Adventures In Dinosaur Country – Part 2

July 29, 2021


After our first night in Winton, we were picked up by our affable tour guide Jaimie at 7:45 am in a purpose-built vehicle that navigated the rough terrain without any problems or discomfort. 

Our journey took us through the red soil of iron oxide over treeless plains that were covered in Mitchell-grass, and thick, spiky and hard to penetrate spinifex. Emus, cows, sheep, and horses grazed happily, alas, what was a dog doing hanging from a lone tree? Apparently wild dogs, cats and foxes menace the waterholes and landowners, when this gets out of hand, they hang the feral animal as a deterrent. 

Jaimie provided us with a colourful history of Carisbrooke Station, its homestead had originally been transported from Toowoomba. The Station gained notoriety a few times. First, when in 1942 a B-17D Flying Fortress with the future 36th American President LB Johnson on board, lost direction, and landed there. Second, in 1960 after Charlie Phillott had bought the station and dinosaur prints were discovered. The top country became a tourist attraction while the bottom was used for cattle. Then, in a typical David and Goliath story Charlie had a dispute over a debt with one of the four major banks. It was fought in the courts and after fifty years Charlie was forced off the land until Alan Jones highlighted Charlie’s plight in 2013. 60 Minutes also did a feature, after which a clerical error was found in the original transfer. The bank apologised, reinstated the property to Charlie, reimbursed and compensated him, only by now he was in his 80s, had had a heart attack, and was no longer able or willing to manage the Station.

On our ascent towards the jump ups, also known as mesa, we passed Eucalyptus, coolabah, ghost gum, and blood wood trees. The eroded landscape has been subject to flooding over millions of years leaving round caves and overhangs. We stopped to take in the spectacular views along the escarpment of the Cory Range and across the valley filled with flat grazing country. The rock formation of the Three Outback Sisters, named Mary, Maude and Kate dominated our vista. I found the open expanse of this undulating landscape simply overwhelming.

This whole region is sitting on top of the Great Artesian Basin, which consists of three interconnected basins – Carpentaria, Eromanga, and Surat. These basins are separated by sub-surface ridges, its sediments are thinned by the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous ages. Wells and bores sunk into its rocks which resulted in water flowing freely to the surface. 

After the accumulation of basin sediments ceased, its rocks were subjected to a long era of weathering and erosion. Today a deep-weathering profile of hard silica and iron-rich oxide caps over bleached clay-rich layers, whose top of an old, higher-level land surface is now being eroded.

Opals were first discovered around the Winton Formation in the late nineteenth century. They date to around 90 million years ago and are spread within a 300 km-wide belt of weathered Cretaceous rocks. Boulder opals occur within ironstone. ‘Potch’ opals are found with precious opals, they are generally coloured white, milky, grey, blue, and honey or black. 

Before morning tea, we stopped to fossick for opals. After wandering around the site, I was happy with my finds. 

Our next stop was the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quarry. This site is preserved in situ. 95 million years ago this area was part of a great river plain. Crocodiles, freshwater mussels, and lungfish lived in sandy channels, lush swamps, and lakes. A herd of small-legged dinosaurs drank at the lake when a huge meat-eating theropod charged the stampeding herd leaving the mass of footprints in the mud.

After the footprints were made, it started to rain, and the lake rose thus covering the tracks with sandy sediments before it had dried enough to crack. The next flood buried the prints below sand and mud, and more sediment. Millions of years passed compressing the layers to form rock and a low range. 

Seeing these footprints and being in the presence of Jurassic evidence is an amazing feeling. That and the vastness and beauty of the landscape is absolutely awe-inspiring.

The next day Jaimie picked us up for a tour of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, which blends naturally into the surrounding landscape. A life-sized five-metre-long bronze statue of Australovenator stands at its entrance.

This themed scenery is complemented by the strategically positioned congruous Dinosaurs.

Our first stop was at the Fossil Preparation Laboratory. Here the dinosaur fossils that are usually preserved in solid-rock boulders or covered in thick bands of ironstone matrix, are now carefully exposed. 

The holotype-fossil bones of Australia’s most complete sauropod dinosaurs are housed in the Collection Room. We were able to view and get close to the fossils that are displayed around a public stage in a semi-circle.

Our next visit was the March of the Titanosaurs exhibition. This is housed in a building designed to accommodate the 54-metre-long Snake Creek trackside which was discovered on a property near Winton. The exhibit has been painstakingly transported to its current site where it is protected against the vagaries of climate. We were able to peruse the tracks in comfort.

Herds of sauropods roamed western Queensland at a time when the landscape was covered in temperate rainforests and muddy billabongs. A diverse ecosystem sustained lungfish, small mammals, turtles, crocodiles, pterosaurs, ornithopods and theropods. 

Out in the open we were able to absorb the atmosphere marvelling at the thought that millions of years ago these creatures roamed the earth. 

Had this been the end of the outback adventure, I would have been quite happy. However, there was another day ahead. 

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