As an aside, before continuing on with reporting on this adventure, I think it’s worth noting that this remarkable barrier reef, heaved up from the ocean floor to become the Napier Range, is not the only stunningly ancient bit of rock in this corner of Australia. It’s all mind-bogglingly old here. In fact, the Hamersley Range, a bit south and west of here, and which I visited on my first trip Down Under, is believed to be the first part of the Earth’s crust to have cooled after the planet was formed.
Here’s one of the posts I did a few years ago about my time in the Hamersley Range, after a visit to Hamersley Gorge, one of many breaks in the range, but one that is famous for showing clearly the effects of the tremendous pressure that formed and shaped some of these ancient rocks.
Then, just a few years ago, on a sheep ranch at Jack Hills, not too far from the Hamersley Range, scientists found what they believe to be the oldest chunk of rock on the planet—a zircon crystal that they estimate was formed at the planet’s dawning.
Here’s an article with more details on this ancient zircon—and a photo.
So I was traveling through a region where phenomenal antiquity is the norm. One more reason to love this remarkable place.
If you know anything about plate tectonics, you know that the surface of the planet is not static. It is, rather, in constant, if slow, motion, with continents moving, seas opening and closing—and earthquakes and volcanoes along the edges where the plates meet. Over the ages, land has been repositioned, created, destroyed, pushed under, and pushed up. For example, the Indian subcontinent is on a different tectonic plate than the rest of Asia, and it is the crashing of the Indian plate into the Asian plate that has pushed, and continues to push, the Himalayas skyward.
The forces at work in plate tectonics are immense. And it was these forces that created some of what we were seeing in the Hamersley Range. The range itself is actually a plateau that was pushed up millions of years ago, and has since then been formed by erosion. But signs of the tremendous pressure involved in that pushing are still evident—most dramatically at Hamersley Gorge, where one can see massive, layered bands of ancient rock that have been bent like ribbons of soft clay. The same forces that create earthquakes in Japan, volcanic eruptions in the Andes, and the growth of the Rocky Mountains created the waves and bends in the walls of Hamersley Gorge.
I picked the image below, not because it showed the largest or tallest bending and bowing of the rocks, but because it shows it so clearly.