We had come here to enjoy the desert not conquer it. We’d knocked off the 1900 km to Hamilton in four days, an average of 475 km a day. For the next six days we would average just 88 km a day. This would keep us driving for as much as four hours a day but give us plenty of time to stop for anything that sparked our interest.
The desert was carpeted in wild flowers. I was surprised at how densely vegetated it was. Birds and reptiles were well represented but we saw little in the way of mammals. There were plenty of camel tracks and some camel droppings … by the way, these look like horse shit designed by a committee. To that can be added one House Mouse and a dingo.
For all its awesome reputation driving the French Line west to east presented no great challenge. Concentration was required, you needed just enough momentum to ease you over the crest, too much would rearrange the contents of the vehicle unnecessarily. There was often a moment when all you could see was the bonnet and the sky. When the road came back into view it wasn’t guaranteed to be straight ahead.
The dunes trend SSE-NNW and continue parallel for many kilometres, some as much as 200 km unbroken. This pattern is seen throughout the deserts of Australia. The height and spacing between the ridges have an inverse relationship. Where there are 5-6 ridges in a kilometer, the height is around 15 meters. Where there are one or two ridges per kilometer the height jumps to 35–38 meters. Dunes on the west of the desert are mostly small but they increase in size as you head east. The eastern faces are not only steeper, they are also longer. (No you don’t get further and further below sea level, you climb quite gently across the interdune space before reaching the next challenge.) Where dunes are close together the surface in between mostly remains sandy but where they are widely spaced the surface is often clay – much more of a challenge than sand when wet.
In places the track is scalloped, this effect is blamed on the drivers who fail to lower their tyre pressure and those who insist on towing camper trailers although I think injudicious use of the brakes on the downhills is just as much to blame. On steep faces the scallops are out of phase, your left wheels go in as your right wheels come out, it feels like riding a camel. On lesser slopes they are side by side. Either way the wave length is the average length of a vehicle.
During the second night a cold front passed through. It brought no rain but the wind drove sand into everything. I woke with sand in my sleeping bag, even some between my teeth.
The desert has a stark beauty. Visiting is a little like scuba diving … we don’t have the means to live there but we can take what we need to enjoy it for a short time and come away looking forward to the next time.