There are few experiences healthier for our souls than extended and absolute isolation.
What is even better? Spontaneous isolation.
I recently walked around Uluru(OOH LUH ROO), also known as Ayer’s Rock. Before arriving, the extent of my understanding of Uluru was gained in 1st grade. I was always somewhat enchanted by this monolithic, red giant. It is beautiful in photos, and breathtaking in person. It is, I would say, otherworldly. As I approached the rock armed with my 1st grade knowledge and no water, I assumed my walk around it would last maybe 45 minutes. It is, after all, a rock. Not a mountain.
The road to Uluru is long. 300 kilometers long, which translates to roughly 3 hours of driving. And if you are alone, like all driving in the desert, that time can seem elongated. However, the anticipation of seeing the largest rock in the world kept me scanning the horizon, excitedly. This, however, is not Uluru. This is some other massive rock that I can only imagine was erected by the Aborignals to tease anyone heading to Uluru. I got out of my car and fought the vicious desert flies to get photos of this faux-Uluru crumb of the earth. I remember wondering "At which point between 1st grade and now did Uluru become a plateau?"
There is an ongoing, kind of irritating dialogue about how much technology has “taken over” our lives. I’m talking specifically about cell phones, and using them to take photos during special moments. “Just be there, experience the moment, you don’t have to capture everything and post it to Facebook!” Or, I would say, do whatever the hell you want as long as you are not bothering someone else. Though, it seems, it is impossible not to bother these self-righteous folk that jump at every opportunity to judge and condescend anyone that makes use of modern conveniences and technology.
As a photographer, I often find it difficult to discern between moments where it is appropriate to shoot, and when I should just look. Luckily, the Anangu had me covered during my walk around Uluru. Every 2 kilometers or so, there was a sign asking that photos not be taken of certain areas of the rock. Uluru is sacred to the natives of Australia, and I was glad to accommodate. In fact, I was almost a little disappointed when they said I could start shooting again. I may or may not have accidentally missed a sign and kept my camera in the its bag most of the time.
You cannot simply look at this rock and wrap your mind around it. It is deceptively massive. You start to walk and it keeps growing. Every massive, red, porous edge leads to another deep, cavernous inlet. It never looks the same up close as it does from any distance beyond 20 meters. You walk right up to it and feel it, and push on it, and you feel small. You start to understand what the phrase “solid as a rock” has the potential to represent.
One minute you see a side of Uluru that is as smooth as a sand dune, and 2 minutes later you are looking at the surface of mars. Uluru is the red planet. It is absurdly dynamic, it is relentless, and it is fundamentally humbling. I did not plan to walk in a giant circle for 11 kilometers, but I kept going, not knowing when it would end, traveling further and further from where I started and closer and closer to dehydration.
Like most of my time in the Outback, I walked around, deep in thought, gazing up at a rock over 1,100 feet tall and twice the size of the French Quarter. I did not expect such a long walk, and I certainly did not understand the impact the presence of Uluru would have on me.
Yes, it tricked me into being alone for a while, but the rock itself was very much an influence on my time. Aside from the occasional sign, the view in every direction was undeveloped. It was pure, original Outback. If I was standing in that same spot 100,000 years ago, I would be looking at roughly the same scene. The timelessness of nature is humbling. Nature is a deep-rooted, living piece of cosmic history, and there was nothing to do but meditate on that. If I didn’t learn anything, I at least had those thoughts, which is pretty satisfying in itself.
4 and half hours later, I made it back to my car looking like I just took a stroll around mars. My boots, my pants, and my camera bag were all painted red. And I was really thirsty.