To the left, a single cloud of rain pounded on the earth below. To the right, the sun was in the process of rising from its slumber when we drove into Namib-Naukluft National Park. As we made our way down the path, I was mesmerized by the sheer size of the dark-orange sand piling up on either side of the road. This particular section of the Namib Desert is known for some of the tallest dunes in the world reaching heights of 980 feet tall. Can you imagine a wall of loose sand so high? That is nearly the same size height as the Eiffel Tower! Whoa!
We turned toward Dune 45, creatively named by its 45-kilometer distance from the park entrance gate. Dune 45 is a common hiking spot where visitors can climb the 280 feet to the top ridge for panoramic views of the vast sea of dunes. It is encouraged to climb in the morning – before the sun turns the sand to scorching coals. Since the dunes are made of fine, loose sand, like on a good beach, it is also recommended to climb without shoes – either barefoot or in socks for easier grip.
The climb was more difficult than it first appeared. It took a moment to get used to the sinking sand; plus the hike was far steeper than the optical illusion offered from the ground. The threat of falling was always pending even though the reality of falling on the soft, cushy sand was far less scary than the fear had me believe. By the time I reached the top, my calves burned, my breathing was labored, and I was sweaty. But the reward was worth every ounce of effort.
The deep color of sand is a direct link to the high iron content and oxidation process. The older dunes tend to be a more intense color of red. Dune 45 is estimated to be five million years old, which is relatively young when compared to the age of the desert as a whole. Scientists believe the Namib Desert is between 55 and 80 million years old, making it one of the oldest deserts in the entire world.
After a series of selfies, panoramics, and group photos, I made my way back down the dune. I stayed to the shadow side of the ridge because after only an hour or so of exposure, the sand facing the sun was now capable of burning the bottoms of my feet. During the trip down, the foot tracks of a bright green locust crossed my path, its body a stark contrast to the sand. At the bottom, a couple of crooked, bare trees stood tall, offering to be a lookout point for crows or vultures. In every direction, something special waited for our attention.
We left Dune 45 and headed farther in to Namib-Naukluft National Park to visit Sossusvlei. In writing this, I racked my brain on how to properly explain the geology of Sossusvlei. In the end, I think their website, www.sossusvlei.org, does a much better job than I could have. Here is how they describe this amazing location:
“…Sossusvlei is possibly Namibia’s most spectacular and best-known attraction. Characterised by the large red dunes that surround it, Sossusvlei is a large, white, salt and clay pan and is a great destination all year round.
“…Sossusvlei literally translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes come together preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further, some 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean. However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert the River seldom flows this far and the pan remains bone-dry most years. During an exceptional rainy season the Tsauchab fills the pan, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this spectacular site.”
Now, in part of Sossusvlei stands Deadvlei. Deadvlei was once an oasis where a group of camel thorn trees flourished. At some point when the river stopped flowing through Deadvlei, the ground dried up, leaving a white saltpan. With no water and extreme heat, the trees died, standing barren but preserved in the salt and clay. The images left behind are a photographer’s dream, a surreal landscape of beauty one can only imagine. This easily became one of my favorite scenery of all time.
The desert meets the ocean
Then, leaving Sossusvlei behind, we headed north, remaining in the Namib Desert.
Expanding over 1200 miles, The Namib Desert covers the entire eastern edge of Namibia along the Atlantic coastline. On the drive, the sand slowly faded from the deep orange to beige but still maintained its loose grains. As we neared the city of Walvis Bay, we saw the desert meet the ocean like the world’s largest sandy beach. Out at sea, the anchored cargo ships lined the coastal waters, welcoming us as we drove on. An entirely different dune adventure awaited our arrival in Swakopmund.
Again, thanks to my sister, her experiences and her photos of Namibia, I have wanted to sandboard (sledding on sand) for a long time. I finally had the opportunity in Swakopmund, so I jumped at the chance, along with quad biking. Originally I really had no interest in the quad biking, but when it was offered as a combo with sandboarding, I decided to try it. I am so glad I did.
Quad biking was far more exciting than I anticipated. We zigged and zagged our way through the dunes. We went up high, and we went almost straight down and drove in circles across the sand. After about an hour or so, we stopped near the top of a tall dune to get ready for sandboarding. As we looked around, all that could be seen was dunes, dunes, and more dunes: sand as far as the eye could see.
Our guide had carried pieces of plywood on the back of his quad bike for the boarding part of the day. When we parked and unloaded, he waxed the wood just as you would wax a surfboard. After he covered the wax with sand, we were ready to go.
We were instructed to lie on our stomach, hang on to the front of the board with elbows out, and down the dunes we went! Check out the videos below:
In some ways, we were able to be kids again, if just for a moment. But the climb back up was difficult. Some of us ate dirt on the way down. Some of us had to pour out our own sand dunes from inside our shoes. We all laughed. We all cheered for each other. In the end, we were all thrilled with the experience. We packed up and hopped back on the quads for another hour of riding. We worked our way to a point where we could view the Atlantic Ocean from our quad bikes. As the sun was setting, we all took the moment to just sit and watch the sea, sand, and sun in all their beauty.
I do not know where this life is going to take me. I do not know where this life is going to take you. At some points, it is worth stopping just to breathe. Stop just to laugh. Stop just to act like a kid again. It is not too late. Be intentional. Dream. Plan. Persevere. Execute. Take photos. Write it down. Remember. This is the good stuff life is made of.
“I, the LORD, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross. The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set.” Jeremiah 5:22b
By: Tara Smith