Outback 2: Stampede!
In theory, Day 4 was a take-it-easier day. We were still on Australia's Dinosaur Trail, this time headed for Lark Quarry, 110 kilometres southwest of Winton. The first half of the road is sealed, but thereafter bitumen alternates with increasingly corrugated gravel. There is a bumpy bus tour option, operating from April to September.
Along the Jundah Road, most creeks are dry. We were stopped in our tracks, however, by the desert blooming by one of them. There were mature River Red Gums, too, so water can't have been far below the surface. And branch debris suggested fast-flowing torrents not so long ago. Low-growing plants reminded me of rock gardens in temperate zones.
And then, a flock of grazing Galahs.
I can't describe the Lark Quarry Experience better than this:
Lark Quarry Conservation Park preserves the Dinosaur Trackways in a large building, so they can't be weathered. You can only view the footprints on a guided tour, but our leader, Bill, made it feel as if we were sharing a story with a wise elder rather than being fed some spiel for the thousandth time. It is quite a challenge to photograph the footprints successfully, but you can see the scarpering smaller animals' tracks alongside the large depression made by their predator's clodhopping foot.
What happened 95 million years ago, in a very different, flat forested landscape crossed by creeks meandering to an extensive inland sea, was that 300 or so creatures gathered to drink along a lake's muddy shoreline. They were suddenly aware of a large hungry meat-eater, which caused panic among the herd. Trapped by the lake, some ran back, towards the predator, bumping into others. There was chaos. All their tracks were preserved in the mud, buried, and then, by accidents of geological and chemical processes within the earth's crust, were eventually revealed. This is the only known record of a dinosaur stampede in the world, and it's worth a visit.
Deciphering what went on back then involved scientific examination, maths and comparisons with dinosaur skeletons from all over the world. Moulds were made and measured to calculate pace length and angulation, and stride length. Three types of dinosaurs made the trackways, it has been concluded. There was a large theropod with three-toed feet similar to those of a Tyrannosaurus – best seen in the lower of the two pictures. His footprints may match the foot of Banjo in the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (see Outback 2: Winton, finally, August 2014). There were smaller, chicken-sized theropods who were agile and probably hunted in packs. Both fully grown and juvenile prints can be seen in the Trackway. Finally, there were ornithopods, ranging in size from chooks to emus. These were herbivores and travelled in herds. A larger version of these is believed to have been crossing the mudflat before the stampede.
No bones of large or small theropods have yet been unearthed in Queensland, although some have been found elsewhere in Australia in similar-aged rocks. The work on this continent's dinosaur history has only just begun. At the Musuem they told us they'd be sorting and identifying fossil bones for decades to come.
You can walk along a short track around the Trackways site – the 500-metre Spinifex Circuit – or there's the longer Jump-up Loop, at 3.5 kilometres. I've only just read about the latter option on the Queensland Government's national parks website: perhaps I should have done so before we left. It refers to subtle track markers, and they certainly were. We spent about 15 minutes trying to locate one of them, not far from the start of the walk, and were on the point of turning back. The walk is classed as difficult, which for the most part it isn't, but at one point I thought we were going to have to jump off the jump-up because there didn't appear to be a track going down.
The scenery was stunning. It is an unrelenting landscape in many ways, but at the same time there's something wonderfully soothing about spinifex. It softens the hard burnt edges of the desert.
On one of the information panels before you enter the 'time tunnel' to the Trackway, there's a quote a from the ranger of Lark Quarry Conservation Park and Bladensburg National Park.
This is a harsh, but beautiful and peaceful landscape. I can look at its rugged features day in, day out. It is nature untouched. The hills are the colour of the Earth, changing all the time. Bright, strong colours, turning deeper as the sun goes down.
We headed back up the road for dinner at Daphne's, and I collected another rusting wreck along the way.
With thanks to Lark Quarry Conservation Park for the graphic
This post was last edited on 31 August 2014