Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Brother, The Wizard of Oz

Australia, actually...
My brother, Mark at about 15 yrs old - the future adventurer.

All my conscious life my younger brother has been off on one adventure or another. (I say younger because he is only 12 years older, rather than the14 years older Richard is than me, the baby of the family, so I've always considered him my "little brother" if you will)

Mark holding his 2 month old baby sister - Me! In Montreal.

The Hughes Dynasty in 1988, Mark on left, Richard behind and me, pregnant with The Maven.

It started with college, where he majored in Geology, and from there his life was one Indiana Jones scenario after another.  At least that's how it seemed to me.

Wyoming, Alaska, Australia, The Yukon and Northwest Territories, South Africa, Montana, Botswana and back to Australia.  In no particular order these are the places my brother, Mark, has studied, lived and worked.  I'm sure I've  missed a few.
Before the internet and cell phones we kept up with his travels via pictures, letters and the most coveted thing of all, audio tapes.
We would sit around our kitchen table listening to Mark's tapings, usually made in his little tent or the front seat of his jeep, and were transported by his apt descriptions and anecdotes.  It was almost like having him home where we always sat for hours after dinners listening to where he had been and what he had been up to.  He probably doesn't even realize the impression that made on a young girl, but I thought he was the coolest person on the face of the earth.

Okay, so even Indiana Jones can't pull off a Santa hat. Brandon, FL 1993.

Hughes clan in 1999. Largo, FL. Mark, Mother, Richard, Ann, Dick.

He has been living in Australia for 30 years now.

Mark and his oldest son, Chad. Not sure of the date on this one.

Mark and his youngest son, Scott.
Somewhere in Oz and trying to guess Scotty's age I would say 1around 1986.

  He and his family have been back to the states now and then for visits and my parents were fortunate enough to make several trips Down Under and take in the unique beauty of that country.

Ah, the old "photographer takes a picture of the other photographer shot".
Our parents somewhere in Oz and very happy.

Mark has obviously forced our mother into the outback and is insisting she perform some dangerous stunt.

Mark and our dad, Dick watching a surfer.  Wait a minute, that's not our mother is it?  Mark how could you?!

Grandpa "Deek" walking Scotty along the beach.

 I think out of all the trips my mother and father took, those were their favorites because they got to share a bit of Mark's life, his family and his love of adventure.

Mark trying to make up to our mother for forcing her into those earlier stunts.  She looks absolutely content though, doesn't she? The adventurous life seemed to appeal to her afterall.

An older Mr. Scott listening to his tunes.

Chad obviously trying to further Grandma's Aussie experience by making her eat someting suspicious.

March 21 is Mark's birthday and I wanted to give him a birthday shout out by posting about his most recent adventure that he shared with me and Richard through pictures and a typically descriptive letter that accompanied them.

So here goes: 
My Brother's Adventure Crossing The Simpson Desert.

Most of the words will be his, pictures are his, captions will be my additions.

The Simpson Desert near the junction of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland is not the biggest or the most remote desert in OZ, but it has some unique characteristics. 

It features the longest sand dunes in the world, some individual dunes are over a 100K in length.

Mr. Lizard on top of Big Red, the largest dune in The Simpson Desert. 60 metres high. This dune is at the southeastern portion of the desert, near Birdsville.  Sand is not as red and that water is to be circum-navigated.

The long dunes mean you cannot drive around them, you 've got to go over them.  And there are lots of them - we traversed of 600 in our crossing.

Mark's Mr. Lizard takes another dune, one of hundreds

 They are not very friendly dunes: approached from the west they are noot to steep except for the final few metres.  The eastern sides, however, are a different matter and are sometimes almost veritcal.  There are two implications from this asymmetrical dune system. 

Cresting a Simmo Dune

One is that a traverse from east to west is nearly impossible.  The second is that coming from the west, once you've crossed just a couple of dunes, you have commited for the whole traverse - there's no turning back!

So the Simmo (Aussie for Simpson Desert) is a bit difficult to get around in.  That's why it was the last Australian desert to be crossed.  Cecil Madigan was the who first did it in 1939.

Traversing another dune

This Adelaide-based geologist led a team of scientists (botanists, surveyors, geologists and others) to make that first crossing. They did in on camel-back and it took them 26 days.  We did it in Toyotas and it took nine days.

Australia's feral camels are said to be the healthiest in the world.

And during those nine days we saw no one... not even an airplane. 

Bearded Dragon Lizard.  He is immobile and "hiding" up this tree.

The remote nature of this journey means you've got to carry everything with you:  fuel, water, spare parts, food and enough of all of it to get you through and to cater for unexpected delays and breakdowns.

Madigan's camels didn't leave a road or track and his main legacy is the navigational co-ordinates of his nightly camps.  We wentered these co-ords into our GPS and made our way from camp to camp.

Mark's Mr. Lizard is on the left

Getting ready for dinner

Typical camp in The Simpson

  In many places are faint wheel tracks, the evidence of others doing what we did. At most of the old camps are to be found a steel post driven into the sand. 

Some of the Aboriginal communites erect these things to try to keep the feral camels out of the water-filled rock holes.

Otherwise there's vitually no sign of humanity - no rusty tin cans, no old bottles, nothing. 

Dingo!  An unconcerned observer.

 In places where old photos show nothing but red sand, the vegetation is now chest high.

Spring flowers in the Simpson Desert

And of course the birds have moved back into the desert. 

A Bee-Eater cleaning up biscuit crumbs

At no time during our trip across could we not see flocks of birds. Squadrons of brilliant coloured finches, budgies and chats were seen everyday. 

A favorite wildflower - Sturt Peas

All these brids are making the most of the flowering plants and grasses that are going to seed. Anywhere there is water standing there are pelicans, ducks and even some swans.  No wonder the only town for hundreds of miles is called Birdsville.
Dune.. Dune...Dune. - words by Mark

It was fortunate for us that it was wet.  For one thing, wet sand is much, much easier to drive over than dry sand - a very important point what with the heavily-laden vehicles.  Also the presence of standing water here and there means you can be a bit relaxed about your use of the water you must carry for day-to-day use and for emergencies. 

Morning after a desert thunderstorm. Penthouse tent seems a good idea to me!

Of course, wet also means mud and we found quite a bit of that.  Also wet means, in many places, vast tracts of flooded countryside which means lengthy diversions from planned track, which in turns means increased consumption of fuel.

Rain in the Simmo can be dangerous stuff - risk of betting bogged here.

Sandy and I travelled in Mr. Lizard, my Toyota Landcruiser.  We have a tent arrangment fixed on the roof which is an excellent spot, our penthouse.  Mr, Lizard is self-contained with food, fuel, cooking facilities and water (and the odd bottle of wine) for a few weeks of remote travel. 

The group of adventurers in front of Mr. Lizard. They carried 215 litres of Diesel fuel and 95 litres of water.  Two weeks worth of food.  Crossing took nine days.

Our companions through the Simmo were two other couples who are friends.  All very experienced outback travellers and all very handy in planning for and dealing with the myriad of things that can and do go wrong "out there".

Running repairs on Mr. Lizard - Mark is under the truck.
Not much went wrong, though. A number of easily repaired flat tyres, main on Mr. Lizard and a broken control arm on a rear axle.  So, other than a couple of show-stopping thunderstorms all went better than hoped for and smoother than planned.  But I can assure you we were happy to arrive Birdsville.

Sandy at the Birdsville Hotel and Pub

Happy Birthday Mark!  May you have many more years of adventure ahead of you!


Mr. Connor said...

Quite a Happy Birthday " blog."
Makes you want to pack up and go for a visit " down under. " In any case Happy Birthday .

Chatty Crone said...

Happy Birthday to your dear brother in way down under - wish I could go there someday. Sandie

Janie Fox said...

Happy birthday to your older, younger brother. What adventures!

Corn in my Coffee-Pot said...

Hmmm... I see comparisons and contrasts in our families.
Me being the only girl and oldest...and the middle child being the OLDEST younger brother...travels and makes his way all over too!
That just struck me as funny.

Happy birthday to your Younger Older brother-- a well, traveled man.
Kudos to you for your birthday post.

Chad said...

Very interesting. Not least pictures of a younger version of my father.

Orlando Grandma said...

What an interesting blog it gave me the feeling of how long it takes to make that trip.
A big birthday HUG to the birthday boy from Grandama W

Sue said...

Love, love, love this post and all the totally awesome pictures. Thank you so much for sharing these!

Take care,

Mr. Tennis said...

Isn't interesting to see your life scroll by on a computer screen? Happy Birthday Mark!

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Oh I loved this post. Probably because I am such a travel nut. I bet the wizard is a hoot to talk to.

Linda said...

Happy birthday to your brother...such a nice tribute and an interesting post!

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

This was very in teresting!
I especially enjoyed the picture story of your brother's travels through the dunes...have you visited him "down under"?
I'll bet you have a wonderful visit with him this coming week!