Sunrise, cool breeze, butcher birds, cockatoos, quail, kookaburras, crows, gum trees, pack camp, eat breakfast, and back to the ruinous road. We were headed around to the east side of the range. We stopped several times during our drive, to view (and photograph) the miles of unbelievable, layered, worn, red and black, Devonian-era rock. The shapes were like beehives, domes, pyramids, and hundreds of strange alien creatures crowded together.
Also a delight, to my eyes at least, where the rounded pillows of spinifex that spread across the surrounding plains. I still think they look (as I had noted on my first visit) likes herds of golden hedgehogs.
Among the prickly humps of spinifex, spinifix pigeons hunted, pecked, and occasionally dashed for cover. They are lovely birds, but they become quite comical when they run, as they then look like wind-up toys.
When we reached the far side of the range, we parked the 4WD and began the hour hike into Cathedral Gorge. This was less strenuous than yesterday’s hike, so I was able to keep up–and was delighted that I could, as it was remarkable.
The red rocks rose around us and closed in. The weirdness and beauty of the place was almost overwhelming. There were pools of water that, because of the shade, lingered despite the heat. All rocks were worn, but some were eroded more strangely than others. It was all wonderful. We scrambled and climbed over the rocks of the sometime riverbed, heading deeper and deeper into the gorge.
We paused occasionally to catch our breaths and drink from our water bottles, then we would continue on. Finally, the gorge widened out at the base, though the rocks overhead stayed close together. The water that only occasionally races through the gorge has, over the millennia, carved out a huge, over-hung, half-cave that echoed like the inside of a cathedral (hence the name of the gorge). The water we saw was just a green crescent in the pale sand in front of the cave. The temperature in this natural amphitheater was maybe 20˚F cooler than outside in the sun. It was wonderfully subduing, standing amid the towering red walls, inside the cool, sounding hollows.
We remained there for a long enough time to thoroughly explore and enjoy the spot. The acoustics were astonishing. John had told us it what to expect, but it was still amazing to experience it. No matter where you were in the huge formation, you could clearly hear everyone else speaking, as if they were right next to you, even if they were at the far side of the gorge. A perfect “whispering wall.” Then it was time to hike back out.
At the head of the gorge, we turned up Piccaninny Creek and hiked over an amazingly weird, craved stretch of rock that looked as though we were walking over the back of a giant granite crocodile.
After a couple of miles, we diverted a short way off the track to visit a bat cave, which was absolutely fascinating. The cave was split in half, with the crack in the rock weirdly worn in graceful curves up toward the light. Because of the curving, the light was filtered and dim, but there was enough light to create a path on the floor of the cave that just drew me forward. Little bats would flutter before me and disappear up the curving crevice. It was magic. I turned and photographed the entrance of the cave, because it made the split rock more visible than it was from outside.
During the hike back out, John led a few of us up a slightly steeper but amazingly beautiful path among the red domes. But it was all beautiful.