10 March 2000, Uluru

We awoke at 5:30 to get ready to be picked up by a couple of Harley-Davidson-riding tour guides at 6:00. They were a few minutes late, but we put on our helmets and leather jackets, got on behind the drivers and were off to Uluru to see it light up at dawn. I was behind Shane, and Chris rode behind Janelle. We rode into the park and towards the sunrise viewing area. There were a lot of tour groups there, piling out of their buses and walking across the road. We got a lot of envious looks as we rumbled past them. Our guides took us a couple of hundred yards past the normal viewing area and pulled off the road.

Chris and I got off of our respective bikes and put the helmets aside. We had made it before dawn, but the horizon was getting pretty bright. The rock was a dull red, but the sky beyond it was beautiful, fading from dark blue at the horizon through azure, then to lavender. There were light clouds around the horizon lit in a way that made them seem fake.

While we were waiting for the sun to heave itself over the horizon, Shane pulled a thermos of hot water out of his saddle bags and we made tea. We didn't have to wait long. Before the tea was cool enough to drink, the top of Uluru was brightening in the light of a sun we couldn't yet see. Within moments the entire face of the rock was a bright red. We snapped picture after picture. With every minute that passed, the Uluru took on a new hue.

After admiring the rock for a while, we got back on the bikes. Shane and Janelle drove us around to the far side of Uluru, still in shadow, since the sun hadn't risen above the rock yet. We got off the bikes and watched as the sun rose for us a second time. Then it was back on the bikes for a ride back to the hotel. It was great to be on a motorcycle, even if I wasn't at the controls. I hadn't realized until that morning how much I was missing my bike.

We were back at the hotel by 7:30. We needed some breakfast, so we headed to the hotel restaurant. As usual, we charged it to our room, and, when I signed the bill, Debra, the hostess asked "Is your first name Dale?" When I said yes, she said "That's strange. You're the second Dale I've met in two days. My mother's name is Dale, and I'd never met anyone else with that name." After we explained that Dale is a reasonably common name in the US, Debra told us that it is such an uncommon name in Australia that her mother can never find a keychain or coffee mug with her name on it. Chris and I volunteered to find a "Dale" keychain or coffee mug in California and send it to Debra for her mother. We got her address and promised to send it as soon as we found one.

After breakfast, we were off to Kata Tjuta. Before we left the resort, though, I wanted to drop off a roll of film for developing. We found the photo shop, but not until we had found the souvineer shop. As we looked through the window of the souvineer shop, I saw a rack of "personalized" Uluru keychains with common first names on them. On a whim, I went in to check. Sure enough, there was a "Dale" in the rack. I bought it, dropped off the film, then we swung back around to the hotel. I found Debra and handed her the keychain. She was dumbfounded. "Where did you find it?" she asked. I told her. Apparently, she has never had occasion to visit the Ayers Rock Resort souvineer shop.

We were finally on our way to Kata Tjuta. It was a fifty-kilometer drive. When we were still thirty kilometers from the site, we stopped at a viewing area. The view is from the top of sand ridge just off the road. To protect the desert, there is a metal walkway up the slope to a metal viewing platform. After we left the viewing area, we debated which trail to hike. We were feeling the previous day's climb, so we weren't in the mood for anything very strenuous. We could take the two-kilometer walk or the 7.4km walk, called Valley of the Winds. Our Lonely Planet guide said that the Valley of the Winds trail was "not particularly arduous", and it is less than five miles. We figured we could handle that challenge and headed there.

We started on the trail at 11:00am. Three hours later, we managed to drag ourselves back to the car, worn out, foot-sore, and wondering what qualified as "arduous" to the editors of Lonely Planet. We were also very glad we had hiked the trail. Every time we turned a corner there was a spectacular view. The contrast of the green plants, red rocks, blue sky, and white clouds was awe-inspiring.

We discovered early in the hike that it was going to be surprising. After about a quarter mile of walking, the path changed from loose rocks to a pavement of rocks held in place by clay. I mentioned that it was nice that the park service had stabilized the rocks. As we went a little further, we noticed that the rocks above the path were also held in place by the clay. The park service hadn't stabilized the rocks. Some geological event a billion years in the past had done it. What we were seeing -- rocks embedded in clay -- was the makeup of Kata Tjuta. All of the huge rocks in the group are composite rock that formed 1.5 billion years ago.

From a distance, the rocks of Kata Tjuta look just like the rock of Uluru. Both look like red, fine-grain sandpaper. However, up close, the rocks are very differnt. Uluru gets its texture from large pock marks in its surface where pieces of rock have popped off due to temperature changes. Kata Tjuta gets its texture from the smooth rocks -- worn by some ancient river -- embedded in red clay that hardened to stone eons ago.

As we had pulled into the car park at the trail head, we had seen a skinny person on a bicycle riding in, too. We couldn't tell if the person was male or female, since he or she was so skinny and wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirt, hood, and fly netting. Near the beginning of our hike, he walked past us as we were taking a picture of yet another stunning view. A little later, we caught up to him as he was taking a picture. He asked if we would like one together. We said yes, and handed him our camera. He snapped a picture of us, then I did the same for him. We walked with him for a while, talking about our trip and asking him about his.

His name is Teru, he is from Japan, and he had been in Australia for six months. On his bicycle. His plan is to cycle all the way around Australia in a year. At one point on his route he knew he would not be able to get water for three days, so he had to carry 50 liters of water with him. That's 110 pounds of water! The next time Chris and I stopped to rest and take more pictures, Teru kept going. We wished him luck. We saw him farther up the trail later, but didn't get to talk with him again. He and his bicycle were gone when we finished our hike.

Halfway through our hike we came to a lookout point where we could see a lush, green valley betwen a gap in two of the large rock outcroppings. The view was enough to take our breath away. We stopped and sat in the shade, resting and taking in the view for nearly fifteen minutes. We finally headed on, straight into that valley. Once there, the view opened up and we could see many of the Kata Tjuta rocks surrounding the plain we were walking on. The rocks were kilometers away, but huge. By the time we had climbed back out of that valley-plain, we were really too tired to take in any more sights. We refilled our water bottles at a water station, and trudged back to the car.

Two days of strenuous exercise were taking their toll. I dropped off Chris at the hotel, asking her to call room service for lunch, then went to pick up our pictures. When I got back to the room, Chris informed me that room service didn't start until 6:00pm. We had to find lunch outside of our room. We went back to the hotel restuarant, ate a light lunch, then returned to the room. Chris was tired enough to sleep, so she napped. I was physically exhausted, but not sleepy, so I processed the digital pictures we had taken, getting them ready for posting on this web site.

The Desert Garden has a laundry room that is free to guests. It was just across a sidewalk from our room. While Chris napped, I took our dirty clothes and to the laundry room and put them in a washer. As I worked on the pictures and Chris slept, I checked on the clothes periodically, transferring them to the dryer when the washer was done. One of the dryers wouldn't run for more than ten minutes, so I kept having to return to the laundry room and re-start it.

When the clothes were finally dry, and we started folding them, Chris started noticing little black marks on a lot of our garments, as if they had rubbed across something with grease on it. As we examined the clothes more carefully, it began to look like the dryer (the one that kept stopping) had actually scorched the clothes. I guess we're lucky they didn't just catch fire.

That night we had dinner at the restaurant in our hotel. While it was pretty good, it didn't hold a candle to the previous night's dinner at Kuniya. However, neither did the price. We were exhausted from our "not particularly arduous" day, and fell asleep almost as soon as we returned from dinner. This was our last night at Ayers Rock Resort.


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