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My husband and I are thinking about going to the Grand Tetons on our way back from Astoria Oregon. Our directions take us across Hwy 20 to Idaho Falls then down Hwy 26 and up through Jackson Wyo. Then up to the park. I have 2 questions: Has anyone taken that route, any thoughts? We have a 35 ft motor home and will be towing. Also, it is very limited in the RV Parks to choose from near the park. Most of them that I am finding are not rated very highly and comments are leaving little to be desired. Does anyone have any experience with the parks in that area? One would think as beautiful as the area is, there would be a number of decent campgrounds to choose from. Thank you, Barb
We left the Billabong Homestead early Saturday morning and drove on south toward Kilberri National Park. This would be a side trip off the North West Coastal Highway that we’ve been traveling. The road through the park takes us to Kalbarri, a small town on the coast. The National Park surrounds the park. The central feature of Kalbarri National Park is the Murchison River. Like many of the rivers in Western Australia (WA) the Murchison River is barely flowing or dry for much of the year. It drains a large area of Western Australia so when they get rain, it flows vigorously. We saw evidence that the water level is easily 20 to 25 feet above the minimal flow we were looking at. During this flow large rocks get rolled along by the river and it cuts the cliff base of sandstone rock. Once the rock is undercut, the cliff above becomes unstable and falls into the river channel. We saw some really interesting sandstone, red of course, in our walk to the river channel. We visited several overlooks and walked down to the river in one location. Like many other national parks in Australia there are many four wheel drive roads which are unsuitable for our campervan. The area is called a gorge and indeed it has the look of a gorge but this is flat land and the criteria for a gorge is different than our idea of a gorge. This isn’t the Grand Canyon or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Kalberri Gorge is a shallow gorge, perhaps 100 feet deep, maybe a little more. A ten or fifteen minute walk gets you from the rim to the bottom of the gorge. Still, it provides excellent relief from the routine flat sandy plains that surround it. The red sandstone make for a beautiful rock exposure and I’m sure the river is a spectacle when it is flowing. The other feature of Kalbarri National Park is the seacoast south of the town of Kalbarri. We drove this area on Sunday, making stops at each overlook and hiking some trails. It is a beautiful coastline and we spent the entire day driving about 20 kilometers from Kalbarri visiting these sites. Again, there is the red sandstone but it is capped with some white and yellow sandstone in a few places. These are deposits that were laid down along a seacoast millions of years after the red sandstone was deposited. We saw a sea stack and a sea arch in one location. We also saw a Humpback Whale splashing in the distance at that location. A few dolphins were also swimming in the area. Finishing our exploration of Kilbari National Park at 4:30 in the afternoon we headed south to Geraldton. We have now abandoned the North West Coastal Highway and will take the Indian Ocean Drive to the south all the way into Perth. Sunset here is coming about 5:45 p.m. and we had 150 kilometers to go so we were going to be arriving after dark. Louise called ahead to a park where we wanted to stay. They closed their office at 5:00 so it was a good thing we called ahead to let them know we would be arriving late. Everything was done over the phone and we were told to pick up our packet of information in a lockbox at the office. We parked for the night at the Sunset Beach Holiday Park in Geraldton. Showers, dinner and then a little time on the internet completed our evening. This park is one of the few we have found lately that has internet service through a company that we committed to early in the trip. They have a network of parks that use their service and we made good use of it on the east coast but we have only found it in a few spots in the outback. We’ve been able to get our money’s worth from the company but just barely. When we are able to find them, it is nice to have unlimited time and a usage limit which is ample for our needs.
Saturday, April 26 is another moving day. We left Katherine on the way to Kakadu National Park near Jabiru, NT. Kakadu National Park is a world heritage site. It encompasses a large area of land with several large rivers and lakes. It is known for its fishing, birding and crocodiles. There are no swimming areas in the park other than swimming pools. Crocodiles are found in the waters throughout the park. One person laughingly described this as Crocodile Dundee territory! We’re going for the birds, the scenery and the rain forest. The park is on Aborigine land and the Warradjan Tribe has a cultural center here that we’ll visit tomorrow. The road from Katherine to Pine Creek is the same road we will take on returning from Darwin next week. At Pine Creek we stopped to fill up with diesel as the prices there have to be better than in the remote areas of the national park. We stopped at the Lazy Lizard Caravan Park/Bar/CalTex Petrol Station. Inside I was greeted by an old gentleman who was as friendly as anyone we have met on the road. We conducted the transaction for the fuel and he began telling me about the establishment. Louise returned from the restroom which was in the bar and said that I needed to see the bar. He talked about the bar and some of the unique features. We walked next door and Louise was right, this was one of the nicest bars we had seen. The building was a block building which was made with blocks from termite mounds. Apparently the termites make some pretty good building blocks. The bar was typical for tropical buildings, it had no doors, the walls were mostly open to the outdoors, there were gaps in the walls with wagon wheels of various sizes, saddles set on top of several walls, there were tables inside and outside and in between, under cover but no walls. There were bar stools drawn up to the walls so you could sit and talk across a wall. There were a variety of fans stirring the air and much more. Louise insists that we will have to stop for the night on our return trip from Darwin. We’ll try to do so. It was just a fuel stop that turned into so much more. Leaving the Lazy Lizard and Pine Creek we turned onto the road that goes into Kakadu National Park. It is about 60 kilometers to the park entrance and a total of over 200 kilometers to the far eastern side of the park where we will pick up a different road that will take us into Darwin after we have seen what we want in the park. We were planning to stay at the campground at Cooinda Lodge and take an early morning cruise on the lake that is part of the park. We pulled in at 3:00 p.m. and went to check in. We were pleased to find space available in the campground and space also available for the first cruise in the morning. We will stay one night and leave in the morning following our cruise. Then we’ll head further into the park. An evening walk to the boat dock ended with a spectacular sunset over the water. We didn’t see many new birds but we did meet a couple who visited with us for half an hour. They were from Darwin and had suggestions for our time there. He was in the lumber sales business and she was a librarian and teacher. Now retired, they were camping here with her parents. He spotted my binoculars and said he had just purchased the same kind of binoculars. I have a harness which holds the binoculars without the strap around the neck. He tried mine out, had his wife photograph them, front and back and was talking about making or buying something like that. She and Louise were sharing poetry and talking books while all this was going on. It was just a bird walk that turned into so much more.
Leaving camp at Mother of Ducks Wildlife Preserve in Guyra early in the morning, we drove to Glen Innes for breakfast at McDonalds. I know, not your idea of luxury dining but they do have internet. We parked behind the building and could access the internet from the campervan. I spent 30 or 40 minutes on line after eating breakfast. Right next door was the i. This one was a jewelry shop and information center. Louise enjoyed chatting with the jeweler. I was able to find several brochures of interest, one being up the road some distance, Bald Rock National Park. It was after noon when we arrived in Stanthorpe. From there we took a small road out of town for 20 kilometers before reaching the turn-off for Bald Rock National Park. A 7 kilometer drive into the park brought us to the picnic and campgrounds and trail heads. National parks in Australia are not like national parks in the US. While they are designated national parks, each state or territory operates the national parks. In Tasmania, park admission was $27 per vehicle for one day. We paid $60 for an annual pass to all of Tasmania’s national parks and got good use out of the pass in the one week we were there. In the state of Victoria the national parks were free, no admission charge at all. That included all the scenic parks we visited along the Great Ocean Drive on the southern coast. In New South Wales, the fees vary. Some parks are free while others have a small fee. This one cost us $7.00 for the day. Camping would have been an additional $10 per person. Generally the national parks here are protected areas with some having camping, most have only walking trails and picnic areas. They seldom have visitor’s centers and have very limited road access. They are most like the wildlife refuges in the US. Gathering our gear, we set out to hike up Bald Rock to a promised spectacular view of the surrounding area. Bald Rock is a granite outcrop, part of a batholith, a large igneous rock formation that cooled from molten rock to form solid rock while underground. The resulting large crystal structure and mineral composition make this rock granite. Granite typically weathers or wears down in the form of rounded surfaces which form rounded boulders. As the water, air, heat and cold attack the rock it peels off in layers making a rounded shape. So this mountain of granite is very dome like. There are features like this in the US, two that I am familiar with are Elephant Rocks in the St. Francis Mountains of southeastern Missouri and Enchanted Rock in the hill country of Texas. Bald Rock dwarfs both of these formations. Its dimensions, 260 meters high with an exposure of 750 meters long and 500 meters wide. This is the tip of the batholith that extends 400 kilometers from Tamworth to Stanthorpe and accounts for all the granite outcrops and boulders we have been seeing and exploring in the last several days. The hike was the kind that I like. It was physically challenging, a 25 to 30 degree slope meant that we were climbing on a surface that was near the limit of what our hiking shoes would grip. Fortunately, the large crystal structure made for a rough surface which gave really good traction. As we climbed further up the rock, we were well above tree level and still going. The height of the rock is 260 meters which is almost 800 feet or 80 stories. Imagine standing on a strongly sloping surface looking down 400 or 500 feet below you with nothing to stop you if you fall. Nothing to do but continue the climb. The course was well marked with 4 inch white disks glued to the rock surface. We both used walking sticks to help support and steady us as we climbed. About three quarters of the way up, the slope begins to level out and now the climb becomes one of picking our way through jumbles of boulders as we go to the top. The white dots continue to guide us. At the top the rock has a little hair, there are trees and shrubs growing on the level surface. Bald Rock is the second summit we have recorded in Australia, the first being Mt. Williams in Tasmania. In each case the summit is identified with a marker. We spent about ten minutes at the summit before retreating. During our stay we spotted and identified a Flame Robin, a small bird with a brilliant red breast, white wingbars and rump and a little smudge of white just above the bill. This was truly a treat for us. Gathering clouds and some sprinkles convinced us that retreat was the wise choice. No one wants to be on top of anything called bald in a thunderstorm. The rain never really developed and we never heard any lightning. Our trip down was uneventful, we chose a longer, more gentle sloping path down the rock. This led through jumbles of boulders that formed a labyrinth of narrow passageways and even under some boulders resting on others. All along the path were interpretive signs about the vegetation and geology of the area. Leaving Bald Rock National Park we drove about an hour north to Rochedale to find a park for the night. A warm shower and some internet time were welcome after our previous night at Mother of Ducks Wildlife Preserve.