Due to the vagaries of internet access, I'm writing this post in our room at Ayers Rock, but I won't be able to post it for some time. (Ayers Rock itself is also called by its Aboriginal name, Uluru. The resort is only called Ayers Rock Resort, and the airport is Ayers Rock. So I'll use Ayers Rock for the whole area, and Uluru for the rock itself, to make things easier, unless I forget.) The Ayers Rock trip was late-ish June, about 23-25 or thereabouts.
First, before I try to explain exactly what Ayers Rock is like, let me say that I think it is terrific. I am thrilled that we came here. Why do I have to preface my comments with that? Because the best word I can think of to describe the Ayers Rock area is "weird," and I don't want you to take that the wrong way.
When humans finally get around to
building a colony on Mars, and I'm sure we can all agree that next
Tuesday would be convenient, I suspect it will look a lot like this
part of Australia. Not for nothing is this area nicknamed the "Red
Centre" - or "Red Center," if you spell Americanly.
The dirt is a deep bittersweet orange-red, the sort of baked
terracotta color they paint kitchens in remodeling shows if they are
going for a "Tuscan" vibe.
|Seriously, this place is sweet.|
|Airplane window shot of Kata Tjuta/ the Olgas, another rock formation near Uluru|
|There are only three types of kitchen remodels - "Tuscan," "Modern," and "Country." |
The Tuscan Red color will always be described as making the walls "pop."
Anyway, color is the first "weird" part about Ayers Rock. It is as if you opened the landscape in Photoshop and turned up all the saturation. Witness this unedited photograph, which demonstrates our excellent camera's befuddled attempt to make sense of the landscape:
|The image processor is going to need therapy.|
|Right next to Uluru|
|Did you know hunting boomerangs are thrown at the knees? It makes much more sense than impaling, which is how I assumed it worked. I would never survive in the wild.|
And then there are the many unexpected shades of green. Part of why the green is so extraordinary, I'm sure, is that the contrasting red strengthens my perception of the color. (One could even say the red soil makes the green plants "pop." Oh, I went there.) But the green is also objectively clear and diverse. There are whitish greens, yellowish greens, grayish greens, bluish greens, brownish greens, jade greens, and forest greens, and then the sun moves one degree in the sky and suddenly everything is a brand new color.
I didn't expect this much plant life in the Outback
in general, and what plant life I did expect, I thought would be
scrubbier and more brown/yellow, like in the American Southwest.
|Base of Uluru|
When you're from the city, or even a forested rural area, distances in the desert are also perplexing. The way I gauge distance is by taking an item of known size, like a stop sign, pine tree, or two-story house, and using its apparent size from where I'm standing. That doesn't work at all in the desert, where there are basically no known quantities to use as points of reference. The Ayers Rock resort area has one stop sign. The same species of tree can be one foot or twenty feet high, depending on whether or not that particular tree's location is affected by wind or water.
Uluru itself is impossible to process, size-wise. The statistics say that Uluru is 5.8 miles in circumference and 1,148 feet high (about 1/5 of a mile). The part of Uluru that is visible is actually just the tip of a giant underground rock monolith perhaps up to six kilometers deep. Think of it like a desert iceberg. Rockberg.
I just can't make these units meaningful, because how many things do you see in your daily life that are measured in miles, or kilometers? The largest modern unit of measurement which I can process easily is the football field, which is approximately 100 yards/100 meters. I suppose I could tell myself that the visible part of Uluru is the length of 360 football fields end-to-end, but nobody ever sees anything like that.
The end result of all of this is that when you're standing on a ridge looking at Uluru, you think, "That could be a twenty minute drive, maybe?" Then your bus takes you twenty minutes closer, and the size hasn't really changed at all, so you think, "Okay, twenty more minutes then." And five minutes later you're standing right up against the wall, and there's nothing left to do but scratch your head and go with it.
Even if you memorized the appearance of
Uluru from various points of reference, you'd still struggle to get
around because the landscape rises and falls so strongly that you
often lose track of the mountain. Coming from Ohio, where you can see
the capital skyline on the horizon from an hour outside the city, I
expected that the desert would also be flat. Not so! The undulating
ridges at Ayers Rock can vary by fifteen or twenty feet in height. If
you stood in the wrong places, you wouldn't know that Ayers Rock had
a rock at all.
winter in Malta, where a sweatshirt was comfortable for daytime
and you could throw on a scarf at night. Nope! In June, Ayers Rock is
cold cold cold, especially when you spend most of your time
outdoors, and often not moving much. During our stay, we had highs in
the 20s Celcius and lows around or just below zero. In Fahrenheit
terms, that's... I don't know. Highs in the 60s and low around 28?
|Uluru from land, ~20 minute drive|
|Uluru from plane. LARGER?????|
|Peek-a-boo! Where's Uluru?|
|There it is!|
|I had a hood and scarf on about 30 seconds before this photo was taken, but for some reason I felt I would look better with my hair uncovered.|
|A few hours later, I just gave up. You decide on the hair thing.|
Even that conversion doesn't really help, because at the sun plays such a strong role in how the temperature is perceived. Here is a handy chart:
Pre-sunrise: Wear everything you own, in layers. Minimum of four is recommended.
Just after sunrise: Mysteriously colder than pre-sunrise. Wear everything you own, and try to acquire pieces from someone else.
Roughly 8 AM to 3 PM, direct sunlight: You'll be fine in a t-shirt, as long as it's black.
Roughly 8 AM to 3 PM, shade: Continue to wear at <3 layers, but you may take off your hat.
Evening: Put your hat back on.
Roughly thirty seconds after sunset: Temperature plummets. Lose feeling in fingers and toes. Shivering wildly will not help, but it will make you feel more productive.
Pre-midnight, i.e. for stargazing: Wrap up in borrowed hotel blanket. That's why it's red! Cover your face if possible, with a scarf or balaclava. (Note: Not suitable for airports). You need to keep your fingers dextrous enough to operate the hotel room key, which requires the devil's bargain of sticking them on your own stomach. Give up on your feet, as you will not be feeling them again until mid-day tomorrow.
So I've been deeply cold for most of our time at Ayers Rock. But really glad we came - it has been fascinating to experience a corner of Earth that is so profoundly different from anywhere I've ever been.
At least until I join the Mars colony...
At least until I join the Mars colony...