We travelled inland to a national park - Sossusvlei.This is the real desert - almost no rainfall year after year. And yet, some quite large trees live and die.
We stopped a couple of times to look for birds - even in this very dry area there are occasional birds.
It seems pretty amazing to me that a tree could get this big - suggesting some water for many years. Perhaps there is some ground water not too far down that remains after the surface water dries up.We were blasting along the gravel load through this bleak landscape when I spotted a couple of Meerkats beside the road. This was our only sighting.
There were 10 or perhaps a few more in the area.
Click for a close up.A short diversion from rodents to highway maintenance.
All the roads we have been on the the last week and for the rest of our time in Namibia (right up to the South Africa border) are gravel. They get so little rain and so little traffic, the roads generally stay in pretty good shape. We typically were able to do 100kph with no problems.
Each section of road has one guy who continuously maintains the road. He brings his home along with him - the house on wheels that looks a lot like the grader.
Talk about making your work your whole life!We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn today.
This is not very hospitable country. Sunny all day long, not a lot of wind. We were very hot in the vehicle - except the two in the front seat who benefited from the air conditioning. The cool area did not reach into the back seats at all. Fortunately the air was very dry, so we did not get soaking wet from sweat. We did drink a lot of water on these days.
It is a long way between towns out here, with nothing in between. No houses visible from the roads most of the time. There is good cell phone connectivity though so you are never far from help if you need it.Another shot of the typical countryside in this area. These small flat topped hills. We had a short break at one of the few settlements along the way - not much more than a gas station and a restaurant.
There was lots of bird life and a few small rodents that make a life out of the left overs from the restaurant.
This is a Bush Squirrel doing an imitation of a Meerkat.When we pulled into the park headquarters at Sossusvlei we checked the temperature.
While not hot for people in the area, who are used to temperatures in the mid 40s, it was hot for Victoria people.
The sunlight is intense here - lots of reflection off the sand as well as direct light. While it looks like the thermometer is in the sun, it was in full shade.We stayed in the area at a lodge called Hammerstein, which is also a game park of sorts. They have a few sick or injured animals they are taking care of. These three young Cheetahs are here with their mother.
Most visitors are here for the animals. They get in with the Cheetahs and give them a few pats.
This is one of the handlers - getting the young animals comfortable before visitors.It has been a hot day. This is one of the visitors who has her own way of getting comfortable in the afternoon. This is the campsite at Hammerstein. It was so hot that Brenda and I opted to get a room with an air conditioner. Dan and Merrilee camped, along with Will, under the tree on the hill. Early the next morning (well, by around 8am) we had made the drive back into the park and started to climb one of the dunes.
You climb up the edge of the dune.
Your shoes fill with sand. It is very hard to walk exactly correctly so that you don't slide back a bit on each step. It might be impossible. It seems though if you keep you foot in exactly the right balance of front and back pressure throughout the entire step, you might be able to do it.
There are other hikers on the dune with us. That is Merrilee in the blue shirt, Brenda below her, then Dan who insisted that he was not going to climb the dune. He did though.Another shot from near the top of the dune. The three people near the right side are Merrilee, Brenda and Dan. You can see our vehicle at the far left, just over the dune crest.
The valley between this row of dunes and another row about 1km away is flat and dry.
There was a steady wind so even though we were very hot, we were not soaked with sweat.A view of the long series of dunes from the top of the dune we climbed. I have headed down. Merrilee and Brenda are pretty happy about having made it to the top. Dan is not so sure. The sand is quite heavy, so skiing down the face of the dune is not as exciting as we had hoped. We moved farther down the park to an area called Death Valley - an area in which a flood had produced a lake many years ago. The lake had long since dried up and left a number of dead trees.
On the walk from the road into the valley we encountered a couple of beetles racing across the sand. This is a Tok-tokkie beetle. This one is a little paler than pictures of Tok-tokkie beetles on the net, but is otherwise quite similar. (Will called it a Tractrac beetle, so locals may have different names in different places.)
The beetle uses a clicking sound - tok tok - to communicate, especially in mating situations.Here we are approaching the old lake bed.
It is interesting that the sand does not move to fill in the lowest point in the area - the dry lake bed.
You can see several other tourist groups heading for the lake bed as well.It is hot and there is very little shade. That is Brenda cooling off - well, getting hot a little more slowly - in the shade of a long dead tree. Click for a close up. Near Sossusvlei is another very interesting geological formation - Sesriem canyon.
Here the land is not clay or sand, but a conglomerate of river rock - round rocks normally associated with turbulent rivers. And not just a few rocks, but a huge expanse of river rock that is at least 30 metres thick.
This suggests a very powerful river active for a very long period of time. The river may have been here, or more likely up hill from here. In the far distant past, a large lake formed up hill. For some reason that lake wall was breached and all this rock came tumbling down - ending up here.
Since then, flooding events on a much smaller scale have eroded this deep canyon into that deposit.
There is some water in small pools on the bottom of the canyon. The steep walls provide some protection from the sun and from predators - birds use the canyon walls for nest sites.
Click for a closer look at the canyon wall. Use back arrow to return to this page.A view of the canyon walls from the bottom.
The sun was very intense here. All my pictures here were over exposed - too much light. The automatic setting cannot handle sunlight like this. I should have switched to program mode and dialed down the exposure a little.The desert has some up scale places as well.
We raced by Le Mirage Desert Lodge & Spa. It has a web site that has much better pictures than this one - perhaps even better than reality! Prices appear to range up to $350 per person for a room. They even have a pool - which would be nice after a day on the dunes.Back at our somewhat less expensive lodge - camping possible - Hammerstein, they have in their garden an example of the fabulous Quiver tree. It looks like a tree with Aloe plants on the ends of the branches. Checking around when writing up this page and sure enough the scientific name is Aloe dichotoma.
Not quiver, like quaking aspen, but quiver like a holder to carry arrows. The locals hollowed the branches to form arrow quivers.
The Wikipedia entry on the Quiver tree says that the tree can be used as an indicator of climate change.And some big blooms out on one of the Cacti.
These weathered hills - with hard flat surfaces preventing weathering of the softer material below - were typical of the area.
Will said these indicated places where molten material had worked through the earth's crust and flowed out into flat plates. This cooled rock would be much harder than the sedimentary rock in the area. It seems to me that different types and hardness of sediment would account for this result without requiring lots of volcanic type activity.
Someday I will find a read a book on the geology of Namibia.This small antelope is probably a Steinbuck - a female, since it lacks horns. On the way to Fish River Canyon, we stopped off in Bethanie for lunch. The gas station had bags of chips, so we walked down the road to the Bethanie Guest House and asked if they were making lunch.
The cook/manager said he could do something for us and sat us down with cold beer while he and a helper worked in the kitchen. This was the result.
Now, I am a sausage person while Brenda is not. She and Merrilee had several kinds of salad, while Dan and Will and I got into this very South African sausage. It is some kind of farmer's sausage - quite unusual by North American standards (even European, in my experience) but quite good.
Lunch for 5 people, with a couple of beers each, was around $30. A long way to go for a great lunch, but if you happen to be passing by you can't go wrong.From Bethanie, some paved roads through the mesa and valleys of south western Namibia. More incredible geography.
Notice that the lines within the hills are all horizontal - an indication that the sediments here have not been down long enough to have been part of any uplift events. A young bit of the earth's surface, for all the erosion that has taken place.Here is another Quiver Tree in its natural habitat - the desert.
The only large trees in the area, these plants have an amazing ability to get and retain water.This small community of stone houses is only an hour or two away from Fish River canyon.
It is called Seeheim Hotel - a recreational development for South Africans. It is half way between South African and places like Etosha.
Strange to see in a small river valley in the middle of nowhere.While these look like Zebra - animals of the Serengeti plains - they are actually a specialized subspecies called Hartman's Mountain Zebra. They live in extremely harsh environments - which have the small advantage that there are few predators. Big animals are too rare for predators to have much of a chance of survival.
You are probably still wondering if a Zebra is black with white stripes, or white with black strikes. Wikipedia thinks it is a black animal with white stripes.
The main features that distinguish the Mountain Zebra subspecies from the plains cousins: the thinner stripes and the white belly. If it is a black animal with white stripes, I guess that means the white stripes completely cover the belly.
This was our only sighting of Mountain Zebra - we were quite close to Fish River Canyon when we saw them a couple of hundred metres off the road. It was also later in the day than we tended to be out on a Safari drive - our sunset drive to the canyon. In these harsh areas animals seek shelter during the middle of the day, feeding only in the morning and evening.Here we are almost a Fish River Canyon and we passed a Quiver Tree that takes being a tree seriously. Most were much shorter and more compact than this.
Can you count rings to get the age of a Quiver tree? Perhaps height is enough? This is a very dry area and this tree must have survived many years to reach this height.Here we are at the rim of Fish River Canyon and our only bit of bad luck with the vehicle (not counting a small incident with the trailer when backing up). Dan and Will are doing the work while I document the exercise. This is a completely different variety of succulent from the earlier Stone plant. This one has no common name it appears. The scientific name is Euphorbia dregeana or perhaps Euphorbia damarana. It is almost all green stem, with very small leaves just at the tips (click picture to see leaves, back arrow to return to page.) This is the canyon itself - pretty nice.
The walls of the canyon are made up of fractured rock - not a granite type rock at all, but much harder than a sandstone.
A little time with google leads me to believe that the rock is a kind of limestone - formed when the land was covered by a shallow sea. Later tectonic plate movement caused the basic split that is the canyon today. Normal erosion since then has led to the shape of the canyon walls.
Nicely framed by the Quiver tree.The photographers in the group are waiting for the perfect sunset shot - doing a few practice shots while they wait. Brenda and Dan are preparing to enjoy the sunset a little farther back from the edge. And there it is - the best we could do with the very dry air. Will, Brenda and Merrilee are on the edge of the canyon - which is pretty spectacular from this angle. Layers of broken limestone deposited over millions of years. The growth rings of the ocean floor. We were back out to the rim early the next morning - in time to see a South African Ground Squirrel.
This area looks pretty dry to be but is only technically a semi-desert because it gets 4 inches of rain a year. Enough for a few plants to grow and a few rodents to survive.
They apparently live in groups like gophers. They are about the size of our squirrels - perhaps a little smaller. Some people keep them as pets!Yet another Aloe plant - this one red! This is the only area in which we saw red Aloe. Just one bird picture from the area. This Cape Glossy Starling was a pest at the parking lot at the canyon rim. A couple had habituated to people and were eager to beg for food.
Well, actually a final sunrise on our last day in Namibia.
The trip is not yet over - we have a few more days before we get to Capetown and Will is finally done with us. Then a few days in Capetown before heading home.
Will, our guide, (AKA Will of Africa) made the entire trip effortless. We had no problems at all - at least none we noticed. Who knows - without Will there to keep things running smoothly we might have had some real problems.
Namibia seems though to be a very easy place for tourists. The roads are often gravel - but well maintained. Cell phone coverage appears to be pretty good. With a reliable vehicle you could probably do much of what we did without a guide - as long as you did not try to drive on the sand. That would mean not going into the Okavango Delta at Guma, but there may be other access points.
It can be quite a distance between grocery stores, so having some way to keep some food cool would be a big help. We met an older couple (that is getting harder all the time) who were travelling around Namibia on their own in a small RV. They stayed on better roads and had no problems. They were setting up for breakfast on the rim when we saw them. She was putting out 5 jars of spreads for toast - marmalade and the like. Seems pretty civilized. Why did I sleep in a tent so many nights?