Why I love the outback 

The outback is hot. It’s dusty. There’s nobody there. It’s boring. I hear it all the time from fellow backpackers. They bemoan long dull drives across the Nullarbor, and endless days spent on the Stuart highway. They talk about the incessant red dirt, the copious amount of flies, the flat barren landscape. And I understand their complaints. The outback isn’t for everybody. But in my opinion experiencing the outback is one of the best ways to truly understand the Australian spirit-the stubborn determination, the sense of humour, the camaraderie. 
We had only just begun our journey up the Oodnadatta track when the political activism of the area became clear. I’ve often heard it argued that the outback is a perfect place for nuclear testing and dumping of nuclear waste because “there’s no one there” (and it’s certainly been used that way in the past). But here we were in the outback seeing graffiti condemning uranium mining in Roxby Downs, protesting against the idea of nuclear power being introduced in Australia, and clearly crying out against the idea that there is no one in the outback who could be affected by nuclear activity. I have to be honest-I don’t know enough about nuclear energy to have a clear opinion on it. But I was immediately hit by the fact that central Australia is a place with a deep history-decades of revolting against mining, nuclear testing, and US military presence show an underlying love of the land and a sense of community even in a space so vast. 


The infrastructure of the outback never fails to amaze me. Things that we take for granted now-like being able to drive across the country-are only available to us because of the hard work of so many Australians. We met a couple who worked on bitumening the Nullarbor. They told us about living in their car with a small baby, carting all their things across the unforgiving landscape on the then unsealed bumpy highway. We marvelled at stories of the old Ghan railway, of the passengers disembarking in Oodnadatta and being carried the remaining 600 kilometres by camels. We learnt about the Birdsville mailman and the challenges presented by something as simple as delivering a letter. I was so impressed by these people who were so determined to make a life in the outback and who were so devoted to their country that they worked so hard to connect it. 


But to me the biggest icon of Australian determination is the Dog proof fence. At over five thousand kilometres long, the Dingo fence is the longest fence on earth! It was built all the way back in 1885 to stop Dingos from entering pastoral land and eating sheep, and it’s been maintained until today! Now, I don’t know about you but if I were a sheep farmer and I arrived in the outback and saw all the challenges-irrigation, infertile soil, native predators- I would have given up immediately and decided to eat kangaroo instead (which totally would have been more environmentally friendly, by the way) but no-the stubborn Australian spirit decided the best option would be to hand build the longest fence on earth. I can’t even explain to you how amazing I find this simple wire fence. We saw it all the way back on the Nullarbor, again in Coober Pedy, and we will one day see it again in Queensland. I don’t think anything can define white Australian culture quite the way the Dingo fence does. 


So with all of that said, I love the outback. I love it because it connects me to what it means to be an Australian. I don’t think I will ever consider myself fully Australian, but having experienced the outback I feel like I understand Australian patriotism, the sense of adventure and fearlessness, and the love of the land that drives people to live in the craziest of environments. 

Joshua Tree to Las Vegas 

  

Upon leaving Joshua Tree for Las Vegas we found ourselves almost immediately in the middle of nowhere. This drive is one of our favourite memories from California. The open desert roads, mountains looming above us, and the remote crossroad towns felt like something from a Wild West movie. We went miles and miles without seeing another car, mail boxes lined the road with no sign of who they belonged to, and the California playlist we’d waited months to listen to was the perfect background to the perfect drive. 
This drive goes right through the middle of the Mojave national preserve, a wonderfully diverse area of desert spanning 1.6 million acres. When I say diverse I mean it- we saw rolling Sand dunes, extinct volcanic cones, and towering mountains. The whole journey is relatively short- just over three hours- but for those who like to move at a more leisurely pace there are campsites in the preserve. There is also a historic trail which was once used for trading by native Americans! It’s recommended you use a four wheel drive for this trail but if you’re unsure there is a visitors centre where you can ask any questions. 
Another great thing about this drive is that you get to go through a small section of Route 66! It is a very small section but you still get to grab a photo with the sign and tell all your friends you drove on the famous mother road! The town of Amboy here once boomed due to traffic on Route 66 but since the town was bypassed by the interstate it is now basically a ghost town. It’s definitely an interesting stop!

  

  

  
As we got closer to Vegas Alex insisted we stop at Good Springs- a tiny town between Primm and Las Vegas that also happens to be the starting point for Fallout: New Vegas. If you’re a video game fan I’d say this place is a must visit. It’s just a short side trip from the highway and Alex was thrilled to be able to get a picture with the sign, buy a t-shirt, and see the old fashioned saloon. It’s also a nice place to stop and pee! 

  

 
Finally, we decided to head to the Hoover dam as we couldn’t check in to our hotel till three and we’d made good time. From the highway we could see Lake Mead, the huge man made lake created by the Hoover dam. We decided we’d take a quick look at the visitors centre before heading on to the dam. However, it turns out there’s some great hikes around lake mead and I think our quick look turned into a two hour exploration. That’s what road trips are all about though, right?! 

  There are many interesting hikes around the lake with beautiful views. We did part of the historic railroad trail. This trail goes along the path of the old railroad which carried materials to the site of the Hoover dam! You go through the old tunnels which are now home to bats. Along the way you can see the original concrete plugs used in building the dam- when they were removed they were simply tossed off the train. There are also information plaques telling you about the surrounding area and the building of the dam. This trail is 7.5 miles (12 km) return and is an easy well laid out walk. We didn’t have time to go the whole thing but it’s worth just walking as far as the first tunnel- it’s a beautiful walk and a very interesting one too. 

  
Next we went to the legendary Hoover dam. Built in 1936 this monstrous dam changed life in the area surrounding the Colorado river forever. It’s effects are controversial- it tamed the river, flooded towns, powered cities, and killed wildlife. But regardless of your opinion, it’s an amazing site to visit and ponder the achievements of man. 

  
Parking here is a $10 fee. There’s a visitor centre, shop and cafe. You can walk across the dam or the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge- and when you get to the other side you’ll be in Arizona! It’s a great way to fit another state into your itinerary 😉 
So that was how we spent our third day with the camper van! After we left the dam we headed straight to the city lights of Vegas…but that’s a story for another blog post.