We finally made it to a destination that I have wanted to visit for a long time, The Pinnacles Desert of Nambung National Park. This landscape is a natural mystery and The Man and I have now toured the hard sand loop through the pinnacles, marvelling at… and arguing over the mystery that is these pinnacles, which emerge from the sand, just south of Cervantes in WA, 200 klm north of Perth.
The pinnacles cluster together on hills of sand and clay, and others gather in sandy gullies blown by the quiet breezes like warriors waiting for war. Still others march in paths like ancient river flows, winding through the dry scrub landscape within a breath of the ocean. There are some that stand sentinel, guarding the underworld.
Yes… they are still a geological mystery.
They are made of sandy stone, mud and clay, some as hard as rock while others have their limestone weathered away into strange shapes. Most are true pinnacles, standing tall and straight, while others are tortured by the winds and rains. It is truly a wonderful mystery.
They are made of limestone, crushed shells and corals that are part of the Pinnacles limestone karst at the edge of the ocean. Cords of calcified roots can be found throughout the pinnacle sentinel forms, strata’s that are of clay and calcified sandstone and yet the pinnacles mostly, each, stand isolated. There are a few joined in arcs of stone as though clinging to each other, emerging from a once solid karst, but it is truly a wonderful mystery.
There are many pinnacle formations across the world but most are sharp and angular, the pinnacles of the Nambung NP are smooth and rounded like an ancient forest of trees and this adds to their mystery. The desert sands of this coastline shift constantly with the wind, and pinnacles emerge while other are buried as the rain washes and changes the shape over eons in time. It is a wonderful world.
The Nyungar (Noongar) tribal people have few legends, told around campfires, about these strange ancient gatherings of rock but they are not tales of spirit creatures, nor creation. Ancient camps have been found amongst the pinnacles and they are as old as 6,000 yrs. Older than the pyramids, older than northern civilisation, before the campsites were once again covered by the relentless movement of the sands that conceal them again and again over time.
There is a chain of waterholes that have flowed through the park since the Dreamtime. Precious flows which the old tribes could not have ignored in this sandy landscape, and they flow into the ancient caves and dolines of the Pinnacles Limestone Karst. The landscape is so old that further north at Lake Thetis you can find the truly ancient thrombolites in the Hamelin Pool of Shark Bay, from a time when the earth began to take its first breath.
Nambung National Park draws its name from the ancient languages of Australia, and it means crooked or winding, as the water flows, changing constantly through this old desert of sand and sentinel. There are no ancient legends remaining today about the formation of the pinnacles themselves, and perhaps this is because they emerge, and are buried often by the movement of sands. Some say that their most recent emergence from the graves of time is the reason for this absence of legend, if such legend ever existed.
All that remains in pre-history are the stories of warriors lost amongst the sentinels of stone, those following the ancient path of water holes, and caverns. The old people would have witnessed the rise and fall of the ocean, the march of the forests across the continent and into what are now the red desert regions of Western Australia.
The pinnacles themselves are believed to have been born in the Pleistocene Age 1,800 million years ago, in the time of the last major global ice age. Which in Aus’ was a time of the setting of sediments from ancient mountains washed down into those infamous inland seas, to form the landscapes we now tread. This age passed only around 11,700 years ago. It was an age when the Aboriginal tribes of Australia had gathered and learnt how to survive for at least the final 40,000 years of this ice epoch.
Australia, unlike other continents, warmed gradually and consistently in a continent largely stable, when compared with the Northern Hemispheres experience. This while the kinder forest climates stretched across our continent feeding and nurturing our old tribal people, and our megafauna.
The Northern Hemisphere… being top heavy with land mass, was deeply covered by ice sheets with a climate tempered by the ocean currents such as the oceans thermal conveyer belt. The Southern Hemisphere on the other hand is mostly a water mass, and as such its continents were not as affected by this long period of glaciation. This gives us some of the oldest landscape still above water, to be found on Earth, and a glorious record of
geology and pre-history unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
The ice age peeked at around 20,000 years ago and as the Southern Hemisphere did not experience the extensive glaciation of our continental land mass, any glaciation down-under was sea born. Antarctica is largely de-coupled from global glacial events such as the last ‘ice age’ and it didn’t have the same impact on the continental land mass of Aus’. The rise and fall of the oceans largely affected only our coastlines and regions of high elevation or alpine zones, where only a few glaciers formed. All these factors contributed to the strange formations of the Pinnacles desert to be found on the Western Australian limestone karst region, and its creation still to this day, remains a mystery yet to be solved.