• Thewhiteox

The Madigan Line - Camp 16 and the Smithsonian Party

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

Day 16 - Crossing from The Hay River Track to The Madigan Line in the Simpson Desert


It was a late start but a nice drive, a bit more interesting, with lots of trees, and many beautiful bright green kingfishers along the river bed, surprising considering the lack of water. We were happy to get driving considering the absolute swarms of flies crawling into your ears, nose, mouth and eyes, it does make things pretty uncomfortable, I tried to keep the netting down and doors closed, though Jade often forgets, and once they’re in, they’re in.



It was a fairly windy road, but not difficult, though we did lose our sand flag somewhere, and had to fashion a new one from gaffer tape and bright purple and green masking tape… frankly it looks fucking dreadful but it’ll do the job. We also found an electronic trivial pursuit game, and enjoyed playing that for several hours as we poodled along, watching the clouds get darker- not often you see rain clouds in the desert, it looks incredible.

"I blazed a gum tree in the river at this camp, Camp 16, on the largest tree we could find, which was only about a foot in diameter. After removing the bark half way round I cut into the wood with a chisel in the conventional way. I would be much interested to know who next sees this tree." - C.T. Madigan, 1939

At Madigan Camp 16 which intersects with the Hay River Track, we found 2 rented Britz 76 series cruisers & 2 young guys putting drones away, it all looked quite interesting, so we went over for a chat. They were from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, studying linear dunes here, having been here in April 2017, they were back again to see how they had changed.

Shortly the other two members of the party, came back & said hello, they explained the various theories of how the dunes formed: some say they build from east to west, gradually pushing the summit of one to the next which builds up, and so on & so forth, which seemed doubtful because there are massive dunes in the west too, so that doesn’t support that theory. The other is that they kind of just grow up vertically independent of one another, like a snowball affect.


I asked why they had come all the way here to study these dunes rather than deserts in the USA, he said they didn’t really have linear dunes there & they were studying linear dunes specifically because there are linear dunes on other planets & moons, such as Venus & Titan (one of Saturn’s moons), extraterrestrial places that also have an atmosphere of some kind, so in studying these here, they can better understand what created the dunes out there, & therefore gain a lot more information about their atmospheres, make up & possible wind patterns. I know, super cool, right? You can see more about their fascinating research via The Smithsonian Website

A Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC ) image of linear dunes found near the north pole of Mars (from the Smithsonian Website)

They could also tell us about the Madigan Track, which was hugely helpful, they told us it was more challenging than the Hay River, but not as bad as the Colson Track. It was a wonderful conversation, so interesting! “Linear dunes cover about 40 percent of the Australian continent & represent about 40 percent of all the dunes in the world. Linear dunes have also been found on all the terrestrial planets with an atmosphere. Although they are somewhat rare features on Mars, there is evidence for linear dunes on Venus & Titan as well. Despite the fact that they are such common features very little is known about their formation, their chronology, or their interaction with other landforms.” - From ‘Terrestrial Field Studies in the Simpson Desert’ - Smithsonian website



Read our next blog post as we head deeper into the Simpson via the Madigan Line.

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