The Mystery of The Pinnacle Desert

The Pinnacles are situated in the Nambung National Park which is 250 Kilometres North of Perth and is one of Western Australia's best known landscapes. Nambung National Park covers an area of approximately 17491 hectares. Where, thousands of huge limestone pillars rise from the shifting Sand Dunes and resemble a landscape from another Planet.

The Records of Europeans at the Pinnacles dates back to 1650’s, when the North and South Hummocks where first chartered by the Dutch. They believed this area was a lost city. The Hummocks were also mentioned by Philip Parker King's around 1820. Nambung name comes from an Aboriginal word that means crooked or Winding River and this is where they got the National Park got its name from. A section of the river was actually after Frederick Smith who was part of Captains Grays party that survived a shipwreck close to Kalbarri and was attempting to get back to Perth; unfortunately he died in this area.

The Pinnacles Desert was relatively unknown until the late 1960s, when the Department of Lands and Surveys decided to include the area to the Nambung National park, which had been created in 1956. The park is visited by up to 150,000 from every corner of the world visitors a year.

The Pinnacles is situated in the middle of the Nambung National Park, there are literally thousands of limestone pillars which rise out of the landscape of yellow sand and can reach up to four metres tall. They are all shapes and sizes and there are many that resemble things in everyday life, for example The Turtle, the Cathedral, the Whale, Casper the Ghost and even a Sea Lion balancing a ball on its nose. The Pinnacles are made up of sea shell fossils from earlier times which were rich in marine life. These shells were broken down over the years into lime sands which were washed ashore by the sea and then blown inland to create high, mobile dunes.

There are three known systems of sand dunes that along the Western Australia coast from Nambung to Busselton, outlining ancient shorelines. The dune system becomes less contrasting the further away from the coast you go.

1, The Quindalup dunes are mainly lime sands found inland from the foreshore dunes and but are added to by beach Sand. The vegetation here consists mainly of Acacia thickets.

2. The Bassendean system which is silica-rich sands is found on east side of the park. The vegetation is mostly low open woodland and bushland.

3. The oldest of the three dune systems, is known as the Spearwood, these are characterised by yellow and or brownish sands usually covering the limestone.

The slightly acidic rain dissolves small amounts of calcium carbonate as it soaks down through the sand. As the dune dries out during summer, this creates cement around grains of sand in the lower down, binding them together and over time producing a hard limestone rock, known as Tamala Limestone. Around the same time, vegetation became established on the surface, aided this process. Plant roots stabilised the surface, and encouraged a more acidic layer of soil and humus (containing decayed plant and animal matter) to develop over the remaining quartz sand. The acidic soil accelerated the leaching process, and a hard layer of calcrete formed over the softer limestone below. Cracks which formed in the calcrete layer were exploited by plant roots. When water seeped down along these channels, the softer limestone beneath was slowly leached away and the channels gradually filled with quartz sand. This subsurface erosion continued until only the most resilient columns remained. The Pinnacles, then, are the eroded remnants of the formerly thick bed of limestone. As bush fires denuded the higher areas, south-westerly winds carried away the loose quartz sands and left these limestone pillars standing up to four metres high. Although the formation of the Pinnacles would have taken many thousands of years, they were probably only exposed in quite recent times. Aboriginal artefacts at least 6,000 years old have been found in the Pinnacles Desert despite no recent evidence of Aboriginal occupation. This tends to suggest that the Pinnacles were exposed about 6,000 years ago and then covered up by shifting sands, before being exposed again in the last few hundred years.

This process can be seen in action today - with the predominantly southerly winds uncovering pinnacles in the northern part of the Pinnacles Desert but covering those in the south. Over time, the limestone spires will no doubt be covered again by other sand drifts and the cycle repeated, creating weird and wonderful shapes over and over again. The animals in the park are mainly Nocturnal ( More active at night) but you can see Emus and Western Grey Kangaroos during the day. There are many Reptiles especially Bobtail skinks and Snakes .with over 90 species of birds recorded on the Swan Coastel plain so theres a good chance you will see some animals. Rhizoliths (fossil Roots) Individual roots of any plant modify the soil immediately surrounding themselves. The combination of water and humic acids can cause the precipitation of cement, especially calcite, between the soil particles surrounding the root. Erosion of the poorly cemented sediment between the more resistant fossil roots (or rhizoliths) can leave a 'lag' deposit of these fossil roots.

The surface of most of the Pinnacles are covered with hundreds of these short fossil root fragments.In detail, the individual rhizoliths commonly have a sub-millimeter diameter tubular hole down their centers where the actual root was located before rotting or decaying out of the fossil. The outer surface is very irregular being controlled by nearly random fluxuations in the distance of chemical trasport and reaction surrounding an individual root. The sands which make up the Pinnacles Desert and the Tamala Limestone (which extends along much of the west coast of Australia) originated as beach sand brought ashore by the waves of the Indian Ocean. The sand grains are composed of both quartz (SiO2) (generally originating by weathering of continental rocks and delivered to the ocean by rivers) and calcite (CaCO3).

The calcite grains are, for the most part, broken up bits of shell material originating on the shallow continental shelf. There is evidence that the dunes formed along the coast reached heights of up to 300 meters!. Aboriginal Deamtime story For thousands of years the Yuart people from" the land of the crooked river" lived in peace and harmony in a land filled with flowers and food. As was their custom the women tended the small children of the tribe and when the morning was settled they would go out across the red dirt and dig for the roots of many of the climbing and running tuberous plants to add to the meal of the day for the community. The men of the yuart would take the young boys with them when they went to hunt for the meat for the meals amongst the trees and shrubs of the bushland. The men would move with great ease and stealth as they carried their spears and taught the boys to track the footprints of the animals in the desert dust, echidna, brush wallabies, possums, emus, snakes and goannas and kangaroos, and to take care to kill only what was needed.

The children of the tribe were taught to have great respect for the spirit of each family of animals that shared the life of the Yuart families in "the land of the crooked river". The Yuart people were surrounded by water holes filled with freshwater fish of rainbow colours and varieties of water birds with long graceful legs and feathers of brilliant reds and blues, greens and yellow. Mussels and crabs, oysters, tortoises and saltwater fish of every kind bred along the turquoise seashore of the Indian Ocean. The families would make camp down on the beach during the summer months, catching their fill of fish and shellfish and cooking on fires made from bleached driftwood that had washed up onto the white sands. At the end of the day the children would dance and sing as they watched the great red sun ball sink behind the islands and reefs that lay beyond the white tipped surf to the west. One evening as the singing was ending Mulbarrn, a white haired elder of the Yuart, heard an unfamiliar noise up in the trees beyond the beach. He watched carefully. He sensed danger and whispered to the others to be still. He could see three men, who were not part of the Yuart tribe, standing in the shadows with spears. They were decorated with bright war paint. Mulbarrn rose to approach the strangers. A spear flew past his head and landed in the sand behind him. The women clasped their babies; the men rose to their feet. The children huddled together silently.

The Yuart people knew only a life of peaceful happiness. Mulbarrn could make out three more men behind the painted warriors. Each man had a large, freshly killed grey kangaroo slung across his shoulder. They had broken the sacred code of tribal peoples of the area. They were from a neighbouring tribe. They had their own tribal land. They had killed on land that was not theirs, though other tribes might have shortage of food the Yuart people knew they were indeed blessed with the abundance of their food source. The code was strict. "Never trespass to hunt on neighbouring land." Otherwise there would surely be punishment from the Lords of the Dreaming. Suddenly all six men turned and disappeared into the forest.

A challenge had been presented to the Yuart. The elders were saddened. A meeting was called. Mulbarrn told the men to prepare themselves for attack. He believed that the warriors would come back to hunt for food and perhaps fight to take the land from the Yuart. The next day at dusk, the three painted warriors approached Mulbarrn. Behind them were one hundred men. Mulbarrn laid down his spear. Yuart men gathered behind him as he approached the painted chief. Spears from behind flew through the air as warning to Mulbarrn. Again the enemy turned and fled into the forest. Mulbarrn and the Yuart men could hear the cry of the kangaroo. Cockatoos readying to nest in the tree tops soared into the sky in a streak of yellow and white as they screeched their warning call. There was the sound of branches snapping. The Yuart men, led by Mulbarrn, loped along the tracks and found their brothers the kangaroo and the wallaby lying bleeding in the dust. The Yuart men were heavy hearted; they had never been at war. They knew they must fight to defend the "land of the crooked river." The men went down to the water's edge to bathe. They collected rocks and soil and sand with colours of every hue of ochre and white and painted each other as they prepared for the Corroboree of Power. That night they danced until the dust flew around them like clouds of gold. Their music sticks beat the sounds of the Dreamtime and mixed with the haunting beauty of the Didgeridoo. The painted men danced beyond time. Their movements of swirling and stamping, chanting and singing called on the Lords of the Dreaming to help them defend their land, their animals and their families. At dawn the men, old and young, slept together under the huge Tuart trees. That afternoon at sunset three hundred Noongars from beyond the "land of the crooked river" approached the Yuart camp and launched three spears.

The Yuart were ready. A surge of killing followed. Slain men lay in the dust. Some from each tribe. The intruders turned and ran back across the red dust. The men of the Yuart danced a corroboree of praise and gratitude. At that moment the innocence of the Yuart was lost forever. For the next one hundred years , each summer when food was scarce, the outside tribes plundered the abundant Yuart land. Each year the Lords of the Dreaming bestowed their blessings on the Yuart and showed their approval by turning the vanquished enemy to stone. Where each enemy warrior lay dead, a tall limestone sculpture would appear in the red sand, until thousands upon thousands of sculptures grew out of hills across the desert. Year upon year the numbers of sculptures would increase as the Yuart became skilled warriors and slayed the plundering tribal men. The winds of time have shaped these tens of thousands of sculptures, that remain a testimony today, in the stories of the Dreamtime, to the strength and valour of the peace loving Yuart.

Things you need to know Where is it? Closes town to the Pinnacles and Numbung National Park is Cervantes it`s 245 km north of Perth via the Brand Highway. Travelling time: The park is about three hours from the centre of Perth. Access: The turn off to the park is off Cervantes Road, which runs off the Brand Highway. Facilities: Barbecues, information panels, tables and toilets. There are no camping areas in the national park but a full range of accommodation and other services are available in Cervantes. Best season: The best season is during September and October, when the wildflowers are blooming and vistas of wattles stretch from horizon to horizon, but in fine weather Nambung is interesting year-round. What to see and do: Pinnacles exploration, wildflower watching, picnicking, swimming, fishing, snorkelling, Walking, 4WD, and Stromatalites Annual Rain fall : Most of the rain falls between May and September from September onwards the weather warms up and a good time to visits this is when the native plants start their spring bloom. For the most up to date information check out

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