The country through which I was driving was beyond remote.
That changed as Kata Tjuta, formerly known as The Olgas, loomed on the eastern horizon. These soulful, domed monoliths at the heart of Anangu country rose hundreds of metres into the air and had the appearance of a giant desert cathedral, nowhere more so than in the haunting Valley of the Winds, an immersive 7.4km loop walk into the heart of the range. Nearby, Uluru was a place of gravitas, spirituality and texture.
Beyond Yulara, the service town for Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the tarmac of the Lasseter Highway was at once a blessing and curse: the desert miles sped past, but with speed came an awareness of what might be missed in the rush of forward momentum. Mt Connor rose from the sands to the south. At the roadside lookout, travellers coming from the east who were yet to see the real Uluru on the horizon, gasped in awe, mistaking it for the more famous landmark. Aboriginal legends say that Ice Men inhabit Mt Connor, emerging on winter nights to sprinkle frost upon the Earth as a symbol of their passing.
The Lasseter Highway ended at the crossroads town of Erldunda, where it met the north-south, Darwin-to-Adelaide Stuart Highway, a prototype, perhaps, for paved transcontinental highways in Australia.
Many empty desert miles north, beyond a rocky defile in the MacDonnell Ranges with its dragons-back ridges and water-filled gorges, lay the large town of Alice Springs, or Mparntwe to its Arrernte traditional owners. Art galleries and bookshops, supermarkets and restaurants, desert wildlife parks and fine sunsets – Alice Springs combined convenience with a true desert sensibility.