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Into the Namib

March 26, 2018

As we moved north, the barren landscape gave way to one that, while not exactly lush, was measurably greener. The dead clumps of grass that had been tripping us up every time we walked in the desert were now green, swaying gracefully in the afternoon wind, and there was a carpet of yellow flowers called Little Devils adding color to the scene. Shortly we began to see the distinctive orange sands of the Namib, the oldest desert on the planet.

This desert ranges 1200 miles, from Angola in the north to South Africa, and comprises the entire coastline of Namibia. Its age is estimated to be between 50 and 80 million years old, and some of its dunes are over 1000 feet high, making them second only to a desert I never heard of in China.

After settling into Sossus Dunes Lodge, the only hotel located inside the Namib-Naukluft national park, we drove a couple of kilometers to Sesriem Canyon, according to Dayne smaller only than our Grand Canyon (I haven’t been able to verify this). From the top it doesn’t look very impressive, but those of us with the fortitude to descend the rock-strewn path and treacherous steps found ourselves in a fascinating geological formation created by flooding waters over millennia. Since Namibia has been in a seven-year drought that shows no signs of abating, it’s hard to imagine there being that much water here. It was a bit reminiscent of Petra, though Petra’s rock walls are much smoother.

The patterns on this dead tree were striking in the late-afternoon sun.

Sossus Dunes Lodge was a comfortable spot, each “hut” having a wall of windows looking westward across the desert to the dunes.

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Being inside the park meant that we could get to Deadvlei before the gate opened at 7 a.m., allowing us to set up before the sun rose over the enormous dunes (avoiding all the other tourists waiting in line). Dayne took us on Toad’s Wild Ride on a washboard road to be there before anyone else.

Deadvlei — literally dead pan — was once a lake or marsh snuggled among the dunes. Today the earth is so hard and cracked it resembles flagstones, and the camel thorn tree skeletons stand where they died 6-700 years ago, their trunks burnt black by the scorching sun.

As the sun rose over the dunes, it created a dreamy atmosphere in the vlei.

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The hike was about 1.5 km — just under a mile — each way, and it was fairly challenging, especially coming out, when the sun was fully up and blazing. Mostly uphill going in, through the soft sand, it was two steps forward, slide back a step. I knew I didn’t have it in me to climb Big Daddy, or even Big Mama, both over 1000 feet high, though one of our friends did, and he said it was extremely challenging. I was content to gaze on the gorgeous red dunes from below. (The bottom photo is not Big Daddy.)

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The larger area surrounding Deadvlei and encompassing the big dunes is Sossusvlei, and a leisurely drive-through rewarded us with dramatic landscapes and the occasional elusive springbok.

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One more day in the dunes, then we wind down. Stay tuned…

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