After four (semi) solid days of driving, we arrived in Alice Springs after leaving the small climbing area at Hayes Creek. Four days of sitting too long, moving too little. In Alice Springs, a compact, clean, and attractive town, we stock-piled groceries and drove west to Ormiston Gorge in West MacDonnell National Park. That afternoon, we had time to walk the Ghost Gum Loop, a short four km track that climbs a hill-side above Ormiston Gorge, past stately ghost gums to a lookout that gives tantalising glimpses of the red cliffed splendour of Ormiston Gorge. The track descends to a sandy beach in Ormiston Gorge, more glimpses upstream, but the full grandeur of the gorge is not revealed unless you walk further upstream. Darkness was moving in, so I only had time to walk back to the campground down the creek. At the mouth of the gorge, I watched a dingo looking for food in shallow puddles. As I got closer, the dingo got spooked, and loped off up the gorge, a second dingo appearing alongside.
On a windy morning, we walked east beside spinifex covered rolling hills, and followed a good National Parks track up a minor dry creek bed and into the hills. The track wanders up a dry valley to a narrow col on the ridge where the wind almost blasted us back down the valley. We met two other hikers with overnight packs bound for Mount Giles and Bowmans Gap. A short detour from the main track leads up onto the ridge-line and a fabulous view of the closed in valley that is Ormiston Pound. Stark red cliffs line the northern walls while the long bulk of Mount Giles marks the eastern wall.
Red rock reflections
The track drops down slightly to the north, then escapes into the open landscape of the pound via a narrow notch to the west. This is big sky country, open vistas, a huge desert sky overhead, raptors wheeling in thermals, and the sinuous track of the river snaking through the open country. The track crosses open spinifex covered plains and meets the Ormiston River. We turned northeast and began following the river to Bowmans Gap. The river is an enchanting mix of long sandy stretches, short waterholes, huge ghost gums, smooth granite slabs, rounded slippery boulders, short red cliffs. Green parrots dart above the waterholes, ducks, and herons fish in the shallows. The entire creek bed is criss-crossed with dingo tracks.
About a kilometre from Bowmans Gap as we scrambled up on quartzite cliffs to avoid a deep water hole, a dingo slipped out of a shady resting place, and melted away up the creek bed. The last kilometre to the gap, a narrow passage between vivid red rock cliffs, the river twists and turns, past stunning red cliffs eroded with deep caves and crevices. On the north side of the gap, delicate purple flowers sprouted out of the creek bed and we scrambled up slippery quartzite bluffs to a lunch spot overlooking Bowmans Gap.
Overlooking Ormiston Pound
After lunch, we followed dingo tracks all the way back to the Parks track, crossed the creek again, and walked west towards Ormiston Gorge. The ground gradually drops, and steep red cliffs rise on either side. In the bright desert sun, they seem to glow burning red suffusing the surrounding area in a rosy hue. A half hour from the mouth of the gorge, we waded chest deep through the icy water to the north side of the gorge and followed a beaten path out to the plains and the end of the walk. Looking back upstream, past the red rock cliffs, I thought of dingoes dreaming, of open grasslands, many coloured birds, a huge overarching desert sky, brilliant white ghost gums, and vivid desert flowers. At night, the dingoes howled.