Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Ayers Rock, Australia
Stars glisten overhead in an obsidian sky as the convoy sets out. A line of headlights; camper vans and tour buses, park service pickups and hired cars, rumbling in single file across the desert. In the east, the first gray hint of twilight outlines The Rock.
Uluru, Ayers Rock to the sunburnt, half-starved latecomers who stumbled in a hundred generations after this land’s Aboriginal founders, stands as one of the world's largest monoliths. It rises 1000 feet out of an ocean of red sand, its imposing presence drawing your eyes like a magnet.
A quarter mile of park road turns into one massive parking lot for the spectacle of dawn. Half of Tokyo spills out of one bus, an entire Boca Raton retirement home hobbles out of from another, joined by an army of dusty euro backpackers and campervanning Brits.
Dozens of LCD screens glow in the dark and a hundred pop-up flashes evaporate into the desert night. The sky lightens and the clicking reaches a crescendo. At 6:37 the sun casts the first orange light onto the Rock. At 6:39, the buses start their engines. By a quarter to seven, I have the place to myself.
The flies seem happy enough for me to stay on. Most everyone here walks around with ridiculous looking mesh headnets against their onslaught. I chucked derisively at first. I tried toughing it out, but it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to get anything done while waving both hands about your head and swearing furiously.
As the sun spins overhead, color suffuses the Rock. Dawn's warm glow gives way to a rusted brown under scalding midday light. In late afternoon, with the temperature pushing 105°, the Rock seems to burn in the colors of rich flame. At sunset and into dusk, it glows like an ember of coal before slowly fading into utter blackness on a moonless night. Its absence cuts a hole in the sky, and the southern stars glow brighter beyond its hulking shadow.
I wait until the last of the day’s cars, trucks and buses have gone home and stand in the desert, savoring the warm wind and the southern stars circling slowly overhead.