Here's the difference between a dead New World civilization and a live one: we climbed all over the Incas' religious sites; we didn't go near the Anangus'. The latter are the Aboriginal people who live and have lived in the area around Ayer's Rock (Uluru to them) for tens of thousands of years, and for them many parts of the Rock, including the path where it can be climbed, are spiritually sacred. They implore you, in the friendliest but most repetitive way possible, on signs throughout the national park surrounding the Rock, to respect their wishes please stay out of certain caves and please, please, please, do not to climb the Rock itself. The climb is supposed to be reserved only for Anangu men, who do it as a prelude to a spiritual gathering at the site.
But they never actually put up a stop sign and say, "No!" to the climb. Part of that is the completely alien notion of property rights to the Aborigines - they really don't think they "own" Uluru - and part of it is what they think of as good manners. As a park ranger explained to us, when we joined a short tour at the base of the Rock, the Anangu don't want you to get hurt, or worse yet die during the climb (a few dozen unfortunates have done so) because they would feel responsible. Even more so if you expire, because your soul would be troubled from dying in a place away from your own people. And yet they want to leave that decision up to you, as if it would be rude to put up a barrier to an outsider.
Still, we found ourselves adhering to those requests, even though many, many other tourists choose to disregard them (the Japanese appear to be especially fond of the climb, and I overheard a woman on our tour describe a large family of American Hasidic Jews, who we later saw at our hotel, scurrying up the hillside). This despite the fact that it's something that not exploring as much as we could would have been unimaginable to us when we were entering the sacred caves within Machu Picchu and when I was climbing Huayna Picchu to look down on the city. In a different mood, I might have climbed Uluru anyway, dismissing the spiritual concerns as mere superstition and wanting to see the view. But this time it didn't seem ... necessary.
From the pictures you see before you arrive you'd think that the Rock is isolated in a flat, featureless landscape, but that turns out to be not true at all. There's a surprising amount of green, muted as it might be in the landscape, which reminded us a bit of the high desert parts of Nevada you see driving on Route 50. The green stuff helps anchor in place an endless series of ochre red sand dunes, and the undulations of the dunes become small hills as you scan the horizon between the sandstone outcroppings.
I say outcroppings because Ayer's Rock is not the only ancient piece of seabed to be forced up through more recent strata. The nearby hills called Kata Tjuta, which the English-speaking explorers named the Olgas
are just as spectacular as the Rock, made up of the same red sandstone and glowing equally impressively when the sun hits them: