latitude = Miami
We drove about 270 miles from Alice Springs to Uluru, which used to be known as Ayres Rock. I had the impression that this drive would be desolate and lonely. I’m sure that there are many outback routes that are, but we have driven roads in Nevada that are much more so. It is a very narrow two-lane road, which is a major artery for tourists and commerce. Three carriage road-trains are common and we even saw one touch hauling four trailers. They are OK to drive on a route without turns, but once they get to a more populated area, they must get taken apart. Our bus driver only had to make two right turns on our entire drive. The desert was surprisingly green, with lots of trees and bushes.
People who live in the Outback have to diversify to make a living. For many cattle ranching is what brought them here, but in dry years the cattle are not enough. The stations are vast; millions of acres supporting a few thousand cows. Our first rest stop was a cattle station also kept camels and offered rides for the brave souls who wanted to lurch around on these ships of the desert. Camels were brought here from the Canary Islands and were an invaluable resource as the outback began to be occupied by permanent settlements. They brought many of the supplies to Alice Springs that allowed them to lay the telegraph line to Darwin. Today many of the camels live wild in the desert, a bit like the wild horses we have in ours.
Our second stop was at a huge salt lake bed across the road from a mesa called Mt. Connor that looked a lot like Uluru, the rock we came to see, but it was flat on the top not rounded like Uluru. The third stop was for lunch at a station that serves meals to tourists. To get them to linger a bit longer, they have turned the building that used to be a slaughterhouse into a shop where they make handmade paper out of the grasses that are often plentiful in the Outback. They demonstrated how they do it and gave us a chance to make a sheet of paper of our own.
Then we finally came to Uluru, the giant red rock jutting out of the flat desert looking like a space station of aliens crashed there millennia ago. Seeing it was just as thrilling as I imagined it would be. Uluru is a national park, but it also is a highly sacred place to the Aboriginals. Trying to honor the Aboriginal’s wishes and control the streams of tourists that come from all over the world to see this awesome sight, is a challenge. Because everyone is here to see the same thing, it can make the park feel crowded even though the rock itself is huge. In some spots we were not allowed to take photographs, a real frustration for us. Aboriginals destroy all photographs of a person after he dies, so the visitor center had pieces of paper pasted over images of some folks in the photographs they exhibited showing Aboriginal life. If they leave the photos up long enough, they will all be totally covered. Very different from my way of thinking about the people in my life that have died. I love looking at their photographs and remembering them again. With all the rules and procedures it reminded us of visiting Denali National Park in Alaska, which tries so hard to protect the animals, you can hardly see them.
Our local guide took us to a few spots and told us some of the legends the Aboriginals created to explain the huge rock and all the dents and discolorations on its flanks. One area had petroglyphs above waist level. The guide showed us a picture of the same spot from the 1930's when the whole rock face was full of drawings. The guides used to throw buckets of water on them so the tourists could see them better. And now those near the bottom have been washed away altogether. When we stood in one spot listening to her, she wouldn’t allow any of the other tourists to be near us. She spent a lot of time chiding them, which wasted time and aggravated them. We saw the path where tourists are allowed to hike around the rock, circumference six miles. Tourist still climb to the top, which is physically very challenging and a slap in the face to the Aboriginals for whom this rock is like Jerusalem or St. Peter's Cathedral. We were told that the Japanese come here with that single goal of climbing the rock in mind. Today the climbing route was closed, because it was too hot to climb. There are no toilet facilities enroute or at the top; it sounds like things can get rather disgusting up there.
At sunset we joined a gazillion other tourists from bus tours in a fenced off area where we drank champagne, ate snacks and watched the sunset change the colors of the rock. Uluru is so huge, there was room for a few more gazillion more.