A cool wind is blowing softly, just enough to tamper down the heat of the relentless sun. The view before me is astounding. The largest sandstone monolith in the world* sits in front of me. It is alone on the golden grassy plains of spinifex. The deep blue of the sky surrounding it is a stark contrast to this massive red rock.
At 387 meters (1,270 feet) above the desert floor, this monolith is taller than the Eiffel Tower, ten kilometers (six miles) in circumference and surrounded by a flat plain. Kata Tjuta / The Olgas are the nearest break in the plain 37 miles away (almost 60 KM).
Uluru is magnificent and it defies my imagination of how it was formed even though there is a scientific explanation. It is like knowing the mathematical distance of the stars yet still trying to grasp it.
The structure is said to have been formed when this region was underwater and the earth’s plates were shifting. Two fans, one of sand and the other of conglomerate rock, continually pressed against each other causing friction. When the pressure burst, the two fans formed together to create a rock formation known today as Uluru.(for a more detailed explanation see the geology study found here).
Note: Uluru is the traditional Anangu name for Ayers Rock.
– Anangu people, the first known people in the center of Australia, named this monolith Uluru.
– In 1872, European explorers named it Ayers Rock and the sister site (60 km away) The Olgas.
– Uluru and Kata Tujta (aka The Olgas) were deeded back to the Anangu people in 1985.
– In 1995, the names of these two geological wonders were officially changed back to Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
I try to paint a picture with words but I am failing. I’ve read and heard about Uluru, but never expected it to be so magnificent, or maybe I just didn’t believe them. How special can a big rock sitting in the red center of Australia be? A massive sandstone alone in a desert.
Even if I didn’t believe how magnificent it would be we still had to see it, it’s a major icon of Australia.
Wonder of a single Stone
Red sand dotted with the occasional blackened tree spread out around us as far as we could see. I expected to hear an eagle call like they do in old western movies when someone is walking through the middle of a desert. Soon a bump on the horizon appeared. We watched it in silence assuming it must be Uluru, but we held our opinion wondering if that is all it would be, a bump on the horizon.
As we approached, the red sand disappeared under a ground cover of spinifex. This desert grass grows in low round tuffs that look like brown and light green tiddlywinks, each blade piled up in random directions.
As we drove closer, the bump in the distance grew exponentially. When her size grew enough to fill the view of our windshield Trin and I said “WOW.” We had no other words and we drove in silence until we parked by her side.
We climbed down out of Lil’ Beaut and began to walk around Uluru. I was enthralled. The sight of this icon has a way of pushing all my other thoughts out of the way and filling my imagination with wonder.
Darkened trails leave evidence of water that falls in streams down her sides during the wet season. Wonder fills the valleys carved into this single stone.
I place my hand on Uluru and feel the cool temperatures from the previous night that she holds close. It felt momentous, that first touch of Uluru. Our feet first touched Australian soil exactly one year ago today. This seemed to be a fitting way to celebrate a full year in this amazing country.
The surface of Uluru is red, but it is naturally gray inside. Uluru is composed of arkose, a coarse grained sandstone rich in the mineral feldspar. The exposed outer layer is red because of the iron oxide particles in the stone. Once exposed to air and water the surface turns red. It literally has a rusted surface.
I try to imagine what this spot must have looked like before anyone was around to observe and record it.
Faces of Uluru
Wind has carved large groves over the smooth sides of Uluru creating patterns and shadows. With only a little imagination faces appear with expressions. Some may see fanciful stories in her lines and others warnings of doom. I suppose what one sees could be as diverse as the results of a Rorschach test.
Uluru has valleys that whisper of waterfalls. The surface of Uluru is dry this time of year but worn paths left by falling moisture leave evidence of the waterfalls during the wet. It is a rock filled with its own secrets.
Patterns of wind and rain have etched their stories across its face. Stories held sacred that are passed from elders to their grandchildren.
The path around the base of Uluru is ten kilometers (six miles). Each side reflects a different beauty with valleys and caves carved into one continuous smooth stone. It is as if there were many faces with stories to tell on her walls. Some faces are so sacred that photography is not allowed.
The sacred place for men has intricate lines scoring down its side. This is the place where grandfathers use the lines and curves to tell the ancient stories of the dreaming to their grandsons.
On the opposite side of Uluru another face portrays a beautifully shaped cave like an open mouth in the middle of telling a wondrous story. In this sacred area grandmothers tell their granddaughters the secrets for women.
We approach an overhang that hides a small sandy bottom cave with easy access. This one was set aside specifically for older men. It was literally a man cave.
The story of the Rainbow Serpent
Many Aboriginal traditions tell the story of the Rainbow Serpent who rules water and rain. The Rainbow Serpent brought ‘Big Water’ to the earth. When he left he made big waves. The waves cut into the land making big chunks of it fall and wash away, leaving the cliffs, valleys, and river channels that we see today.
After the ‘Big Water’ retreated below ground, Murrujurlman a little left-handed frog made it rain so that the rivers would fill and everyone would have water.
A place of dreaming
Throughout the Northern Territory we saw many places considered sacred to the Aboriginal people. The Anangu people of this area, discovered to be the world’s oldest civilization, believe that Uluru was formed by ancestral beings during the Dreaming. It has been a significant landmark to the Aboriginal people since the beginning.
The dreaming refers to the time when ancestor spirits created the rivers, hills and natural world. They believe the earth at the beginning was without form.
Kapi Matitjulu is one of the many sacred places along the base of Uluru. It is a small valley with steep sides protecting it from direct sunlight most of the day.
A gentle breeze flows over the rocks at Kapi Matitjulu. It moves the grasses and cools our skin. A small pool huddled in the shadows at the base of this crevice. A carved path, the ghost of many waterfalls descending during the wet, adorned the deep crevasse. Far above our heads the sun kisses the top of the valley making it glow. We stand in the stillness gazing at the reflections in the pool and enjoying the coolness singular to this spot.
I may not believe in a serpent god, but I love the idea of having special places for quiet and reflection. The Aboriginal culture uses ‘Dreaming’ in relation to creation and places that they go for special celebrations and sharing of secrets. I wonder if we took more time to dream, more time to be at peace and meditate on that which is good, what might we create in our lives?
Do you have a place to dream? A place of peace surrounded by the natural world where you can get away to think things through? Maybe it would help you decide on your next blue door.
*Largest Sandstone Monolith: A debated title
Savandurga in India and El Capitan in the USA are both monoliths and are larger than Uluru. They are made of granite so Uluru still retains the title for the largest sandstone monolith.
Mt. Augustus in Western Australia is 2.5 times the size of Uluru. Many claim incorrectly that it is a monolith but it is made up of rock layers and is therefore considered a monocline.