I had heard about the Painted Desert from my fellow photographer and friend: Julie Fletcher; the Australian Lake Eyre photographer, who suggested that I go and explore the outer reaches of this place called the Painted Desert. This journey took me deep into the heart of South Australia and the outback itself, but boy was it worth all the effort, sweat and maintenance topped up with patience.
It is quite extraordinary how this place came to be. The Painted Desert is a vast landscape covered in mesas made of soft, fragile rock. A sea bed 80 million years ago, the Painted Desert eroded in this way as the land rose and it created slopes with magnificent colour formations in orange, yellow and white shades.
A Dry Painted Desert
Driving here you instantly get an eerie feeling, as you can’t help but wonder how anything can survive in this barren land. The flora has adapted over time to retain water for long periods without rainfall. In fact, the geological and biological significance has made this the site of rare plant species, few of which are of survival significance to the local aborigines.
Camping here will easily give you some of the best sunsets, sunrises and star gazing that the outback can offer. I probably saw the clearest view of the Milky Way from the Arckaringa Hills here. There are a couple of hiking trails to be found in the key lookout areas, but in general you make your own trails here. Just remember to always carry enough water to last for days and be aware that snakes can be on the paths you explore. Most of the driving tracks at the Painted Desert are unsealed and 4WD only, therefore don’t even think of taking the camper van or caravan as you will be dealing with some pretty angry insurance brokers when (if) you get back.
The Insider Look
Funnily enough in all this empty, barren and harsh-looking space, there is an old cattle station. Today the owners still herd and export cattle as they own around 2,000 km² in this vast land. These farmers substitute their income by showing travellers around their land, whether in a 4X4 or on a camel. Though this is a great way to explore their land, they are not allowed to go any further into the desert so as not to disturb the natural environment.
An Underrated Desert
The Gibson Desert as well as the Simpson Desert are two rugged landscapes high up on travellers’ bucket lists. However, I strongly recommend the Painted desert, whether or not you plan to explore her more popular cousins. It offers you a true glimpse into the wild, outback Australia. Conquering any of these three deserts will leave you with a sense of achievement that you have been to the harshest ends of the earth and that you have survived to tell the tale.
Until next time, let the World be your playground.