Bladenburg National Park
The drive from Cloncurry to Winton was about 380klms of flat dry dusty dry yellow grasslands called the Channel Country. Plenty of grass, due the the "big wet", where it hadn't been overgrazed. But very uninteresting to drive through because there is almost no other vegetation than grass and it is flat as far as the eye can see!
Just before we reached Winton, we saw our first Brolgas. These graceful and elegant birds are often mention in poems about the outback. They are usually found near water -these were closed to the town water supply, supplied by a large dam.
We stopped in Winton to get directions to Bladenburg National Park. This park is representative of the Channel Country in its natural state. Large flat plains where water travels during rain periods; spinifex clumps on small gibber plains and low thorny acacias. Here we finally saw Big Red Kangaroos in large numbers. It was still early afternoon, so they were napping in any shade they could find, including on the road.
We drove to our campsite following the circuitous route through the park, stopping to look at the few water holes along the way. They turned out to be muddy pools in otherwise dry creek beds. The last water hole, called Bough Shed Hole is a deep waterhole left during the dry in Surprise Creek. This is where the camping area is located. Very muddy water but many birds nearby.
We picked a prime spot and thought we were going to be the only campers there. Bur about an hour after we arrived two 4WDs with campers arrived, covered us in dust and the proceeded to camp right beside us. There was heaps of room, but they chose to camp right beside us!
On arrival we were greeted by a loud "woop" noise and looked up to see an owl's head peaking out of a hollow in the tree above. It watched us for a long time, before deciding we were harmless and went back inside it's hollow to sleep again. This same performance happened when we were leaving in the morning.
The difference between station paddocks and national park is incredible! The station paddocks looked dry and denuded, whilst the national park, looked, by contrast, unadulterated and full of native vegetation and wildlife.
Bladensburg National Park is an excellent example of the arid Channel Country region, with dry clay pans, rocky creek crossings and low acacia scrub.
In the morning we tried to find a laundromat in Winton. Several days in the desert, with limited camper water, meant an urgent clothes washing was in order. But the first laundromat was fully occupied and the second was so dirty, that even with our filthy red and dusty clothes, there was no way we were going to wash them in those machines!
Some ten kms off the main road is the entrance to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Preparation Facility. It is located another eleven klms on a dirt road atop a mesa. We chose to take part in the tour offered so that we could view the dinosaurs discovered in the black soils of the Channel Country.
The young tour guide was doing her gap year before going to New England University to do archeology and paleontology. She was excellent. Her family comes from the Longreach area, we suspected that she may have been come from one of the station families as she knew so much about the local area and was passionate about her " dinosaurs" !
A family of local farmers first came across the dinosaur bones, when driving though their paddocks. They noticed some unusual "rocks" sitting on the surface of the ground and went to investigate. These rocks were collected and reassembled on their kitchen table to reveal a very large fossilised leg bone. This was subsequently sent for analysis and guess what, they had found a new species of giant herbivorous dinosaur, who they have nicknamed, Matilda.
Subsequent digs on the sandstone below the topsoil, have revealed a whole field of dinosaurs, including, Banjo, Matilda, Ward and Dixie. Ward and Dixie, have yet to undergo rigorous scientific classification before being released to the world.
Apparently the black top soil in this area is "regenerating". What happens is that the soil cracks with the dry and into those cracks fall small grains of dry topsoil, which fall to the bottom of the cracks. When the wet comes the water forces up the lumpy bits in between and with it it pushes up the fossilized bones. Hence finding "Matilda".
The digs are not dug initially by hand, but the three meters of topsoil is removed by front end loader. In the one week per year that this occurs, they are excavating enough material to keep the facility busy for six years!