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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to Vegas or the T-rex ate my bike!


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It turned out the reason we didn’t have reservations in Henderson for the trip home from Ely was because I had booked a non-refundable night for the following weekend, So what the heck it’s only 700 miles or so round-trip so I loaded the bike and off I went.

My first obstacle was as I neared Baker a huge dust storm hit. These are pretty impressive in a car, on a bike not really something I’d recommend experiencing. The pictures don’t really do it justice since I hid my camera away to protect it during the worst of it.

I made it through though and stopped in Baker to wash off some of the dust and check out Alien jerky.

I also stopped by a large solar collector field that had an unearthly glow as the focused sun beams shone through the dust still in the air.

I arrived in Henderson Nevada to find Dinosaurs had taken over the town!

I made it safely to my hotel though (T-Rex didn’t get me) and checked in and went and got some dinner before heading out to see the Vegas strip. I decided to take a ride on the new “High Roller” Ferris wheel. you start out by stepping into one of these.

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Before long you are climbing into the sky, they have screens that remind you how high.

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and the view once you’re up there is wonderful…

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I walked along the strip a bit then cruised it a couple of times on the bike before the crowded traffic got to me and it was time to call it a night. So I headed back to the hotel in Henderson.

Traveling through Nevada



Traveling in Nevada

My apologies for the lack of posts as late. My excuse as before is I’ve been busy with coursework as I near the completion of my degree. Hopefully the hard parts are over and I’ll have a little more time to post before I begin job seeking in earnest. Meanwhile I’m completing some posts from last year. Leaving the NSS convention in ELY we planned on driving over to Henderson Nevada and seeing Hoover dam. I however messed up the hotel reservations so instead we headed South to Needles, California which gave us an opportunity to see southern Nevada.


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The landscape here was definitely more arid then the previous part of our journey and afforded some great cactus sighting as we traveled along.

 

We stopped at the Ludlow Cafe for lunch the next day.img_2065-x2

and I spotted a film crew hard at work on an indie film “Thrasher Road”

https://www.facebook.com/thrasherroad/

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Then it was back on the long road back to Bakersfield.

 

Ely and the 2016 NSS Convention


 

Heading out from Susanville we were taking Highway 50 Americas ‘loneliest road’ at least that’s what all the signs and tourist info said.Our next stop before getting to the convention in Ely was in Fallon where we spent the night across the street from the Douglas Mansion. Currently painted pink its listed as the only Victorian two story in Fallon in 1904.

We were following the path of the famous pony express and passed a few places listed as stops for the express as well as the famous Nevada shoe tree. Oh and when we stopped for cool drinks in Austin the saloon had a small collection of authentic western Jackal-opes.

Eventually we arrived in Ely and looks like we were in the right place!

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I was actually surprised i didn’t notice more signs on the way through town- turned out the were being blown over by windy conditions, it was really windy which was stirring up a lot of dust ugh. At least the sessions etc. were inside. We were warned in registration to put something heavy in the pouches provided for our Convention badges or they’d likely fly up in the breeze and try to strangle us.Since we’d arrived late we missed lunch so we headed into town for something to eat. The Silver State restaurant turned out to be across the street from our hotel and provided a great lunch.Then it was back to the school to admire the art, pictures and cave maps.

 

We spotted a sun spider in the hallways, said hi to Morley and Lorelle and watched kids and adults alike enjoying the cave sim. All too soon it was evening and time for the Howdy Party, this years theme was supposed to be Donner Party or some such but as at most Howdy parties  Most folks came as they were. Some did dress in old time western garb so the theme was present. Dinner was fine, though there was some grumbling at the late arrival of the beer truck Finally it was time for the main attraction. The performance by ‘The new Christy Minstrels‘ (an American large-ensemble folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961). Needless to say it was a great show with many of the audience joining it with familiar songs and dancing.

The next day we spent enjoying the talks and sessions. Dad and I stopped in to watch Kip manage to beat the time for his age group in the 30 meter vertical, he managed to climb faster then the goal he’d set for himself so he was pretty happy.

The other vertical competitors all appeared to be enjoying themselves and there was plenty of people encouraging them so it was fun watching.

For that evenings entertainment I had signed us up for the ‘Rockin Rollin Railroad’ a geology field trip aboard the Northern Nevada Rail Roads authentic coal burning steam train.This featured presentations by local geologists covering railroad & mining history with a show and tell of ore samples from the Robinson Nevada Mining District. They did a great job telling us all about the geology of the area.They had some fascinating info about all the copper, gold, molybdenum and silver that had been mined in the area and descriptions of how we could see various layers from the Cretaceous where there was limestone as well as a host of other layers and minerals I must confess I missed as I was too busy geeking out on being on a steam locomotive. Running back and forth trying to find the best spot to get a picture while not getting covered in smoke and cinders proved challenging, but it was a lot of fun.

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I made it back to my seat in time for the description of the Ruth mine and to see the samples of garnets picked up at nearby Garnet hill.

A mine is a hole in the ground, owned by a liar.
-Mark Twain

Wednesday and Thursday we spent mostly attending sessions at the High school though we did spend some time in town admiring the new Lehman cave mural done as a commission in honor of the convention and browsing the great caving pictures at the art bank gallery. I even picked up a copy of a murder mystery book about a murder at an NSS convention in Ely Nevada! ( The book ‘An Unconventional Murder’ by Nevada caver Gretchen Baker was very entertaining)

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I left Mom and Dad at the motel to catch up on their rest while I headed down to the camp ground for the campground party which was great fun as usual. The canon firing was a nice touch. Though it had to end a little early because of noise complaints.

 

 

Friday morning we skipped the sessions and headed out to tour Lehman cave.

 

On the way back we spotted a couple elk standing by the roadside and we took a small detour to visit the charcoal kilns. We also stopped to see these guys by the roadside.

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We made it back in plenty of time to get ready for the banquet dinner and awards ceremony.

It was another wonderful convention and I look forward to attending many others!