Considered sacred by native Australian Aborigines, Uluru is a giant sandstone rock formation that stands 1,142 feet (348 meters) high. Uluru is the Aboriginal name given to the rock formation; it is also sometimes known by the English name of Ayer's Rock. It is one of Australia's most famous geological features, and is a major tourist attraction in spite of its remote location. The formation is located in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia's Northern Territory, 208 miles (335 kilometers) away from the nearest town, Alice Springs.
The unique appearance of Uluru is a result of thousands of years of erosion. The giant sandstone formation is known as an inselberg or island mountain, and it is all that remains of a once large mountain range. Uluru has been an important place for native Aboriginals for many generations, and modern explorers have discovered tribal artifacts in the region that date back more than 10,000 years. White explorers were not aware of the formation until the 1870s, however.
The first tourists began to venture to Uluru around 1936, though travel to the area did not become common until 1948, when a road was constructed. The area subsequently became a major destination for Australian and foreign explorers, and tour bus services were launched to support the growing tourism industry. However, the rise of tourism in led to environmental problems, forcing the decision to remove motels and campgrounds from the park area itself, and to relocate them beyond the park's borders.
In 1985, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was returned to the native Aborigines of the area, under the condition that the tribe would lease the land to the National Parks and Wildlife agency until 2084, under joint management of the tribe and the agency. Though the native people do not like it when people climb the formation, and see it as disrespectful of the sacred land, permission for visitors to climb parts of Uluru was made a condition when the land was returned to the tribe. The Aborigines also have beliefs that oppose the photography of certain parts of Uluru, due to tribal rituals; in respect to these beliefs, several areas are considered off-limits for photography.
Uluru has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Today, it receives over 400,000 visitors each year, who are drawn by the beauty of its colors, which seem to change with the position of the sun in the sky. Although the Australian government has returned ownership of the land to the Aboriginal people, it remains a constant struggle for the two cultures to manage the land and deal with the influx of tourists.