I signed up for Toddy’s afternoon tour to Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm and was soon roaring out of town in the Toddy’s bus. Clouds dotted the brilliant blue sky, and it was a glorious day. As we passed through Pitchi Ritchi, I did notice that there was a motel now on the site where I had camped during the “flood tour” from my last strip. It made me wonder what other changes I’d see. Still, the surrounding rocks were still dramatic and dynamic looking.
My pulse quickened a bit, as we rolled into the red land. On my previous trip to Australia, though I had already been in the country for more than three weeks by the time I got to Alice Springs, it was here in the Centre that I began to really transform–and truly fell in love with Australia. And now, finally, having succeeded in beginning my life over, I was coming back to the place where it started. But would I feel the same about it as I had during that first, seminal visit? It didn’t take me long to learn the answer: absolutely.
What a gloriously beautiful land this is. It hardly seemed possible that eight years had passed since I was here, in the (almost) unchanging Centre. The red earth rolled away from the road, dotted with mulgas, corkbark trees, desert oaks, and ghost gums, bounded in on one side by the dancing red wall of the MacDonnells.We stopped first at Standley Chasm. This being my third visit to the spot, it hardly seemed necessary to shoot a whole roll of film–but maybe I missed something the last two times. Hiking in, along the winding path that leads to the chasm, I saw my horse head stone, though it was broken, and I again found the burned out trunk of the old gum tree that had four new gums growing out of it. Reaching the chasm, I wandered between the tall, parallel walls to the tumble of rocks on the far end. It was as if no time had passed.
Next we headed for Simpson’s Gap. Aspects of it looked the same, particularly the distinctive gum tree spreading its arms at the entrance to the gap, as if in welcome. We only had a short stop here, so we hiked in and hiked out, without much time for exploring, walking mostly along a footpath constructed since my last trip by inmates from the nearby Alice Springs Gaol. I was a little disappointed, as the walkway takes a bit of the romance out of the place. However, it does make for much easier going than slogging through the deep, soft soil of the sometimes riverbed. And the wonderful, worn rocks have not changed, and I delighted in those.
During the drive, we passed many sights that were familiar to me, including the memorial grave of John Flynn (Flynn of the Inland) and the famous Namatjira twin ghost gums. The driver was just that: a driver, so he said nothing about our surroundings.
The others along on the day’s drive were almost entirely British university students, mostly young men around 20 years of age. Since no information was being shared by the driver, I began to point things out and relate what I knew of the mountains, gorges, plant life, and sights. I began quietly, speaking only to those near me, but found an eager audience, and I was soon surrounded. I was, of course, more than delighted to answer the questions with which they peppered me as we blasted back across the 50 kilometers to Alice Springs and Toddy’s.