Pitch-black trees clawing their way out of bleached-white pans. Rust-red sand dunes reaching up as high as the Empire State Building towards a sky so bright blue it hurts the eyes to look at it. This is Deadvlei, a once luscious marsh long since succumbed to drought and time, leaving behind a Kafkaesque forest. And a photographer’s dream.
Deadvlei – or ‘dead marsh’ (from the English dead and the Afrikaans vlei) – is located close to the more famous Sossusvlei, inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. Here, amidst the towering, fiery-hued dunes of the Namib desert, you will find 900-year old dead camel thorn trees casting bony-fingered shadows across a white clay pan, forming a contrast so stark as to be almost startling.
How did this haunting place come to be?
It is believed that the clay pan formed more than a thousand years ago, when the Tsauchab river flooded after heavy rainfall leaving behind shallow pools of water. In these pools, hardy camel thorn trees began to grow. Not hardy enough, though. Because after around 200 years, when drought struck the area once more, the sand began to encroach upon the area, soon blocking off the Tsaucheb river and any water required to feed anything living in this once lush marshland. Within this harsh climate, the trees fought back but were no match for the desert sun. Indeed, so hot was the Namib sun that it scorched the trees into dried out, blackened bones, with no chance for them to decompose.
Now all that remains are 900 year old skeletons, their brittle roots trapped for all eternity in a white clay cage. And rich orange-red sand dunes, some of the highest in the world, with the highest reaching almost 400 metres (over 1300 feet), in competition with the Empire State Building.
If you’re planning on visiting, don’t think the desert sun has become any less hostile since it claimed the trees of Deadvlei! Around a 70-kilometre drive from the Park gates in the village of Sesriem to Deadvlei, it is another hot, dry, 1km-walk from the parking lot to the pan itself, so be sure to wear appropriate clothing and take plenty of drinking water. And your camera. Don’t forget your camera.