Southern Africa, Namibia

Sossusvlei and The Namib Desert

Looking out to beautiful desert scenery during dinner at Sossusvlei Namib Desert

We strike out from luxurious, magnificently designed safari camps into the vast and otherworldly Namib, marveling at the highest sand dunes on earth (the tallest could look the Empire State Building straight in the eye), making game drives in search of the desert-dwellers among Namibia’s superbly adapted 192 mammal species (not to mention its 250 reptile and 645 bird species). Namibia has become a poster-country for intelligent, community-involved wildlife conservation; 50% of all its wild animals live freely in its many conservancies.

Measured by sheer sandy drama, the Namib is the monarch of earthly deserts. Its famous dunes are among the highest on earth (Walvis Bay’s laconically named Dune 7 is a bit higher than Sossusvlei’s Big Daddy, but isn’t as elegantly isolated and regal). This a starkly beautiful place, anciently quiet and dramatically elemental, inhabited by highly adapted animals whose lives are attuned to the Namib’s rare rains and floodwaters. Desert oryx, springboks and ostriches roam the sands, jackals and hyenas scurry about, and fog beetles collect water from early morning mists by catching minute droplets on their intricately fissured wings and backs.

But it’s those sand dunes that most astound. Big Daddy curves elegantly up from the flat desert floor to a height of 1,066 feet, almost four times higher than the dome of the United States Capital. Others, like Dune 45, Elm Dune, and Big Mama, have their own distinct personalities and subtle colors—the redder the dune the older it is, roughly speaking, and these dunes have been building and shifting shape with the desert winds for five or more millions of years.

The early morning hour was always wonderful. The sharp, jagged edges of the rocks threw long blue shadows over the desert like windslab over snow. To the east the upland rose above the plain like a steel-blue wall….Henno Martin, The Sheltering DesertRobinson Crusoes in the Namib

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