Also known as Ayers Rock, Uluru, located in the southern portion of Australia’s Northern Territory, has been a sacred place for thousands of years. It’s not hard to see why: looking at Mother Nature’s masterwork inspires awe and a new kind of reverence for the amazing planet we live on. If these 8 amazing images of Uluru won’t suffice, well, you might just need to visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and see the sandstone inselberg glowing red at dawn or sunset for yourself.
8. The Approach
Uluru is an “inselberg,” an “island mountain.” That means it stands alone, rising high above the plain that surrounds it. Roads with special accesses and parking have been constructed so that visitors can get the best view of Uluru. The most popular times to see Uluru are dawn and dusk since the inselberg seems to glow red in the light, especially at certain times of the year. The rock when first exposed had a grayish color, but the presence of oxidizing iron-bearing minerals are what give Uluru its distinctive hue. Here, Uluru is seen from a distance, which gives the viewer an idea of how large the formation really is, especially compared to the trees growing at the base of it. The blue sky provides a stunning backdrop for the deep, red hue of this sacred site.
7. Crevices in the Rock
Uluru is, like any other rock formation, subject to the process of weathering; that is what gives it that famous red hue, after all. The inselberg is also not immune to the effects of erosion. Around the landmark, you’ll find waterholes, springs and rock caves. The caves and other formations in the rock, like the ones in this picture, are the result of erosion over thousands of years; Uluru is estimated to be millions of years old, with its initial deposits formed during Cambrian times and later thrust up during a period of Paleozoic mountain-building into the formation we see today. Analysis of Uluru’s formation shows evidence of a relatively fast rate of erosion, especially of its granite components. Uluru is also in large part sand, which means rain water makes deep cuts in the surface as it travels down the rockface.
6. The Caves
Uluru was formed by the deposit of sediment from areas further south in Australia, then thrust up into a mountain; it probably stood much higher than its current 1,142 feet. Erosion has played a significant role throughout the inselberg’s history; rain washes away parts of the formation, making deep pathways in the rockface, and high winds whisk away loose sediment and speed erosion. These processes have contributed to the formation of caves in the monolith. Many of the fissures and cracks in the rock have spiritual significance for the local Anangu people. The largest of the caves have been sacred sites for generations, and many have ancient rock art etched onto their walls as a testament to their spiritual importance. Many of these sites are considered “forbidden” by the Anangu, particularly depending on one’s sex, and so may be off-limits to visitors.
5. Rock Art
People first arrived in the area around Uluru an estimated 10,000 years ago, or perhaps even before then. Uluru, with its height and deep hues, quickly became a sacred site for the people who lived in the area. Today, the local Anangu people are the keepers of this history. As the Traditional Owners of Uluru, they ask that visitors not climb Uluru, as the path crosses one of the sacred Dreamtime tracks, and they request that tourists not take photos in certain areas, in order to protect Anangu people from encountering images of “forbidden” sites in the outside world. Some aspects of the myths the Anangu tell about Uluru are captured in the rock art; other images have different spiritual and sacred meanings. The art serves as a reminder that we are not the first ones to be inspired by Uluru.
Australia’s Northern Territory is known for its harsh desert landscape, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an abundance of animals and plants around. Historically, there were 46 different species of animals known to inhabit the area around Uluru; today, surveys indicate the number has fallen to 21 native species. Six introduced species, including camels like the ones in the photo, inhabit the park and may be threatening native species. Some plants, mostly those that thrive in the wetland area around the base of the monolith, are considered endangered. Four species of frogs are known to inhabit the area and are abundant after summer rains. An astounding 73 different species of reptiles inhabit the vicinity. There is discussion about reintroducing some native species, such as the black-footed rock wallaby, into the habitat.
3. View from the Top
Uluru is one of the highest points for miles, along with nearby Kata Tjuta. It only takes about an hour to climb to the top of Uluru—some 1,142 feet up—but it isn’t recommended for those who aren’t physically fit to undertake the strenuous climb. Even if you are fit enough to climb to the top, the Anangu people request that visitors not make the ascent, because of the sacred Dreamtime tracks on the monolith. That hasn’t stopped some people from conquering Uluru, of course—the view from the top is breathtaking as you look out over a wide swath of desert terrain. Debates about whether visitors should be allowed to climb Uluru—out of concern for the sacred sites and concern for the easily eroded rock—continue and are unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
2. Uluru from Above
Uluru is easily one of Australia’s most recognizable monuments, if not the most recognized symbol of the Australian continent. It certainly stands apart as acknowledgment of Australia’s indigenous peoples and their claims to the land, as evidenced by the fact that Uluru has been handed back to its original owners, the Anangu, and is officially known by its Pitjantjatjara name, rather than the English moniker “Ayers Rock.” Aerial photos of Uluru, like the one here, show just how massive the monolith is in the context of the scrubland that surrounds it. Viewing an image like this, you can only imagine how it must feel to approach this formation by air, by car or even on foot; it’s little wonder that it inspired the local people to tell so many stories about it and to hold it as a sacred place.
1. At Sunset
The best time to visit Uluru is at sunrise or sunset; as the iron-bearing minerals in Uluru’s composition weather, they rust. As a result, Uluru appears to be red at most times of day, in almost any light, but the hue is particularly striking at dawn and dusk, as the sun rises or dips below the horizon, which changes the wavelengths of light (and thus the colors) we see. Since short wavelengths like green and blue are almost entirely eliminated during sunrise and sunset, we tend to see more oranges and red. This intensifies the red color of Uluru and at these times, the inselberg seems almost to “glow”—a feature that has earned Uluru much of its international renown. Of course, that’s only one reason why Uluru has been deemed a sacred place that deserves our reverence and respect.