A little over two hours north of Perth is the Pinnacles desert, a desert unlike any other I have traversed. It is not just hot, dry, and sandy like many other deserts. There are spires that stand straight dotting the landscape like pins in a pincushion. The Pinnacles look like stalagmites without a cave.
The desert sand appears to be hardened cement but when I scraped the tip of my boot on the surface, a deeper red appeared. The ground was revealed as firmly packed red sand, almost like soft clay.
Reddish sand dunes stretched out all around me with pinnacles of sandstone standing tall like a crowd practicing social distancing.
The pinnacles are similar to the hoodoos that we have observed throughout the Midwest of the USA. Hoodoos are more like totem poles with a bigger top – the hard layer on top is key to the formation of a hoodoo. In contrast, the pinnacles are more like a spire tapering as it rises from the ground up to a point like a knife.
Pinnacles are a puzzle
Many of the spires extend far above my head reaching towards the sky with their needle-like points. Thousands of these limestone pinnacles rise from the sand. Many more stand buried beneath the sand.
These pinnacles continue to puzzle scientists today. The spires are believed to have formed underground then remained buried or were repeatedly exposed and reburied over time. The shifting sands exposed what we see today only a few hundred years ago.
One theory suggests that these pinnacles are from a petrified forest. They might be the calcified remains of tree trucks from an ancient forest. Their appearance supports this suggestion. I can almost picture a forest if I imagine branches and leaves above each pinnacle. But unlike the glass-like texture of the petrified forest of the midwest in the USA, these are limestone and more porous.
Off the track
We wandered from the path, not something we normally do in a national park, but the ranger at the park entrance said, “You can walk anywhere.”
Since it’s a sandy desert footprints are soon erased by the wind, we would not even leave footprints behind. We wandered past the last viewpoint and out into the desert to be alone with the pinnacles.
As we crested one hill I could see white sand dunes in the distance, beyond them the ocean reflected its brilliant blue. Standing amid these monoliths I am puzzled and in awe. None of us know the whole story, nor do we have to in order to appreciate the beauty that they are.
On the road again
After we spent a little over two months sheltered in place in Toby’s backyard, travel restrictions were finally lifted in this area of the world. The state of Western Australia where we have been since January announced that tourism within its borders is now open. State borders are still closed, but there is still so much for us to explore within these restrictions. The state of Western Australia is about a third the size of the contingent 48 states of the USA.
We said goodbye to our home in Roelands and made a few stops along the way as we drove towards The Pinnacles, our first National Park since the lockdown started.
Having already explored Esperance and the Margaret River region south of Perth before the lockdown, we are headed north. This will also help us escape the colder temperatures that are descending. Winter has arrived in Australia, most days have been in the ’70s now, the further north we get the warmer it will be. Having lived most of my life in the Northern Hemisphere I still find it trippy to head north in the winter for warmer weather.
Lesueur National Park
Australia is the flattest continent in the world with an average elevation under 1,000 feet (300 meters). Once we were past the Darling Escarpment near Perth the vast plane once again spread out before us. The road undulates over small hills but stretches out in a long straight line before disappearing far in the distance.
Lesueur National Park has about 15 kilometers of walking trails. No one else seemed to be in the park so we decided to spend two days and walk every trail. The trails meander up and down in and around the mountains.
“I’ve never seen this many mountains in Australia,” Trin said.
“What about the Blue Mountains,” I responded.
“What about Tasmania?”
“What about the Grampians?”
“So except all the mountains we have seen?”
“Yes, except all the other mountains.”
We both laughed. I knew what he was trying to express. There are a lot of flat open planes in Australia. A lot of long desolate roads where the edges of the earth disappear like the horizon does when on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
Valleys drop below the flat plane in Lesueur NP. At the top of Mount Lesueur, we were standing in one of the “hottest” hot spots for biodiversity in the world. This biological jewel supports the highest number of endemic plant species and one of the highest levels of plant diversity in Western Australia. It is recognized as one of the top 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world.
We followed the trail that wandered through the valley to Mount Lesueur. It took maybe 10 minutes to get to the top of the mountain from the valley floor. The top of the mountain is an isolated plane covered with tall scrub-brush called banksia that has leaves that are hard and pointy like that of a Holly. I could just see over the top of the banksia brush.
Due to the height of the brush and the flatness of the top, the valleys were not visible. Only the planes could be seen as if they were one unbroken stretch of land. In the distance, we could see the ocean. From the top there appeared to be no variation in the landscape and it was easy to lose all perspective while in the middle of the trail. It was only in the climbing and then traversing to the other edge that we could experience where we actually were.
Camping at smokebush reserve
We camped about 30 km outside of the Jurian Bay in the Smokebush reserve, which is just a roadside stop. No one else was around and we could see for miles in every direction.
Trin was working on Lil’ Beaut to install a new outlet for our laptops so I followed a sandy track into the bush to watch the sun setting. A few meters in I stopped and studied the horizon. Something was missing.
Not even a small breath of wind stirred the air, altocumulus clouds hung in place above me, absolutely still. No animals stirred, not one leaf moved. There was no buzz of electricity nor human sound for miles. I stood surrounded by utter silence.
The air felt neither cold nor hot, it was at that perfect temperature that goes unnoticed as if there is nothing around me. It felt as if the world stopped and I was transported to a dimension of nonexistence.
A sky on fire
Had the world stopped its insanity? I thought of my home country, currently in crisis, and I stopped to join the still and silent landscape. I remained there as the sun set. If only the hatred that has been boiling for years would stop and allow the land to be at peace.
A bird sent out a singular call, then the stillness and silence returned. The colors of the setting sun looked as though they had lit the sky on fire.
We are in the information age, yet the truth is hidden by hatred and eradicated by ears that no longer hear. The silence seemed so appropriate tonight.
We all have an opportunity, a door is standing open for us right now to listen to each other and seek to understand.