Our seat belts snap shut. I'm sitting shotgun next to the helicopter pilot, while my wife, Lisa, has her iPhone in camera mode in the seat behind us. The chopper blades are rotating, and we have our head phones on.
"G'day mates," says the pilot. "Is everybody ready?"
"Let's do it."
And off we go, rising into the desert sky, first in an upward trajectory, then accelerating forward.
Today we are getting an aerial view of Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock, as well as Kata Tjuta, both incredible geologic formations in central Australia. This is literally out in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest town being Alice Springs, 208 miles southwest of our current location.
What starts out as a small, oblong brown mound, from our perspective as the helicopter disembarks, slowly becomes this enormous, sandstone mass, with attendant springs, waterholes, and rock caves, as we get into closer proximity.
One of Australia's most recognizable landmarks, Uluru was initially sighted by the surveyor, William Gosse, in 1873. Archaeological findings, however, indicate that humans settled in this area more than 10,000 years ago. Over many millennia, the local Anangu, or Pitjantjatjara people, have inhabited these environs as evidenced by ancient wall paintings present in many of the rock caves. A dual naming policy was adopted and then revised in 2002, to "Uluru / Ayers Rock," in order to include both Aboriginal and English names.
The helicopter has reached this monolithic site, and we begin circling its outer edges. Camera in hand, I snap a photo approximately every 10 seconds. This figure is enormous, standing 1142 feet high with a circumference of 5.8 miles. The majority of its mass, however, lies underground.
Amazingly, Uluru's appearance changes color with different lighting conditions. These vary with times of the day, as well as the season. I capture photos, both at sunrise and sunset, acquiring rich, red, sandstone glows, a function of the dry desert air.
The helicopter now proceeds towards Kata Tjuta, a group of enormous rock formations, 16 miles to the east of Uluru. This entire area is referred to as the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, considered sacred to its original Anangu inhabitants.
As we approach the bornhardts, or 36 large domes that cover an area of 8.37 square miles, we see cobbles and boulders of varying rock types. This is another geologic fascination, a conglomeration of sedimentary rock, including granite and basalt in a matrix of sandstone. Rising 1791 feet, this mass is higher than Uluru.
Legend has that the great snake king, Wanambi, lives at the summit of Kata Tjuta, and only comes down during the dry season. With an ability to transform his breath into a hurricane, the snake king is able to condemn evil deed doers. These include women who become aware of "men's business," an offense punishable by death.
The helicopter is now heading back to the initial landing area. It's amazing to realize that what we have seen are enormous geologic developments in an otherwise vast, uninhabited territory. Considered sacred monuments to the local aboriginal inhabitants, these are treasures in Australia's Outback.