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A day to remember (29 August 2014)

contributed by iandsmith
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Isla Gorge National Park

The rock dislodged; about the size of a square football, it cascaded down the hill. I made a mistake; I looked down to watch it, or not, because it disappeared from view but the sound carried up from the gorge. With eyes wide open I pondered my situation; how had I put myself in this precarious position; one slip away from a quick trip to the bottom of the canyon? The answer, of course, was step by step. I thought I’d seen a way out, an exit to the cliff top above me; but it hadn’t been there after I’d scaled some tricky bits. I’d worked steadily closer, traversing the steep slope until I almost made it. A simple 4 foot step that I couldn’t ramp up over without too much risk had stopped me and now I had to work my way back down and around; couldn’t believe how steep it was. Less than a minute later and another smaller rock dislodged and went the same way as its cousin. My confidence ebbed. I wasn’t even sure which route I’d taken to get here because there are no made tracks once you’re off the escarpment.

Isla Gorge National Park The colours are there, you have to go and look for them

I’d arrived here disappointed, forlorn even, because the wheelchair bound tourist information officer at Taroom had spoken about the wonders of Expedition National Park, said you needed to spend a fortnight there to really see. Trouble was, I didn’t have a fortnight and I didn’t have a four wheel drive, a necessity for access to Expedition.

Isla Gorge National Park There are spurs everywhere.  If you go out and get close to them there's a thousand caves and who knows how many arches you'll come across

Then he told me that Precipice National Park was closed. He had managed to get access once; it took him 6 months of negotiation to get permission and he’d had to have satellite phone, epirb and two way radio. All this before he had his stroke that had ended his 4WD days.

My only option left was Isla, where I’d always intended to go anyway, but even it had a majority of places that I wouldn’t get into. Still, I would at last get to see something of the sandstone country that runs through the middle of Queensland.

First though I did a side slip into the Chain of Lagoons, something the tourist officer hadn’t told me about. It was, as advertised, a failed stream with a series of muddy ponds set amidst eucalypts but, what was really surprising was the palm trees, hundreds of them. Turns out they’re endemic to the region.

I got another, larger dose, when I also ducked into Lake Murphy. That’s “lake” in name only, “furphy” would be a better designation. The dried up excuse for a lake had a nice bushland setting camp site but little else except palm trees laid end to end for kilometres.

Isla Gorge National Park Some of the formations are exceptional

I went for a walk, had lunch and moved back to the highway, arriving at Isla around 3, just in time to see a pair of 4WDs departing that had passed me some time ago. I figured that bode ill for the promise of things to see and when I got there and had a look I understood why the average tourist would stop only briefly. It wasn’t overly spectacular but, gazing more deeply and casing the rocks with a photographer’s eye, I saw opportunities everywhere and quickly grabbed some gear and headed along a razorback ridge to the south. It didn’t go very far and wasn’t that great apart from a nice arch that I jagged so I climbed back up to where I’d started and headed off north where I had seen what I took to be some promising rock formations.

I slid off the end of a ridge, down beside the cliffs and they were, indeed, brilliant. With perfect light and a polarizing filter on steroids with the sun at the right angle I didn’t know where to shoot first. I was mesmerised by the shapes and colours of the late afternoon and that’s how I got to where I now was.

I scratched and scrambled around to the next recess and took a punt on another promising lead. This time I hauled myself up and over. I can only remember one other time being so happy to see a trail and that was when I got lost in Tasmania several years ago. Then it was raining, this time a sky bereft of cloud gave a stunning blue contrast to the sandstone as I glanced back to where I’d been. It had been a wonderful afternoon with the camera, I can only hope you enjoy the results as much as I did taking them.

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