Into the Sea of Sand
The Namib Desert - Namibia



The Namib Desert is considered the oldest desert on the planet. It stretches approximately 300 miles long and averages
70 miles wide. It truly is a vast sea of sand, with dunes stretching as far as the eye can see. It is very strange to see
mile after of mile of desert just drop off into the ocean with no readily apparent signs of life. The Namib Desert has also
been home to some of the earliest humans, signs of which can be found if you know where to look. This desert was a very big draw
for me and I spent a number of days exploring its secrets. The photos below have been broken up into the different areas
visited, each creating their own unique experience. I started my exploration by riding an ATV from Walvis Bay about 80km into
the dunes. I then drove to Solitaire, Sesriem and deep inside the park to Sossusvlei. Many of these places were truly unique in
the world and places that legends are made of.


Walvis Bay - Kuiseb River Delta


Leaving from the town of Walvis Bay on the coast, I traveled with Kuiseb Delta Adventures owner Fanie Du Preez
and local ship captain Mike Lloyd east into the desert. Driving lightweight Yamaha ATVs is really the way to travel.



Video shot during the trip.



We spent about 8 hours riding through the desert. This is one of the few times in my life that the
back of my hands were sun-burned.


Although the Namib is a desert in every sense of the word, in the Kuiseb Delta area, water lies just below the surface
of the sand and will often form a lagoon oasis in the middle of the desert.


This Tok Toki beetle gets all of its water from the evening fog. It stands on its head, sticks its legs in the air and as
the moisture collects, it runs down the ridges on its back and funnels the water to its mouth.
During the heat of day, they bury themselves under the sand.


A small species of dung beetle.


Even antelope learn to adapt to the desert. They get all their moisture from the plants they eat.


The plants that these desert springboks eat makes their meat taste bad, so they are seldom hunted, except for the few bush meat
hunters in the area.


This herd of male springbok spend much of their time around the older pans feeding on the sparse plant life.


Males in a mock challenge.


Very few people hunt these springbok, so they've become somewhat accustomed to the presence of humans.



The area that the springbok often hang out in is part of the ancient path of the Kuiseb river, dry now for thousands of years.
Ancient animals and humans used inhabit the area in great numbers. As the area dried up, the mud river bottom
turned into rock and preserved the footprints of the former inhabitants.


Ancient human footprint.


The area is particularly special because it is the only place known to have fossilized footprints of children.


Giraffe print.


Antelope hoof prints.


This is the world's longest known set of ancient human footprints.


Elephant tracks.



Hyena footprints.


This pan is vast and must have been impressive when if was flowing with water and had plentiful vegetation.


Footprints were not the only thing left behind by the previous inhabitants.


Skeletons like this appear out of the sand almost like magic. As the winds blow, the dunes are constantly shifting.
This skeleton was discovered about a week prior to this photo. Just as quickly, it could be swollowed again
by the sands of time.


Notice the sea shells mixed in with the human bone fragments. The local people relied heavily
on obtaining food from the sea.


Only a handful of descendents from these bush people still live in the area and even fewer still live
in the desert. Everyone in Namibia is required to go to school as a child. As this happens and the children
go into the towns, fewer and fewer return to the ways of their ancestors.


These areas are called middens or ancient living places.


This is a dental grinding plate and an ear bone from fish that the locals had eaten.


Human bones are mixed with pottery fragments, sea shells and other bones.


Ancient beads made out of ostrich shells.


Toes sticking out of the rock.


The skull sticking out of the other end. The entire body is still encased in this petrified mud.


This skull is very unusual. It does not have any growth lines, something common to all "humans."
In the famous line from the X-Files "If it's not human, what is it?"


It appears that the cause of death was blunt trauma to the back of the skull with a tool like this stone.


Another round stone tool.


Surrounded by dunes and the remains of ancient humans.


This ant tore the head of another ant and now can't let go.


An oasis of water.


A flamingo taking off from this desert oasis.


Standing at an oasis.



Desert Camp near Sesriem


Sun setting over the mountains.


The permanent tents made for a very nice stay in the desert.


Pretty nice for a tent, huh?


A gecko was one of the in-camp residents.


An aerial view of the camp at the base of the mountain on the left.



Dead Vlei and Sossusvlei


Desert gemsbok driving into the park.


Desert ostrich.


Once inside the park, you must leave your vehicle and take one of the park supplied 4x4 further in to Sossusvlei.


The world famous Dune 45, considered to be the most photographed dune in the world.


Nara, desert fruit.


This pan does still get water every couple years, which is why the tree is still alive.


Those are people on the ridge, starting the climb of "Big Daddy".
That is our morning destination. At more than 1200 feet high, it is one the highest dunes in the world.


Every step up requires twice as much effort because you sink into the sand.


Jackal prints in the vlei.


It seems more like climbing a mountain than treking up a sand dune.


It almost reminds me of "Lord of the Rings" without the snow.


One third of the way up, it already looks so far and I feel so exhausted. Onwards and upwards.


These are the dancing lizards you see on National Geographic. The alternately lift each foot out of the sand
because of the heat.


Looking down at Dead Vlei from about 2/3 of the way up Big Daddy.


So far still to go.


You have to walk along the ridge as the slopes of the dunes are far too soft and you would never make it to the top.


Gives you perspective of how high you actually have to climb.


It was 108 degrees F (42C) this day and it REALLY felt like it.


Walking across a flat bit of ridge almost felt like a vacation.


Long shadows.


Finally at the summit!


The group that I traveled with, enjoying the victory.


All of my fellow travelers were from different countries, so this seems like the perfect beginning to a joke:
"So an American, a Namibian, a Canadian, a German, a Spaniard and an Australian climb a sand dune. . . . . . ."




Here's an aerial view of Big Daddy and Dead Vlei. There are more photos from the scenic flight below.


Making the way down Big Daddy and looking at the Dead Vlei.


Going down the dune was a lot easier than going up.


Every step in the soft sand made a strange low pitch sound, like the dune was talking.


The dunes here are have much more red than the dunes near the coast, because they have a much higher iron content.


Of course at the bottom, my shoes were FULL of sand. This photo is not an exageration.


The Dead Vlei is a very surrealistic environment. The water used to make it to this area several thousand
years ago. As the dunes shifted, the annual rains were diverted and this area dried up completely.
The trees have been standing dead for several thousand years. The baked white ground, the dark dead
camel thorn trees and the dark red sand dunes give the impression you are setting foot on an alien world.


A pied crow made a nest in one of the dead acacia trees.


Big Daddy to the left. It doesn't look as big from here.


This is at the bottom of Big Daddy and at the far end of Dead Vlei. The scale of everything is very deceptive. The little dots in the
background are full size trees.


This is Sossusvlei. Deadvlei looked like this a couple thousand years ago. As the annual rains come, the water floods its
way through the dunes and makes it to this point. These plants and trees have adapted to survive by receiving water
only once every few years.


Springbok hiding from the sun in Sossusvlei.


Making lunch at Sossuvlei.


Ockert and Rod in the front of the truck, ready to roll.


The group safari vehicle I traveled in for a couple days.


Community weaver bird.


Giant Caterpillar.


After a long sweaty day of climbing dunes. . . . time for a break.


Flying over the Sea of Sand

Having traveled into the Namib Desert by ATV, driven across the northern boundary, ventured into the eastern expanse
and climbed some of the highest dunes in the world, it seemed only fitting to take scenic flight over the desert to get a better
perspective. We took off near Sesriem, flew west over the entire width of the desert to the Atlantic ocean. We flew up the coast and
headed back east as the sun set behind us and lit up the dunes with its vibrant scarlet light. This was by far the most memorable
scenic flight I have ever taken. I smiled almost every moment of the flight and am smiling not just thinking about it. Look at the photos
and the video and you will see what made it so adventurous.




In the hanger with a Cessna 206.


Just taking off.


We flew over the chief pilot to "wave" hello.


Endless expanse of sand.

 


The aerial view of Big Daddy, Dead Vlei and Sossusvlei.


This was a lot easier with an airplane.


Where the dunes meet the water. This seems like a very strange transition, from ablsolutely no water to nothing but water.
A large number of shipwrecks have occurred along this coast. Imagine being stranded here, surrounded by the ocean and hundreds
of miles of nothing but sand.

 


This is why the trip was so much fun for me. We had a nice relaxing flight towards the coast and I had it in my mind that
this was going to be a quiet scenic flight. Before we took off, I spoke to the pilot and mentioned that I flew Cessnas too.
He asked if I wanted to ride in to co-pilot seat and proceeded to show me how they fly in Namibia.
When we reached the coast, I figured we would just stay at about 2000 feet and cruise up the coast.
To my suprise (and delight), the pilot actually throttled the engines up and dropped the plane below the level of the dunes.
I'm not sure what our actual altitude was, but the altimeter read 20 feet at our lowest height. The spray from the waves were splashing
up to our height. That is all really exciting at 165mph! I loved every minute of it!!!


I love this picture because it looks like it was taken from a boat. Rest assured that this was taken from the front seat of
a Cessna at 145 knots.

 


This is how I was welcomed to the world of Namibian bush pilots!


With my heart pounding and blood pumping and a stupid grin from ear to ear, we headed back towards the eastern
side of the desert and our run way.


Imagine being stranded in the middle of this. I'm thirsty just looking at it.


The dunes were almost like a Rorschach test.
I see a man with a prominent nose, a beard and long flowing hair.


Looks a little bit like the face on Mars.


Mirror on the wing to verify that the landing gear is up or down. Also a good perspective of where we were flying.


I love the dramatic shadows made by the setting sun.


One of the adventures of the afternoon flight is to look for wildlife on the dunes.


A gemsbok feeding along a dune in the afternoon. Apparently they climb the dunes late in the day to enjoy
the strong afternoon breezes.


These are called "fairy cicles" and they were a mystery until just recently.
No one was quite sure what was making these circles, whether it was a fungus growing, the remnants of an indigenous
toxic plant that prevents the grass from growing or an alien landing site. It was recently discovered that these areas are the
site of the Earth venting noxious gas.


As you can see there are a LOT of fairy circles.


One place even started selling the naming rights to the circles. You can name a circle after someone.


Springbok grazing inside and around the circles.


My desert camp seen as we come in on approach for landing.


The runway, coming in for landing.


Sesriem Canyon


Sesriem Canyon exists on the eastern boundary of the Namib Naufkluft National Park. Although it does not look like much from the top,
it is quite a unique gorge cut into the rock and only has water during the seasonal rain. There are still a couple
small mud puddles at the bottom of the gorge which will disappear if the rains don't come this year.
This is quite a problem for the catfish living in that puddle.


Deep at the bottom of the canyon. For a couple weeks every year, this is completely underwater.


This small puddle on the right has about a dozen 10" long catfish hiding in it. There survival is based greatly on the
coming of the annual rains.

 


One of the canyon's resident falcons. They nest on the cliffs and hunt the other birds that call the canyon home.