Caving and Chillin in Chillagoe


 

img_6603-x4Chillagoe, a small town in Northeast Australia, is about three hours northwest of Cairns. Having decided to visit Cairns prior to the International Congress of Speleology in order to see the Great Barrier Reef the pre-congress trip to see the caves in Chillagoe was a great fit.

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I had managed to pick up an Australian sim card for my cell phone while shopping at the mall in Cairns so I gave the trip organizer Paul a call to let him know I was in town. He answered that several people who were going to Chillagoe were meeting for dinner at a restaurant on the pier and I was welcome to join them. since this was a short walk from where I was staying in Cairns I agreed. I was a little late since I underestimated how far a walk it was to the botanic garden but It was nice meeting a lot of people who I’d get to go caving with over the next few days and dinner was good.

The morning came all to soon and once more I got up before the sun to pile in a van, now we were on our way to Chillagoe. Geoff and Jean who I had met at the Texas ICS were on this trip , and a number of new-found friends from Germany, UK, the US, and Switzerland. Kim who had been on the Barrier reef trip with me was going on this one as well, George however, was driving down to Sydney so wouldn’t be joining us.

Our first stop was for snacks at an interesting site- Camp 64. This shop in Dimbulah featured a variety of memorabilia, items for sale and delicious meat pies. several people opted to try the locally grown dragonfruit and I spotted passion fruit growing on the fence outside.

Then it was on to Chillagoe. Most of us would be staying at the Chillagoe caving  club house. The club was an impressive setup. They have an old schoolhouse converted into sleeping quarters, principal’s house converted into the kitchen and dining hall, and a newly built bathroom and shower block. This was at the base of a hill that provided an excellent view of the surrounding town.


The karst of the area was fascinating the caves are strangely above ground formed in limestone which through faulting followed by volcanic activity and secondary mineral deposits were shaped over time into karst towers that were some of the sharpest limestone I have ever climbed over exhibiting rillenkarren, rinnenkarren and grikes. You can read more about the terrain and wildlife at the Chillagoe-Mungana parks website.

Club members had brought three landrovers, which with the rental vans made getting to the caves simple as all the caves we visited were within an easy drive from the clubhouse and accessible by a short walk through the bush. I had not brought any SRT gear as the large amount of photo gear I was lugging around made my pack heavy enough. Fortunately there was plenty of cave to see without climbing though they did have a cable ladder and rope belay for one of the sections I went through, and Valentin seemed to really enjoy the parts of the trip where he got to repel and climb. Cave temperatures were warm, reminding me of caves in Mexico and Guatemala, though not as humid there was enough to cause my glasses to fog up.

After this first day of caving Winifred announced he’d be happy to take people caving at night after dinner. I was the only one who took him up on this but we had a great trip. He spotted a tarantula which was so still we wondered if it was alive but while I was photographing it it took off convincing us it was indeed alive. We also spent some timephotographing the night sky through an opening in the cave and came across some roosting swiftlets. We backed out of the chamber so as not to disturb them but one bird continued to follow us through most of the cave. Eventually while photographing formations I actually caught some pictures of the bird in flight. The  best result is at the top of this post.

 

During breakfast the next day at the nearby eco lodge this guy dropped in for a visit on someones chair.

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Then it was back to caving.

A big thanks to our organisers- the Chillagoe caving club for leading us on some wonderful trips and allowing us the use of their clubhouse. It really was a great and memorable time.

Before the I.C.S – The Great Barrier Reef!


img_3989-x3When I began planning to attend this years International Congress of Speleology in Australia (Nearly four years ago) , one of the thoughts for-most on my mind was here was my chance to visit the Barrier reef. I did some quick research and found out that most visitors to the Barrier reef set out from Cairns. Once the field trips for the I.C.S were posted I noted that there was a pre-congress trip to the caves near Chillagoe which would depart from Cairns. This seemed like a perfect opportunity.  With some suggestions from the organizer of the caving trips, Paul, I began choosing a dive outfit for the trip. I ended up choosing Pro-dive and this in turn was an excellent fit. I booked a 3 day trip aboard one of their live aboard dive boats which included 11 dives. Then I anxiously awaited my departure day.

My adventure began with the airline cancelling  my flight out of LAX. I nearly panicked when they informed me they wanted people to wait in motels or go home and they would notify them when they would be re-scheduled. I explained that I had a scheduled trip on a boat that couldn’t be rescheduled and they said they would see what they could do. Eight hours later I was scheduled on a flight to New Zealand and thanks to a much shorter layover in Auckland then the one I was originally scheduled for in Manila I arrived in Cairns just a couple hours later than originally scheduled. Sadly my luggage didn’t do so well and I was informed it was still in L.A. The folks at the pro-dive shop were very helpful in setting me up with some extra gear and I did a little shopping for clothes so I was all set to head out on the boat the next morning.

 

 

 

 

(while shopping I spotted Dead-Pool hanging out by the local mall?)

After dragging myself out of bed at what seemed a crazily early time I was met by a van that drove us first to the dive shop and then out to the boat. On board I was pleased to find two other cavers from the U.S.A were aboard, Kim from Maryland and George from West Virginia. We had a few hours ride out to the reef so we were able to grab coffee and a little breakfast as we sailed. It was a little rough heading out so the crew offered sea sickness meds which they encouraged people to take as a precaution. I declined and did just fine, though I noted a few passengers who were looking a little green by the time we reached our first dive site. Once the boat was secured to the permanent anchor points set up to protect the reef things calmed down considerably and soon everyone was readying to get in the water.

 

 

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After a dive briefing about what to expect in the area, what depths and when we were expected back on the boat we began diving the reef. We started at Petaj Bommie, part of Milln reef. I did the first dive without a camera since I wanted to focus on the dive and not a rental camera I wasn’t familiar with, but there was so much to see, I knew I needed to bring the camera along on my subsequent dives. I did find a lost snorkel someone had dropped near the anchor point- looked like it had been there awhile.

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The boat crew kept us on a busy schedule- dive, eat, dive, eat etc. and the food was exceptional. Of course nothing works up an appetite like spending time in the water but really the food was great. The crew was also great- high energy and very positive as well as very knowledgeable about the sites we were diving which was very helpful.

 

After the first two dives we dove on to Flynn reef where we dove Tracy, ski slope, tennis court Gordon’s Mooring, little Tracy’s reef and Coral Garden. Over the next three days we did 11 dives including 2 night dives. It was a busy and tiring schedule but very rewarding getting up early for the sunrise dive on the last day was especially tough but seeing the reef come alive as the sun rose made it very worthwhile.

A highlight of the trip was after one of the dives when someone spotted a Minke whale. Many of us were able to jump back in and watch underwater as the whale circled the boat a few times to see what we were up to.

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A big thanks to the crew for making it such a memorable trip and proving us with some wonderful memories.

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You can see all the pictures I took at https://captnemo.smugmug.com/Places/Australia/Barrier-Reef/ (including the bump headed parrot fishes grouped together for the night pretending to be a coral bommie)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caulkins Campout 2017


In the years before internet access we had a family reunion at a campground near Santa Cruz which I enjoyed. So when my Aunt asked for suggestions of where to hold one this year I suggested the same campground.

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We had a great turnout and a very enjoyable weekend. My Aunt went above and beyond organizing activities to keep everyone entertained, and the weather was perfect. ( a very pleasant escape from the heat in Bakersfield which is currently around 110f)

It was wonderful that my cousin and her family made it all the way down from Seattle in their camper and of course my brothers family made it so I got to spend some time with my nephews and niece.

 

Escaping the heat at California Hot Springs


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This spring as the valley first showed signs of the coming hot days of summer we decided to head up into the foothills to enjoy the cool mountain air and see how the wildflowers were doing.

Sure enough, there were plenty of things in bloom to see almost everywhere we stopped.

And even when there wasn’t the beautiful green grass and trees made for some nice scenery.

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On the way back I spotted this little guy while taking pictures of yet more flowers.img_4856-x3

Jerusalem cricket (subfamily Stenopelmatinae), aka sand cricket

Then even though we were in the Prius and not on my bike we stopped of at the saddle sore saloon for some refreshment before heading home.