Information on this blog is raw and sometimes unverified reporting straight from the road by teams. The event will issue a media release for any events requiring an official notification.

Note that links in blog entries are not maintained, so while a link may be verified to work on the day of publishing, this is not guaranteed beyond that day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Michigan: Route Survey - Day 8

Wake up at the South Australian border. Pretty chilly this morning, once again around 10 degrees C. Speed limit in South Australia is only 110 kph (68 mph) as opposed to 130 kph (80 mph) in the Northern Territory. Less petrol, but slows things down. Drive for a couple hours, reach Cadney Homestead, the 5th control stop for the WSC. 1.5 more hours of driving and we reach Coober Pedy, the Opal Capital of the world. Attractions include opal mine tours, opal shops (the local stuff is primarily white opal, the rest is brought in from out of town), an abandoned movie spaceship, a golf course without grass, the first tree in Coober Pedy (welded from scrap iron from a burned out mine truck), and a non functional 30 foot tall winch called - The Big Winch. There are numerous warning sounds about deep open mine shafts, with graphic stick figure descriptions of all the horrible things that will happen to you if you walk backwards into one. Many of the residents live underground in homes that are decidedly modern, but bored into the local sandstone. Living underground has the advantage of eliminating the need for AC in the desert. The town's name is based on the aboriginal "kupa piti", apparently meaning "white men's holes".

We visit the Big Winch, which is exactly what it sounds like (it is, however on a hill that nicely overlooks the town). At the base of the Big Winch is the twisted metal handle form an older Big Winch, which was apparently destroyed by a cyclone in the 80s. Meet an eccentric, but very friendly, gentleman originally from Hong Kong who shows us his opal shop and rather interesting collection of original, junk-based sculpture. Down the hill to visit the Old Timer's Mine, an opal mine from 1916 that's been turned into a museum. The museum also features an exhibit of an underground home and memorabilia from the town's past, including a sign for the movie theater warning patrons not to bring their explosives inside. The gentleman running the gift shop was very interested in solar cars and we chatted for awhile. Quick lunch and back to the Track.

Primary feature on the road in the area is the conical piles of dirt from the opal mines. Otherwise pretty flat and rocky desert. We enter the Woomera Prohibited Area, a missile testing range which covers an area about as big a Florida - the Stuart Highway itself is unrestricted, but apparently has been closed occasionally for missile shots. We clear the area after 250 km when we reach Glendambo, the 6th control stop. The road turns east along the southern border of the Prohibited Area. We make a shot visit to Lake Hart, a large dry lake which is currently a salt flat. We walk a couple hundred yards out onto the salt, but stop when we see a sign that reads "LASER HAZARD - LIVE ORDNANCE - NO TRESSPASS" so we turn around. Beat a hasty retreat through the clouds of flies (which are annoying but don't seem to bite) and get back on the road.

With the sun setting, we turn off the Track to visit the town of Woomera, the base for the missile range. The town is, appropriately, named after an aboriginal spear throwing device. The Australian military did a great deal of ballistic missile research and weapons testing at this site, including nuclear tests, especially in the '50s and '60s. Australia launched its first satellite from Woomera in 1967. The area is pretty quiet now, though they still launch a few sounding rockets. The town features a missile park with an outdoor display of many of the rockets launched at Woomera, including the crashed first stage of the Redstone rocket that launched the first Australian satellite (some locals found it in the desert in 1990). There is also a nightly astronomy presentation, except on Tuesdays.

It's Tuesday, so we head back to the Stuart Highway and have dinner at Spud's Road House (where they kindly ask you to pay for gas at the bar). Have a steak sandwich "with the lot", which apparently means, "all the salads, bacon (somewhere between American and Canadian bacon), cheese, and a fried egg". Pretty tasty - Nate's "mixed grill" is equally impressive, consisting of steak, beef sausage, bacon, and the requisite fried egg with a tossed salad and macaroni salad. Cholesterol does not count in the Outback.

Stop for our last night in the Outback just south of Pimba (home of Spud's and not much else). Cold again, but thankfully no wind. Two games of euchre (Mike and I soundly defeat Nate and David - Nate and Mike had done the same to David and I the night before).

--Garrick Williams