Range after range, peak after peak of mountains and red craggy outcrops. Beautiful white trunked ghost gums and river red gums, standing proudly alongside long dry creek beds. Namatjira’s inspiration was all around us; indeed, this was like stepping straight into one of his paintings.
An unexpected highlight for us was Tnorala (or Gosse Bluff), about 200km west of Alice Springs. This sacred site for the Aboriginal traditional owners also holds scientific significance as the site where a comet or asteroid crashed to Earth, over 140 million years ago. The crater left in its wake is about 5km in diameter, and the violent impact on the surrounding environment is clearly visible.
The image below depicts the Gosse Bluff crater from Tylers Pass Lookout, more than 21 km in the distance.
We didn’t realise as we were driving closer to Gosse Bluff that we were actually driving through the crater walls and inside the crater.
The road between Gosse Bluff and Alice Springs follows in the shadow of the West MacDonnell Ranges, which are broken by many gorges, large gaps and water holes, including Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap. The famous Larapinta (hiking) Trail also traverses this scenic region.
We stopped to check out Ormiston Gorge, which was resplendent with red rock and white-trunked gum trees, and even a little water in the water hole.
Next stop was the Ochre Pits, with its huge cliffs of colourful ochre.
Then on to the Ellery Creek Big Hole – but nobody was braving the chilly water today!
The landscape was dominated by Mount Sonder, one of the largest mountains in the Northern Territory.
We actually visited Simpsons Gap twice over separate days, as our first attempt was quite late in the afternoon, and the high rock walls cast long shadows over the area. Next time we arrived in the early afternoon to enjoy the rich red colours.
Standley Chasm is also best viewed around midday, when the sun shines brightest on the rock. The scale was immense – if you look hard, you might just see the people standing at the far end of the chasm.
Sadly, bushfires in January 2019 burned through about 100km of land throughout the West MacDonnell Ranges, including through many of the iconic landmarks. The images below are from Standley Chasm, where we had also planned to hike part of the Larapinta Trail, to take in the high views. However, after seeing the impact of the fire on the vegetation and the extent of the black ash, we decided against the hike. (For more information on the devastating fire, see: https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2019/03/the-summer-bushfire-you-heard-nothing-about/ )