By the time we boarded the bus for a mid-afternoon hike at Kata Tjuka, the wisdom of having closed the Uluru climbing path due to heat was becoming apparent: temperatures were up to 102F. As we gave our names to the friendly guide with the clipboard, he asked us whether we were carrying at least 1 liter of water each. We weren’t, quite, and to my surprise he made me go back to the hotel lobby to buy an additional small bottle to bring us to our quota.
Frankly, this seemed a little melodramatic to me. Our walk was only going to be about 2 miles, not exactly a trek across the Gobi Desert. Which in retrospect goes to show that I would have made a lousy and quickly dead Aborigine.
Kata Tjuka, unlike Uluru, is not a monolith. It consists of conglomerate rock forming four connected steep dome-like mini-mountains, with a hike-able canyon about a mile long between two of them. Here’s the whole formation from a distance:
And here is the entrance to the canyon:
If you think that looks stark and forbidding, step up and collect your prize. While the air temperature was a balmy 102, both the ground and the canyon walls are nicely reflective of the thermal radiation, so your little stroll is like a death march through a convection oven. And it is dry, oh it is dry. My oh my, it is dry. It is dryer than Dorothy Parker’s wit. It is dryer than Dick Cheney’s tear ducts — that’s how dry it is.
The plan was to go to the end and back in about an hour. But the trail was very rocky and rough, the flies dense in the air — we resorted to wearing those mosquito net bag things over our heads, that we bought a day or two ago — and the conditions altogether punishing. Alice lasted about 20 minutes. I made it to the end and back in the planned hour, but I looked like Robinson Crusoe by the time I returned, and I had drunk almost all of my water. So maybe the water requirement was not so melodramatic after all. And maybe I am not Bear Gryls.
Lesson learned, we headed back towards Uluru to catch the sunset. En route we passed a large herd (~25) of wild camels, some distance off the road, mostly sitting on the ground sunning themselves or whatever wild camels do in their spare time. Herds of wild camels! It sounds like a setup for a Far Side cartoon. They were surprisingly hard to see; you don’t generally think about camels as being big in the camouflage department, but their coloration allows them to blend in surprisingly well. They are the dreaded Australian Stealth Camels. The irony is that after two weeks in Australia we have yet to see an emu, koala, or kangaroo in the wild (though we did see wallabies in Kakadu). But camels, no problem.
We arrived back at Uluru about an hour before sunset, where the tour company had drinks and snacks waiting for us. Here we are:
That, of course, is Uluru/Ayer’s Rock in the background. As I reported last time, its range and subtlety of colors is magnificent, especially so at sunrise and sunset. At the suggestion of the guide I took a series of photos every few minutes as the sun set; watched in sequence, you can see the rock change color and the shifting shadows change its contours, e.g.:
Compare the color of the rock in this shot with the one in the background of the previous shot with Alice and me, taken 45 minutes earlier, and you begin to see what’s going on. And bear in mind that those trees are in the foreground; the rock is nearly a quarter-mile high! This photo was made with the iPad and is similar to one in the series that I shot with my “real” camera. As you can tell, it was quite a sight, certainly one of the highlights of the trip so far.
We head to Sydney tomorrow afternoon, after our helicopter flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuka. I’ll try and post this before we leave, then report on the helicopter flight later. No idea what our Internet access will be in Sydney, but I’ll do what I can.