The sandstone monolith in the heart of the Australian Outback is called Uluru, not "Ayers Rock," Aboriginal leaders say—and as of Saturday, tourists will no longer be allowed to climb it. The Anangu people consider the 1,140-foot tall rock formation sacred and have long urged people to stay off it. "I've been telling them since I was a little boy: 'We don't want you to climb the rock,'" Anangu man Rameth Thomas tells the BBC. "All of our stories are on the rock. People right around the world ... they just come and climb it. They've got no respect." Park officials say there has been a huge surge in the number of visitors climbing Uluru ahead of the permanent ban on climbing, which takes effect 34 years to the day after the Australian government returned ownership of the land to the Aborigines, NPR reports.
Sammy Wilson, former chairman of the board that manages the national park in which Uluru sits, says tourists are still very welcome to visit. "If I travel to another country and there is a sacred site, an area of restricted access, I don't enter or climb it, I respect it. It is the same here for Anangu," he says. "We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity." Park workers say a few people among the crowds flocking to the park before the ban have made racist comments, though climbing is also being banned for safety reasons. At least 37 climbers have died since the 1950s. "I'm surprised it hasn't been closed sooner," helicopter pilot Dan O'Dwyer, who has been involved in numerous rescues, tells the BBC. "Not for the cultural reasons, but also for the sheer danger of it. It's a really difficult climb." (Read more Australia stories.)