The Namib Desert: The Great Sand Sea
I had been wanting to visit the Namib Desert since the first time I set my eyes on a picture of Sosussvlei’s fiery dunes, and I could hardly contain my excitement as we set off from Swakopmund–along some of the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced–toward Namibia‘s premier tourist destination.
The gravel road took us past the golden coastal dunes near Walvis Bay, along endless plains, twisting canyons and pastel landscapes. As with our other days on the road, we were struck by the desolation of our surroundings and the stark beauty of the ever-changing views.
We drove for hours without passing cars or signs of civilization, engulfed in feelings of emptiness and isolation. The long, empty stretches were interrupted at times by a solitary oryx or groups of ostriches. We passed the Tropic of Capricorn, stopped for lunch at the tiny outpost of Solitaire–a bizarre little place that resembles a wild western town along the Route 66 and claims to have the world’s best apple strudel–and reached our campsite at the lovely Weltevrede Guest Farm by nightfall.
The next morning, we rose with the sun and set off toward the gates of Sosussvlei.
From Dune 45, we continued deeper into the park and reached the end of the paved road. We then hopped on a 4×4 vehicle and set off for the spectacular clay pan at Deadvlei.
Deadvlei is a large pan of cracked, dry clay that is cradled between some of the world’s tallest dunes. It was formed when the Tchauseb River temporarily flooded and created an environment in which Namibia’s desert-adapted Camelthorn Trees could thrive. Shifting sand and dry temperatures, however, cut the pan from the course of the river and, as a result, the area has long since dried up.
Over the course of approximately 900 years, the unrelenting sun charred the tree bark and painted it a deep black. Today, the black trees, white clay, red earth and deep blue sky combine to create a dazzling and otherworldly display of colors and a unique geographic feature unlike anything I had ever seen on my previous travels.
We ended our day in Sosussvlei with a visit to the Sesriem Canyon and a quick hike up the Elim dune around sunset.
Unlike the other highlights of the Namib-Naukluft Park, Elim is not known for its immensity or grandeur. Rather, tourists visit it for its beautiful display of pastel colors. Tufts of green grass spring from the red sand and contrast with the yellow grasses and purple mountains.
There are some places that are too beautiful for words or photos. I could post hundreds of pictures of my day in Sosussvlei, but they would not accurately depict the mesmerizing landscapes I saw with my own eyes.