The Daily Dozen: To Sesriem

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.


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.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel

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