Kings Creek Station also has many other amenities: bed and breakfast cabins, BBQ facilities, cafe, mini-market, gift shop, helicopter rides, camel rides, and ATV rentals. The pool looked nice but was closed because the weather was still cold.
After Uluru, the 2010 VT Survivor Camp moved to the Kings Creek Station Campground for two nights. This was a nice developed campground with running water toilets, hot water showers, dishwashing facilities, and even a swimming pool (that was closed because the weather was still cold). If you want a campfire, you need to bring your own firewood. We got to Kings Creek Station from Uluru via the Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road. It is ~300 km trip. From Alice Springs, if you want to stay on paved highways, the route is similar. Just take the Stuart Highway south to the Lasseter Highway. Going that way, it is ~450 km trip. Shorter routes from Alice Springs (both ~300 km) that include unpaved roads, are Larapinta Drive-Mereenie Loop Road route through the West MacDonnell Ranges, or the Stuart Highway-Ernest Giles Road-Luritja Road route.
I believe the initial 2010 VT Survivor Camp plan had us spending the first night at Oak Valley; however, when we got there, no one was at home to let us in (the campground is privately owned). They actually did us a favor because we went on to Rainbow Valley, which was a beautiful place. We did see some interesting things on the road to Oak Valley though.
When we left Palm Valley we made a stop in Ntaria , the former old mission settlement called Hermannsburg that is now restricted Aboriginal land except for the Heritage Precinct and town shop. Albert Namatjira was born there in 1902. We had to cross a partially washed out highway bridge over the Finke River to get there. Whatever runoff caused that would certainly have also cut off access to Palm Valley. Unfortunately there was a funeral going on in the Hermannsburg Heritage Precinct, so the road was blocked. Zyg said that such funerals can go on for days, so we just made a stop at the Ntaria supermarket, and fuel stop/takeaway deli. BTW, the takeaway deli also has a computer with internet access. Outside a tame dingo (identified by its white-tipped tail) and another dog were begging for food.
The pavement ends after Morris Pass and the Mereenie Loop Road is definitely for 4WD's for a while. It is a remote area and we saw some interesting things along the way including a natural gas pipeline vent, brumbies (wild horses), a small tree with animal bones hanging in it (missed getting a picture), and a larger tree with all sorts of things hanging in it. Mereenie Loop Road becomes Larapinta Drive at the turn to Areyonga. Right after Larapinta Drive started we saw a plant that looked like a cross between a New Mexico soaptree yucca and a sotol (convergent evolution again).
Tnorala (pronounced nor-u-lu) was formed around 142.5 million years ago when an object from space, believed to be a comet about 600 meters across, crashed to earth, blasting a crater some 20 km across with a tall impact core in the middle. The outer crater rim has now eroded away. Today only the near vertical rock layers of the impact core at the center of the blast remain. These form the bluff at Tnorala. The bluff is ~5 km in diameter and the height is ~2 km lower than after the original impact.
Actually the Aboriginal and scientific interpretation of the formation are similar. According to Aboriginal belief, Tnorala was formed in the creation time, when a large group of women danced across the sky. They were the stars in the Milky Way taking the form of women. During this dance, a mother put her baby aside, resting in it's wooden baby-carrier (a turna). The carrier accidently toppled over the edge of the dancing area and crashed to earth where it was transformed into the circular rock walls of Tnorala. The Milky Way baby was covered with sand and hidden from view. The mother, as the Evening Star, and the father, as the Morning Star, are still looking for their missing baby.
Tnorala is a place of great cultural significance to the Western Arrernte Aboriginal people, is a registered sacred site, and much of the area is off limits to visitors. No camping is permitted and the following is why. There was a massacre at Tnorala. Before the white man came, Aboriginal people lived here. One morning a man went hunting. When he returned all his family had been killed. He knew that kadaitcha (pronounced ka-die-cha) men, who come from the desert country to the south, had done it. The man went and told his relatives. Together they tracked down the kadaitcha and killed them before they could make it back to their community. After the massacre, Tnorala became what Aboriginal people call a "sorry" place. No one has lived there since because of sorrow over the lost family. That is why you are asked not to camp there.
To get to Tnorala you take Larapinta Drive west from Hermannsburg, then turn north on Namatjira Drive for 18 km to get to the Tnorala access road. The access road is 10 km and 4WD is recommended. There is a short walk to a lookout on an adjacent ridge on the east side
where the access road enters, and a longer loop walk to the south part of the bluff, which provides a higher vantage point and superior views of the crater. The loop walk was too long for the time we had and only Zyg figured out how to get to the east side lookout. See also a panorama videoclip from a small mound near the center.
By the second evening we were either starting to get used to the cold or it was a little warmer than the night before. By now we were also finding out that beautiful sunsets were commonplace in Palm Valley. Rosie made grilled potatoes with onions and Pauline made tuna cakes on one of the campground's gas grills. There was also a very tasty bean salad. Early in the morning, I made a videoclip of the sounds of birds that you hear when it is dark at Palm Valley. Unfortunately the Bush Stone Curlew from the previous morning was not back.
There was a small canyon across Palm Creek about 300 meters from the campground. On the rock cliff it looked like someone had drawn a small white "i" and a larger black "i." It was a quiet afternoon after the snake encounter, so I decided to go take a look since it might be some kind of Aboriginal art. It was a short hike to get there but interesting in that it was clear that few people ever went there, even though it was so close to the campsites.
There are interesting patterns in the sandstone rocks along Palm Creek, including layers of black and red, swirls from eddy currents, and fossil shells. There was one large flat rock formation that was black, either from a patina or a black layer of rock. We also found a pure white rock among all the red sandstone.
The Arankaia Walk is a 2 km, 1 hour return loop along Palm Creek and on the plateau above the valley. The loop can be walked in either direction but we did the plateau first. There are man made stairs at the west end of the Arankaia Walk between the plateau and the creek. The climate on the plateau is very different from the valley. The plant life is diverse and spectacular including native figs, white cypress pines, and ruby dock across the top of the sandstone plateau, whereas there are Red Cabbage palms along the creek. Normal rainfall for Palm Valley is 200 mm annually. Through mid-August in 2010 they had had over 500 mm. Many plants were blooming. See a travelogue below for some examples; however, all my August 2010 plant pictures can be found in two Shutterfly Northern Territory albums.
The Arankaia and Mpulungkinya Walks start at the same trailhead and use the same path up to the plateau and separate there. The two trails are well marked. The Arankaia Walk has orange arrows and the Mpulungkinya Walk blue arrows.
The trail goes up the north end of Kalarranga Lookout and back down on the south end. To the east is a "rock amphitheater," a semicircle of rugged red sandstone formations formed when Palm Creek used to run on that side of the Kalarranga Lookout. See also a panorama videoclip taken at Camel Rock.
The trail down starts on the southeast corner of the Kalarranga Lookout. Probably because of the extra rain, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of locusts in the bushes along the trail (see a videoclip). There were also some bones that looked like they may have been from a kangaroo eaten by a dingo.
It is only a short climb up to the top of the Kalarranga Lookout but there are nice views even on the way up. If you look to the southeast as you go up the trail, you can see the north end of the "rock amphitheater" formed by Palm Creek when it used to run on the east side of the Kalarranga Lookout.
It was late afternoon on 16 Aug 2010. The guys decided to go to Kalarranga Lookout. There is an interesting, well marked, 750 m path from the southeast corner of the Palm Valley campground to the Kalarranga Lookout trailhead. The path crosses a couple of small creeks. One was dry and the other was not flowing across the natural rock bridge. The Kalarranga Lookout has two large rock formations on top of it. The one on the north end looks like Camel Rock near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The shelter at the trailhead serves both the Kalarranga Lookout (40 minutes, 1.5 km loop) and Mapaara Track (2 hours, 5 km loop).