.  My only question is why this is a curious anomaly and why more places aren't built like this?  The composition of Coober Pedy rock seems well-suited for it, in any case.

An underground church:

Inside the dug-out church:

An opal mining machine, one of those things responsible for the piles of dirt all around the outskirts of town:

Checking out an opal-like rock that is obviously not worth anything or it wouldn't be sitting here:

A fun newspaper article in the visitor center that compares Mars to an area near Coober Pedy:

An underground bookstore, neat!  Our friend Kathy would get a kick out of this:

Not a huge collection of books, but you could certainly find something to read:

A spaceship prop from the movie Pitch Black, just lying around to add to the surrealness of it all (so apparently Vin Diesel has been here too):

Old mining equipment, including an adorably-shaped "bogger".  The apparatus on the left - not sure if that is another piece of the movie spaceship or something actually used in a mine:

View down to a dwelling built back into a hill, with solar water heating on the roof:

"and free speel check!"

A lone tree!  sort of...

Sculpture of a giant winch:

We went underground on a short tour of the Old Timer's Mine.  There are still veins of valuable opal that they left as part of the displays:

Hard hat on and ready to tour:

The life-size figures added to the quirkiness of the day's adventure:

Crouching around through tunnels to find more miner figures and explanations on how the mines and eventually the underground buildings were dug out:

Looking up through an access shaft and a dude perched across the narrow part:

And... a camel sculpture, because why not?  Actually, camels were a big part of Outback history, as they were used for transport and hauling goods on expeditions.

An example of an underground home (still in the Old Timer's Mine as a display):

I like the concept of "hey I need a place to put something, can you dig out a cubbyhole over there?"

The actual restroom for the museum - underground, of course:

Trying a bit of fossicking for opals:

The underground Comfort Inn:

The hotel goes way back into the hillside - here's the underground hallway:

We peeked into one of the rooms with an open door - yes, people actually stay here overnight, too cool!

What happens when you turn out the light... very dark, nice and cool, and totally quiet:

We didn't get an underground campsite because we would have needed a tent.  But if we could have driven the Jucy in, we would have  :)

Super fun day in a very interesting place!