"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Aussie Journals, CH. 7, Red Rocks in the Sunset

The Aussie Journals, Ch.7

Red Rocks in the Sunset



I hold the glass of champagne at arm’s length, as if to offer a toast, but do not speak. Carefully moving the glass up, down, left, right, I am searching for the perfect spot. The effervescence in the golden liquid captures bits of the rust-red color of the monolith in the distance. I adjust the glass a fraction more and, suddenly, within the flute of champagne is a perfectly miniaturized image of Uluru.

The sun is setting and shadows are snaking across the desert, blurring the sharp images of shrubs and spindly trees that somehow survive here in Australia’s treacherous Outback.

Begging Australian magpies appear from under the brush and eye us expectantly. They have no interest in the crumbs of crackers we drop near them, but pounce immediately on the cheese we offer as a substitute. I realize they come here every day at sunset and wait for the long diesel motor coaches to bring the tourists.

Each day the birds have to retrain the tourists: cheese, not crackers. I imagine they wonder if we’ll ever get it right and not need daily remedial teaching. Not the crudités or fruit. Cheese is what they await.
We tourists sit on folding stools withdrawn from a crate in the belly of the coach. Binoculars or cameras in one hand, champagne in the other, we watch as the sun drops lower behind our backs. Australian Magpie We watch the massive red rock before us, and following our guide Simon’s advice, take another photo every few minutes.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) at Sunset Kristy Hart photo

“You won’t notice the changes,” he said, “but your camera will capture them.” My camera, however, was last seen in the seat pouch of a Qantas jet flying between Cairns and Alice Springs, so I am relying on the promises of my fellow travelers to send photos.

I have seen untold numbers of pictures of this formation, Uluru—known as Ayers Rock beyond the general area of Australia. As with many countries attempting to come to terms with the mistreatment its indigenous peoples, Australia returned this area of the Outback to the Aboriginals, and adopted their historic name of Uluru (Oo-luh-roo) as the preferred name of the red icon.

Simon pouring the bubbly at Uluru
Missy Barnett photo

The color is its most recognizable feature. From pink to mauve to red to maroon, the sandstone appears to change color with the weather and time of day. When infrequent rain falls, the rock is silvery-gray. Within the sandstone are iron-bearing minerals, thus the process of oxidation gives Uluru its red-brown rusty coloration, much like the red
rock of Sedona, Arizona.


“It looks like a loaf of bread,” someone near me says. I agree. It does. A Pullman loaf, though, because of its length, not round-top loaves. Through binoculars I can see eroded channels where rain runs down the rock, and the series of bowl-shaped pools where it collects before spilling into another farther down. As the sun settles lower, more contours come into focus, but it remains exactly what it appears to be—a solid red rock shaped
like a long loaf of bread.
Pat at Uluru sunset surprise. Missy Barnett photo


In the distance behind us stand the Kuta Tjuta ( The Olgas), now in silhouette before the setting sun. We had been to an overlook earlier to see and photograph this dramatic line of thirty-six mounds as red as Uluru.
Eventually the champagne glasses are taken back to the caterer’s tables, placed next to the near-empty trays that once held cheese and crackers and veggies and fruits. We pick up our folding stools and return them to the coach. We climb aboard, settle into our seats for the short ride back to the luxurious hotel rooms that await us at the Desert Gardens. We are among the last of the coaches to leave this site on a day that has been packed with mind-bending awe
and adventure. The champagne and hors-d-oeuvres were a surprise, never mentioned in the itinerary written by Simon, the forty pages of schedules, maps, histories and tips that we call “our homework.”

I crawl into bed thinking that this day alone would have been worth the cost of the entire trip. I fall asleep reliving the day’s adventures—hot air ballooning, riding moaning camels, the 280 mile drive to this oasis in the desert. I am innocently oblivious to what Uluru has waiting for me the next morning.
Uluru at sunset Photo by Julia Hart






















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