Just rocks and sand.
That was the response offered by most as I told them I was headed up to the Pinnacles. Thinking about it a bit more I realized that’s what the majority of this trip was about, just rocks and sand. Yet somehow these two basic elemental features stir emotion, inspiration and dazzle the visual senses. With that said I couldn’t wait to see “just some more rocks and sand.”
I hit the road later than planned thanks to a few camping equipment snags. Namely the absence of a gas stove, which required some digging through the garage. All said and done, I didn’t make it out of Perth until mid afternoon .
This was the first leg in a lengthy road trip to the northwestern corner of Australia. The ultimate destination was a small town the coast of the Ningaloo Reef National Marine Sanctuary by the name of Coral Bay. The Pinnacles served as a convenient stopping point, although barely a third of the way to the reef.
The drive was flat and featureless past the Swan Valley, and even there it was mostly suburban sprawl and more vineyards.
Cruising up the 1 highway the road took a turn for the coast about an hour before sunset. Another wind farm rose against the sunset sky as the car traversed a ridge lying between the highway and the Indian Ocean. The country road terminated in the small town of Cervantes. The campsite for the evening ended up being on the outskirts of a “footy” field. It was Easter Sunday and the main campsite was beyond overflow capacity. It turned out to be a blessing, as it was a far less crowded gigantic open space offering spectacular views of the night sky.
Steady gusts blew from the Indian Ocean making the task of pitching a tent excessively laborious. My patience was tried as pieces of the tent were more sails in the strong winds. The job took twice as long as it should have, and the dropping sun served as a nerve-racking countdown clock . With the tent strapped, bolted and pegged into the ground, it was time to finally head into the Pinnacles desert and enjoy the sunset…that is the main draw here, after all.
The Pinnacles were only a few kilometers down the road. The ground was covered in brush, small trees and grasses, none of the expected landscape of a desert. Continuing through this green “desert” a set of sand dunes rose some thirty feet on the right side of the road. A number of cars were stopped and people were taking photos, it took a second to see what the fuss was about. There were two emus standing atop one of the sand dunes. I stopped to take some photos, but minus a telephoto lens I knew it wasn’t going to be as sharp as the scene in reality.
A bit further down, the road entered into the proper portion of the Pinnacles. The brush disappeared, giving way to yellowish-orange sand and a series of rocks projecting from the surface. At first the rock monoliths only rose two or three feet, but as continuing into the desert they reached heights of 15-20 feet. And there were thousands of them. It was just rocks and sand, but it was beautiful. The colors were striking, reds and yellows and oranges morphing with the sun’s descent. With it being the close of the Easter weekend the place was far from secluded.
I stopped at the first viewing platform to take some photos, but was instead driven away by a large family yelling at each other and a group of loud, obnoxious twenty-something tourists more concerned with pounding beers. This is Australia.
Continuing down the circular car path veering off at the first less congested spur. It ended about a mile down the road, and finally there was silence. Only two other people were in this spot. The limestone rocks were massive, pushing indiscriminately out of the desert floor. As I walked along I came across a snake track in the sand, it was eerie but I followed it. I suppose I had a sick desire to come face to face with one of Australia’s deadliest. I didn’t find the snake, but the trail offered up some great photos. I also tried to do a little bouldering, which is a bad idea in bare feet on sharp limestone. I gave up pretty quickly.
Although isolated and scenic the spot was partially sheltered from the sunset by a large sand dune. This meant there was no choice but to suffer intolerable masses of freaks and screamers until the sun disappeared. There was a nice spot a bit higher on the ridge, and a bit further away from the human element. I spent some time exploring the rock formations looking for especially photogenic protrusions. I walked back to the car and set up the tripod, and just then the drunken raucous tourists from earlier came roaring down the road in two flatbed trucks. Most of them sat in the back on the flatbeds drinking beers and yelling back and forth at one another. Somehow…in the expanse of a desert the car was parked in. I worked hard to suppress any violent reactions swallowing my anger and pride in a series of deep breaths. I wanted to enjoy this spot, and I wasn’t about to let a bunch of inconsiderate assholes ruin it.
I sat back watching the sun lower into the Indian Ocean, all the meanwhile noticing how the landscape slowly changed colors. The shadows of the limestone pillars danced with the setting sun creating a vivid contrast of golden sands against the apparition-like silhouettes. After the sun disappeared to warm other parts of the planet I couldn’t but think that with it being so close to the spring equinox a sunset here meant a sunrise back home. I wished all of my friends a good morning, and a happy Easter.
The departure of Team Obnoxious signaled it was time to head back to camp. The sky was a brilliant electric blue on the horizon giving way to a deep midnight blue directly overhead.
Back at the cricket pitch/campground just as the full moon started to lift into the sky. It took on a rich beige color brightly lighting the eastern horizon. I set up the tripod and took some photos of the moon and some of the stars before they were drowned out by the full moon. More stars were visible than I might have seen through the entirety of my life combined. It was easy to get lost in, trying to pick out the foreign constellations of the southern sky.
I turned my attention to cooking dinner, no easy task in windy conditions and almost no light. Even so, the burgers turned out quite tasty. I sat back eating burgers, enjoying an ice-cold Coopers and listening to Pearl Jam on the car stereo while staring into the night sky.
Eventually I settled on getting some sleep, unfortunately Mother Nature had different plans.
I had only been asleep for an hour when the winds picked up, blowing twice as hard as during the day. One of the gusts pulled out a stake, unleashing the corner of the tent where my head lay. With every gust the tent would blow in on me, in my groggy state I thought it was a wild animal standing outside my tent with razor-sharp teeth and an unhealthy bloodlust. I was certain a rabid kangaroo was waiting to hop my brains out. I tried to lay as still as possible to avoid provoking the imaginary beast. Finally, I risked life and limb to fix the tent. There were no murderous roos hopping around in sight. I had to re-secure the tent completely, the wind threatened to blow the canvas shelter apart.