jen yu: australia 2007 - day 2

australia 2007 - day 2

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uluru, kata tjuta
march 9, 2007
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Uluru is located in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park which is Aboriginal land. Admission is $25 per person which allows access to the park for 3 days. Yulara is not far from the entrance to the park, but it is about 20 km from Uluru and 53 km from Kata Tjuta. Most people come to see Uluru, but to the west is Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), which is a concentration of dome outcrops - the tallest of which is higher than Uluru.

Uluru is the exposed tip of a sandstone formation that has been folded such that the strata in Uluru are nearly vertical. The rest of the formation remains under the surface of the earth and extends for about 5-6 km and does not blanket all of Australia as some women had asked me in Alice Springs. The sandstone is arkose, which is typically a coarse sandstone resulting from the deposition of weathered granitic rock. Uluru is originally grey in color, but because the iron minerals in the rock are weathered at the surface and oxidize, Uluru's outer surface is red. Kata Tjuta is a sedimentary conglomerate of mud, sand, boulders, and pebbles. It was likely the result of fluvial deposition.

Everyone in the campground rose in the dark, well before the sun does, because sunrise and sunset on Uluru are the big attractions. Not everyone rose quietly (politely) and I couldn't believe that they were shouting to one another across the campground as if it were 2 pm instead of 5 am. We set off for the sunrise viewing area, shoveling apples, bread, and juice into our mouths as we drove in the darkness. The place was packed with tour groups unloaded from enormous tour buses - all lined up at the roped boundaries with cameras pointed in anticipation of sunrise. As first light struck the top, shutters began clicking and some flashes went off (take your camera off auto!). Just as light reached the base of the rock the final pictures were taken and the hordes were herded back to the tour buses.

We drove to the Mala carpark to begin our hike around Uluru. The 10 km trail travels the perimeter of the the monolith. Despite being in the shade of the rock, it was already in the 90s. Although there were several folks walking the entire track, the majority of the people we encountered were only there to see the Kantju gorge or the Mutitjulu waterhole. The climb on Uluru was closed that day due to the heat. They also close the climb for high winds, rain storms, and other dangerous conditions. The Anangu ask that people do not climb Uluru, although they do not prohibit it. We chose to respect their wish. Along the hike there are a handful of features and locations where photography is prohibited because the site is sacred to the Anangu.

I think the Mutitjulu waterhole was our favorite part of Uluru. It was located in a tiny alcove of the towering walls. The shady ground supported several tall trees, shrubs, and scrub. Water pooled at the end and a breeze blew across everything. A few butcherbirds were flitting about, singing beautiful and varied songs that echoed from one wall to the other. When we reached the viewing platform at the edge of the waterhole, a tour group was just leaving. We had the entire place to ourselves for a good 20 minutes. A butcherbird approached and rested on a nearby bush, singing to us for several minutes. It was magical. By the time we hiked back to the car, the lot had emptied out and it was already 100 degrees (40C) at 10 am. We stopped at the cultural center which was a little disappointing.

We spent the afternoon trying to escape the heat in Yulara, scoping out gift shops and grocery store offerings. Opting for a late lunch at Gecko's Café, we enjoyed the fare and suffered some pretty awful service. It seems the task at hand in the Red Center is to kill as much time as possible during the heat of the day which is basically from sunup to sundown. The visitor center, in Yulara, was quite good. The wildlife displays and information on weather, geology, natural history, and ecological management were fascinating and well done. At the campground, we laid a tarp on the ground and slept in the shade.

An hour before sunset, we drove to Kata Tjuta for photo ops. The flies swarmed the five people there like crazy. We all stood around with our cameras and tripods with headnets over our faces. A tour bus arrived and I watched in amazement as one of the guides erected a table and began to pour wine into tiny plastic wine cups for tour members. It was pretty festive and I think everyone appreciated how spectacular those domes were. They were even better the next day.

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