Follow the Rusty Red Road
So I had one full day left in Mt. Isa and I think it was extraordinarily well spent: we trekked out into the bush! It was exactly the kind of thing I had pictured when envisioning the arid outback: we were going to look for rocks! It was a guaranteed dusty and dry process and I was very excited, indeed.
Now it’s not too hard to get to the middle of nowhere from Mt. Isa. One can accomplish this by driving in any given direction for any more than ten minutes. This allows you time to pass through the city. Within minutes all that surrounds you are red hills lined with spinifex and some low-lying trees dispersed intermittently around termite mounds (interestingly, I mistook these mounds for rocks when I first saw them – supposedly a common mistake…I wondered why people had bothered to stand hundreds of red rocks on their sides – monolithic art…obelisks du nature?).
So we had a great plan. We were invited to go looking for Maltese crosses (MCs). These are rock-like crystal formations made of a mineral called staurolite. They form in geometrical diamond-shaped patterns. Every so often the diamond shapes line up and when they form in just the right way an extraordinary cross is born. This symbol is commonly associated with good luck and protection.
There are only a few places in the world these small phenomena are found. We were on our way to find treasure!! (Finally, a way to fund my trip!)
So we loaded up the 4×4 with food and equipment and five of us headed out. We were quite a team. Roy – the Maltese cross expert extraordinaire – was the one who was kind enough to invite us out. He has the knowledge and the equipment to guarantee us finding a least a few of these elusive gems. When he’s not digging in the dirt, he frequents the café where Stacey is employed. He happened to mention this interesting hobby of his to Stacey, earlier in the week. Stacey showed keen interest and knew I would be totally up for it. Her co-worker Lisa happened to have the day off as well. Roy invited a friend of his, Laura, and so we made up a mad team of gung-ho Maltese cross discoverers.
That's as far up as he went!
After about a half hour down the highway we took a discreet turn-off and started on what would be many hours of very bumpy 4X4ing. The novelty of being jostled around wore off after about ten minutes, but we were easily distracted from the incessant rigmarole by the abundance of wildlife we encountered. Roy had this amazing knack for seeing critters from afar and stopping the vehicle at just the right time to get up-close and personal (note the picture of the lizard running up his leg?). We saw a variety of lizards and so many birds – bugs, cows, insects…it was a desert cornucopia. It’s amazing how barren and dry everything looks, but there is this whole ecosystem just waiting to be discovered (especially with the very wet wet-season that had just recently ended). We realized quickly that we had, in Roy, not just a navigator, but a tour-guide as well.
We arrived at Roy’s secret site and each had our turn sifting through the dirt for Maltese Crosses. Beginners’ luck being on my side, I managed to spot an interesting looking rock in the first batch. I found one! I’m told it’s worth at least $10-20! Now that won’t even get me a nice dinner…I had better keep looking.
After a few hours we all managed to find one, although none as big or as square as the first beauty (the more angled type are considered St. Andrew’s Crosses). We celebrated by heading back up the track and indulging in a picnic and a swim. I provided entertainment by stepping in the biggest cow-patty I’ve ever seen…or felt (squishing around my sneakers) for that matter, …I only did it for laughs – one of my gifts…really…
The way back was, I swear, bumpier than the trip in. Roy picked up speed and we all sang along, loudly, to Billy Joel… Piano Man will be forever etched in those little lizards’ little brains, and for that I apologize – but what fun! I would, without question, back Roy in a guided-tour-adventure company if he ever thought to start one up – Outstanding Outback Adventures, or some such title. I would pay good money to be slung through the outback, made to inhale dust, find treasure, and bounced straight into cow patties. Honestly, it was an absolutely awesome way to spend the day.
What an amazing way to cap off my first trip into the inner-heart of the continent. And my, oh my, what a big and beautiful heart it turned out to be!
Theme Songs of the Day:
Why Worry – Dire Straits, from the album Walk of Life – (This song is specially dedicated to you, dad).