Monday, September 24, 2012

River beds

According to Wikipedia, a river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river.

Good old Wikipedia!

Except that sometimes things aren't what they seem, and it's a good reminder why you should always check your information against local knowledge.

The temptation when seeing the word River on a map - which you see with remarkable regularity when looking at maps of inland Australia, is to assume there will be water in them. After all isn't that why the word river is used in the name of this particular feature?

You've possibly even thought about a spot of fishing and surreptitiously tucked into your gear a compact, secret rod, reel and lures.

Your visions of a delightful dip in a welcoming, fresh, cool and incredibly inviting river will be sadly shattered. Thoughts of gurgling pleasantness, a place to sluice off the inevitable outback sweat, dust and prickles, somewhere to soothe your flaking, dry, chapped skin are pointless.

That word river is a trap for the unwary - and heaven help you if there is a deluge somewhere upstream and you've taken it into your naive head to pitch your tent or park your car or van in the river bed. Foolish, foolish people.

Before you camp, look up. Often high above your head will be solid evidence of the power of a previous deluge, limbs waiting to tumble. Tangles of fences, bushes and bones. Whole large tree trunks, complete with intricate root systems have been swept many metres before they get caught and stuck fast. Photos of cars and  caravans in similar positions of repose adorn the walls of various tourist destinations in the outback as a warning of what NOT to do. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words.

What you don't see in my photo is the sheer size of the horizontal tree. A 6'+ tall person could easily stroll under the resting trunk, and would have to leap energetically to touch the underside of the hefty trunk...

No doubt dislodging irritated ants and shedding bark onto an upturned face...

The sensible leaper would have checked for snoozing snakes and grumpy goannas before leaping of course!

Flood damage can be significant, with roads, causeways, crops and livestock being washed away. Sometimes the considerable expense in replacing them is considered too much and some infrastructure is simply not replaced. The flat white things in the photo below are massive slabs of concrete (?) and were part of the road and causeway near Silverton NSW washed away in the 2011 floods.

As a means of navigation, mentioned as another feature of rivers in Wikipedia - that's perfectly feasible - just follow the depressions and trees growing in the watercourses. The green of the leaves on whatever trees are growing tends to be quite obvious amongst the surrounding dust and rocks.

Below are almost vertical rocks, laid horizontal eons ago at the bottom of a forgotten seabed, then over the intervening hundreds of thousands of years forced by pressure deep in the earth to their current dry position to become a shaley river bed.
... and then of course, are the occasional treasures, beautiful pools, unbelievably cold, restful, welcome. The source of life for animals (unfortunately including ferral goats) for kilometres around.

Most photos taken in the Northern Flinders Ranges.



Hart Johnson said...

Has this always been common there? Or have droughts gotten worse? We have years that streams dry up, but it would be a pretty darned big deal for a river to dry up. I was at one time a 'river rat' (licensed whitewater rafting guide) and a lot of that training is how to read rivers based on water level which varies a lot over the course of the season (spring having tons of new snow melt) and we always watched snow levels to know just how high the spring flow would get. River beds, though, seem like they'd have some cool stories.

sue said...

Hart, many of the rivers in Central Australia are rivers in name only. There is little expectation that they will carry water, and this has been the case for hundreds if not thousands of years. there's a famous boat race in Alice Springs called the Henley on Todd where the participants would be very put out if there was water.

Our climate is definitely changing, but out there, it's hard to notice the difference.

How cool that you were a whitewater rafting guide! We certainly have suitable rivers for that pass-time, but they'd be coastal, not in the Centre.

Stories hey ... hmmm ....

Tina said...

I love learning about new places and SEEING them. I'd have been one of those fools parked close to the edge...thanks for the safety tip. Visiting Australia is on my bucket list, just after Venice, which is #1. You had me wanting to collect some of those rocks!
Great post, Sue.
Tina @ Life is Good

(this computer is so old it won't let me hyperlink a signature - if the URL bothers you, let me know and I'll leave it off in my next comment)

sue said...

Tina, I hope you drop back again as I'll be doing more posts on Central Australia.

Venice is fascinating, I was lucky enough to visit a couple of years ago and loved it. Foolishly I didn't take enough photos :(

re your link, of course that's fine, anytime! However, and I'm not particularly technical so this mightn't work, have a look at this post and see if it works for you with the hyperlink sig. I'm more than willing to help in any way I can.

BTW, my fireplace is surrounded by rocks and pebbles of assorted size, shape and hue that I've picked up over the years. I love them!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. reminds me of the ephemeral rivers in Namibia particularly ..

and after the floods we've had here recently and now those in Spain .. water needs to be taken seriously at all times ..

Cheers Hilary