Here is my first attempt at a natural river rock background. It is a 120 gallon tank that I use to house mainly my two turtles but I do have some guoramis and swordtails along with two peacock eels in this tank. I found all of the rock myself from our wash behind the house. The sand I bought at Home Depot. Everything I put into the tank was thoroughly washed before setting up, which btw makes cycling the tank for the first time very easy. I just used some fake plant up on top of the rock and added some driftwood from their previous tank because they like to play with it. I am hiding a 300 watt heater and the two filter hoses from a Fluval fx5 cannister filter behind the rock. The gouramis really like swimming behind the rock and back out again, a lot of fun to watch. I can't wait to turn the old 65 gallon turtle tank into a cichlid tank.
I know that it's not cichlids but I thought people might enjoy it nonetheless.
Turtles are fun to watch, they can actually have a lot of personality. I know what you mean by the "long" commitment but my wife and I decided that they're cool enough to keep for that long. I just hope that my cichlid tank/s in the future are as successful!
If you look closely you can see a 1" thick piece of flagstone on the upper left hand side of the tank. In one of the pictures you can see their basking light at the top of the tank. That piece of flagstone is a little larger than a 14"x14" area that extends out from the rock background and is heated by the lamp. Hard to see from the angles I took the pics at but it's there. They both bask about half the day together on the platform. The rest of the time they like to be in the water.