Trees that have found water deep underground cast their shadows on the hot sands of the Namib Desert.
On a highway leading from the Namibian capital, Windhoek, to the Namib desert, we stopped at an isolated, iconic settlement aptly named Solitaire. It reminded me of the roadhouses off the beaten track in Australia. Food, gasoline, and gift items are sold. The settlement is somewhat of a memorial to the first owner, now deceased, who kept his used cars and trucks and left them all over the property. Apparently, this same owner created the best apple pie in the world. That’s what our guide (and a sign over the door) told us.
The terrain in Namibia’s Damaraland region features rocky rolling hills and desert vegetation surviving the worst drought in the country’s recent history. It is a landscape dotted with animals that are free to roam. They are not confined to game parks, but may be protected in other ways (as I will mention in a bit).
No animals are visible in this typical landscape, but you can bet some are hiding in the bushes!
A stationary springbok is a rare thing. They are usually seen leaping like ballerinas across the bush. The name “springbok” has everything to do with their mode of transportation and nothing to do with the season of the year! In the distance, a pair of zebras graze along a ridge.
At last, we achieved our wonderful guide’s main goal for the morning: to see some black rhinos. We learned that black rhinos are actually grey, as are white rhinos, with the primary difference being the shape of the upper lip. This little family consists of a mother, baby, and adolescent son. The son had apparently left the mom for a while and then returned. Rhinos are greatly endangered due to the black market in rhino horn; and in this area they are protected by an armed, anti-poaching team from multiple disciplines.
We say goodbye to central Namibia’s vast desert with dunes that extend all the way to the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are a few last glimpses before heading off to a new and radically different landscape.
On our last evening, we see the sun setting in a very fast descent, glowing orange in a cloudless sky.
Early the next morning, the moon, barely visible through the clouds, sets over a long straight road through the desert.
The desert stretches out to distant mountains, with only a solitary tree to dot the landscape.
The animals we saw in Namibia were totally wild, not confined to game parks. The ubiquitous oryx is known as the national animal of Namibia.
And wild ostriches strut around proudly in their native habitat.
Deadvlei in southern Namibia sits among some of the tallest dunes in the world, and scientists believe that about 900 years ago those dunes began to cut the area off from the Tsauchab River, which nourished its trees. Now the trees, dead for many years, sit surrounded by dunes in a bed of dried clay.
To get to the trees, one must hike over a well-traveled dune ridge and down onto the clay pan.
One can see why this area has become a magnet for photographers.
The first time I saw an image from Deadvlei, I thought the photographer must have had some special magic!
But now I know that anyone can capture a beautiful image here.
Many places today are referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, including Deadvlei with its blackened tree trunks, fallen branches, red dunes, and blue skies.
With elbows propped on the side of the balloon basket to stabilize my camera, I marveled at the mystical desert that passed below: the curves of ridges rising from the sand, the swirls and patterns in the sand itself, sometimes the small speck of an animal or a tree, sometimes a colorful balloon floating below.
The rising sun illuminates the fabric in a neighboring balloon as it floats over a ridge.
People talk in hushed voices and the quiet is only occasionally broken by the sound of the burner.
Dunes and ridges rise as sculptures from the desert floor…
as the sun continues its ascent.
An oryx, a species of antelope the size of a large horse, casts a long shadow in the early morning sunlight.
A lone tree also casts its shadow across the barren sand.