May 052015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

We left the mountains and desert and headed toward the coast again, to Luderitz.

 Rocks and hills, Namibia

Rocks and hills.

Rocks and hills for miles and miles.

Rest area, Namibia

The shade roof is essential. The fence, not so much.

As we neared the coast, the terrain flattened out.

Onto Pavement, Namibia

Where the sand meets the road.

And then there was pavement. Geez, when was the last time we were on a paved road?

Road to Luderitz, Namibia

Civilization, at last. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

So . . . this is civilization.

See those power poles on the left? They’re between the road and a train track. Those poles cast skinny little shadows. Sometimes we saw skinny little springbok standing in those skinny little shadows. Sometimes more than one springbok stood in a single shadow, lined up, one behind the other. Desperate? Brilliant? Both.

The coast at Luderitz, Namibia

Luderitz coast. Clickable pic.

As in Walvis Bay, the temperature dropped suddenly when we arrived on the coast, and the wind picked up. Significantly. In fact, the wind raged, which seems to be the norm. A local campground advertises sheltered sites. It turned out they hadn’t found some protected place out of the wind but rather had built wind blocks.

Luderitz coast, Namibia

I don’t find the coast here beautiful, but there’s beauty here nonetheless.

Also as in Walvis Bay, we didn’t camp. We stayed at the Kratzplatz B&B. We were ready for another break to clean up, rest up, and catch up. Kratzplatz offered Internet access right in our room. We planned to stay just one night, but wound up staying two.

You might recall the Tiras Guest Farm owner saying that on weekends in Luderitz the people sleep.

Sunday in Luderitz, Namibia

Sunday in Luderitz. Clickable pic.

She wasn’t kidding. Saturday and Sunday in Luderitz look like this. Granted it’s the off season, but still.

Just outside Luderitz is Kolmanskop, a once-bustling diamond-mining town (between 1909 and WWI) that is now promoted as a ghost town. Surely Luderitz could be promoted similarly—at least on weekends . . . at least during the off season . . . at least while we were there.

Might we have wandered into Stepford instead?

Luderitz, Namibia

Luderitz is a small town. Clickable pic.

The funny thing is that we had initially contacted a different B&B—one recommended in our guidebook—but were told they were full and then were kindly referred to Kratzplatz. So where were all these people who were filling the rooms at the first B&B?

By the way, I love it when local businesses recommend other local businesses. I took the advice without hesitation or reservation—and promptly made a reservation.

These town photos were taken Sunday afternoon during a walk about town. The only other beings we saw were two other tourists and a couple of dogs. The guidebooks and the Tiras Farm owner consider this sleepiness a bad thing, but we quite enjoyed it.

Calm water in Luderitz, Namibia

Calm water. Take the picture. Quick! Clickable pic.

Sunday morning we got up early because that is our habit and because it was the only time we were likely to be able to walk on the beach without blasting wind.

Sure enough, it was calm. Wind is a late sleeper.

We walked on a short stretch of beach called “Agate Beach,” along with a handful of other beach combers. We did, indeed, find some small, stripey agates. By the time we left, however, the wind was up and already being rather obnoxious.

Flamingos in Luderitz

Flamingos, gull, and wave. Clickable pic.

We drove around to the recommended viewpoints, which, frankly, I didn’t find especially scenic. If it’s a beautiful coastline and pretty beaches you’re after, Namibia isn’t your place. But the flamingos are beautiful.

Flamingos sleep in Luderitz, Namibia

Even the flamingos are sleeping in Luderitz on the weekend.

See? Nice water. Adorable flamingoes. Pretty sea greenery. But the backdrop? Meh. Not very pretty if you ask me.

 African Penguins in Luderitz

African penguins. Clickable pic.

There were penguins on an island just off the coast and playful dolphins in the bay between us and the penguins.

During our stay in Luderitz, I read a little about the diamond history. When diamonds were first discovered in1908, people simply crawled around on the ground picking up handfuls in minutes. Can you imagine? Sometimes people would hunt for diamonds at night because they were easy to spot shining in the moonlight. What a way to make one’s fortune!

As a lifelong pretty-rock hunter, I’d love to go out and hunt for diamonds. But knowing of the manipulation, corruption, violence, and cruelty in the diamond trade, I’m inclined to steer clear. When you get right down to it, as rocks go, I find colorful jasper, patterned agates, and faceted crystals to be far prettier than diamonds anyway.

Well, that figures. I also like Luderitz when its residents and visitors are sleeping.

May 042015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

After a day of gemsbok spotting, we camped at the Tiras Guest Farm. We’ve heard and read good things about guest farms, and I wanted to try one.

Guest farms are what the name suggests: Farms that accommodate guests. Ranch owners tap into Namibia’s tourism efforts to supplement farm income. Tiras Farm is owned by German-Africans—not surprising, since Namibia was colonized by Germans—and it is a working farm.

Tiras Guest Farm Campsite, Namibia

There, in the middle of that rocky hill, is our campsite. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Rooms and B&B service are available near the farmhouse, but across the road behind a rocky hill are some more isolated, self-catering campsites.

Tiras Guest Farm Campsite, Namibia

The site. The covered patio, doors to shower and toilet, picnic area and braai. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Very nice ones, in fact, complete with private toilets and showers, picnic area, kitchen counter and sink, braai, and, for us, the only campers on site, an elevated patio overlooking a large plain where cows and gemsbok graze.

Camped out on the deck, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Who needs a tent?

Fairly certain that it wasn’t going to rain, we set up our pads and blankets on the patio and slept out under the stars and a not-waterproof, stick, shade roof. I thought briefly about a snake slithering down from the rocks to sleep with warm us, but having seen all of two snakes during past three months, I decided the risk was minimal and acceptable.

When I checked in with the farm owner at the house, the kind woman asked hopefully, “Do you still speak German?” Both Weber and Funk are German names, I know, but “I never spoke German.” She didn’t turn me away.

She gave me a homemade book with maps, photos, and descriptions—in German—of natural history features on the farm. She apologized for my not being able to read the book, but I assured her I was pretty good at reading pictures. We were encouraged to make ourselves at home and drive around the farm roads, and we were directed to a particular loop with interesting rock formations.

We returned to the C road the led us here, crossed it, and opened the first of many farm gates. I did a good bit of getting in and out of the truck that night and the next morning.

Klipspringer, male, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Male klipspringer.

As we approached the beautiful campsite-on-a-hill, we were greeted by three klipspringers. Unlike the klipspringers (we think—Mike’s more certain than I am) we saw in Etosha, these stood still long enough to get a good look and confident ID.

Klipspringers on rocks, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Klipspringers after springing onto the rocks.

We even got a video of one springing up into the rocks above the campsite.

It was such a lovely place, we considered staying another day, but in the end we decided to continue on.

After setting up camp, we headed out to the cool rock formation loop. We were not disappointed.

Pretty rocks, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Cool rocks.

For whatever reason, we both find piles of rocks to be beautiful and interesting. I want to scramble around the rocks and see what’s living in the nooks and crannies.

These appear to have been piled up by a giant tidying the landscape rather than worn away by rain and wind.

Rock formation, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Buns of rock. You’re familiar with buns of steel, right?

And what a nice, smooth cut the giant made here, while slicing rocks. It’s a rock bun awaiting its black-bean burger.

Hyrax, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Hyrax. Can you see the fangs?

Hyrax, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Hyrax. See the white eyebrows?

In addition to cool rocks, we saw a couple more klipspringers and several hyraxes or what’s known locally as rock dassies.

They look like guinea pigs and call to mind Alaska’s marmots and pikas, which are cute, short-legged, furballs that live in rocks at home. However, despite living in a similar rocky environment and looking something like marmots and pikas, these animals are not even closely related. Knowing that much, go ahead and guess what the hyraxes nearest relative is.

Really. Take a stab at it. Look at the things, and guess.

I’ll wait.

Did you guess tortoise? Well, you’d be wrong. (A tortoise isn’t even a mammal, dude.)

Did you guess giraffe? Wrong again.

Did you guess elephant? Too bad, because you’d be right.

Did you guess manatee? You’d be right with this one, too.

Crazy, no? Not only does it share an ancestor with the elephant, but it has similar teeth, toes, and skull structures. If you look closely at the first not-very-good image, you might be able to see something like fangs protruding from the animal’s mouth. These are large incisor teeth that grow out to be tiny tusks, just like an elephant’s.

I’m calling these rock hyraxes, but there’s also a yellow-spotted hyrax, and one of our pictures shows a yellow spot on the back of the animal, so I’m not entirely sure which hyrax this is. I’m still dassled (no, that’s not a typo or spelling error) by the the elephant relatives, though, and am not too worried about this detail.

Quiver tree, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Quiver tree.

Driving around the farm roads was so much fun, we kept going until the sun had set and it got dark. We saw cows, gemsbok, and a jackal, along with pretty rocks, this quiver tree, and a lovely landscape. Apparently, natives used branches from this tree as quivers because they are easy to hollow out. Some quiver-tree trunks look baobab-ish to me, but if you ask me the stronger resemblance is to coral polyps.

I got up a few times during the night to take a look around with the night-vision binoculars. As far as I could tell, it was just the klipspringers and I up and about.

The View, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

A view from the Rock Formation Loop. Evening. Clickable pic.

The View, Tiras Guest Farm, Namibia

Same view from the Rock Formation Loop. Morning. Clickable pic.

In the morning we made another trip around the rock formation loop to see the rocks and hyraxes in different light, and then we were on our way to Luderitz, where the farm owner said the people would all be sleeping because it was the weekend.

May 012015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Today we zigged and zagged through the desert, taking recommended C and D roads, as opposed to “better” A and B roads. By “better” I mean paved. C and D roads are sand and gravel; C roads are smooth and good, while D roads are more bumpy. The 4WD tracks we’ve been on are something else entirely.

We’ve traveled mostly C and D roads in Namibia, and they’ve been great. Generally better than gravel roads in Alaska, I’d say, maybe because they’re more sand than gravel. We’ve had just one flat tire so far, which surprises the heck out of me. We deemed the tires the weak link on our rental truck, as they seemed quite worn. But Africa makes sturdy tires. Way to go, Africa! The two spare tires in the back are better than the four on the truck.

Gemsbok, oryx gazella, Namib Desert, Namibia

A gemsbok under every tree. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

In addition to springbok, ostriches, and four giraffes, we saw gemsbok, gemsbok, and more gemsbok. In fact, there’s pretty much a gemsbok under every tree.

Nope, I’m still not tired of seeing gemsbok. They’re beautiful.

Baby gemsbok, Namib Desert, Namibia

Young gemsbok.

Best of all, we saw a young one. Given the size of the horns, this one isn’t all that young, but it’s the smallest one we’ve seen, and one of only two relatively young ones.

Youngish Gemsbok, Namib Desert, Namibia

Teenagers?

Normally, the youngest we see are this size. All three of these have fairly short horns.

Based on our observations, one might conclude that gemsbok are born as adults, but we know this isn’t true. As I mentioned before, one of our books says that gemsbok keep their young hidden from the herd for the first month. It seems they keep them well hidden and perhaps for longer than a month.

Mom and baby gemsbok, Namibia

Mom and baby gemsbok. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

What a treat to spy this young one! I wonder how old it is.

Gemsbok with a broken leg, Namiba

This gemsbok’s left front leg is broken.

We also saw this lame one. Nature is not kind to lame animals, and it breaks my heart to see one. I want to stuff it in the backseat and either take it home and fix it or give it a safe place to live out its life comfortably. I think it’s amazing that it was walking as well as it was, but it’s still an easy target for a predator.

Gemsbok with a curled horn, Namibia

Curly-horn gemsbok.

What about an affliction like this, I wonder. What are the consequences when a horn that is supposed to be straight comes out curled? Does this impact the animal’s ability to defend itself or its territory? Do the other animals notice? Do they care?

Gemsbok with a broken horn, Namibia

Broken-horn gemsbok on the desert plain. Clickable pic.

Not all deformed horns are birth defects; sometimes horns break. Whoops. There’s a mistake that stays with you the rest of your life.

One of the reasons I’m so enamored with gemsbok is because they are so hardy. They are the antelope braving the harsh, dry conditions way out yonder in the desert Bush, away from the comforts of waterholes and the safety of great herds. They are antelope after my own heart.

Our guidebook says they are not dependent on surface water. Apparently, they can get all the moisture they need from . . . melons.

Melons?

What melons?

No Melons in this Desert, Namibia

No melons here. Clickable pic.

Do you see any melons here? “Honey, where’d you put the melons? I’m thirsty.”

We’ve seen precisely zero melons in all of our Namibian travels. These mythical melons have become a joke with us.

Need something we don’t have? Oh, we’ll just grab a melon and use it instead.

Feeling parched? Grab a melon.

What’s that gemsbook doing just standing there? Enjoying a melon, of course.

And then, as we’re cruising blissfully along our desolate C road, a spot of green outrageously out of place screams for my attention.

“Mike! Stop! Melons!”

Melons, for real, Namibia

Melons! Get out! Clickable pic.

Wonder of wonders, they’re real. There really are melons in this endless desert. Could they look more out of place? I don’t think so!

But not a gemsbok in sight, and we can see for miles and miles.

Tsama melons, Namibia

Check ’em out!

They look a bit like honeydews.

Tsama melon, cut open, Namib Desert, Namibia

Tsama melon guts.

Inside, they look like white watermelons, but the flesh is firmer, even firmer than honeydew. Is it fully ripe? Beats me.

Do you suppose they’re safe for humans to eat? Would you really eat something so rare and precious to gemsbok? I mean, this is it for miles around. These are all the melons for the dozens or hundreds of gemsbok we’ve seen. Are you really going to take one from them?

Well, I did already cut one open.

But, then, no way was I going to actually try one without knowing they’re safe to eat. I mean, we’re in the middle of nowhere in the desert in Namibia. We’re not taking any chances. That would be foolish. I’ve even been treating water we’ve been told is safe to drink.

Taking no chances.

“Forget it,” Mike said. “They’re really bitter.”

Oh.

I can’t believe melons really grow out here in the desert with no water and rocks for soil. They’re not a myth after all. In fact, they’re tsama melons. Or Tsamma melons. As with so many words here, I see two different spellings. They are commonly thought to be the ancestor of watermelon, and there are several varieties, including a sweet one and a bitter one. All are safe to eat, if not exactly yummy. Apparently, these grow in the US, too, and are called “citron melons.” Are you familiar with them?

Castle, Namibia Desert

It’s a lodge and spa. Click for a larger view. Use your back button to return here.

And then there’s this. Why on earth is there a castle out here, and what does it have to do with anything? It makes no sense.

Precisely my point.

Apr 302015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Our full day in Sesriem and the Namib-Naukluft National Park here included a long dune hike, a short canyon hike, and loads of photography.

After the long, hot Big Daddy dune hike, we took a brief break, soaked ourselves and our clothes in the shower, and headed out again to explore Sesriem Canyon. This canyon was carved by the Tsauchab River, the same river that pools in Sossusvlei during exceptionally wet years. It’s on the opposite end of the park from Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, near the park entrance and our campsite.

Sesriem Canyon, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Sesriem canyon. And me.

Compared to canyons in the southwestern US—Bryce, Canyonlands, Zion, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, etc.—Sesriem is tiny, but it’s a canyon and canyons are cool. Knowing that flowing water created this is fantastic. We walked the narrow passageway through towering rock walls.

Sesriem Canyon, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Narrow canyon passageway.

We explored the nooks and crannies of the worn and weathered rock: caves, ledges, and holes. Birds nest in these walls.

Sesriem Canyon, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The narrow canyon widens. Clickable pic.

The canyon opens up fairly quickly to a wider riverbed with lovely, rounded river rocks and greenery taking advantage of underground water.

Sesriem Canyon, Namib-Naukluft National Park

A hole in the wall. Clickable pic.

Canyons, like dunes, are playgrounds for photographers. The light contrasts can be tough to deal with, but the twists, turns, and rock formations offer endless views, perspectives, and creative opportunities.

My goal for this post is to share some of the results of Mike’s photographic playing in this playground of a park. While Mike does his thing with a camera, I sometimes shoot along beside him to see the differences in what we single out or how we frame an image. It’s a game for me, too, to try to see what Mike is seeing.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Stripes. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

This image is a small area isolated from a wide landscape. (Duh, I know.) In seeing the landscape, I knew immediately that Mike was focused on the stripes of light, shadow, and color. Mike likes stripes. I’ve learned that. So do I, but I never noticed them in this way until Mike pointed them out.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The landscape from which a squiggle was isolated. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

As I mentioned previously, I like to point out details that I like and have Mike shoot them, infusing his perspective on the detail. Here, I asked Mike to shoot the squiggly line of the dune ridge.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Squiggle line.

He knew exactly what I meant; in fact, I’m sure he’d already noted it. There were so many options, I wanted to make sure he included that one.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Early morning light.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Late afternoon light.

Morning light vs. late afternoon light. The subtleties of light elude me, but I can grasp the difference here. Isn’t it cool?

Now get this: Look at the trees. The trees in the morning shot are clear, in focus, while the trees in the late afternoon light are blurry. In fact, there’s a whole ribbon of blurry in the late afternoon shot due to heat waves. It was blessed hot when the second photo was taken around 5 p.m., which I consider the end of the oppressive period. The earth is radiating heat; it doesn’t want it any more than I do.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Texture. And gemsbok!

While Mike likes stripes and light and all sorts of other things, I’m big into texture—or what I call texture. I don’t know if this is a photography thing or not; I’m just putting words to what I think and like.

In a big, wide landscape, I often zoom in on bits like the dunes here because I see texture. That’s a little bit weird, what with photos flattening everything into two dimensions, but I still see texture here.

As an embroiderer, I want to recreate images like this with needle and thread, adding that third dimension.

That there are gemsbok in this picture too is a bonus.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

A line or wrinkles? Is there a difference?

I consider this a texture picture, too. Mike, I imagine, sees two-dimensional light and lines while I see three-dimensional wrinkles in the sand. The same, but different.

Sand dune, Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Blocks of color. Clickable pic.

Dune 45, another one that visitors climb. Three bold, sharply delineated blocks of beautiful, saturated color.

Apr 292015
 

We got in line at the Namib-Naukluft park gate at Sesriem at 7:00 a.m. to rush with the crowd to the end of the 60 km paved road where a shuttle runs visitors some 5 km farther out along a soft sand road to the Sossusvlei and Dead pans. This is a photography and scenery park, not a game park, and if the bulk of the road weren’t paved, wind and blowing sand would constantly obstruct views and hinder photos. This is a windy place; that’s why there are sand dunes!

We weren’t really rushing, but the heat and sun are strong incentives to get out to Sossusvlei early. Sossusvlei is a place to hike, whether up the dunes or out to pans, and that’s best done before the heat and sun become oppressive, which I have concluded is 2:00 p.m. Also, photography is better in morning light than midday light.

Park rangers, our guidebooks, and every other tourism advisor recommends hiking out to Sossusvlei then taking the shuttle back—if one wants to walk that distance at all. Most people book a round-trip shuttle and do all their walking out at the pans.

It makes sense given the heat, but, of course, that didn’t really suit us. Our goal was to get up high as early as possible to make use of the morning light, and walking out would delay the climb. But we also wanted to walk, so we opted to ride the shuttle out and walk back. Sun and heat be damned.

The shuttle driver and visitors within earshot thought we were nuts or deluded. An old, overweight German man double checked, “You’re really going to walk back?” He scowled and shook his head at our foolishness.

We were, of course, prepared: We had lots of water and snacks. We were covered in sunscreen as well as loose long sleeves and long pants. We had hats and sunglasses. We had a goal of being back to the car by 2:00 p.m. We ignored the nay sayers. They don’t know us.

The Sossusvlei pan used to be the big attraction but now Dead Pan has surpassed it as the favorite, or so it seems to me. I didn’t see anyone going to Sossusvlei; everyone went to Dead Pan.

Dead Pan with Acacia Bones, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Dead pan with acacia bones. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Dead Pan is a flat, white, dry, salt-and-clay pan with a few dry, dead bones of acacia trees. It’s quite stark and pretty without all the scrubby grass tufts other pans have.

Big Daddy Dune Flanking Dead Pan, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The highest peak on the left is Big Daddy. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Ringing Dead Pan on one side is Big Daddy dune, some 330 meters high (1,000 feet). If it’s not the highest dune in the area, it’s one of them.

Climbing Big Daddy, Namib-Naukluft National Park

And they’re off!

We headed up the ridge of Big Daddy with everyone else from the earliest shuttles. We didn’t plan to climb the whole of Big Daddy, what with the universal concern for our plan to walk back to the car and our experience trudging breathlessly up Dune 7 in Walvis Bay. However, with lots of people traipsing up the dune, the sandy ridge steps were somewhat packed.

Ridge around Dead Pan, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Heavy traffic makes for a moderately packed trail.

The farther we went, the farther we decided to go.

I didn’t expect to see wildlife on the dune, but I was pleasantly surprised by this:

Shovel-snouted Lizard, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Shovel-snouted lizard. Clickable pic.

It’s a shovel-snouted lizard (good job, lizard namers!), and it’s endemic to the Namib Desert.

Such a funny little thing! The sand is, as you would guess, flipping hot. Look how this lizard is resting: on its belly with all four feet and its tail in the air. “Oooo . . . ah . . . ouch . . . it’s hot!” After a few seconds, it puts two feet and its tail down to get its belly off the blistering sand. Then it switches feet.

How crazy is that? What a life!

Setting Sights on Big Daddy, Namib-Naukluft National Park

What the heck, we might as well go for it. The peak is right there. Clickable pic.

We continued up the ridge. The going was all right, and soon we set our sights on getting to the peak for a 360-degree view of the area. To get to the final ridge walk, however, we had to scale the soft slip-face of the dune between two perpendicular ridges. Here, the sand was super soft and nearly impossible to climb. It felt worse than Dune 7. I’d step up 12 inches, but sink back down 10 when I put weight on that foot. The going was slow and difficult. It was also extremely steep. Switchbacks worked on Dune 7, but they weren’t so effective here. It was a lung-bursting, quad-burning scramble.

Big Daddy Slip-face Scramble, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The slip-face slope is between me and Mike the Photographer. Slippery that slip-face is, too. Great view, though, eh? Clickable pic.

At this point, we had the place to ourselves, which, as you know, we love. We figured—and hoped—this would happen. The other visitors had gone as far as they wanted, seen all they wanted, turned around, and taken the shuttle back. We, on the other hand, are gluttons at a feast. Five others climbed the Big Daddy peak well ahead of us, but they had raced down the face and walked back out Dead Pan already. Sossusvlei—the whole area—was ours!

Top of Slip Face, Big Daddy Dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Whew! Made it! See the peak? Clickable pic.

Once on the second ridge to the peak, the going continued to be slow. Few people walk this ridge, so it wasn’t packed like the lower one was. Twenty steps. Rest. Twenty steps. Rest. We’re not athletes, folks. We’re not even in good shape, having been riding around Africa, confined to our car. But we’re no strangers to such slogs, either. We knew we’d get there, and despite the looming inevitability of violent sun and heat, we didn’t rush. It was fun, even when it was hard.

On top of Big Daddy Dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Mike on top of the world. Clickable pic.

And then there was the payoff. We had an almost 360-degree view. One dune obstructed a tiny bit of the horizon.

View From Big Daddy, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The payoff. Clickable pic.

It was gorgeous! Enormous. Endless. Pristine. On-top-of-the-world views like this make my insides soar.

View of Dead Pan from Big Daddy, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Dead Pan from Big Daddy. Clickable pic.

We ate up the view and a snack.

Big Daddy Ridge, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The Big Daddy ridge. Dead Pan on the left, the pan we walked out on the right. Clickable pic.

And then we headed back down. We backtracked then dropped over to the pan on the back side (right, in the photo) rather than Dead Pan (left, in the photo). We still planned to walk back to the car, and this was the more direct route.

The Slope Down Big Daddy, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The dune slope we descended, and the pan we walked out. Clickable pic.

Getting down a dune is easy—and fun! Lead with your heels and take giant steps. And expect a shoe full of sand.

Salt and clay pan, Namib-Naukluft National Park

A salt-and-clay pan. Great cracked-mud pattern, no? Clickable pic.

We were down the dune and out the hard-baked pan in 30 minutes.

We didn’t want to follow the shuttle road back, but it was hard to get too far away from it. A shuttle driver with an empty vehicle spotted us and stopped to wait. We waved him on. I’m sure he, too, thought we were nuts.

When possible, we chose paths on clay patches rather than sand, but even the sand wasn’t too bad for walking. Only the churned-up, soft sand road was difficult to walk on. And there were trees along the way, so we had some shade to walk and rest in.

Gemsbok in the shade, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Gemsbok in the shade.

We’d planned to enjoy our apples under a shady tree, and when we came to several gemsbok and springbok hunkered under individual shade trees, we decided we’d found the perfect spot.

Jen's Shade, Namib-Naukluft National Park

My shade tree.

Mike found a shade tree for me.

Mike's Shade, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Mike’s shade tree. Hrmph.

Then found one for himself. Um . . . thanks, Mike.

As we hoped, the boks all got used to us and didn’t run off when we got up and carried on.

Ring toss gemsbok, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Ring toss gemsbok.

My favorite bok of the day: the ring-toss gemsbok. That’s a seed pod from a camel thorn tree that happens to be more ring shaped than toenail shaped. Score!

Last Car in the Lot, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Last ones back win! Clickable pic.

The rest of the walk was painless. We were tired, but the sun and heat hadn’t gotten to us. We were back at the car just at 2:00 p.m.

When we got to the campground, the neon sign said the temperature was 39 degrees Celcius—about 102 degrees Fahrenheit. That seemed about right.

Apr 282015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Today we journeyed from the sprawling mountainous desert of Namib-Naukluft National Park to Sesriem (area name) and the red dunes surrounding Sossusvlei (pan name), also part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and it’s most popular and best known attraction. Namib-Naukluft is the largest conservation area in Namibia, encompassing 19,216 square miles.

According to one of my sources, “Sossusvlei” means “the gathering place of water” in the local Nama language. Another source says “Sossusvlei” means “dead-end marsh,” with at least the “vlei” portion of the word being Afrikaans. Whatever the origin of the name, you get the idea: At some point, water collects here. Just not very often, as it turns out, and not right now.

Sossusvlei is a salt-and-clay pan (remember the pan in Etosha?) surrounded by impressive red sand dunes, reportedly some of the tallest in the world at almost 400 meters high. The dunes are said to prevent the Tsauchab River from reaching the Atlantic Ocean some 60 km to the west, but that is true only when the Tsauchab River reaches this far, which is only during exceptionally rainy years. This isn’t one of those years.

During a rainy year, the Sossusvlei pan and neighboring pans can fill with water and hold it for up to a year. Now that I’ve seen the pans dry, I’d like to see them as lakes.

The area around Sossuvlei is called “Sesriem,” and I believe this is really an Afrikaans word. It means six “riems,” or six leather thongs (which apparently are standard lengths), which is what had to be tied to the handle of a bucket in order to lower it far enough into a waterhole to reach the water. Do with that what you will.

My point: Sesriem is the area; Sossusvlei is the pan; Sossusvlei and the surrounding dunes, but not all of Sesriem, are part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. I needed to get that straight in my head.

Mountains in Namib-Naukluft National Park

Desert and mountains. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

We headed out in the morning enjoying the dry, white-ish, desert plains and mountains.

Hills and valleys in Namib-Naukluft National Park

Desert nooks and crannies.

Miles and miles of wide-open spaces, punctuated by hills and valleys, mountains and canyons.

Mountain zebras, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Mountain zebras. I love this picture! Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

We saw baboons, springbok, kudu, ostriches, gemsbok, jackals, and mountain zebras. No great herds, but individuals and small groups spread out over a good distance.

Red sands creep into mountains, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Ooooo. Red! Clickable pic.

In time, red sand appeared in pockets, mixing with the white, rocky plains.

Mountains give way to dunes, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Dunes. Clickable pic.

And then the mountains gave way to dunes.

We chose to camp outside the park because this one campground in the area advertised Internet access. Having been burned on such advertisments before, I inquired before registering, and, indeed, they had a connection. It wasn’t until after I’d paid that I was informed of the hourly fee for access. And then it wasn’t until I paid for a second night and asked for instructions on how to get online that I was told the Internet service was down.

Uh-huh.

Well, we had more time to look around, then, eh?

The park was gated with the usual opening and closing times of sunrise and sunset. Though we had just a few of hours before closing time, we opted to drive the 60 km of paved road inside the park that evening to see the dunes in low light.

An unpaved, 4WD road continues another 5 km to Sossusvlei and surrounding pans. We’ll tackle that tomorrow.

This is a photo safari. The shapes, lines, shadows, and light on the dunes are spectacular. One small area can yield dozens of interesting and different images. This is a playground for Mike, and I think this is where his photography shines: Composition is one of his strengths. We can look at the same scene but see different things. We can photograph the same hill and get images that appear altogether different.

Watching Mike as he shoots and seeing the results has improved my own photography, to be sure, but his is still better than mine and always will be. His perspective is different from mine, and his level of interest in taking pictures is greater than mine. What I like most to do is point out a line or shadow or interesting detail that I like and ask Mike to photograph it. Often, he’ll do something different than I would do, and the result is better than I imagined.

I’m going to shut up now and let you see Sesriem from Mike’s perspective. I’m sticking to the rule of 12 images here because without it I’m overwhelmed and stymied. We have hundreds of dune pictures.

Dunes of Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Dunes line both sides of the paved park road. Clickable pic.

Dunes at Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Wind is the artist; sand is her medium. Yes, wind is a “she.” She’s called Maria, don’t you know? Clickable pic.

Dunes at Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The light and shadows change constantly. Clickable pic.

Dunes at Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Zooming in accentuates lines . . .

Dunes at Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

. . . and texture. Clickable pic.

Dunes at Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Color changes in different light, too. Clickable pic.

Gemsbok at Sesriem, Namib-Naukluft National Park

Not a lot of animal variety, but some wonderful gemsbok here. Clickable pic.