Exploring Australia's Red Center
Not many people make the stop at Rainbow Valley14 miles off the Stuart Highway, southeast of Alice and just before Jim's Place. There's one campsite for use on the honor system, but other than that, nothing. Stark nothing.
The Valley's foyer is made up of two claypan expanses. When I look from too far away or with too much sun in my eyes, they appear as cool lakes, maybe even icy ponds. But on the walk across them toward the giant slabs of red, iron-dyed dominoes that make up Rainbow Valley, I trace the sun-baked cracks in the earth with my toe.
I walk from complete exposurethe plains' grasses hide your knees and lower, but that's itthrough the crack into Rainbow Valley, whose walls provide total safety, complete enclosure. There's no miraculous water source here, like at the Olgas or at Ayers Rock, just corridors of rock, colored rust, then beige, then red again, with an occasional rogue splotch of vibrant light blue.
The path is watched over by rows of cypress pine and rotting mulgathe mulga's sinister branches lead the way to a deep, soft sand-dune incline. The struggle up the sandy hill is intense, but it's worth the view: At the top, the well-earned rest is accompanied by a bright, cloudless sky that stretches over the spinifex and the claypans.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication