6/27: We had originally planned four nights in the Bungle Bungle. However, after three full days, it was clear we had visited all the parts of the park that were accessible. Did I write earlier that it was hot? Several other visitors we had chatted up had recommended spending time Keep River National Park, which is just to the east of Kununurra, across the state border in the Northern Territory. It was an easy consensus to head there after our helicopter flight.
First the drive west to Rt. 95. The dirt track seemed slower during the day, but maybe this was more leisure time to observe the geology (abundant folds and faults; much contorted sedimentary and crystalline rock) and flora. Then the run north, diesel and diet Coke in Kununurra, and onto Keep River.
I’d never heard of Keep River before. My planning obsession had focused further west in the Kimberley, and east in the Kakadu. The park was thus a lovely surprise. The usual dirt track, along a flood plain covered by tall bunch grasses with a sprinkling of acacias and boabs - led to a half full campground. After a siesta to outlast the afternoon heat, we wandered out along a track following the lower Keep River.
It was still quite hot. The track meandered through what my mind was coming to categorize as a typical coastal Kimberley landscape. Quite dry in the wet, but a variety of acacias and other gums, a wide spectrum of trees I don’t know, some boabs, and a grassy ground cover. The latter thankfully did not include spinifex; plenty of time to have the repeated joys of that in the Pilbara next month. Another new and common plant was a sort of palm with razor-sharp leaves; it caught my eye because the individual palm fronds grew individually from the trunk, forming a spiral pattern - a picture above.
This was also clearly a fire landscape. At least half of the area we walked through had been burnt in the past year. Black ash covered the ground, punctuated by new grass tufts. The trunks of the larger plants; trees and the brutal palm –were blackened. The trail disturbed this ground cover; underneath the thin layer of ash and debris was lots of white quartz sand. This was clearly a floodplain. Being here in the Wet might be easier in a boat.
The trail we were following was in fact terminated by flood damage. It ended at a rock shelter. A variety of Aboriginal pictographs decorated the smooth rock faces. Emu, kangaroo, and some cryptic humanoid figures. The interpretive sign said that some of the Keep River sites have been occupied over 20,000 years. This was quite believable. Compared to the Pilbara or the Red Centre, this was an area of abundance; lots of fish, plants, and other stuff to eat. I could imagine an evening of relative repletion say 5,000 BCE; there might then be time and energy to make a painting or two.
The landscape would also be inspiring. Before reaching the rock shelter, the trail wound along the base of a rocky ridge; more sandstone and conglomerate, very similar to the Bungle Bungle. Here though the rock was less banded, and more deeply weathered and faulted. Still very pretty in the late afternoon light. I bet there were wallabies to hunt up there too.
A good end to time in the Kimberley.