Christmas Day 2014 – Namib-Naukluft National Park, Sesriem Canyon and Sleeping Under the Stars

We got up early on Christmas morning and it wasn’t to see what Santa had left under the tree. We had a tour to the Namib-Naukluft National Park and had to be headed out before sunrise in order to see the beauty of the dunes at sunrise. It was well worth it!

These are some of the pictures that I clicked as we raced against the sun.IMG_1029IMG_1030

It is such a beautiful area. I really wished that we had decided to spend more time here and if you are planning a trip to this area, I strongly recommend that you plan for at least 3 or 4 days just so you can enjoy the beauty of the area throughout the whole day.

I found it a little humorous that the road in the park was actually paved! Not certain what the government’s thought process was on this one….primary travel roads in Namibia are gravel but the flat road in the park is paved. Oh well!

This bird is Rüppell’s korhaan (Eupodotis rueppellii).IMG_1049

They are called the desert frog because they sound like a frog. They mate for life. The male builds the nest and if the female doesn’t like it, she destroys it and makes him build another one. They lay up to 3 eggs. They survive on small reptiles, insects and succulent leaves and seeds. When they feel threatened, they either fly away or lay quietly to look like a rock and blend in the with their surroundings.

Sossusvlei (pronounced something like “so-so-flay”). Sossus means rushing water and vlei means pan or lake, a drainage basis without an outlet. If I understand it correctly, this area has been shaped by the flooding of the Tsauchab river, although it is a very rare event. It is dry most of the year, sometimes for years and the “pan” gets covered with salt-rich sand”. The clay pan, is surrounded by orange-reddish dunes which is covered by some vegetation of grass, trees and bushes. This picture is an example of Sossusvlei, which I got from Wikipedia. We did not actually see this “vlei” but we saw one similar to it, which I will share later.images-1

This area is actually about 40 miles (66 kms) past the gate entrance at Sesreim and the last 4 miles (6 kms) you definitely need a 4×4 to get through. When we went through, we saw many 4x4s mired deep in the loose sand. It really takes a skilled driver to pass through it. I don’t know if I could have made it.

The highlight of visiting the park was climbing Big Daddy which is the tallest dune in the park at over 1,000 ft (appx 325 meters). This height can varies as the dune is made of sand and size can fluctuate with the wind.

Walking toward the starting point for the hike.  The peak in the back is Big Daddy, where we were headed.

Walking toward the starting point for the hike. The peak in the back is Big Daddy, where we were headed.

The climb took about 50 minutes and at times, was challenging in the soft sand.

Where we had been and....

Where we had been and….

where we were headed!

where we were headed!

Da-dah!!!  I made it!

Da-dah!!! I made it!

It was all worth it at the top….the views were amazing.  I don’t think my photos really do it justice!

The mountain is called White Mountain, which I found interesting as there is the "White Mountain Range" in state of New Hampshire, next door to Maine.

The mountain is called White Mountain, which I found interesting as there is the “White Mountain Range” in state of New Hampshire, next door to Maine.

This view was across from us and the high dune is called "Big Mama".

This view was across from us and the high dune is called “Big Mama”.

Just amazing scenery!

Just amazing scenery!

IMG_1069When climbing up Big Daddy, we took the gradual route but coming down, we were told to just go straight down. I wasn’t really sure how that would work. It was really fun and took just about 5 minutes….much, much easier going down than up! At the bottom, I think I emptied enough sand out of my boots to create another “big daddy dune”!!!

Going down!

Going down!

This is Deadvlei (dead pan) that used to be an oasis with several living acacia trees.IMG_1105

These trees are about 300 years old and are still standing because they are in about 5 ft (1.5 meters) of clay. The trees died when the water source changed course. The dead trees against the stark white of the salt-covered clay, the vivid blue of the sky and brunt orange of the dunes suggest a perfect dreamlike subject for a Dali painting. I wish I could have stayed there all day to see the colors of the dunes change with stark trees in the foreground.IMG_1106IMG_1107IMG_1114We had a short coffee break before heading back to the lodge for an afternoon of relaxing before heading out for another sundowner.

Christmas Day Sundowner

Michael, was our guide again for the evening sundowner. He started back in the Namib-Naukluft National Park but instead of heading towards the dunes, he went in the opposite direction toward the gate at Sesriem. On the way, he pointed out the “fairy circles” or possibly circles made by aliens? One never knows do they. I am certain over the years, this area has had much sacred significance to the indigenous tribes of this area…so maybe it was aliens or fairies who left their mark when visiting here, too?IMG_1186

It has been suggested by scientist that they are developed from plant toxins or possibly by sand termites. Another myth is that there is a dragon residing in the earth and his poisonous breaht kills the vegetation. I like the Himba tribe’s beliefs that they are caused by spirits and believe that they have magical powers. It is fun to wonder…like the phase of crop circles. Do we really know what creates them? Personally, I liked it better when the crop circles were still a mystery and not when it was solved on how they came to be.

This Namib Sand Sea is a UNESCO World Site. It is the only coastal desert in the world whose dunes are influenced by the coastal fog. This desert is made up of material transported thousand of miles by river, ocean, current and wind. It has been under conservation management for the past 50 years. Prior to this conservation effort, the area had been protected as it was believed to possibly be a diamond-mining area. Thank goodness that was never realized and that it will now be protected for a long time to come.IMG_1151

On the way to Sesriem Canyon, we saw approximately 12 baboons in the field. I really had to zoom to get this picture so it didn’t come out to clearly.IMG_1153

We hiked in Sesriem Canyon for a short while. It is the second largest canyon in Namibia at 98 feet (30 meters) deep and 0.6 miles (1km) long. It was carved over the years by the Tsauchab River.IMG_1168

Although it isn’t often water actually flows in the canyon, there is an area where water is constantly there which is helpful to many animals.IMG_1171The canyon got its name from the Afrikaans (South African Boers) who were in search of political independence and better living conditions in the late 1800s, early 1900s. It is called the Dorsland Trek. When they came upon the canyon, they tied six belts made of oryx hide together to lower buckets down to get water. Sesriem means “six belts” in Afrikaans.

Some of the wildlife we saw while driving around:

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk

Bat-eared Fox

                        Bat-eared Fox

Our tours for Christmas Day ended on top of this hill (it was extremely windy) overlooking the mountains and dunes of the Namib desert, enjoying the company of the others who we had spent the day with, the sunset and a lovely glass of wine.IMG_1188

Christmas Day Sunset

Christmas Day Sunset

Earlier, I said the highlight of visiting the park was climbing Big Daddy and when I look back on Christmas of 2014, that will be one of the first things that will come to mind. However, for me, the highlight of all of Christmas Day was spend that night sleeping under the stars. Who needs a Christmas tree when you have thousands of stars twinkling above you? There were so many stars and they were so very bright since there wasn’t any “light pollution.” It was a magical and very special way to end the a wonderful Christmas.

Sunrise the day after sleeping under the stars

Sunrise the day after sleeping under the stars

Sunrise overlooking the dunes!

Sunrise overlooking the dunes!

David getting a last few sleeps before a starting his day!

David getting a last few sleeps before a starting his day!

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