We are finally headed to Uluru. But first we need to make a brief stop in the much less famous Glen Helen. Why? Because some Internet guidebook told me we should drive there immediately after landing in Alice Springs. I took their advice. Glen Helen may be a more fun spot in less severe heat. Also for those who love to hike. However, the one night we spent there was plenty…
Glen Helen, 86 Miles North of Alice Springs
Anywhere you drive or visit in Australia is an adventure since, as I have said before, everything is new to travelers from anywhere else.
As best we could tell, Glen Helen consisted of only one lodging option, a very rustic motel and campground, nothing else. The central focal point at this lodge is the Finke River running through this hot arid desert. There was some excitement in the camping section of this rustic resort as a much feared and aggressive deadly brown snake was found near a camper’s tent. This four foot brown snake apparently had a run-in with a shovel wielding Aussie. Its chopped up carcass was left for all to admire.
After learning there were large deadly brown snakes in the area, it took some nerve and courage for me to walk through the brush down to the river for photos in the evening and early the following morning in darkness. The desire to photograph the area won and I cautiously walked in flip-flops through the bushes down to the river. Seldom is there only one deadly snake in such an area, I kept thinking.
It was a beautiful area but difficult for me to photograph. The formula necessary for the glowing photo below is bright sunshine on the nearby cliffs and the subject being photographed remaining in the shade. I waited for the morning sun to shine on the cliffs but not yet on the river.
Standley Chasm is an Aboriginal owned and operated scenic area near Glen Helen, so it seemed worth a look. It is an easy to drive on paved roads and the walkway to these red cliffs is almost fit for a wheelchair. However, I had read that there is an interesting alternative trail for photographers, which of course I took… hiking by myself. Big mistake. Three hours later I finally made my way to the chasm after running into fences, hiking dry river beds and finally cutting cross-country on my own. When I first veered off the main trail I was only about 10 minutes from these scenic walled cliffs.
Without going into the long details, this hike was without a doubt the most danger I was in during our six months of overseas travel. While I took many photos of trees and abstract designs, it is now time to go to Uluru.
Uluru, aka Ayers Rock
The American traveler immediately knows they are in a unique area with warning signs such as these at the entrance.
A Walk Around the Uluru Base
Years ago watching a documentary on Australia, never did I think I would actually ever get to visit Uluru. It seemed so remote. Yet after traveling only 15,000 miles, taking two cruises and twelve flights, here I was. Good-on-ya-mate. Welcome to the land down unda.
In contrast to Glen Helen, there seemed to be no lack of good accommodations in the Uluru area. We stayed at a wonderful desert oasis which included quite an incredible breakfast buffet. So any morning photography excursions had to end before the extravagant buffet line was closed at 10:00am.
Just as the depth and size of the Grand Canyon cannot be captured by the camera, one cannot comprehend the immense size of Uluru through photos. Only a lengthy walk around its base in 100+ degree heat can do that… All photos were taken from the well-marked gravel trail.
Some families were on bicycles, most were walking this L-O-N-G trail encircling Uluru. In addition to signs imploring you to stay on the trail, other signs state no photography is allowed in certain stretches along the path as it is of particular significance to the Aboriginal people.
In a hot desert climate with no recent rains nor any in the forecast, it becomes clear that many millions of years would have been required for water to erode this solid rock monolith. I was so intrigued with the brilliance of the red glowing color of the rock on this evening that I failed to capture a photo of the entire scene until after the sun went down. Another evening visit to Uluru would be required.
Tragedy at Uluru
At one point along this walk I could see some metal plaques bolted high on the stone face of Uluru. There is no way one could read these, so I took photos with my telephoto lens and still could not tell what was written on them. After these photos were downloaded to my laptop, I could really zoom in and finally read them. These were plaques chronicling the deaths of five people who had climbed, or attempted to climb, Ayers Rock. It seems a shame that these commemorative plaques to loved ones are displayed in a manner where it is impossible for anyone to read them.
In Memory of:
Marsha Burniston age 25 from Yorkshire, England died 12-22-1963
Brian Joseph Miller age 25 died 5-18-1978
Brian Streiff Carey Baptist grammar school died 5-26-1962
Leslie Arthur Thwaites age 63 from Newcastle, N.S.W. died 6-15-1972
(Life-long desire was to climb Ayers)
Earnest Francis George age 50 from Liverpool died 10-16-1977
Uluru in Varying Light
I did not take any photos of the immense crowd gathered for this nightly event, just know I am not alone nor is it as quiet and peaceful as this photo may suggest.
There are two primary distant viewing areas of Uluru, one is for sunset and the other for sunrise. At the sunrise spot the sun rises behind you, illuminating the world’s biggest rock. We all know the most beautiful part of the sunrise is to look east at the actual sunrise. This particular morning the better choice for my morning shoot would have been to go to the sunset spot and look east to see one of the most brilliant sunrises I’ve ever witnessed. The photo below is looking west, with the best part of the sunrise behind me.
So goodbye Uluru. The sun will continue to scorch and somehow the eventual rains will continue to erode Australia’s most famous natural formation.