DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
If you travel on only one of Len Beadell’s desert tracks the Sandy Blight Junction Road is the one to do. It runs through beautiful, interesting country and was justifiably his favourite.
This track’s unusual name relates to the fact that by the time Len Beadell’s Gunbarrel Road Construction Party reached the northern extremity of this road Len was suffering from trachoma, or ‘granular’ conjunctivitis. Among the symptoms is a feeling like grit in the eyes; hence its other name: ‘sandy blight’.
Len Beadell’s aim was to create roads that were as straight as possible, so, after finishing the Gunbarrel Highway, with its many long, straight sections, he had the same intention for his 1960 project; building a north-south road from near the site of the future Giles Weather Station.
However, the Gibson Desert presented him with a tricky navigational problem. Once through the successive ranges north east of Giles the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party couldn’t head in the desired straight-line path to the east of the Sir Frederick Range and Lake Macdonald, because in the way was
the low-lying Lake Hopkins. Heading further east proved unsuitable, because of linked low-lying and potentially boggy country as far as Lake Neale.
The Gunbarrel Road Construction Party was forced west, around Lake Hopkins and then north-east, into dune country as far as the Davenport Hills, near present-day Kintore, to skirt Lake Macdonald.
Avoiding the steeper dunes also contributed to a somewhat more crooked path than Len Beadell would have liked. His frustration is our joy, because the Sandy Blight Junction Road is a delightful drive through changing scenery, with interesting geologic and human-visitation features along its length.
The small museum at Giles also provides excellent background into the Len Beadell era, with some fine examples of his unique artistic skills. A morning visit is best, because every day a weather ballon is launched and on some days a tour of the weather station is possible.
The Sandy Blight Junction Road starts 27km west of Kaltukatjara (Docker River) and 77km east of Warakurna (Giles). Len Beadell placed many signposts and
one large rock (the 200-mile mark) at significant points along the road. Many of the original plaques were stolen by morons and so all have been replaced by replicas. Some fools have attempted to steal even these!
The Sandy Blight Junction Road can be driven in either direction and the relatively modest dunes are easily handled northbound or southbound. The track is gravel at the north and south extremities, with very rough corrugations in the northern 60 kilometres. The central sections are sandy and the track snakes through dune valleys for much of the time.
The most interesting natural scenery is at the north and south ends, where spectacular hills line up on the horizon. At the northern end there’s also a boulder formation that is a smaller version of the famous Devils Marbles. To the south is the twin-pool Bungabiddy rockhole.
William Tietkins, the explorer, blazed a tree near Mount Leisler in May 1889 and it’s still there today, although now recumbent on a pair of concrete blocks.
The Sandy Blight Junction Road is remote and there are no facilities between the communities at Kintore on the Gary Junction Road and Kaltukatjara (Docker River) on the Great Central Road.
Two permits are required to travel on the road – one for the Western Australian section and one for the Northern Territory – and a permit is required for travel on the Great Central Road.
Our experience is that the WA permits are easily available on line, but the NT website is a pain.