Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei

The park was established in 1907, and in 1979 it was amalgamated with the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park, sections of Diamond Area 2, and public land to create the Namib-Naukluft Park, an area that was extended again in 1990. The size of the park is 49 768 km2 .  Climb to the top of the highest sand dunes in the world, slide down them just for fun. Take in the endless vistas of the Namib sand sea, and challenge the inner artist or photographer in you to capture this spectacular landscape. Watch the sunrise over one of he oldest, driest places on earth. Be bewitched by the Southern Cross and the Milky Way, part of an astonishing depth of glittering constellations, stars and planets that bring magic to desert nights. Explore the depths of nearby Sesriem Canyon, and marvel at one of nature’s unexplained mysteries – fairy circles, round, bare patches of sand that are found on sandy dune slopes from the Orange River to Angola. Scurry across dunes that are home to fog-basking beetles and lizards that swim in the sand. Learn more about one of the most captivating deserts on earth where plant and animal life has adapted to survive in extraordinary ways. Wiggle your toes into the cold sub-surface sand and experience the wonders of Sossusvlei.


More Information

On top of the world
Towering dunes, shimmering pans and an endless sea of sand, this is Sossusvlei. In the Nama language, Sossusvlei means ‘the gathering place of water’, but it is defined more by its lack of water. Located at the end point of the ephemeral Tsauchab River, Sossusvlei is a huge clay pan, enclosed by gigantic mountains of sand, including one of the highest dunes in the world, rising 325 metres above sea level. In this inspiring landscape, your imagination can run on and on just like the desert that spreads across more than 50 000 square kilometres. When the fog rolls in off of the Atlantic coast more than 70 kilometres away, it paints the dunes in streaks of ruby and rust and leaves a layer of moisture that supports an astonishing array of plant and animal life. A playground of gigantic proportions for humans and extraordinary creatures, such as barking geckos, sabre-horned gemsbok, and lizards that do a ‘thermal dance’, Sossusvlei is the high point of any trip to the Namib.

Hot spots
Like mirages coaxing the explorer to come closer, white pans shimmer in the dunes around Sossusvlei. With intriguing names like Hiddenvlei and Naravlei, and the highly photogenic Dead Pan, a large ghostly expanse of dried white clay, punctuated by skeletons of ancient camel-thorn trees, these are sunken treasures within the sea of sand. Dunes, shaped by strong southwesterly winds, come together at the top in a collection of crests that simulate stars. Scattered throughout the sand is a myriad of tracks left behind by spiders, lizards, insects and other creatures that tell the story of life that thrives under the most austere conditions. Sossusvlei and Sesriem are the best places to see dune larks - a megatick in any birder’s book. Nearby is Sesriem Canyon, where thousands of years of erosion expose layer upon layer of rock and time in a narrow gorge. At the foot of the gorge, which lunges down 30–40 metres, are pools that become replenished after good rains.

Secrets and science – exploring the Namib
The Namib Desert is one of the best-studied deserts in the world, thanks to more than 40 years of research conducted by scientists at the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre, a joint venture between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia. The dunes at Sossusvlei are just one part of the scenic mosaic that makes up the Namib-Naukluft Park, the largest conservation area in Africa, and fourth largest in the world. Beneath the dunes at Sossusvlei lies an ancient, fossillised dune desert dating back to between 40 and 20 million years. Over the years, this
is just one of the many secrets the desert has bared. The confluence of mountains, sand dunes, ephemeral rivers and gravel plains that make up the Namib-Naukluft Park holds the promise of more discoveries waiting to be revealed, a prospect that will draw curious souls to the desert for decades to come.

Facilities
Eighteen campsites, ablution blocks and scullery facilities are available at Sesriem. Petrol, diesel, firewood and cool drinks are also available here. The Namibia Wildlife Resorts facility, Sossus Dune Lodge, provides luxury accommodation in the park. 
Permits for entry to the Namib-Naukluft Park are available at the Sesriem, Namib-i and Walvis-i tourism associations.

Getting there
Located off the C 27, Sossusvlei is 591 km from Windhoek and 362 km from Swakopmund. The road from Sesriem to Sossusvlei is suitable for sedan cars, but the last 5-kilometre stretch is negotiable by 4x4 vehicles only. From the sedan car park, the nearest dunes are easily accessible on foot.

Is there life out there ?
Facing a sea of sand where temperatures soar to over 40ºC during the day and plunge to below freezing at night and where the sight of water is often a mirage, one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing could survive out here. But look closely. There is life. It moves under the sand, scurries over the dunes and has adapted in a myriad of wildly wonderful ways to survive at Sossusvlei. Follow the tiny tracks at the base of the dunes and they just might lead you to one of at least 200 species of tenebrionid
beetles living in the Namib, including the only white tenebrionid yet discovered. Larger tracks in the sand might belong to black-backed jackal or gemsbok, or might be the split-toed track left behind by an ostrich.

Wacky, water-wise adaptations
On misty mornings, you might see the fog-basking beetle, Onymacris unguicularis. This fascinating beetle creeps to the crest of the dune, drops its head, extends its hind legs, tilts forward and lets it body serve as a condensation surface for fog. Soon droplets of water form on its back and slide down towards its mouth. While the fog persists, this head-standing beetle may take on as much as 40% of its original weight in water. The shovel-snouted lizard, Meroles anchietae, has a very uncommon adaptation that allows it to endure waterless days in the Namib. Most animals have a lining that maximises water absorption from their diet. But this lizard stores water in its body, keeping it almost free of body salts, for more than a month. It doesn’t have to stand on its head for water; it has its own internal freshwater reservoir. Other animals take advantage of the desert’s intermittent fog by drinking droplets that condense on their skin or by digging trenches in the sand to collect moisture, while many insects drink the drops that collect on plants and rocks. The gemsbok, Oryx gazella, survives weeks without drinking water by not allowing moisture to escape from its body. It simply stops sweating. At such times its body temperature, normally around 39ºC, might reach as high as 45ºC. This is possible because of another intriguing adaptation. At the base of the gemsbok’s brain is a network of fine blood vessels where the hot blood from the heart is cooled against the blood draining from the nasal sinuses before entering the brain. So while you might feel that your brain is frying in the desert, the gemsbok doesn’t.

Beat the heat
During the heat of the day, the long-legged beetle Onymacris plana runs across the scorching sand at a speed of 1 metre per second. Dashing from one tuft of vegetation to the next, the beetle creates extra wind over its body that lowers its temperature by up to 10ºC. But it must keep running. If it stood still for long, it would die of hyperthermia. As crazy as it might sound, this is the only land animal known to use exercise-induced cooling. To cope with the extreme heat radiating from dune surfaces the shovel-snouted lizard, Meroles anchietae, performs a fascinating ‘thermal dance,’ lifting two feet off the ground for a few seconds at a time in alternate fashion (left front foot with right rear foot, and vice versa). Another animal that appears to dance across the dunes is the sidewinder adder, Bitis peringueyi. Look for a beautiful broken S-pattern running up the dunes that marks the sidewinder’s movement across the sand. The pattern often ends near a tuft of desert grass where the snake curls its body and shimmies into the sand, leaving only its eyes exposed to look out for prey.

Sand athletes
As you slide down the slipface, keep those tiny creatures that try to make a home in the free-moving sand in mind. The shape of the sand makes it impractical for burrowing, but it does allow sufficient flow of air that animals can swim in and out of it and some, like the golden mole (Eremitalpa granti namibensis) live almost entirely within the sand. So extreme is the golden mole’s adaptation to life in the sand, that it has no need for eyes and so, over time, it has evolved without them. One of the 163 spiders found in the Namib, the ‘wheeling spider’, Carparachne aureoflava, uses wheeling to escape danger. When threatened by the female pompilid wasp, a specialist spider-hunter that paralyses its prey before
laying an egg on its body and burying it in the sand, the wheeling spider does a short run, curls its legs into semicircles, flips its body sideways and rotates wheel-like at high speed to get away, an active adaptation that even James Bond would envy.

Who’s there?
At night when you can no longer see tracks, listen. There are clues to even more life in the desert, like the ‘knockknock’ sound emitted by barking geckos. This twilight chorus, a sound that is synonymous with the desert, is remarkably similar to two river pebbles being hit together. One species has a five-knock beat and another a three. A gecko knocks and in time, its knock is answered, but only by one of the same species. Day or night, there is extraordinary life out there. So bark, beat, slip, slide, sweat and enjoy it with the fascinating creatures of the Namib.

Take a walk on the sandy side.
There you are – finally – standing at the top of Big Mama, the name locals have affectionately given to the highest dune at Sossusvlei. Lie splayed out in the sand, rest for a while. Take several deep breaths and a few more glugs of water. Once your heart rate and hands have steadied, look around, take a few pictures, and then wonder, “What’s next?” You may have reached the top, but there is still much more to discover. Look to the left and you’ll see Naravlei, named after the many !nara plants found on and around the edge of the pan. !Nara are cucumber-like melons, the preferred food for many desert inhabitants and a source of pride and sustenance for the Topnaar people living along the Kuiseb River.
South of Big Mama you’ll see Cessna Pan, visible over the dunes, and Witberg (White Mountain), its rocky ridges creating a beacon for travellers in the desert.

Spectacular vleis
Also south of Sossusvlei’s highest dune is another of the desert’s most spectacular landmarks, Deadvlei or Dead Pan. Located just 1.1 km from the parking area, Deadvlei resembles a perfect stage set for photography. Towering red dunes on three sides surround a flat, reflective white floor that is studded with dark, dead camel-thorn trees that are over 600 years old. Deadvlei encapsulates the drama and timelessness of the desert. The quest for the perfect photograph of Deadvlei brings photographers back to Sossusvlei time and time again.The vlei closest to the 2x4 parking lot is Hiddenvlei, so called because, yes, you guessed right: It is hidden behind a dune! Dead and live camel-thorn trees dot the base of the dunes here too, providing shelter for many different species of birds. Elim Dune is the closest dune from Sesriem campsite (4.8 km) and the office responsible for the area. With shade, food and shelter found at the base of the dune, it is home to an amazing variety of desert-adapted insects, reptiles, birds and animals. It is also the perfect place to watch the sunrise over the Namib. Though Sossusvlei has come to symbolise a collection of dunes and vleis, it is actually a distinct vlei, located at the end point of the ephemeral Tsauchab River. At the close of day, rest at the picnic tables located under camel-thorn trees. This is the perfect place for plotting your next move on the sandy side.

 

 

Why are the dunes red?
Iron oxide gives the dunes their colour; the more iron oxide in the sand, the redder the dunes are.

What causes the different shapes of the dunes?
The prevailing wind of the desert, the south-wester, shapes the dunes at Sossusvlei into pointed multi-crested stars. There are also linear and hummock dunes in other parts of the Namib Desert formed by different wind regimes. Besides sculpting the dunes into distinctive shapes, wind keeps the sand loose. This allows reptiles, beetles and small mammals the chance to dive into the sand and escape from predators. Wind also carries dead plant and animal material across the dunes. This material, known as detritus, is an important part of the diet for some desert beetles.

What is the maximum degree angle of a slipface?
Wind continuously reshapes the dunes. It forces the grains of sand on the flat windward slope upwards to the crest of the dune. Here they fall down in the wind shade. The leeward slope is therefore always considerably steeper than the windward side but never more than a maximum of a 32-degree angle.

What stops the dunes from taking over the entire desert?
Wind and water, coming from the occasional flooding of the Tsauchab River, keep the encroaching movements of the dunes in check.

How old is the Namib?
This is an age-old and hotly debated question. The answer dates back to between the breaking up of the super-continent, Gondwanaland, some 130 million years, and 80 million years ago.