Namib Naukluft National Park

31 July 2012

We were up early, before sunrise. It was a relief that we were to spend another day here at Sesriem. No dismantling of the tent. The park gate opened at around 5am. There was already a queue of vehicles ready to enter the park. Once in the park, it seemed like a race on the desert roads to reach ones destination. Chris was good and relaxed. I had confidence in his driving skills. We were at Dune 45. Although dark, it was a colossal, over 150m high. It resembled a pyramid and looked formidable. Some trekkers were already walking on its winding spine. The sand was loose. It was still cold. On the eastern horizon, the sun was rising.  From the top of the sand dune I witnessed an amazing scene unfold. Two life giving force, light and water from opposite directions, diffused at the base of Dune 45. The first light on my face was comforting. Sunlight from the east filtered through warming the land.  On the western horizon, a low dense moisture laden mist gracefully move inland brought in by the Benguela Current from the coast off the Atlantic.  The dune’s surface took on a deep reddish glow and the tough short grasses on the desert floor illuminated a golden hue. The western slopes of the surrounding dunes were darkened in contrast. It was a surreal and wonderful spectacle. The mist continued further inland as the rising light transformed the inert desert sand into beautiful and unearthly colours – mainly hues of red, orange and gold. Trekkers snaked up the length of this dune crescent’s spine and silently watched nature’s gifts to this unforgiving environment. As daylight emerged, the contours now more defined had myriad of patterns and form. Numerous other high dunes appeared all over. Some looked much higher. The desert stretched endlessly. Dune 45 continued further and curved inwards and outwards resembling a mountain than a dune. Here, nature is continually redesigning this extraordinary landscape. The sand deposited here in the Namib originated from the Kalahari Desert. The Orange River that meanders through Kalahari deposited the sand at its mouth on the Atlantic coast. From here, the Benguela Current carried the sediments north and the winds helped to deposit this sand inland into the Namib Desert.

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Only on the decent did I realize the steepness of the dune. However, it is much easier on the decent that on the accent especially with the cold air. A nice hot breakfast waited at the base of Dune 45. Crows lingered nearby on a leave-less tree scavenging for food.  On the valley floor, perhaps a dried river bed, I was surrounded by towering dunes of varying forms. Not all are crescent shaped. The shape is carved by the direction of the wind. Namib Desert is considered as the oldest desert in the world. Our vehicle left behind a trail of desert dust. We reached a parking area. The sight of lifeless trees but standing covered in mist was quite eerie. This is Sossusvlei. From here, we jumped onto a tractor. A short walk past some hardy Inara plants with ball like fruits, we reached Deadvlei – Dead valley. From a distant, the elliptical shaped white salt pan with blackened lifeless trees looked unreal. It was massive. The white salt pan floor, the charred upright branched trees and flanked by monumental orange and red dunes was surreal. The nearest, Big Daddy is over 300m high. Shadows emerged and the colours of the background dunes and pan floor also changed with the light. It is remarkable how these trees had once survived in this oasis. The Tsauchab River that once flowered here is now blocked by the advancing dunes. On rare occasion, apparently there is water here. The Acacia or Camel Thorn trees are over 800 years old. They are chard from the unrelenting sun and preserved by the dry desert air. Patterns formed on the clay’s crust.  Although picturesque, I was saddened by the fate of these trees. Green shrubs survived from the little moisture from the air and probably ground water.

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Nearby is another valley. Although the dunes here were smaller in comparison, the pan here held water. A lone lesser flamingo fed undisturbed. Acacia and small shrubs thrived in this area. Lizards moved quickly across the red sand. It was amazing to see water in this arid desert where rain is almost no existent. Groundwater seeped from underground. Green trees and shrubs, a sight for sore eyes, survived in this uncompromising environment. This is certainly a life giving place for the small but thriving wildlife including Oryx and Leopard. All plants and animals in this desert lived on the edge of death.

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We left Sossusvlei and headed back to Sesriem camp towards Sesriem Canyon. It was late in the afternoon. At the edge of this rocky land, I could see part of the canyon deep below carved out by the now dry Tsauchab River.  Sesriem in Afrikaans means “six belts”. In those days, trekkers would tie up six belts of oryx hides and lower it with a bucket to fetch water from the canyon. The canyon sedimentary walls were about 30m deep in places. Pools of water remained in the winding canyon. Trees enjoyed moisture from underground water in this cool environment. The sun was setting fast. Simultaneously, a full moon was rising in the east. The late evening glow of the canyon walls was quite magical casting shadows and glowing surfaces. The fiery red sun set behind sandstone mountains across a grassy plain. The bright full moon rose from the eastern horizon. Time to head back to camp.

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