Thursday, October 06, 2005

Back in Time

Of all the places I saw in the outback, Watarrka National Park was my favorite. It contains the George Gill Range and Kings Canyon.

Here is a picture of the range from a distance.

Here it is close up.

This place was totally fascinating (and beautiful of course). The rocks are sandstone, and hold the very limited water like a sponge. Vegetation grows out of the stone, sending its roots deep into the cracks and crevices.

The strangest thing was that where the rocks had broken apart, you could see that they were made up of the white sand that covers Australian beaches. They think that millions of years ago there was a sea in the center of Australia (where the outback is now), then as the global climate changed it turned into tropical rainforests. Today, those rainforests are now only in the northern parts of Australia. The center still has remnants from those days, such as the palm trees and what they speculate could be an old coral reef (see the picture below).

They call that place "Lilliput." I kept imagining, thousands of years from now people walking around on the Great Barrier Reef with a guide explaining how this used to all be under the ocean. Crazy.

Supposedly during the wet season, one of the cliffs turns into a waterfall. (I definitely need to see that to believe it). The water runs down into the canyon and there is enough moisture that it maintains a waterhole all year round. It is quite green and lush in that area, so it has gotten the nickname "The Garden of Eden."

It was a magnificent place. We began our hike up to the rim of the canyon at sunrise, which is really a good thing since it gets very hot by midday. The hike began with a steep climb up the side - surprisingly nice despite having just woken up. The air was so clear and even a bit cold. I like that about the desert. No matter how hot it gets during the day, it always cools off once the sun goes down.

During the five hour drive back to Alice Springs I sat up front by our guide and asked him a gazillion questions about the area and what life is like there. It sounds like such a strange mix of people. One fourth are aboriginal, and from what I understand they hold most of the land rights now (sounds a bit like in Fiji). Another quarter are Americans involved in the Pine Gap project. I didn't know what Kevin (our guide) was talking about and I felt too ignorant to ask, but I just googled it and it is some sort of military base that is run primarily by CIA agents. Woah. The rest are Australians, plus lots of tourists passing through, with the largest groups being German and Japanese.

Add all of this into some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen, and it becomes clear that Alice Springs is a town that I must get to know better.

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