Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Break in our Regularly Scheduled Travel Blog: Alligator Gorge

At his photo club meeting this week, Mr Tabubil heard about a place called Alligator Gorge up in the Flinders Ranges.  Terrifically photogenic, still running with water this late in the year, and only an hour away by car.   Today we decided to go and see it for ourselves.  We took lots and lots of photos, and not one of them comes even close to showing the magnitude and raw beauty of this place. 

To get to Alligator Gorge, we crossed the head of the gulf and after Port Augusta, turned inland and crossed into the ranges through Horrocks Pass.  The ranges looked as if they were made of old golden velvet - slubbed and worn and rubbed against the grain.
We stopped on the road to watch them.

Just past the small town of Wilmington on the other side of the Flinders, with only a small detour up an old farm road to find a lookout over the gulf, we turned back into the hills and twelve crazy adrenalin junk-esque roller coaster kilometers later, bumped to a stop in a small and rather random parking lot on the top of a hill.

The gorge was directly below us - the ranges are rolling up-and-down farming hills, and through them, Alligator gorge slices like a gash.
We climbed into the gorge down a flight of steps sliced straight into the rock. We stopped often to listen. Bird Calls. Wind through tall trees. The sound of grass spilling down over the rock walls. And silence. Silence that grew deeper and heavier as we climbed down.

At the bottom, a shaft of sunlight slid down the wall and lit on a pool of water in front of us, and sound returned - a narrow creek trickled and burbled along a stream bed,  not much of it - recent flood marks on the walls stood  a good three feet above our heads, but today there was only a thin trickle that vanished into the stream bed at our feet, appearing further along the gorge to make puddles for tadpoles. The water was full of tadpoles - thick with them.  Every frog in South Australia had come here, to this last piece of running water of the summer.
I felt about six years old. I wished I had a dipping net.

Red walls rose straight and high around us. To our right, the gorge narrowed. A sign pointed toward 'The Terraces' - we followed a path that ran along the bottom of the gorge.  We turned a corner - the floor underneath us rose and the walls narrowed and sloped down to meet it and made a shallow, narrow canyon floored with wide slabs of flat stone. The water trickled down the terraced slabs, gurgling and chuckling and making its own path across the rock.
The air was warm. Bellbirds called. I lay down on the stone and closed my eyes.
Mr Tabubil roamed up and down the canyon with his camera.  I slept.

Back at the rock stairway, a sign pointed left to the 'Narrow Gorge.'  We walked that way, picking our way carefully along a loose, rocky stream bed. We turned a corner and felt ourselves become weightless -
"It's a CATHEDRAL."  I breathed.  Vast rock walls stretched out of sight, the sky was a pale smudged blur far above us.  Instead of columns, trees stretched up and reached their arms out like the stone ribs of an old Gothic cathedral -
We smiled, helplessly, at each other, and set off down the aisle between the trees. 
The whole length of the gorge can be walked. It is a seven hour hike through to the other end.  We didn't try to go that far.  We pottered aimlessly, stopping every five meters or so, it seemed, to point, and look, and stare up the arms of the trees to the rim of the canyon and grin euphorically at each other.

Every twist in the canyon was a lure- something new would be on the other side and we stumbled and picked our way between the rocks and tadpole pools - faster and faster - to the next one, and the next -
"Have you ever been so HAPPY" I blurted "That it HURTS?"
Mr Tabubil turned to me and smiled.
But we had to go back, slowly and stumbling on the loose stones of the creek bed -  back to the trail crossing, and back up the steps in the wall.
Every step upward was like a change in air pressure - the sound grew thicker and heavier until we were just below the lip of the canyon- lorikeets screeched, galahs rasped, small birds called and twittered, and and we could hear the whole forest, rushing and thrashing in a wind.   It was daylight at the top. Completely prosaic.  I want to go back down into the canyon in winter, when the creek is running full- and see what we can see.
Here are our utterly inadequate photographs:

The Cathedral:

High Rock Walls - how small we are:

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