August 30, 2012
Contrary to what many people assume, Central Australia is anything but a flat monotonous desert. Alice Springs is located at the base of the MacDonnell Ranges which stretch for over 400km in an east-west direction in parallel ridges with flat valleys between. They were formed through massive earth movements some 300 million years ago, breaking up what was then a sea bed as fossil remains testify. Being so old and weathered, generally they extend up only around 300 metres from the valley floor but are a sensational sight and more importantly, facilitate a number of permanent water holes and provide sanctuary to a large number of plant and animal species.
Just south of the West MacDonnell Ranges are the Gardener and James Ranges and a little further south-east is the George Gill Range which is home to the infamous Kings Canyon at Watarrka National Park, the site where the cult movie 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' was shot. Another 120km or so further south-east lie Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which rise approximately 350 and 500 metres respectively from the desert floor. The greater area around these two icons is a sandy plain with low lying sand dunes.
Even though the region of Central Australia only receives between 100 – 300 mm of rain per annum, there is still a rich and diverse range of plants and animals. A large part of this diversity can be attributed to these mountain ranges and rock formations. They can assist this diversity in a number of ways, namely; they can influence and often increase local rainfall, provide permanent or semi-permanent water holes, moderate temperatures compared to sand environments and provide shelter and refuge in caves, overhangs and crevices.