Driving down the coastal highway back to Cairns at four in the morning, I got pulled over by the cops, who were coming in the opposite direction. They wished me a good morning, and warned me that there would be a couple of trucks coming after them (four, I think) and that I should stick to the shoulder until they had all passed.

Then four big trucks went by, followed by another cop. That’s how narrow that coastal highway was: shipping required the police to pull people over and clear the corners.

Which brings me to another aside: the truckers in Australia are crazy reckless. People complain here (rightly) that any moron can buy a Ford Extinction, which is an entirely different vehicle than their old Caravan or Civic. In Australia, the truckers drive like they’re still in Civics, and they’re mad about it. Compared to what we’re used to as standard U.S. behavior, those guys were like rabid cab drivers.

Anyway. On the Qantas flight, I zonked out and came to not long before landing. One of the Qantas attendants chatted us up, talking about the hurricanes and Bush (“He’s so stupid!” she said incredulously). Every time I encountered this, I had to keep from getting into a long political discussion (“Okay, so here’s what you don’t know about American politics…”).

Uluru is a giant sandstone rock, part of a larger formation, and it sticks out from the almost dead-flat desert and it looks like it’s a mile high. It’s a big red rock that shouldn’t be there. Even from the air, it’s eerie to see.

From afar, it’s a big red thing
Closer, there are small vertical ridges
Closer, there are subtle wide variations in color, and long horizontal ridges
Closer, there are pits, differences in erosion that have given sections different textures, like pits and caves
From an arm’s length, the sandstone looks almost like scales

As the sun sets and the light goes farther into the red end of the spectrum, Uluru seems to glow.

Being around it provokes primal reactions. The rock seems familiar, though it shouldn’t, and because of that, it’s also a little threatening. It inspires awe.

We hiked around it one morning (this takes about three hours) and what was most amazing was how it changed as our perspective changed. There are sections that have eroded to look like they’ve been taken off cleanly with a blade, revealing curved, bulbous, almost brain-like formations. The light will catch the ridges one way and give it the appearance of tipping, and fifteen minutes further walk you can imagine the water flowing off it when it rains.

It’s beautiful and inspiring and scary, and it’s worth the trip. I would have sat on a trans-Pacific flight just to see Uluru.