Telegram for Mr. Mongo! Telegram for Mr. Mongo! I’m sorry, but the name Mungo reminds me of Blazing Saddles, and I had to get that out of my system before I could continue with the post. Damn you, Mel Brooks!
You get to Mungo after driving down 120+ km of dirt roads, punctuated by jarring cattle (or sheep) guards. There’s no water, no gas, and no store out there, so you have to make sure you bring what you need and head out with a full tank of diesel. But it’s well worth the trip – how often can you go someplace where they’ve found human remains over 30,000 years old? I can just imagine the ancient Aborigines running down the mega-fauna of the day – large pig-hippos, huge wombats, and giant kangaroos. The National Park mostly encompasses a few ancient lake beds – the floor has long ago filled in with scrub brush, but there still linger the remains of an ancient shoreline, and sand dunes where the westerly wind blew the soil to opposite shore. Within the past 200 years, the entire area was home to 50,000 sheep at one point, and a large shearing operation.
The lookout of Mungo Lake was our first stop. I think pictures with Dan in them look better. :)
And I’ll just apologize right now – I’ve become obsessed with digital stitching and panoramas recently. But the Australian landscape really lends itself to these type of pictures – it’s mostly flat as far as the eye can see. And when you get cloudy days with the cloud-shadows on the landscarpe, it’s really pretty. Click on most of these pix for a larger view – they’re still somewhat low-res because it’s easier to upload, but you’ll get a better sense of scale.
We then drove around the self-guided tour of the 70 km Mungo Loop. It kind of went something like this: I’m pretending to be a rally car driver and driving a 1-ton rear-wheel drive ute with nothing in the back. It steers like a boat and the back breaks loose occasionally. We pass a small green sign with a white number on it – 19! – and screech to a halt. I speed-read the excerpt from the brochure, which usually is something like this: “The depression between you and the lunette to your left would commonly fill in with water to form a lagoon.” Or “You are now crossing the lunette and entering the habitat of Rosewood and Belah trees. Note the dense stand of Belahs to your right.” Dan would say something silly, resulting from being awake for about 30 hours at that point and having drunk 12 Carlton Draughts in the last 4. We’d race onward. And here’s what we saw.
Eroding sandstone at the east end of the lake. This formation is some of the only topography around. The brochure said it was nicknamed the “Walls of China” by the Chinese laborers that were used to build many of the buildings, water tanks, and sheds around the park. I’ve no doubt it was named that because of the laborers, but it sounds like a cruel joke perpetrated by the landowners to me. These “walls” are maybe 50 ft tall at the tallest. Regardless, it’s a beautiful natural feature.
Then we drove around the back side of the wall, through mallee scrub and Belah trees, until we got to the northern sand dunes.
When we got to these dunes, we noticed a lot of paddy melons. These are common throughout Australia – they’re a non-native species that does really well and sprouts up everywhere. They look like small watermelons, but are unfortunately toxic for humans. Surprisingly, we noticed that something had been eating the paddy melons. And then we saw a big flock of Galahs! Galahs are pretty cool – they’re pink-breasted cockatoos, but they have a much less raucous voice. These guys weren’t real tame, and flew away anytime I got anywhere close. So squint your eyes, and pretend these pictures aren’t blurry.
Paddy melons on the ground and Galahs in the tree:
Even though these were pretty far away, they at least spread their combs for me. Check out the Galah in the tree! It actually has a paddy-melon:
It’s very pretty to see a bunch of them flying – all you see is their bright pink underbelly as they fly overhead.
After all the Galahs flew away, Dan and I spied the obvious high point:
So we set out to summit Mt. Dune:
I got distracted by the cool shapes the wind makes in the sand:
But we did bag the peak:
The light was nice on the way back down:
And when we got back to the car, the sleepiness and beer took its toll, and Dan actually managed to fall asleep. And yes, I’m totally bombing down the road while stealthily taking this picture. :)
I continued around the rest of the loop and back to the Mungo Lodge. Which was a “4-star resort” which charged the exorbitant price of $250 a night (yay for only being out there one night and it being my birthday present!) for staying in a nicely-furnished mobile unit. Seriously, it was a nicely-appointed desert shack. I mean, it would totally be worth $125 per night, but the chique image with the snooty French proprietor was just a little much. Dinner was super-good, and not all that expensive by Australian standards, so next time I’d bring a tent and just go there for dinner. Breakfast was super-expensive, and though they were the most perfectly poached eggs I’ve ever seen in my life, I don’t think eggs and bacon is worth $29 per person.
Anyway, I stopped by the Lodge because we forgot to bring lunch out there, and the loop spits you out not too far from it. I grabbed the cooler, pried Dan out of the bed (somehow he had made it from the ute to the bed while I was in the bathroom), and raced back out to the Walls of China to catch the sunset. Even Dan was glad I dragged him out, it was really pretty.
I even managed to add a few more pictures of alpenglow to my repertoire! When we got there:
And about 30 seconds later:
Later that night, the stars were the best I’ve seen since I lived in the Caribbean. Even high-altitude in the Sierras can’t compare to it. It’s interesting – the hostel in Melbourne had a large picture behind the counter of the world at night. I’ve seen these before, but I never paid too much attention to Australia. It’s impressively dark. And there’s a big hole in ozone layer over Oz, so you don’t have as much atmosphere in the way. It was like the best of both worlds – the billions of stars you see in the Caribbean, but with that cold constant shine that the stars have in the Sierras. Dan and I laid out on a blanket outside of the room, just staring. He was snoring in about a minute, so I dragged him out of sleep for the last time, and into our over-priced bed. :)
Mongo like candy.